Welcome to Tokyo
Filled with trepidation I board the airplane at Heathrow for a working trip to Tokyo. I have a fear of not being able to understand or be understood.
For the next two weeks I will be working out of the Japanese office, while also getting a little time to explore Tokyo and what it has to offer.
Upon arrival at Haneda airport, I am soon in a taxi and trying to be understood, as a back up I resort to showing the address of the Ana Intercontinental in Akasaka from my phone. Thank goodness for the internet.
We wind our way through a jungle of concrete, and I am already aware that this is a huge densly populated place. The buildings are tall considering this is a place where earthquakes are frequent.
The hotel is as I expect, adapted for the western guests to the city, yet offering a wonderful combination of Japanese culture if you want to try it.
The view from my room fills me with an appetite to go out and explore this city.
The quickest way to get around so I am told, is to use the subway. I take one look at the map handed to me in the hotel reception and just look in disbelief. It is just covered in lines and japanese characters. How will I find my way around? I have no option but to dive straight into it.
So, armed with my pasmo card and cash, I head for the nearest station – Ginza.
And I am into the subway system, luckily I see the names of the stations in English and also numbers. This is therefore not the nightmare I imagined from the subway map.
The first stop off for any tourist is the Shibuya Crossing. I get onto my train, which is punctual and clean enough to eat your food off the floor and am at the Shibuya station in no time at all.
The Shibuya Crossing is the classic example of the Tokyo we all think we know from the movies and TV. The frenetic pace, the neon lights, the massive crowds and the giant video screens. The crossing is referred to as “the scramble” and all this comes together every time the lights change. It is like a giant heart beat sending people in all directions with every pulsing change from red to green.
I find myself crossing this road multiple times and get strangly addicted to the energy of each green light.
A little bit of window shopping in the nearby streets, some are strangly familiar in our globalised world, followed by a British pint and then the jetlag kicks in.
Working in Tokyo
The key learnings for me were that everyone is very quiet, very polite and this was the first place I heard English being spoken. At last I could be understood and understand. I was however concerned at the bag that hung from every desk. The earthquake survival kit. Don’t worry about it, you will be OK they said.
Before the first week was over, I experienced my first earthquake and the building swayed as an erie rumble could be heard. If you find yourself there, make sure you familiarise yourself with the contents of the bag that hangs under each desk.
Shinjuku at Night
If you want to see the nightlife of Tokyo, then Shinjuku is a must. The neon lights crackle, there are bars, kakaoke, places to eat and of course shops. It is also the home of both the redlight and gay districts. It is one huge place for entertainment .
As a keen runner, I decide the best way to look around the grounds of imperial palace is to jog around all it has to offer. Lucky for me, there is a 5km running route around it and I am not alone as I undertake this task.
The grounds of the palace are right in the city centre and are spectacular. The gardens are freely open and allow me respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. It its heyday, this was the largest fortress in the world, however little remains today other than the moat and walls. Eitherway, it is an excellent jogging circuit and am happy to be running around such a place.
My final place to visit was the SkyTree, the tallest tower in Japan at a staggering 634m. What a great place to view the city from. The queue to get up is large and is a challenge as it only seems to cater for people who can speak Japanese. Before long, I am taking the lift to the top and preparing myself for the view.
Nothing prepares me for the expanse of the city underneath me, it just seems to go on and on in every direction. And in the distance on the horizon, I can see the snow capped Mount Fuji.
This I am afraid will have to wait until I return.
I just scratched the surface of what is on offer in this city, it is a must for me to return here some day soon.