After a last minute cancellation of our vacation plans in 2011, due to the Tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster, I was luckier the 2nd time around and got to spent a solid week in Japan during which I could sift through:
(A) Tokyo (Tokyo Skytree, Metro (pretty much all the lines), JR, Imperial Palace etc.)
(B) Kyoto (The original Capital city, with the inverted name of “Tokyo”, as my colleague pointed out)
(C) Mt. Fuji
Contrary to what I had feared, language (“English”) was not an issue at all. There were signs in English all over and a lot of the younger generation spoke pretty fluent English.
Narita International Airport: Quite out of the central Tokyo area. But easily connected by Metro and Narita Airport Express trains.
Tokyo is HUGE! I pretty much went around all the Metro lines and was amazed at the sheer size of the city. Tokyo Central Station is near the Imperial Palace and has over 3000 trains servicing it. I took the Shinkasen from the Tokyo Central Station. The Tourist Desk folks were very helpful and spoke English.
Shinkasen (Bullet Train): I took the Nozomi line from Tokyo to Kyoto. 476Km in 2hr18m. Managed to get some office work done during the train ride. The countryside was nice to see.
Random thoughts from the trip:
– Tokyo, like a lot of the other enduring Metros in the World, has a fantastic public transit system, with trains and buses in tandem
– What a sprawling and never-ending Metro … Huge!
– The view from SkyTree was very nice … So was the Ice-Cream 🙂
– Japan Rail (“JR”) is omnipresent with all the cities being connected and the lines being divided into East, West Etc.
– Even folks who were not very fluent in English were very helpful and friendly … For example, a regular traveller on the JR train on way to Mt.Fuji, noticed my Nikon DSLR and the fact that I was obviously a tourist, and pointed out a fantastic view of Mt.Fuji as the train was going along a curve. I managed to take a couple of good snaps then
– The Hotel I stayed in (during my personal vacation days, before the corporate meetings) was very modern with all the latest amenities
– It takes around 55m for the Narita Express (which has very few stops) to reach Tokyo Central from Narita Airport
– I tried a “cold coffee” from a vending machine in Otsuki station and it was not that great
– There were trekkers galore at the Mt.Fuji station … From the brochures, I gather that trekking in the Mt.Fuji area is a favorite pastime of the locals
– Mt.Fuji area is very green and pleasant
– I should probably have reserved seats for the JR train back to Tokyo. I spent 1.5hr standing … There were long queues for people to get into the unreserved compartments
– I noticed that the JR East local trains were not that perfect in their timings and our train was over 5m late
– Shinkasen (Nozomi) train was clean and spacious … Super-fast to boot
– After sitting through a lot of my “click click” (my camera) a passenger right in front of me (who was trying to take a nap) requested me to be quiet 🙂
– I walked around 30Km through Tokyo and Kyoto … I must admit that lugging around a DSLR is not very easy
– I noticed a lot of Kimonos in Kyoto … Is it because it is a more traditional city?
– Tried some pastries in Kyoto made of Tofu, Green Tea Etc.
– Kyoto, because it is a Royal City, has countless Temples and Shrines … Couldn’t see them all. But did visit a lot …
– Bought some souvenirs at a Kyoto Palace and later discovered that I converted the currency (Yen to USD) all wrong and I ended up spending much more than what I had originally intended. The staff were gracious enough to return my money 🙂 Whew!
– Kyoto is a World Heritage City and the North-West area of the city, with a lot of Temples and Shrines, is very green and pretty
– Kyoto has a very good bus system and it is not that difficult to navigate. There is a handy tourist bus map as well. For 500Y, you can buy a 1-day bus pass, which is what I did
– Kyoto Tourist Information Center (in Kyoto Station) was very helpful
– Once I splurged some significant Yen at the Souvenir center, the staff were all perfectly attentive and caring … Hmmm, I wonder why
– Love the shape of the Shinkasen trains … Looks like a Platypus, but moves like a Cheetah
– I noticed that over 70% of office goers wear dark trousers (blue/black) and light shirts (white/blue) … Almost as if the majority of the workforce worked at the same place and had a dress code
– The peak-hour Metro ride (with my suitcase) was an experience! There was railway staff to push the crowd into the train and allow for the doors to be closed. The crowds reminded me of the Mumbai local trains
– Noticed quite a lot of folks wearing the cloth-based face masks (dust? germs?)
– Got to try the Bento Box …
– Our corporate get-together was at a traditional Japanese restaurant (seating on the floor, low tables, lots of Sushi) … Though I am not the biggest Sushi fan, I must say I loved some of the fish
Overall, it was a wonderful trip, both personally and professionally. Onward to the next destination …