First impressions from Tokyo

When touring a country it is very easy to spend so much time on the road that your entry/exit point, often the capital city, gets neglected. We made this mistake with Bangkok two years ago and were determined not to do the same with Tokyo. Having had a day and a half to look around the city and get over our jetlag we will return for another few days at the end of our time in Japan.

What follows here is not a lengthy post describing the many experiences we’ve already enjoyed in Tokyo. There will be time for that when I return home and a nagging need for sleep is not the best time to sit and write. Instead I’ve listed a few of the more surprising discoveries from a little over 24 hours on Tokyo’s busy streets, along with a small selection of our photos.

View from Tokyo Government Building

1. Japan is known for its fancy toilets but I imagined that these would be confined to the posh hotels and didn’t expect to find one in our modest place. With five different functions we’ve already managed to wet the floor and while it was easy to create a strong vertical jet of water the only challenge was finding the flush button.

The colourful and very noisy Koenji Awaodori festival

2. Eating well on a low budget is surprisingly easy. After four good quality meals we have yet to see a bill over £10 for the two of us. Especially good was the pork cutlet with rice that I ordered from a street vending machine (look at the pictures, insert money and enter the number of the dish you want, take the ticket inside and wait two minutes for your dish to be called).

Dinner from a vending machine - surprisingly good

3. Public transport around Tokyo is cheap with most journeys costing 190 yen (£1.50) or less. That said it seems to me as an outsider to be unnecessarily complicated. There are two operators managing different lines of the underground network, and what looks like a simple change of lines on a map suddenly means your ticket is no longer valid.

Another curiosity is that all official government brochures that describe the options for getting to the city from Narita airport list several expensive options between 2000 and 3000 yen yet seem to deliberately omit a very reasonable local train that runs only slightly slower and yet costs a far more sensible 1000 yen.

Unsurprisingly transport is clean and punctual, with requests to refrain from using mobile phones on overground trains making for a very quiet ride through the city.

Sensoji Temple in Asakusa

4. So far we have met a surprisingly high proportion of people who can speak at least a little English. While fully expecting this to change as we leave Tokyo and head north it has made life a lot easier when finding ourselves on the wrong side of a gate or in possession of the wrong ticket.

Tokyo skyline - some very creative architecture on display

5. My hard work last week in trying to learn the katakana characters (one of the three Japanese scripts in regular use) is proving very useful. Katakana is used for ‘loan words’, mostly from the English language, so once you can decipher the characters and say the word aloud in most cases the meaning should become clear. Hopefully in a week or two I will have progressed beyond my current practice of standing beside every sign for five minutes making some very strange sounds.

A visit to Tokyo's very impressive zoo in Ueno Park

Author Information

Freelance travel writer

5 Responses to “First impressions from Tokyo”

  1. I didn’t realize you could eat so cheaply in Tokyo.

    No pictures of the fancy toilets?

    August 29, 2011 at 1:56 pm
  2. What you should have had in Tokyo is a Passmo card, on which you put a certain amount of money [there is a deposit of Y500, retrieved at the end if you return the card at a subway station]. It will work on any subway line. You can go all the way to Kamakura with it.

    I do love Japanese toilets. I find them rather simple to operate if you look at the pictures [you can even adjust the flow of water, and the fact the seat can be heated is great when it’s chilly]. Most of the time they flush with a the same mechanism as western ones.

    Indeed, one of the easiest things to do in Tokyo is eat well and cheaply.

    August 30, 2011 at 4:25 pm
  3. merope #

    Loved reading your description of Tokyo. I was there last year and your experiences mirrored mine. Your pictures are better though because there was a typhoon when I was there. :)

    I look forward to more updates. You are traveling with the best tour company ever in one of the best places on earth and I know you will have a wonderful time

    August 31, 2011 at 1:31 pm
    • Thanks – I’m having a very enjoyable time and every day is bringing more pleasant surprises. Which tour company are you referring to? I am travelling independently with my wife with no fixed plans beyond a couple of days ahead of us.

      August 31, 2011 at 1:39 pm
  4. Tokyo is a lot of fun and can be done on a budget. Meals are cheap if you eat at budget Japanese restaurants like Yoshinoya, Sukiya, and CoCo Ichiban Curry House.

    September 1, 2011 at 11:23 am