The other day I had a little time over to just walk around Shinjuku after dark. The day ends so quickly and suddenly these days, I had been hoping to catch the golden hour light but in November it is more like the Golden 10 minutes. I walked from the west station exit area to the south, and over to the east side. The seventh photo is of the new Keio Bus Travel center, a must spot for budget travelers around Japan. Personally I would use it every weekend if I could only sleep on long distance buses. Alas I can’t so I usually end up going with the four times as expensive shinkansen bullet trains. The following photo (the eighth) is of the Starbucks on Southern Terrace, in what has to be one of the best Starbucks locations on Earth. In the photo it looks all dark and cold and isolated but in real life it is actually a quite cozy and fantastically interesting spot if you are into people watching.
Shinjuku is probably the capital of Tokyo both in name and in spirit and a bit more mature than youthful Shibuya while not as conservative as the Tokyo area Marunouchi, Yaesu). I also hold Shinjuku as one of the must see spots for casual tourists to Japan, not least because it is within walking distance of the Tokyo Metropolitan government office viewing platforms. Some day I must really publish that tourist guidebook I have written, presently just gathering digital dust on one of my many hard disks.
Okutama station, the terminus of the Ome line is the highest elevated station in Tokyo, at 343m above the sea it is just a few meters short of the height of Tokyo Tower. It is the main station of Tokyo’s western most town, Okutamamachi. With an area more than half of The Tokyo 23 wards area it is also the largest town, city or ward in terms of size. In terms of population, at just above 6000 people it is barely one tenth of some Tokyo wards. The town also contains the tallest mountain of Tokyo, the westernmost and the northernmost points of Tokyo, bordering both Saitama and Yamanashi prefectures. The station is tiny, with a little shop selling local specialities (including some mouth watering fresh wasabi plants) and not much more. In front of the station there is a bus station for those who want to go even further west. The main industry of the town itself it the lime stone mine and quarry, manufacturing various slaked lime and crushed stone products for industry and agriculture.
Arriving at the station, it is really hard to convince oneself that it’s just an hour and a half from central Tokyo and the massive Shinjuku station, which sees 2000 to 3000 times as many passengers as little Okutama station in a day. It feels very much like you are in some fantastically tiny village in the remotest parts of Hokkaido or Tohoku. Now that I have blogged from the easternmost, westernmost and northernmost parts of Tokyo I really have to get down to the southernmost point, Ogasawara Islands.
It’s not very new anymore but I still make a point to go up to the top floor every time I pass, the new tourist information building in front of Asakusa’s famous Kaminarimon, the entrance gate to the huge Sensoji temple. I took these photos at the Sanja festival earlier this month, just as the dozens of omikoshi, portable shrines, leave the temple through the main street and spill out on the big scramble street crossing. It was fun to see it all from above, as I have been down there in the middle of it all many times, trying not to get trampled by the rickshaw pullers, the busses, the police cars and the omikoshi! I think it was the first time I ever saw an omikoshi from above like this.
As a tourist in Tokyo most people are pretty much limited to getting around on trains and subway, with the occasional use of taxis, trams and ferries. My dream of a zeppelin passenger service connecting Hakone, Odaiba (in Tokyo) and Odawara still hasn’t won the approval of the Japanese government! Actually though, there is also a pretty excellent bus service in the city, filling the gaps between hard to connect stations. For example, the most convenient way of getting from Shibuya to Roppongi, to major centers inside Tokyo and not far away there is no trains or subways and you’d have to do a lot of tricky detours to stay within the subway system to get from Shibuya to Roppongi, if it wasn’t for the excellent bus service! Things have become even more convenient in the last few years as you can now use your train passes on buses as well. In Tokyo’s tourist destination number one, Taito City (home of Asakusa, Kaminarimon, etc.) there is a loop bus system aimed exclusively at tourists, the Taito City Loop Bus, or Megurin for short. Consisting of small frequent buses on three interconnecting routes and tickets for 100 yen per ride or 300 yen for a day pass it’s easy and convenient for local tourists to travel around Taito, and especially the route connecting Ueno station with Asakusa station. Taito is also full of other more minor things to see and do and if you’re into the charms of downtown Tokyo but want to spare your legs it is a good way to just loop around and see so much more of the city in these slow buses than what you can see from the subway or trains. The only trouble is that most of the information is in Japanese! But if you have a local friend to help out, or if you are a local and want to show visitors around, this is an excellent way to spend a day in Tokyo. Besides, the buses are really cute. Here’s a map in Japanese of the routes – pretty impressive!