Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The Far East: Day 17

Saturday started early at 05:50 so Jon could head to Narita Airport to fly home. In fact, it was such an early start that we'd had to check out the night before in order to be out early enough to get to Narita:

Joban line, 0644 Minami-Senju to Ueno

Yamanote line, c0700 Ueno to Tokyo

Narita Express #9, 0731 Tokyo to Narita Airport T1, arr 0836

We arrived at the airport in good time for Jon's flight at 10:30; he was flying back with Air France connecting in Paris CDG (that being, apparently, the cheapest option). He checked in and then we parted, after a very enjoyable week. On the one hand I am sad to see him go, and it seems more lonely without him; but we often egg each other on, and I think we ended up doing more together than either of us would have done on our own; it is nice to be able to go at my own pace again.

Having parted, I got some much-needed breakfast, browsed quickly through the English language magazines (but thought better of it once I saw the prices), and headed back to Tokyo.

Narita Express #14, 1015 Narita Airport T1 to Tokyo, arr 1114

The Narita Express is a wonderful way to arrive in - or leave - Japan. Even on the narrow gauge network there is plenty of room for wide double-decker trains, though the Narita Express is single-decker to make handling luggage easier. It has wide seats and lots of legroom, quite like a Shinkansen. The only downside is the journey time - an hour or so - because it has to fit in with lots of local trains.

A new line is being built to ease the pressure, which opens in July (after I'm home, unforunately!), which will cut the journey time to 38 minutes, but that will be operated by Keisei, not JR - unlike in the UK competition actually seems to work in Japanese railways, though I'm not sure how... 

Back in Tokyo, I decided to take a look in one of the city's biggest bookshop, Maruzen. It has four huge floors, and most of the top floor is dedicated to English-language books. In particular there is a huge academic section - on a par with Foyles in London or Blackwells in Oxford - in English, and the maths section in particular was excellent. I guess the Japanese do their university maths in English, which would make sense.

On the second floor I also found the maps section, looking in vain for a bilingual map of Japan - the so-called bilingual map being, in fact, almost entirely in English. I also chanced upon the section on railways, which was much, much bigger than you'd get in any bookshop in the UK - there were track diagrams, timetables, back issues of magazines for the last year, picture books, and even maps designed for you to tick off when you've been on a particular line or through a particular station. If only they'd do that in Britain...

After whiling away an hour and a half browsing the bookshop, I headed back to the Imperial Garden which Jon and I had failed to visit on Friday. It was well worth the return trip, with some lovely trees and buildings as well as some nice ponds and a few flowers. It was clear from the amount of green, though, that summer is not the best time to visit: I can imagine the colours in spring or autumn being simply beautiful. That's not to say it wasn't very nice, but I do want to go back now.

In fact I think that rings true of Japan in general: there is so much more to see, and so many more train journeys to enjoy, that I think it's a matter of when I return to Japan, and not if.

After seeing the Imperial Garden, I headed back to Tokyo station, retrieved my case from the locker I'd put it in earlier to avoid carting it about, and got some lunch; I fell prey to expensive in-station prices, but I did enjoy a proper spaghetti carbonara instead of more noodles. I then headed to get my train to Kyoto, where I had booked a hostel for six nights:

Tokaido Shinkansen, Hikari 519: 1533 Tokyo to Kyoto, arr 1816

I arrived in Kyoto station and was immediately taken by its architectural magnificence; it's more usual for stations to have the concourse under the platforms, but Kyoto has a huge concourse over the suburban platforms, with only the Shinkansen platforms being elevated. It is certainly the nicest-looking station I've been to in Japan; it doesn't hold a candle to St Pancras, though. (On the other hand, Japan has nothing remotely as depressing as Birmingham New Street.)

I left the station armed with directions to the hostel - Ikoi-no-ie - which turned out to be a bit misleading; as a result I spent half an hour or more wandering around in progressively heavier rain trying to find the hostel; in the end I found it, having given up too soon when heading down one of the streets. The hostel is basically an overflow for another hostel a block away, and is pretty quiet; it's set back from the main road by three blocks of houses, all crammed into the city centre. It's quite nice, I suppose, but after the friendly atmosphere in Tokyo it's very quiet indeed, and the rain didn't help my opinion of the place.

After drying off I headed back out into the rain, and found a place to eat - another Japanese fast food place, but by this stage I was too tired to care. Once I'd written some more blog and chatted to a few people online - one good thing about this hostel is that the wireless extends throughout the building - I headed for a good night's sleep. 

No comments:

Post a Comment