Someone on Twitter tomorrow asked for some advice on things to see and do in Tokyo, so I thought I’d write a bit about my trip in April of 2006. At the last minute, my employer asked me to attend a SIP interoperability conference in Tokyo. Since I had never been to Asia before, I thought it would be a pretty awesome trip.
Derek and I left Vancouver sometime in the afternoon on a Saturday I believe, and we landed in Tokyo 10 hours later. Narita airport is actually more than an hour outside of Tokyo, so even after you land you still have a fairly long trek to get into the city. Derek and I paid for shuttle transportation to take us to our hotel in the Tokyo Dome region of the city.
Since I can rarely sleep on airplanes, I spent most of that flight just staring at the seat ahead of me and periodically trying to read. Without a doubt, ten hours was the longest I had ever been on a plane at one time before. Even though Derek and I were seated in different sections, it was kind of cool flying with a friend for a change, so I’d head to his section of the plane from time to time just to stretch my feet.
After checking into the hotel, we started wandering around the streets near the Tokyo Dome region. The first strange thing you’ll notice about Tokyo is that every building has more than one business inside usually. It’s not uncommon for a single building to have eight to ten restaurants in it, all on different floors. So you quickly need to get into the habit of scanning upwards when you approach buildings so that you can read (or in my case, look at the pictures) what is on each floor.
We met up with various other people who were in Tokyo for the same conference, and found a little whole-in-the-wall restaurant run by a small family. Given that none of us really spoke Japanese, and none of the owners spoke English, it was a rather interesting food experience. Tokyo was really the first place I’ve been to in my life where most people (other than the young generation) actually couldn’t speak english, so communication was usually a challenge.
Derek and I then tried to figure out the crazy subway system there. It was literally the first time in my life where I’ve felt absolutely bewildered. Derek and I spent ten minutes just staring at the machines and finally both just started laughing since we had no idea whatsoever how to use anything. Here’s a partial transit map in Tokyo for your viewing pleasure.
As you can see, it’s rather elaborate. One interesting thing to note is that you actually pay to ride the transit system based on distance. So if you look at a transmit map in each station, you’ll actually see the price to travel to each other location on the map. Going one stop over might cost around 80 cents, with around 30 cents extra per station you have to travel. It’s a pretty cool system, and you basically only pay for the distance you travel.
We didn’t really know where to go, so we ended up going to the Shinjuku subway station, which is probably the busiest subway station in the entire world. It lived up to its name as it was fairly hard to navigate, even that late at night. Shinjuku, at least the area I walked around, is basically the red-light district of Tokyo. It smelt like a sewer had backed up somewhere near the area, and literally made me want to gag a few times. It was mostly seedy bars and dark alleys, so we high-tailed it out of there in short order (although, we would be back in a few days).
I ended up back at my hotel, and ended up getting a fairly decent sleep. I woke up the next day and set my tripod up long enough to get a quick shot of me in my little window seat. I was on the 32nd floor of the Tokyo Dome Hotel, and was looking out south over Tokyo.
I’ll do another part to this series sometime this weekend once I find a few more photos. But that’s a good overview for now I think of the first day and a bit of my adventure. I’ll try to summarize the best and the worst parts about Tokyo in the last part, so check back in a day or two.