If you’re connecting through a city using your frequent flyer miles, you should be aware that you are allowed to connect in any city within 24 hours for free. This is what I did when I was traveling from Beijing to Chicago. I had a 23 hour stop-over in Tokyo. Meaning I could explore a city that wasn’t even on my destination list for free. Definitely something to look into while you are using your miles (in my upcoming eBook I teach you all how to do this and give you other tips and tricks).
So that is what happened to me when I was flying home from Asia. I was in Beijing and using my American Airlines miles I had to fly to Tokyo and then onto Chicago (even though they have a direct flight from Beijing to Chicago… American decided to make it difficult for me and connect me through Tokyo). I didn’t mind and it was my gain because I was traveling to one of the greatest cities in the world.
My oh my how I fell in love with Tokyo even though I was there for less than 24 hours. When I first arrived it was the afternoon and I couldn’t even get my luggage (I was actually worried about it because I had checked the luggage all the way through to Chicago which meant my luggage was going to have to stay at Tokyo Narita Airport for 24 hours).
In the airport there is a selection of trains you can take to downtown Tokyo and I decided to go with JR Express. They were very efficient but you do have to book a seat and get your tickets before you get on the train. There is a desk when you come out of the arrivals and they will direct you to a office where you can buy a Suica card along with your train pass. It’s a deal that is offered to tourists when you buy your train pass. It’s helpful because you have some credits when riding the subway and you have your train tickets. You can’t reserve you return ticket but you can buy a ticket and then reserve it the next day. Apparently you have to go to a machine to reserve your seat 24 hours in advance but I ended up just boarding a train with my receipt and everything worked out.
So I took a train to downtown Tokyo which is like an hour away from Narita. I wanted to see the highlights of Tokyo and some of the more interesting parts. I really had a limited time. So I decided to go off of this schedule I found on Wikitravel that had some of the highlights of Tokyo… Wikitravel One Day in Tokyo. While I was in Beijing I planned out my schedule and studied the map to get a sense of where things were (trust me this will pay off because you don’t want to waste your time just looking at a map while in Tokyo).
What is confusing about Tokyo is that their train systems are run by different companies including the subway. There are 3 different companies running their subway lines and sometimes these systems don’t overlap… ugh very confusing.
Oh and on a side note, I urge you to have money to transfer to Japanese Yen before you arrive. Most of Japan does not take American cards in their ATMs and to make matters worse most of Japan does not accept credit cards period. Japan is one of the few nations in the world that still solely run on just cash… and when I mean everywhere I mean everywhere. Seriously the Japanese have this thing against credit cards and will only run around with huge wads of cash.
And so when I arrived at Tokyo Station (that is one of the major stations in Tokyo and it’s where you can connect to other trains, subway lines, etc…), I got out of the train and was just confused from the start. First of all Tokyo stations are designed so that different levels of the station have different trains come in. So really the station is vertical and you must know how to move up and down these platforms. Secondly these stations also are massive and a lot of the subway lines are actually a walk away. Adding to the fact that the buildings are tiny and busy you have to have a map to successfully navigate through them. Also, like I was saying before, you must be ready to figure out which line you want (and that takes planning beforehand).
So I arrived at Tokyo station and found the center of the station… From here I actually wanted cash to buy a locker, some souvenirs and food. Well where was I going to do that? Luckily there are information people who do speak English in the Tokyo Station. So I went up to them and she directed me towards an ATM. But unfortunately my credit card didn’t work. At this point I was kicking myself for not pulling cash sooner but I decided to keep moving and found an ATM where I could get cash (so I could eat Japanese food as well).
Well I left the train station to find an ATM but I didn’t recognize where I was at all. It was foggy and rainy and I had no idea where an ATM was. So I decided to carry on with my schedule and head to the Meiji Shrine located next to the Harajuku Station (and if you’re a Gwen Stefani fan you would know that that is also the fashion center of Tokyo). And to get there you have to take the Yamanote Line which is one of the busiest and most important lines of Tokyo.
At this point I was getting the hand of understanding the Tokyo subway station and I was able to find the Yamanote line with relative ease. After that I just made sure I was heading in the right direction (since the line runs in a circle) and within 30 minutes I was on the western end of Tokyo at Harajuku Station.
