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Posts Tagged ‘Tokyo’

After having my coffee and snack at the Ueno Starbucks yesterday, I took the subway to Tokyo Station, close to the Imperial Palace. Navigating the system wasn’t too difficult. The ticket machines have English, but not much route information. In order to figure out how much you need to pay you need to look at one of the maps that has English, compare that to the map that shows prices to stations from your current location and then press the appropriate button on and insert the appropriate cash into the ticket machine. Alternatively, you could just buy the cheapest ticket – as I did for Tokyo station – and either look for a fare adjustment machine or – as I did – hand your ticket in at a desk and pay the difference.

The weather yesterday, as well as being overcast, was quite hazy. Visibility wasn’t great, but it lent a certain mysterious, atmospheric quality to the cityscape. The Imperial Palace is, I suppose, Japan’s Buckingham palace, but its ground are much more fortified. It’s surrounded by extensive grounds and large moats with steep slopes or stone walls on the inner edges. Much of the grounds that I saw had close-cropped lawns with an orderly forest of manicured evergreen trees.

I walked around part of the Palace grounds and then headed to a pair of gardens – western and Japanese; of which, the latter was quite pleasant, the former quite dull – which were adjacent to the National Diet Building – ‘Diet’ as in legislative body. Not a terribly interesting sight. I walked around the nearby government buildings. It was very quiet – there were probably more police officers than pedestrians – and not that many of those. It’s not a patch on Whitehall, frankly – it’s all mid to late twentieth century buildings.

Then I headed to Shinjuku, a big train/subway station and shopping area. The narrow side streets reminded me a little of Myeongdong in Seoul (although they weren’t pedestrianised), while the main roads were reminiscent of Oxford Street in London. I had a pretty lame but cheap coffee and did some game work, then took the subway back up to Asakusa.

There, I had a nice noodle soup and some fried dumplings at a restaurant and went back to the hostel. I had a long conversation with my friend Alex via Skype – something we don’t do often enough. Habiba was probably out, and she hadn’t left me any replies to my message during the day. Now, the following day (Sunday), I’m waiting for her to get on Skype, but she’s either fallen fast asleep or she’s gone out.

I don’t really have any plans for the day – I’m just going to head to the airport early. I’ve already bought some snacks for Habiba and me (maybe this time she’ll let me have some) and some chocolate biscuit sticks for my homeroom children. The Japanese brand of these sticks is Pocky, but in Korea they’re called Pepero – and 11th November is Pepero Day. I now have enough money for the train to the airport with a bit left over.

See you in Seoul.

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My flight to Tokyo went without hitch. I sat next to a German woman, Jana, at the back of the plane. We talked a lot on the way over. It turned out that we were staying in the same area of the city, so we got a train together, too, and made vague plans to meet – haven’t heard from her so far. I’ll see her on Sunday, anyway, as we’re on the same flight back to Incheon.

I had planned to couchsurf while I was here, but left it very late to find a host. As a back-up I printed out maps and addresses for a couple of hostels. One of them was in Asakusa, near to where Jana and her friend were staying. I got off the train at Asakusa Station and found the place readily enough. Only then it turned out to be more expensive than I was expecting – ¥3,500 (£28) for one night in a capsule (the hostels website said they had cheaper dorm beds, but it didn’t seem that way when I got there).

The receptionist gave me directions to an internet place, where I had to become a member in order to use the internet. I found another hostel not far away and went there instead. The Khaosan Tokyo Annex is cheap (¥2,000 – £16 – per bed per night), friendly and has reasonable facilities – free wifi, kitchens with free tea and coffee; the beds are quite well sized, too, although the pillows are just a big piece of foam in a slip.

Last night I spent some time walking around the area near Asakusa Station, taking some photos of the Buddhist and Shinto temples, Senso-ji and Asakusa-jinja. Then I had dinner at a quick and cheap curry place. You can design your meal to suit your needs: you can choose the amount of rice and the spiciness of the sauce. I got an egg salad and a chicken curry with 400 grammes of rice and level 3 spiciness (out of 10). It was pretty simple, but quite tasty, and the spice level was pleasantly hot (I wonder what the higher levels are like).

This morning, I got up at nine o’clock, ate my trail mix and hard tack for breakfast along with some of the aforementioned free coffee. Then I headed out to hire a bicycle for the day. The bike rental place was pointed out to me by the nice Japanese guy who was working in the hostel last night when I checked in. It’s in a tunnel running parallel to the river at Asakusa Station. However, when I got there, the old man at the counter turned a Japanese sign on the counter round to show the English side – no bikes available. He put his hands together in apology.

I decided to walk to Ueno Park – two or three kilometres away. The weather has been strange compared to Korea. It’s been quite warm and today the sky is veiled in pale overcast. I’m walking around in a T-shirt (and possibly some other items of clothing) and still sweating a lot. Ueno Park was quite pleasant, but nothing special. There is a lake divided into three or more parts by causeways and at the centre is Benten-do, a temple dedicated to a Buddhist goddess of the arts (not to a boy with an alien wristwatch). Part of the lake is full of aquatic plants with big umbrella leaves, part is clear and has pedalos. There are lots of ducks, seagulls and carp. At one point I, and a bunch of other people, watched as a terrapin fought in vain to drag itself on to a platform; people threw bread to the ducks and the fish.

As I write this I’m having a coffee and a bite to eat in a Starbucks, listening to Rammstein’s magnificent Liebe Ist Für Alle Da. I’m trying not to spend too much, but the familiarity of the coffee shop is quite comforting. I plan to take the subway down to central Tokyo to check out the Imperial Palace and gardens.

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It doesn’t seem all that long since I took the bullet train to Busan and a ferry to the Japanese island of Tsushima for the purposes of getting a new visa, but here I am again. Except I’m taking a different route. In about two hours, I’ll be on a flight to Tokyo for a long weekend. Then it’s back to Korea for another three months before repeating the whole process in (or before) January.

I don’t have too many firm plans for Tokyo yet. I want to visit the Imperial Palace. I’m hoping to couchsurf with someone, but I left it very late organising that (like yesterday) and I may end up at a hostel. Even if I just do one touristy thing, a bit of walking and the rest of the time hanging out reading, writing and watching TV or films I’ll be happy. I don’t want to spend too much money – Habiba and I have a grand tour of Europe planned for next year and we both need to conserve our pennies.

The weekend will – hopefully – give me a chance to put some finishing touches to version 6.1 of my roleplaying game system, and to blog in more detail (or any detail at all) about my new job.

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