Back to the big city. In time to enjoy a splendid farewell dinner.
The next day there was time to stroll around central Tokyo …
Then Qantas time and home to Oz.
The big city is not my cup of tea. The conurbation of Greater Tokyo is the biggest of them all, 37.8 million people in 13,500 km².
I have a day adrift here. The options …
Really, where can a boy go bird watching in Tokyo. Mayumi, a friend, had suggested the Meiji Shrine.
Haneda Airport has an information desk. The staff speak good English and are keen to help. To get to the Meiji shrine take the train. There is a stop at the airport (Keikyu line). Why didn’t Melbourne think of that? Change to the JR Yamanote line at Shinagawa get off at Harajuku. You’re at the gate. Entry is free. Reverse the process to get home. They were kind enough to write it all down for me.
You can buy a single trip ticket at the station (why didn’t Melbourne think of that?) from a machine that can be switched to English. It didn’t, however, list stations individually, the missing part of the jigsaw was knowing which cost zone Harajuku would be in. Puzzled foreigner stares stupidly at machine. When dealing with foreign machines stare slowly and clearly.
A smartly dressed mid-career type man coming from the platform volunteers to help. He enquires at the information office and comes back with the missing piece, supervises the administration of the money and points me in the right direction. I thank him. He bows.
The Meiji Shrine commemorates the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, central figures in the Meiji Restoration of the 1860’s. This period saw the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate and an opening up of Japan to western influences.
The Emperor died in 1912 and the Empress two years later. Their tombs are in Kyoto. An area was set aside in Tokyo and trees planted in their honour. Established in 1920, it is now a mature forest that includes a couple of lakes providing excellent habitat for birds such as Oriental Turtle Dove, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Mandarin Duck, thrushes, redstarts, waxwings … and the shrine.
And surprisingly, it’s the shrine that gets all the attention. It happens to be the number one (of 228 attractions) on TripAdvisor.
Below is one of the splendid torii gates that mark the various approaches to the shrine …
Sake brewers donate barrels of sake wrapped in straw and paper to the shrine.
A small payment is required to enter the beautiful inner garden (¥500). This garden existed prior to the Meiji Shrine and the Emperor hand a hand in its design. Here you can find this tea house. It is probably the most photographed garden shed in all of Japan.
There is also a small pond in the inner garden, crafted to raise the spirits of Empress Shoken, there where I came across a very attractive Kingfisher and various small birds were coming for a handout.
It was a great place to spend the day. Now to get back to the Haneda Excel Tokyu Hotel.
Stupid foreigner stares slowly and clearly at ticket machine trying to remember how much money to contribute. Slender, young, attractive Japanese woman volunteers to help. She makes a quick trip to the enquiry desk, supervises the donation and points me in the right direction. Her English is impeccable. I thank her. She bows. Helplessness has its rewards.
You can download a map of the Tokyo Metro <HERE>.
Tokyo has two airports. Qantas flies into Narita, my first task was to get to Haneda.
Narita is 77 km east of central Tokyo. Haneda is 29 km south. From one to the other around the shores of Tokyo Bay is 80 km. I must confess to a little anxiety. Here I am dealing with an unfamiliar system in a language that I could not speak in my new role as an illiterate. Routine public transport is available but handling luggage for a three week trip on the train would be challenging. The easy way is the Limousine Bus.
When you are disgorged from the immigration and customs area the Limousine Bus counter is ahead, close and visible. The staff spoke good English and were very clear in their instruction to where you caught the bus. At the stop I was politely marshalled, put on the right bus, my luggage was loaded and off we went. Announcements are in Japanese and English, they are recorded and therefore intelligible. Anxiety dispelled.
The first two nights were at the Haneda Excel Tokyu Hotel in Terminal 2. As international drab as big hotels are, the national flavour will find a way to shine through. The Excel is the archetype airport hotel but …
The door was opened, two men bowed then indicated the direction to the reception desk, I was relieved of my luggage and checked in. It was a luxurious welcome. The bags were delivered to my room promptly and in Japan no tip is expected.