Visiting Tokyo (Part 1)

Ah,Tokyo is a place I love to visit.  Recently I had the opportunity to visit Tokyo for the 3rd time and it was a blast.  Every time I go to Tokyo, I discover new things about Tokyo.  It is a vibrant city that changes very fast and it is fascinating to be surrounded by the energy and neatness of the unique culture, people, food and architecture.

Before our trip, we rented a couple cell phones from SoftBank for us to use during the trip.   The rented cell phones can be picked up at the Narita Airport on the basement level after you leave the arrival gate.

The cost of renting the phone is quite reasonable; ¥250 per day.  The talk time is not included though and would cost ¥105 per minute.  But for the convenience, it is definitely worth the money.

From there, we took the Limousine Bus to the hotel.  The cost depends on the destination and for us, it costed ¥3,000 per person.

The good thing about the Limousine Bus is that you don’t have to worry about transporting your luggage with you as you would if you were to take the JR train.  When you get on the bus, they take your luggage and give you a ticket to claim your luggage when you get off.  It is quite straight forward.

The day we arrived was humid and warm.  June is generally not a very popular month to visit Tokyo as it is their rainy season.  Well, at least it wasn’t raining cats and dogs as most of our Japanese friends told us that is typical for June weather.

The highways in Tokyo area is pretty awesome considering the amount of traffic they support.

Compared to Vancouver, the highways signs in Tokyo are very well labeled.  Their toll system is also automatic.  There is a transmitter you can get to mount to your vehicle.  And a smart card device is used to record the amount of credit you have and a toll amount would be deducted when you drive pass the toll station.  This system, I believe, is pretty popular in Asia to enhance efficiency of traffic flow.  I don’t think Vancouver has this system.  The last time I drove through a toll highway I still had to use cash to pay for the toll.

Another cool thing about the highways in Tokyo is that they managed to construct highways into and through the city.  They are usually elevated to be on the 5 to 7 story level and when you get onto one of them, it feels like you are flying in between buildings.

Tokyo also has a lot of rivers.  The good thing is they help to separate population and make it less dense.  The flip side is they need more bridges and that can constrict traffic flow.  Good thing that we did not have to drive while we visit Tokyo. Instead, we used the trains a lot.

Tokyo train network is probably one of the few in the world that provides so many choices.  In between all the different lines provided by JR, there is also Metro subway system to choose from.  Some people may find that it is confusing to use the train system but personally, I found it quite easy to navigate around.

And the fare is not too expensive either.  It starts at ¥130 and up.

The ridership of trains in Tokyo is incredible.  Even at night, the stations are usually lined up with lots of people.  And trains typically run every 5 minutes.  You would be amazed that how quickly the queue forms once a train leaves with full capacity.

On the street level, once you entered the city, you will find the typical traffic jam a city would have.  Amazingly a lot of people in Tokyo use the bicycles.  I used to think Vancouver has a lot of cyclists.  Well, judging by the number of bikes parked at outside of popular locations, I think Vancouver is far from being a bike friendly city compared to a metropolis like Tokyo.

We stayed at a business hotel, Toyoko Inn, recommended by one of our friends when we planned our trip back in 2007.  After staying there a few times, we like this chain hotel as the service and experience are consistent with all our trips.  Free internet is also provided in your room.  We made our reservation online before we left.  Actually during popular seasons, you would have made your reservation at least three months in advance to increase your chance of getting the room type and location of your choice.  Make your reservation here: http://www.toyoko-inn.com/eng/

Food in Tokyo is great.  You have many choices, ranging from cheap to luxury, from street stands to restaurant on the top floor of a building.

Takoyaki stand and Oden stand on the street.

Typical prices of dinner on a regular, not too fancy restaurant would run you around ¥700 to ¥900 a meal.  But if you like more ingredients or varieties, you will have to shell out more for your meals.  One cheap way to get around this is to buy bento boxes at the department stores after 7 PM when they have a sale.  You could save a lot from doing so and the food is typically also very tasty.

A lot of restaurants have ticket machines like this one outside so that you can place your order and pay for your food at the machine.  The machine will print you a receipt and you give this receipt to the attendant when you enter the restaurant.  Your food will then automatically be prepared and served to you in minutes.

Another kind of food that we always eat is MOS Burger.  It is Japanese style burger with a lot of varieties.  They often promote limited selection for a season.  They also often give out little toys for kids (and adults who are young in heart).  This time, you can win Lego style toys using a scratch-and-win-ticket you can get per meal.  Unfortunately, we did not win any…

Danny Choo has also featured MOS Burger in his blog postings.

Manga is an important culture element in Japan.  When I went to the bookstores, these are eye candies for me.

Tokyo is definitely a lit up city at night.  There are so many lights that you feel very safe at night.  Compared to a lot of North American cities, Asia cities tend to use a lot more electricity to light up their cities.

Taxi used to be a bit cheaper.  Back in 2007, I remember they started the meter at ¥600. This year, they start the meter at ¥714.

There are also a lot of activities after work.  People meet up with boyfriends and girlfriends, go shopping and get dinner.  It is all so familiar to me as I used to live in Hong Kong.

They also enjoy karaoke, I have seen so many buildings like this one for karaoke bars.

On the other hand, I am also fascinated by old Japanese houses like this one.  It is just so neat.

I love these bikes.  Wonder when will we ever get them in Vancouver?

I can feel the energy!  It is amazing to see crowds and crowds of people.

Like McDonald’s Restaurant, Starbucks is also very popular in Tokyo.  We tried a coffee jelly frap one night and it was pretty tasty, except it was pretty difficult to suck all the coffee jelly from the bottom of the cup with just a straw.

Even flower shop opens late, I love the convenience.

Most commercial buildings have signs hanging on the side telling you which shop is on which floor.  You have to get used to looking up when you are trying to find a shop or restaurant on one of these floors.

Some bigger chain stores like Bic Camera typically occupies the entire building and each floor would be used for specific categories of products.

Rice does not look very cheap from this store.

Pachinko Slot machines are very popular in Japan.

Some photos around Ikebukuro:

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