So after a 19 hour flight we arrive dazed and confused at Japan’s Narita International Airport, hop on a Skyliner Train slap bang into the world’s largest and busiest train stations – Shinjuku.
The station was used by an average of 3.64 million people per day in 2007, making it, by far, the world’s busiest transport hub (and registered as such with Guinness World Records).
The station itself has 36 platforms, including an underground arcade, above ground arcade and numerous hallways.
There are well over 200 exits. Another 17 platforms (51 total) can be accessed through hallways to 5 directly connected stations without surfacing outside.
Needless to say we might have never got out of the station if it hadn’t been for the help of a lovely local lady who walked us to our first hotel and even bought me vegetarian snacks!
After spending our first night in the tiny but perfectly formed Hotel Rose Garden we were up and ready to find out what awaited us in Tokyo.
The first stop on my route march is Asakusa.
Asakusa (浅草) is the centre of Tokyo’s shitamachi (literally “low city”), one of Tokyo’s districts, where an atmosphere of the Tokyo of past decades survives.
Kaminarimon is the first of two large entrance gates leading to Sensoji Temple. First built more than 1000 years ago, it is the symbol of Asakusa.
Below the man contemplates its huge lantern and appears to have procured a meaty snack already!
Asakusa’s main attraction is Sensoji, a very popular Buddhist temple, built in the 7th century.
The temple is approached via the Nakamise, a shopping street that has been providing temple visitors with a variety of traditional, local snacks and tourist souvenirs for centuries.
Naturally we have to meander our way through the stalls and explore what’s for sale.
I am quickly captivated by the vivid packaging and quirky merchandise, exactly what I had hoped to find.
For many centuries, Asakusa used to be Tokyo’s leading entertainment district.
During the Edo Period (1603-1867), when the district was still located outside the city limits, Asakusa was the site of kabuki theatres and a large red light district.
Below we spot our first colourful omikuji vending machine. O-mikuji (御御籤, 御神籤) are random fortunes written on strips of paper at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Japan. Literally “sacred lot”.
These are usually received by making a small offering (generally a five-yen coin as it is considered good luck) and randomly choosing one from a box, hoping for the resulting fortune to be good.
But as Japan is the land of the vending machine it makes sense for you to be able to vend a fortune too!
I also spot the first of many (many many many) Japanese school girls in their distinctive uniforms.
Not to be confused (as we were for ages) with older women dressed in the current fashion for school girl outfits . . much shorter and more risque!
We’ve not even covered the first hour of our time in Tokyo – you know there are going to be an EPIC amount of posts on this trip . . bear with me, it’ll be worth it!!!!