Tokyo is a big city. In fact, it’s the largest city in the world, although Delhi is expected to surpass it over the next decade. The city is so spread out that it has 18 subway/train lines, plus the famous Shinkansen, linking the cities at super-fast speeds. So I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe the complexity and chaos of this crowded city.
The first thing I need to say is that there rarely seems to be chaos. As you can imagine, it can be quite overwhelming for first-time visitors, as we stumble our way way through the maze of streets and railway platforms. Yet the city is relatively clean and well-organized, the people are exceedingly polite and helpful, and the trains run precisely on time (unless there is a delay, in which case there is communication about which lines are affected and the cause). By the way, I was able to observe this because all signs and announcements over public transit are in Japanese and English.
As part of the photo tour group, I spent two nights in the busy Shinjuku neighbourhood of Tokyo when I first arrived in Japan. I would not have found my way out of a paper bag those first couple of days, so I’m thankful we had a guide!
Following the end of our tour, I stayed on in Tokyo for three nights by myself, this time in Ueno, a much quieter neighbourhood. This was quite a risk on my part, because I had no idea how I would do in the big city, but I really wanted a few more days before returning home – it is such a long way to go! As I had hoped, by the time I returned to Tokyo, I had a really good sense about how to get around.
The key for me was two apps on my phone – an interactive, searchable map of Tokyo (I have the Ulmon CityMaps2Go app), and the Japan Travel app, which helps you map your route via transit. And I also had a Passmo card which you can load with money and tap to spend – very convenient!
Once I got used to how things work – for example, remembering to always walk on the left instead of the right as Japan is a left-side-of-the-road country – I was good to go. In the end, Tokyo didn’t feel a lot different than Toronto or New York or London in terms of finding my way around. Traffic and transit and interactions with other people seemed pretty similar to other big cities.
So today’s post is my attempt to let you see what “getting around” looks like. And sure, all the visual inputs – not to mention the walking involved – were exhausting. But taking in the sights and moving with the crowds was exhilarating! I hope you enjoy the vicarious thrill of travel in Tokyo.