Heading to the Hostel from Narita Airport
We landed in the evening around 8PM. Went through customs and received our rails pass stamps. With the JR Pass, you receive the pass itself prior to flying to Japan, but “activate it” once landed at the airport or any major train station. It is a pass only allowed to foreigners to encourage travel in Japan so shipping it to customers living outside Japan is one way they control who receives the pass. I asked a Japanese exchange student at my University why they do this with the JR Pass. Her response was that since it is such an good deal, they do not want lose money from native train travelers, also she said they don’t want the elderly retiring and just train traveling…I thought that was kinda funny…
We got on the Narita Express (around a 1 hour ride) and headed towards Tokyo,specifically Asakusa, where our hostel was located. We got off the Narita Express and were instantly lost in the middle of a train station where we had to transfer. So we approached a map to figure out the next train to take to our hostel. Within seconds a Japanese business man came up to us and asked us, in perfect English, where we wanted to go. We explained to him and he pointed us in the right direction. This was our first genuine encounter with someone in Japan, (not counting customs obviously, and the hospitality that he gave us was a theme that resonated throughout our entire trip with nearly everyone we met.
There is one main train line the scales the majority of Tokyo on a loop, the Yamanote Line. It will basically take you to every major district in Tokyo. So chances are you will have to hop on it once you’re off the Narita Express like us. There are other major train lines within the city that might be quicker depending on where you are departing and arriving. Anyway, by the time we got off at our stop actual stop (Ueno) on the Yamanote Line it was 11:30PM…and basically we were lost all over again…we tried walking to our hostel but were all turned around. Eventually hailing a taxi and giving the address, I recommend you do the same unless the hostel is right by the train stop.
Considering it was around 12 midnight when we landed, we were tired, but all to eager to finally checkout the city without our backpacks. We dropped our stuff off at the hostel and went for a late night walk through Asakusa. Considering it was summer, it was in the mid 60’s, so pretty warm. We walked a few blocks and noticed there was a sign for some major temples so we headed that way. Turned out it was the famous Senso-ji temple grounds that we had on the itinerary for later. Sensoji is the most important Buddhist temple in the Japan and is one of the top tourist sites in the country. We decided to check it out right then and we walked the whole stretch. It led to a great photo of Tokyo Skytree, Senso-ji Temple and the Moon, the featured photo for this blog post.
After that it was around 1AM and we decided to head back to the hostel.
Trust and Safety in Japan
Now when people talk about Japan, often times people bring up how safe it is and how everyone is so trustworthy. Being from America and the notion that you just can’t trust everyone in a big city, it was hard to believe that people are so trustworthy and things are so safe in such a densely populated country. Yet, on this walk back to our hostel around 1AM, my friend and I observed a young girl, maybe 12, biking through the streets, with no one batting an eye. I couldn’t believe it, not to say that I didn’t trust people, but the idea of having a young girl biking the streets at 1AM in of one of the worlds most major cities doesn’t seem like the safest thing no matter where you are. That was the first encounter and observation that led up to me soon realizing that Japan really is as safe and trustworthy as most people make it out to be. Now, I wouldn’t run around Japan with a total sense of “nothing ever bad will happen to me”, but just with just a reasonable level of caution you will not encounter any problems. Anyway, we got back to our hostel and called it a night.
Tsukiji Fish Market
The following morning we got up, packed our things and around 8am we headed towards the Tsukiji Fish Market. Just hopped on the train and walked a couple blocks and we were there. Unfortunately we got there too late to observe the fish auctions. Typically you have to get there around 5am – 6am if you want to see the auctions. Either was it was our first morning in Japan so it was exciting. Tsukiji is a definite must see in Tokyo, there is so much going on and you get a small taste for the Japanese addiction for fish. There is not a specific thing to see there, just walking around and observing is what you’re there to see.
One of my initial observations was that even though we were in such an enormous city it was very clean. Very little trash scattered about. There have only been two other cities/countries that I have traveled to that I experienced such cleanliness, Stockholm, Sweden and basically all of Switzerland. In terms of scale though, Tokyo is far bigger than any city in Sweden and Switzerland so it was impressive. Now there are parts of Tokyo that are not as clean but that is to be expected. Anyway, we had a sushi breakfast at the market, took pictures and left to Tokyo Station where we headed to Kyoto around noon.