Exploring Tokyo

Monday 24 October – The Hidden Mt Fuji

I took the 9.40am bullet train south to Odawara. My speed app topped us out at 280kmph, a bit slower than the European trains.

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I was surprised by the normality of houses in outer Tokyo.  With 13 million people in the city and 37 million in the Tokyo-Yokohama urban area one would have expected lots of skyscraper type apartments.

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Quite soon there were fields surrounded by houses.

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In less than thirty minutes we had covered the 67km (including a few stops) to Odawara. Here it was easy to purchase a two-day travel pass that allowed one to use all local transport. As I stood in the queue a man asked where I was from. “New Zealand” I replied. He went and got me a brochure and organised the ticket when I got to the counter. Studying the brochure later it wasn’t in English!!!

A packed, slow, local train took us to Hakone. Only half the people could fit on the connecting train so we stood in line (they are bloody good at lining up here) for 30 minutes until the next train arrived. Packed in, squeezing room only, we headed up the hill. The line is quite steep for a train line, meandering its way up through forest and tunnels.

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We stopped a couple of times when the driver and conductor swapped and the train went the other way to negotiate the steep terrain.

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Arriving at the end of the line we were counted through onto the platform for the Funicular, which was actually dragged up the hill by a cable. Once again squeezing room only.

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Arriving at the top lead us into the ropeway (cable car). This is the first  two-cable car I have come across.

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I had hoped to see Mt Fuji on this journey but again it is hidden by cloud.  At the top of the hill is a thermal area with plumes of steam gushing from the unstable ground, above which is situated a tourist centre.

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The cable car took us down the other side to Lake Ashinoko. There is a hint of autumn in the surrounding, mainly deciduous, forest. A large golf course rests in the valley to the north of the lake.

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Disembarking the cable car at the lake I asked the question “could I walk around the lake to the other end?” I got a look of horror. “Walk!! No walk you have to take boat.” And whats more it was a pirate boat. On the boat I got for the 30 minute trip to the other end.

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The brochure showed views of Mt Fuji from the bottom end of the lake, but again it eluded me as it had done from both the towers in Tokyo in the weekend.

This whole exercise is about moving people whilst giving them a glance of what life outdoors might look like. Cruising down the lake a pre-recording squawked across the speakers telling us some points of interest.

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The little town at the bottom of the lake is a modern tourist town. The only Japanese style building I saw was a hotel on the lake side. I took the bus back to Hakone along a steep, winding, well-maintained road.

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Tuesday 25 October

I have found Tokyo architecture so far rather sterile and uninteresting. It is worth bearing in mind that there is nothing old here. Back in the old days everything was built of wood and over centuries the city was razed to the ground many times by both fire and earthquakes, the last big fire being during WWII when the city was fire bombed.

Sylvia had suggested Odaiba Island might be worth a visit as she had been there yesterday with work. I decided to stroll there, which took me through the Shinagawa train station – a good 500mlong and packed with slow moving people. Once away from the station the streets were quiet. The odd group of young kids with teachers headed for the park, each group in different coloured hats.

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The route lead me around some waterways before I arrived at the Rainbow Bridge (at night it apparently lights up in many colours). At 1.5kms long it’s pretty impressive. With two decks carrying vehicles, trains and the odd pedestrian it probably carries more traffic in a day than the Rakaia, New Zealand’s longest bridge at 1.7km, does in a year.

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The Odaiba island was originally built in the 1920’s as a fort and later expanded. Now it has on its wide open spaces a number of well designed buildings. These include the Fujitsu building,

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the Science museum,

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and a number of other interesting structures. Unfortunately I discovered Tuesday is museum closed day.

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I caught the local train and headed back to the city. I had found on the net the international headquarters of Kyokushin Karate. As I had studied an offshoot of this style reasonably intensively for over 30 years I thought it would be good to check it out. Nishi-Kawaguchi was about 40 minutes on the standing room only train. A short distance from the station I found what had been the headquarters. A helpful man in the, now small dance school studio, explained they had moved from there six months ago. He marked the new address on my map. It was only a couple of kms down the road. On arriving there I could not find the building.

