It’s the things that go wrong that make for great stories…..
And Day 1 in Tokyo was a great illustration of this point! The day began uneventfully enough, landed on time at Narita, got through immigration, retrieved my bag and cleared customs all the efficient 20 minutes that I know so well from many past visits to Japan. I used to time it in the past, I would check my watch once I cleared customs and go “Yep 20 minutes”.
So first thing on the agenda was to validate my Japan Railpass and I would use it on the Narita Express, the train that takes you into Tokyo. (Narita airport is quite a distance away, train or bus the journey takes an hour nonstop) So a helpful young woman at the JR counter validated the pass then said the next train was at 6.55am, it was currently 6.52am, “You’ll make it, the train is an express and no need for reservation” Quickly went down to track, saw train, jumped on, was puzzled as it was a local train not the Narita Express. Got off again, saw the sign saying Narita Ex 7.01am and totally switched into ‘Japan mode’ “Don’t want to wait 6 minutes for the next train, I’ll take this one as it’s about to leave” BIG MISTAKE!!!!!!!
It was an express to Tokyo, an express that stopped at 500 stations along the way picking up people!!! The trip took a nightmarish 90minutes instead of 60. And to make matters worse knowing that I was arriving in the morning and not wanting to put myself through Tokyo public transport morning rush hour congestion I had deliberately booked a hotel close to Tokyo station so I wouldn’t have to cross the city. I happen to like the Shinjuku area to stay in but it’s about 40 minutes by local train away from Tokyo station. (Lots of stops) My nightmarish trip therefore was not only long but I also spent 90 minutes experiencing sardine like conditions, instead of sitting peacefully on an uncrowded Narita Express which generally only does one stop. So take note dear reader NEVER get on a train from Narita to Tokyo unless it’s a direct Narita Express! Or else whether you wanted to or not you’ll get to experience what is the daily life of a Tokyo commuter, the crowded train where you can’t move. I do suggest that tourists take at least one trip at rush hour (I recommend the Yamanote Line before 9am!) just to make you appreciate that regardless where you are in the world, crowded public transport in your city/country is nothing compared to Tokyo!
The rest of the day I’ll leave for another post, I’ll skip to about 7pm when I was on my way back to the hotel. It was about a 15 minute walk from Tokyo station, but already dark and pouring with rain. Just near the hotel was a convenience store so I went in to buy some snacks. Upon leaving the convenience store I WENT THE WRONG WAY! And it took me 3 blocks to work out that I had!
My well known (especially to me!) no sense of direction (it’s absolutely shocking how easily I can get ‘turned around’) struck again! What normally saves me from constantly being lost is that I have excellent map reading skills so can find anything in an unfamiliar city and I memorise landmarks to make sure I can find my way around.
In my defense I’ll offer up I was tired, and the convenience store was on the corner of 2 main roads I just took the one I thought was the one I had come from. (It wasn’t, infact it was at a right angle from it! Yes that’s how terrible my sense of direction is, it didn’t register with me!) The landmark I was heading for was an overpass and there was one in the distance so I kept walking towards it without thinking it was further away, once under the overpass I had to turn left to get to the hotel. Did that, and then it hit me, I wasn’t in the right place! I checked across the road for my other landmark, an old historic bridge post, not there! Great! I had gone the wrong way! So retraced my steps back to the convenience store, at the next intersection I saw there was a large map of the area, one of those ‘you are here’ maps, with English. Thank you Tokyo City council, much appreciated by this clueless tourist! The map confirmed that I had well and truly gone the wrong way, I was on the way back to Tokyo Station!
Back to where I started from, checked for the correct overpass which was about 100metres away. (I had walked 3 city blocks to the same overpass as it curved around over the other main road!) Found my other landmark the historic bridge post and got to my hotel over an hour after I had set out from Tokyo station! Very tired and very wet since it poured the whole time!
Here’s my landmark, I read signs (it had it in English) The old bridge post is under the tree, the other building I just realized this morning when I saw it in daylight is a local police box. (Not a police station, Japanese towns and cities have police boxes in neighbourhoods where police can be found in walking distance)
There used to be a river where the bridge post is, but in the mid 1960s land reclamation saw the river disappear. The bridge was historic, it was called the Kyobashi bridge and the area still is known as that.