Day Six – Welcome to Tokyo! Enjoy Our Public Transit System!

After a full fun day using every conceivable mode of transport, it was time to bid adieu to Hakone and continue our voyage on to Tokyo (after breakfast….and another onsen session, natch).

As we had come in we also left, taking the bus for close to an hour to reach the Odawara train station to get back on the Shinkansen line. The ride to Tokyo took less than an hour (especially at 270+ km/h). I should mention here that we bought the JR Rail Pass in advance as we were told by numerous sources it is the best way to go, and let me tell you, we agree. Every JR station is a breeze to flash the pass and continue on. We assumed JR would be the national railway, like VIA or CN, and that we would only be using it to go between big cities like Osaka to Tokyo, but in every place we’ve been so far they run many many lines all through the cities. In fact they run a large portion of all rail traffic (subways are another matter) so getting the pass is an excellent deal and makes travelling in-city super easy as well.

We arrive in Tokyo and start to try and find our Air B’n’B. Now Osaka is a big city and we were impressed (read: overwhelmed) with the size and scale of things, and we really legitimately loved Osaka and its craziness…..but in terms of sheer size, insanity and Japanishness Tokyo takes it to an 11 right out of the gate. Our train arrived and we looked at the map of trains to see where we needed to go. We could not find it anywhere on our map, and that’s because, here, you need this OTHER map of the Tokyo metro. Unless you want to go to these stops across the river, then you ALSO need this private system map. And did we mention this other private system with only 4 stops you will need a map of?).

Here are the maps of all the lines together and then a small gallery of JUST JR lines, JUST Metro lines and JUST Skytree lines. With all this information the answer to the question “How do I get here?” is “Its incredibly easy and only requires a few steps, but before I can give you the answer may I see your masters degree in topographical cartography in non-Euclidean 6-dimensional space?”

We were used to the train systems now, but even still we had to ask someone at the JR line how to get to the train we needed. We needed to, and this is not a joke or an exaggeration, go back down 2 basements to the train line we just came off of, pass another train line on the 3rd basement level, walk all the way across the platform, turn left, go down a 4th basement level and catch that train. The train system runs very very very deep underground. At one point there was a small hole in a tile on the floor that I stepped in and the brimstone melted the bottom of my shoe.

We found the station we needed to board and then read the instructions to find the house and learned another important rule about the Japan transportation system: In China, and elsewhere, we could make pretty good assumptions about train stops. The stop might be called something on our map, but something else locally, usually with a similar name. In Japan…..that sort of crap don’t fly! The name on the map is the name on the station is the name on the train is the name everywhere. So when the instructions said Nishi-Shinjuku Gochome, we thought what he meant was just Nishi-Shinjuku (but not Shinjuku, which is the station you hear about where they stuff people into cars during rush-hour becuase 2 million people PER DAY use the station). To be fair our reasoning was sound…..the two transit maps we had at the time only had Nishi-Shinjuku and it wasn’t until we learned the ACTUAL station we wanted was on another line entirely. Long story short the instructions to get us there didn’t work at all and we had a long 20-minute walk. But, we did learn all about the Tokyo transit system, and isn’t that its own reward? I mean yes, but I was still in a pretty foul mood after all that.

Here’s the other thing about the Japanese: they HATE the outside world. Or at least that is the conclusion you would come to if you were an alien visiting earth for the first time. There are entire cities underground around transit centers (no, really). The stop we accidentally wrongly got off on had 15 exits and at least 5 of them were over 6 city blocks away, and all underground. There have to be maps of JUST the exits at the stops so you can find them and figure out where they go because, unlike our local Skytrain where taking the wrong exit simply means you walk an extra 30-feet or maybe have to cross an intersection, here if you take the wrong one you could quite easily be in a completely wrong neighbourhood (which, you might be interested, is what “chome” means, sort-of) when you do surface and have a very long walk for yourself.

So anyway, we found the place, it is lovely (and at least twice the size of our place in Osaka) and we’re in Tokyo by noon. Now….what to do…..

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