I was struck by the neat and tidy presentation of the area so decided to stroll back into town. The streets are spotlessly clean; even rubbish bags are stacked neatly and covered with a net. There is a nice mix of ten to fifteen story apartments spread among the small, very tidy, two and three-storey houses.

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As I strolled through the suburban streets and even small town centres I was surprised by the lack of people about. Apart from the main roads there were hardly any cars. I crossed rivers and canals.

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There are large playing fields and tennis courts along the river banks. A couple of streets were closed to traffic where a marked flourished.

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As I passed through Kita I discovered a dry stone creek with nice displays in it.

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As the journey progressed and about 8km out from the city centre suddenly the streets were packed with people. I had hit a shopping precinct.

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I had a quiet chuckle as it dawned in me that the majority of the people I have seen in this city have either been getting on a train, on a train, getting off a train or shopping!! A few hundred meters further and it was back to hardly anyone on the street.

As I got closer to the city double-decker motorways erupted from earth and strutted a few kms overhead before disappearing back into the ground as a two-storey tunnel.

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Two man made rivers converged then disappeared under the street I stood on.

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Rain set in so I jumped a local subway back to our hotel. During the days 29km stroll I had seen no rubbish, only one building in disrepair, and apart from the trains and shopping precincts few people.


Wednesday 26 October – Pussies Galore

Last night at the hotel bar we had watched with great interest at the detail that went into mixing a drink. With a huge selection of whiskeys and other spirits in the cabinet, the barman selected the glass and ingredients and laid all out in a straight line on the bar. Then the process began of chilling the glass by pouring in ice and water, stirring thoroughly, draining the water off with a sieve, then adding the ingredients, the top of each bottle wiped carefully before the lid goes back on. The drink or drinks are then placed neatly on a tray for the waiter to deliver. The attention to detail is something you see everywhere around this city.

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I had read an article in the local paper a couple of days ago about population decline. A survey of Japanese people aged 18 to 34 found that 70 percent of woman and 60 percent of unmarried men were not in a relationship. Moreover many of these singles never got cuddly with 42 percent of men and 44 percent of woman still virgins. Sylvia explained that as Japan has become more urbanised people are turning more and more to pets for company. I had laughed when seeing a pram load of dogs, complete with coats, pushed through the crowds on Sunday.

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Sylvia then went on to say how they have cat cafes in Tokyo where people pay to go to sit and play with pussies. With that conversation in mind I went on a mission to find a cat café.

Heading south out from Shinagawa station I was surprised to find that less than 4kms from the centre of Tokyo there are low rise residential dwellings. Very small and well kept they lined the streets until I reached a shopping precinct where the surrounding buildings got taller.

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I passed a construction site with diggers at work – the site was immaculate.

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A little further down the road some guys were digging up the road. A flag man bowed and pointed the safe path out to me. As the digger lifted the dirt from the hole a man with a shovel and another with a broom insured no dirt was left on the tarmac. Spare tools were stacked neatly in a wheelbarrow.

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Arriving at the cat café I found a photo on the building. Comparing the calligraphy in the photo to that on the signs in the foyer I was able to establish it was on the third floor.

A lovely lady welcomed me as I went in. I used one of my three Japanese words, “konichiwa” to greet her with. With a bit of sign language soon the English price list was out.

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For a small fee I was soon inside, photographing the very relaxed pusses. The space was very clean and tidy with not a whiff of the very friendly cats.

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I don’t think I will be racing back to a cat café next time I am in Tokyo but it is a great experience finding out how different we are in different parts of the world.

3 thoughts on “Exploring Tokyo

  1. Roger James says:

    Th cats looked very well fed – I didn’t want them putting on weight ????

  2. Victoria says:

    I hope you bought the drink and the snack for the cat option!! ???????????? VB

  3. Joe Walker says:

    Hi Mate, Just completing a very challenging second paper in Japanese in fact probably won’t pass but am learning heaps so your little journeys whet the appetite for sure. I’m trekking Mount Blanc in Europe next year so Japanese should come in handy 🙂 I’ll be going to Spain and France too and possibly Ireland. Have a new very fit and adventurous lady in my life now so Kokoda and some hard core trips on the cards in coming years. The school is all engrossing as ever but got to start feeding the travel bug a bit more you can’t be having all the fun !! All the best Joe

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