We have planned to visit Japan for a long time. Our expectations for the trip were quite high-modern technology on one hand, and traditional Japan on the other hand. We wanted to see as much as possible in ten days.
Japan has seen exceptional economic growth since 1950. Now it is one of the world’s most powerful economies. Japan has bustling cities bursting with skyscrapers, bullet trains, and trendy people in the streets. Yet beneath the brash modernity beats an ancient heart. This is still the realm of the exquisite art of the geisha and the skill of the sumo wrestler.
Post factum, we can say Japan is a land of contrast and miracles. Tokyo dazzles with bright lights and high-tech gadgetry, while traditions and history stand at every corner in Kyoto. In addition, the peace and sadness of Hiroshima made it an ideal trip for us.
Japan is unforgettable.
Day One in Tokyo – Ginza, Shibuya, and Harajuku
Our trip to Japan started at Helsinki airport. We flew with Finnair, and we were very pleased with their flight and service on the flight. Two hours before our arrival, we had breakfast. By that time, the skies were clear and we saw interesting views of the Arctic Ocean, Siberia, and Kamchatka. And then we were in the skies of Japan. Japan is very mountainous. We saw from the plane window Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest peak, in all its beauty.
We arrived at Nagoya airport at 8:55 AM, exactly as scheduled. The passport control was very quick. For luggage, we waited a bit longer, but already at 9:30, we were ready and willing for departure to Tokyo. A tourist info booth with English-speaking very helpful people was in the arrival hall of Nagoya International Airport.
For train tickets, cash was needed. First, the seller proposed a 1200 yen ticket. But as we had heard from Tourist Info that the ticket would be 850, we asked for that. We got it. Later, we understood that the more expensive one would have been quicker. Our trip to Nagoya station took one hour.
Nagoya station was very busy. We bought Shinkansen tickets for 10 780 yen each. We had 20 minutes until our Nozomi train. The Shinkansen is the fastest train service in Japan. The train can reach speeds of up to 300 km per hour. There are three types of trains: Nozomi (the newest), Hikari, and Kodama. We had bought a 7-day JR pass, which is not valid for Nozomi trains, and we planned to use it during the last seven days of our trip, so we tried Nozomi out now.
On the platform, we found several food kiosks. We also bought some food to eat on the train (as almost everybody else did). Now it was time to take photos and tape some video. At some point, we realized that train tickets have car and seat numbers, and we did not stand in the right place. But the train had already come… So we ran to the right stop and managed to enter through the right door.
Lesson number one: at the Shinkansen platform, read from the signs where you should stand and wait.
We arrived by Shinkansen at Shimbashi station. We had instructions that we should either take the subway for one stop or walk for 7-8 minutes. We decided to walk, and this was a good idea because it turned out that our hotel was in the area of most skyscrapers. The view was magnificent. And walking on the walkways, even with a suitcase, was quite convenient.
We booked the hotel Villa Fontaine Shiodome earlier through the internet. We followed the suggestion from Lonely Planet that in Japan, the best price-quality ratio is in business hotels. We can only agree with that. The hotel accepted check-in into the rooms from 3 PM, but they took our luggage, so we were ready to explore Tokyo.
As a good start, we walked and enjoyed the skyscrapers in Ginza. Then we took the subway to Shibuya. After getting out of the subway station, we were near Shibuya Crossing, a famous four-way intersection. We watched it several times after the green light given to pedestrians released a timed surge of humanity. This was amazing. Maybe it was even more impressive as we were here on our first afternoon in Tokyo, not so used to these masses of people in the streets.
We walked from Shibuya to the Harajuku district and found this area very interesting for people-watching. These areas are both youth-oriented shopping districts. We got our first impression that Japanese people are very fashionable, well-dressed, and good-looking. It is not easy to find fat people on the streets.
After long walks in Shibuya and Harajuku, it was time for dinner. We took the subway to Ginza. Tokyo’s Ginza is Tokyo’s answer to New York City’s 5th Avenue. There are a lot of expensive shops, and we read that this is also the area for restaurants. Since Ginza station was within walking distance to the hotel, we wanted to have a sushi dinner here.
We walked down the restaurant street at 8 PM and it was quite empty. We found a sushi bar where we ate excellent sushi. Also, miso soup was served. The dinner for two with drinks cost 6500 yen. We considered it to be a very reasonable price, even cheap considering the expensive image of Japan. However, the next few days showed that this was very expensive in Japanese terms.