A brief description of the Meiji Shrine is it’s a Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. It is absolutely beautiful and a must see while you are in Tokyo (It feels like you’re in a huge forest in the middle of Tokyo, incredible). Make sure you take a lot of pictures and do the traditional water ceremony when you first enter the shrine!
After that I followed the schedule and headed down of the most expensive streets in the world. Omote-Sando is a tree lined boulevard that is comparable to Champs-Elysees in Paris. Well being that this was the end of my trip I couldn’t afford anything on that street but they did have a Citibank ATM… This was my savior as I was getting hungry and it was raining (I was able to draw some money out, thank god).
So I kept walking and along the way and I got lost a couple of times (its Tokyo and this is sure to happen) but luckily I was able to realize where the subway lines were running and able to get back on track.
Next stop was Shibuya Station but I was really hungry and my bag that I was carry was breaking thanks to the rain. So I needed to find a locker but at Shibuya all the lockers were taken… so I decided to hop on the subway and go to Shinjuku station. Shinjuku is crowded and is full of party goers at night. It is one the most iconic parts of Tokyo and is a neighborhood not to be missed.
I went to Shinjuku to experience the neighborhood, drop off my bag at a locker and have a traditional Japanese meal. So after dropping my bag off and wondering the streets of Shinjuku for a bit I settled on having sushi as my one dinner meal while in Tokyo (And honestly you can have so many other types of food because they line the streets everywhere you go. To be honest it’s very overwhelming).
So I found this restaurant somewhere near Shinjuku station and they had sushi! So I was in. It was a very cute place although I wish I had someone else with me (only American in there). Nobody spoke really good English but it really didn’t matter… they understood sushi. I couldn’t believe it! I was in Japan having sushi.
So after I had my lovely sushi I asked for help to find where the NKT broadcasting station so I could get a Domo-Kun (little anime monsters that are popular in Japan). Asked my waiter and he tried to help me out in whatever way he could (One thing about Japanese people is they will go out of their way to help you out when possible).
So he tried to guide me in the right direction but I was going to have to find it on my own. I ended up going to Shibuya station again and went north away from the world’s busiest intersection, Hachiko. Up through the hills of Shibuya I got lost again and had to ask… fortunately Japanese people are helpful and asked me what I needed to find and directed me to the right place. The NKT is a Japanese TV station and a not so known tourist destination but it houses the best collection of Domo-Kuns… and unfortunately they were closed. I was pissed because this was one souvenir that I really wanted. Next-time!!
So it was nighttime in Tokyo and I was getting exhausted. I had traveled the night before and had just walked around much of Tokyo. I walked over to the Shibuya Shuffle and got some videos of me walking across the street. I’ve always wanted to be in the Shibuya Shuffle at nighttime. But as night was approaching I really needed a break.
So I decided to go to a computer/gaming place that is open 24/7. It was fantastic. For 9 hours I received free internet with an enclosed room. Inside there was a coat hanger, comfy leather chair so I could lay down, dvd-rom with a selection of thousands of DVDs to choose from, and a computer. They also had free showers and free drinks for your entire stay… All of this for the bargain price of 19 dollars. It was truly an experience.
I spent 9 hours there and it was perfect for an overnight stay. I didn’t want to be on the streets alone (even know I wanted to go to a club in Tokyo) but I was dressed inappropriately and I was exhausted.
My flight leaving for Chicago was at 11:00 the next morning and I wanted to make sure I had enough time to go the airport so I left around 6:00 the following morning. It was a cool site to see as the Japanese youth were coming home from a drunken night out. The train stations were packed even though it was a Sunday and people were stumbling all over the place.
I went back on the train to receive my belongings and then I was off to the airport. I was supposed to reserve my seat on the train but I couldn’t find where I was supposed to do that and I knew there was a train leaving shortly.
I just got on it. I had the receipt and there was barely anybody else on the train. Although I ended up sitting in the wrong compartment and the attendant looked at my ticket and I freaked out for a second thinking I was going to get in trouble for not reserving my seat. No I was just in the first class compartment and he politely asked me to move.
And so I took the high-speed train station back to the airport and went back through security at Narita. Everything went so smooth and easy and I really grew to love Japan in such a short time. And now my trip was officially over and I was headed back to Chicago. One thing is for sure… I will be back to Japan real soon.
2012 Asia Tour
images by: pietro