Tokyo

Over the winter holiday, I went to Tokyo to see the New York of Japan (for some reason I kept calling it New York).

One thing for me defines Tokyo. It is not the skyscrapers,  not crowds of people with a number of foreign faces bobbing through… it’s the trains. Tokyo has an expansive railway that is the lifeline of the place. Coming from Nairobi where there is only one railway line, serving only a few routes, I was really impressed by the railway network in Tokyo.

The Nairobi Commuter Train Route.

The Nairobi Commuter Train Route. Image from http://www.jambonairobi.co.ke

The subway was up to 7 floors down.. on each floor below the ground, there was a different line running. I was actually excited to be riding the subway, riding a tube under the ground was like being in the future 🙂 Bear in mind that the map below is just the subway, the (normal) railway line, JR East, is not included.

The Tokyo Train Map.

The Tokyo Metro Map. Image from http://www.wa-pedia.com/

The Journey to and From

Japan’s total area may be less than Kenya’s, but it is a series of islands stretched wide and long. So moving from one part of Japan to another takes quite some time actually, it will take a number of days (driving or train) to move from Hokkaido in the North to Okinawa in the South. It takes about 4 hours by train from Kanazawa City to Tokyo, but 2 hours by the Shinkansen (bullet train) which one can take from April this year. Trains are not so cheap, it costs about 10,000 Yen (Ksh 8,000) one way! However, there was an offer by JR Railway where 5 people buy a ticket for about 10,000 Yen but only using local trains. We went to Tokyo in a group of 10 people, used only local trains (stopping at every small station along the way),  and transferring a total of 6 times. We took 11 hours to Tokyo, having watched Japan’s beautiful countryside in winter. Coming back, I took a night bus for about 8 hours and slept through most of the journey back.

Japan countryside in winter

Japan countryside in winter. Much of the countryside was covered in a beautiful layer of white.

At one of the transfer stations along the way

At one of the transfer stations along the way

Sometimes we caught a glimpse of the sea.

A glimpse of the Japan sea

A glimpse of the Japan sea

In Nagano,  a renowned ski area, the snow was window-high and if it continued then it would soon be over 2 meters high. Perfect for skiing and snowboarding. I hope I can go skiing or snowboarding end of this month or early the next.

Look at the height of the snow!

Look at the height of the snow!

Chiba

Chiba is a neighbouring prefecture of Tokyo. I met a number of Kenyans living there, including my friend Anthony with whom I got the MEXT Scholarship. He taught me how to ride a bike (it has been embarrassing to admit that I don’t know how to ride a bike, but now that is behind me!).

The Edogawa river in Matsudo, Chiba

The Edogawa River in Matsudo, Chiba

We traveled on the 23rd and on Christmas, had dinner in at Australian restaurant in Chiba. the portion sizes were huge. We told ourselves, “ganbarimashoo”,  the Japanese expression for let’s do our best!

Christmas dinner was a feast at an Australian restaurant in Chiba

Christmas dinner was a feast at an Australian restaurant in Chiba

Odaiba

This place is famous for various sights such as its giant robot (my camera doesn’t take good photos at night so I couldn’t capture this well), the rainbow bridge, a replica of the statue of liberty, a beautiful walk near the sea and various illuminations during the festivals, among other sights and sounds.

Illumination at Odaiba

Illumination at Odaiba

The statue of liberty at Odaiba

The Statue of Liberty at Odaiba

The Rainbow Bridge is beautiful.

The rainbow bridge in Odaiba

The rainbow bridge in Odaiba

Tsukuba Kenyan party

On another day, I joined Kenyans having a party at Tsukuba at the JICA center there. Tsukuba is a city in Ibaraki prefecture next to Tokyo. The road there was beautiful in winter, I am sure it will look great in spring when the cherry blossoms are blooming on the trees lining the road below. There was ugali, sukuma wiki and chicken stew, there was pilau, chapati and beef  (just writing this is making me salivate). We also attempted some nyama choma (barbecue), braving the cold outside. A good time was had by all!

The road to Tsukuba

The road to Tsukuba

Shinjuku

This area in Tokyo is defined by its skyscrapers. Exiting West from the Shinjuku Station is like being in the West side of Moi Avenue in Nairobi. Exit East and you walk into a multitude of people, and it is here that I first saw a homeless man living in a tunnel! He surrounded himself with cardboard boxes and warm blankets, and he appeared to be staring at some poster in his hand.

During the earthquake in 2011, these skyscrapers were swaying from side to side ( you can even hear the sounds they make as they sway, watch this video if you are strong enough), a testament to Japan’s engineering ingenuity. If they were inflexible, they would crumble from the pressure of the quake!

Shinjuku Illumination

Shinjuku Illumination

Skyscrapers in Shinjuku

Skyscrapers in Shinjuku

Fascinated by the building below:

Shinjuku skyline

Shinjuku skyline

Tokyo Sky Tree

This is the second highest structure in the world (after the Burj Khalifa in the United Arab Emirates), standing at 634m high (picture 600 meters on the ground.. seen it? Okay, then make that vertical and you can picture what you are looking at). However, as a standalone tower, it is the highest in the world. I wanted to get up there, and take in the areal view of Tokyo. However on the day I went, there was a multitude of people, and we were told to come back 3 hours later, to start queuing! We gave up.  I will be in Japan for the next 3 years at least, so I will save some places for next time.

My friend managed to go up however, and you can check out her breathtaking pictures of Tokyo’s skyline here.

On a related note, if the Japanese got a very thin, long wire and added it to the top of the Sky Tree, it could go back to being the highest structure in the world, no? When will Kenya make a remarkable contribution to the world’s skyline? Now that we discovered oil, isn’t it high time?

The Tokyo Sky Tree jutting into the Sky, highest tower in the world.

The Tokyo Sky Tree jutting into the Sky, highest tower in the world.

Roppongi

Of course no trip to Tokyo is complete without a visit to its entertainment district! Somewhat dodgy, a little dangerous I hear, but otherwise fun. However, we went on a Tuesday evening and were told the dance clubs are closed until Thursdays onwards. There were lot of sports bars though.. Irish, British.. the British pub we went to was run by this guy who is half Japanese, half Ghanaian.  On that day, there didn’t seem to be much happening so after one drink and a round of darts, we left. Trains in Tokyo don’t run all night, they stop at midnight. So if you want to party you must be ready to stay till morning, or take a (fairly expensive) cab home. Anyway, place earmarked for next time 🙂

At the end of the 8 days, I was actually glad to get on the bus and go back to my fairly quiet city of Kanazawa. I had missed it.

And that dear readers, is my winter holiday report. Now rate it below.

 

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