I arrive at around 10am in Narita Airport and the weather is very nice outside: I am therefore looking forward to arriving in the city center to begin my trip! However, I first have to leave the airport, but everything is indicated in English for us tourists, so no worries about that. People visiting Japan for the first time are not yet aware that they are in a megalopolis of 30 million inhabitants, but no worries, they will realize it soon enough!
Shortly after arriving, I can see again (do not forget that this is my second trip to Japan) that famous Japanese practicality, the « procedural » side of daily life in Japanese society: for example, if you are on an escalator in Tokyo, you’ll always see the Japanese standing on the left to let the right way free. I will write about this later on in other articles, but I know a lot of countries (all?) which could take example on Japan. But watch out: in Osaka, we stand on the right on escalators! And Kyoto, it’s how you feel it… No, it’s true! The former capital city hosts so many tourists and Japanese from the countryside that there are no real rules.
Also know that Japanese are very visual: everything is explained not only textually but also shown as pictures. I will also write about this in other articles, but just have a look at the campaign « Do not do it here please! / Do it again please! » from the Tokyo Metro (and its pictures emphasizing respectful behavior), it’s worth a glance!
The first thing to do is to go through the immigration office. Nothing special here: they check your landing pass, take your fingerprints and stamp your passport as long as everything is in order. After that, I get my bag, one of the first arriving on the conveyor belt. I then pass quickly by the customs office where after a few questions, they let me continue my journey without checking much the contents of my bag. In short, I’m done with entry procedures, here I am in the arrivals hall: Welcome to Japan!
It is now time to get my Japan Rail Pass and I can do that here at the airport or in any large train station. So I head to the train departure platforms on the lower level. I remember the location of the JR office (again thanks to my previous trip), so I found it easily and directly swap my voucher for the precious pass! And as I am in a JR office, I took the opportunity to also buy a Suica card (also purchasable in all train and underground stations). Have a look here to know more about the Suica Card. I am now fully equipped to reach the city center! Well almost, I’m still missing the train ticket to get out of the airport. Since I have to go to Ueno, the easiest way is to go via the Keisei line which make the journey in just over 40 minutes for approximately ¥ 2,200 (reduction included). Initially, I was interested in buying the « N’EX TOKYO Round Trip Ticket » but it changed in March 2015; it currently costs ¥ 4,000 for a round trip Tokyo-Narita with a validity of 14 days which it not worth it because I stay one month there, but it is a very good offer for those who remain two weeks in Japan, with arrival and departure from Narita airport of course! One can also find cheaper, but the trip is therefore a bit longer. It mostly depends if you are in a hurry or not! So I buy a ticket for the Keisei line with my Suica card, then head to the platform.
The train arrives after only 3 minutes of waiting, perfect timing! I sit comfortably in my seat in an almost empty car and quietly enjoy the scenery. All is so calm, clean and comfortable: we are in Japan! I see some cherry blossom, one of the main reasons for my visit in April and I can’t wait to have a closer look. I also write a few lines in my travel diary before finally arriving at Ueno Station. This station is located on many rail lines including the famous Yamanote circle line, one of the busiest in Tokyo because it serves the main areas of the city (Shinjuku, Shibuya, Marunouchi, Ueno, Ikebukuro and Akihabara). I walk in the station for a moment, mostly to do some spotting as this will be my daily starting point as I dwell in Tokyo.
As it is now 11am and I can not register at the hostel before 4pm, I choose to put my big backpack in a locker just outside the entrance to the Hibiya subway line (perfect to recover it on the way back towards the hostel) and to go directly for a tour in Asakusa. Indeed, the weather is fine, but I do not know how long it will last, so let’s enjoy it right now! The use of lockers is very simple: you select the one in which you previously placed your bag, you pass your Suica card on the reader (or you insert a ¥ 500 coin) and voila!
My bag being now securely stored, I head to the entrance of the Ginza line, one of many subway lines in Tokyo.
Ah, the subway in Tokyo! Let me open a small parenthesis.
Many foreigners see the transport network of Tokyo as a jungle-like maze. Quite the contrary! If you already took the subway in any other city in the world, you should not get lost in Tokyo. Furthermore, the train and metro network of the Japanese capital city has a lot of advantages: punctuality, cleanliness, safety, complete and accurate information, toilets generally clean and free WiFi, thanks to hotspots more and more numerous.
And for all of this to work, travelers must comply with a number of rules of conduct: one must respect signs on the ground and barriers, wait in line without cutting queues (again according to the signs on the ground), don’t get inside a train as long as people get out, calm must be respected, backpacks must be placed on the ground or on the height grids, don’t eat in cars, pay attention to the reserved seats (for disabled, pregnant women, etc.) and avoid, if necessary, front/back cars which are reserved for women at certain times of the day. Yes, you read correctly! Rush hour in a capital city of about 30 million people = people are literally compressed in the cars = crowding problems = harassment, touching and attacks of all kinds on the female gender eventually led to the establishment of this service during specific hours. Note that this service is also accessible to children, elderly and disabled.
Anyway, I could go on talking about the Tokyo subway or other Japanese transport systems for hours, but this is not really the purpose of the article and others do it much better than me. .. Ask Google! Parenthesis closed.
So I take the first subway of the Ginza line that passes and arrive out after a few minutes at the terminus of the line, Asakusa. At each station, yellow signs tell you where you will arrive via such ans such exits, quite practical when you consider that every street corner or nearly full of places to visit! So I’m heading out by the closest exit from the Senso-ji and get my camera ready. Tired of this introduction (rather long, I admit)? Good, ’cause we’re done, let’s start the visit!