Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tokyo Highlights: Getting around

Last time ‘round we felt notably constrained by our lack of Japanese language capability. Getting on a train or navigating the streets or ordering a meal was a major effort. This wasn’t an issue this time. Perhaps our last sample was unlucky? Perhaps there’s been a boom in English language signage and education? I don’t know. But this time we felt we could find our way and feed our faces with no difficulty.

This was a particular boon in that it freed us to use the fantastic (but complex!) Tokyo rail network to hop from point to point.

Still, we did a lot of walking. Tokyo’s neighborhood topography is so varied that strolling between major areas really helps to fill out the mental map of the town. We enjoyed moving from the glitzy consumer haven of Shinjuku to the teen fashion alleys of Harajuku. A long stroll past the majestic Imperial Palace, through the public spaces filled with museums and tour groups leading to the Yasukuni shrine made for a lovely morning. But it was certainly a total counterpoint to our evening amongst the hipsters in the narrow lanes of Naka Meguro.

Everywhere we went, we were amazed at how the compacted hustle & bustle of the busiest neighborhoods gave way to charming quiet residential areas just a block or two off the main drag. In the frenetic center of Roppongi right across from the ultra-modern high end Tokyo Midtown development (the new Ritz Carlton residences look down on this gourmet shopping mall), walking 100 meters off the main street left us in the midst of idyllic pocket parks and picture perfect small homes.

This is a great town for wandering about and bumping into pleasant surprises.

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