I touched my Pasnet metro pass to the scanner and the small doors in front of me opened. We were inside a Tokyo subway for the very first time in our lives.
The by now familiar Mark City shopping passageway was a standard entry point to board the orange Ginza line to go to the station of the same name. Rivers of commuters flowed ahead and parallel to us, never mixing, as we had become used to, and we were just going somewhere like everybody else.
Every single sign reading information you might need to progress during your adventure is translated in to English, and that just made me want to hug all of Japan. Directions for going up or down the stairs to avoid chaos are easy to spot, and clear signs asking to be considerate of other passengers, not to mention forbidding begging, playing music, passing out flyers etc. adorn walls. I can’t spot any litter anywhere and wherever we proceed doesn’t feel clogged or, indeed, much like it’s underground.
Two lines form at every platform section where people wait to enter through the train doors, with a space between them through which those exiting the train pass. We carefully follow suit and I discover I can touch the ceiling once we are inside. People on public transport generally don’t talk, listening to something with their headphones on, reading or dozing a little. A small screen above the door shows a tourism ad for Tokyo, with the main character, a girl clearly from the “West”, saying she was extremely excited about visiting, but also nervous, as she approaches a friendly metro staff member with a question. I’m enraptured. Especially since it turns out that the subway, as opposed to my earlier worries, is not confusing at all.
We get out at Ginza station and exit to our first rainy day in Tokyo. It’s drizzling steadily, but it’s still warm. We take a few steps amid the elegant high-rise buildings towering around us and stop by a beautiful stationery shop, since I can’t resist any place that might sell notebooks. There’s a strategically placed case outside, politely filled with clear plastic bags to put your wet umbrella in. I already feel like an elephant in a teashop and this small requirement increases my feeling of respect towards local manners. We browse shelves filled with pretty envelopes, exquisitely printed cards, bright boxes and very fancy pens.
Ginza is fashionable, but not intimidating, spacious, open, with some of the elegant charm of Daikanyama and the simultaneous atmosphere of being approachable that we’ve come to feel anywhere we went in Tokyo. A walk along its broad streets also conveniently leads to the Tsukiji fish market. When in Tokyo. Some contact with seafood has to be made.
The Tsukiji fish market is the largest in the world. We wove our way through the outer market, stopping at multiple stalls that offered bits of smoked fish, meat and nuts we had never seen before for tasting. All sorts of seafood and products we couldn’t always identify lined our way, signs and labels in Japanese making it all the more exotic for my inexperienced eyes, of course. It was a maze of quintessentially local experiences and by noon we were ready to do the one thing we had to do: eat some sushi. There was no shortage of places to pick, and we settled on a cosy-looking restaurant where you could sit inside. Bright menus with pictures made the selection easier and in no time we were sipping green tea, miso soup and carefully nibbling on our deliciously fresh sushi. Was it different from eating sushi back home? Yes, it was, as it was prepared on site and from local products, not to mention the whole setting simply made you more aware of tastes and sensations. I’m still a total wimp when it comes to wasabi.
Sated in every sense of the word, we made our way on foot to the Hama-Rikyu Gardens – the family gardens of the Tokugawa Shogun. Passing several hands in terms of ownership, the gardens had to undergo restoration work after WWII, opening to the public again in 1946. A cultural heritage spot, its blend of traditional architecture from the Edo era, numerous graceful trees and skyscrapers in the background is fascinating. It’s quiet and we grow silent as well, drinking in the beauty around us.
One of our busiest and fullest days in Tokyo was rounded off with a subway trip to Roppongi Hills, another talked about district, and a successful search for the Mori Tower. One elevator ride later we were looking down on Tokyo from the 52nd floor of the Skyview observation area. Fun game – get a flyer and with its help try to identify landmarks from above. We located Shibuya, and it was more than a little fantastic to walk there all the way from Roppongi once we were back down on land, after being so high up.