Sunday, 23 September 2007

Sunday in Tokyo and Yokahama

Today I was on my own and, I must admit, I still found the prospect of tackling the public transport unaided a litle daunting!

I'd decided to visit the port city of Yokohama. The hotel recommended walking to Shimbashi Japan Railways station and taking the Tokaido Line train. Walking to the station was no problem - that took about ten minutes. Crossing the road when I got there took a while. Most Japanese pedestrians are quite careful about jaywalking and if the sign of the litle man is red, they don't cross. For some reason, there was a policeman on duty this morning, with an illuminated baton and a whistle, although the traffic lights continued to work.

Once inside the station, I had to get to grips with the ticket machine. You're supposed to look up the cost of the ticket on a big route map which is customised for each station to show the fare to all other stations. Then you buy a ticket for that value. Sounds easy, but a lot of the route maps are only in Japanese, although if you wander round enough you may find another bank of machines where the route map does have 'Romanised' names. There are a number of different types of machine. Some have an English language option (with voice prompts), if you can manage to find how to select the option. Well, I got the ticket and made my way through the automatic barrier onto the platform. At least all the station signs are in two languages but there are so many it can be confusing. There seems little standardisation on what an arrow pointing up at 45 degrees means. Depending on the location, it can mean 'go up stairs', 'go ahead for a bit and then turn down a passage you can't see yet' or 'zig-zap round the next bit'. There's always the risk that when you get the right line, you forget the destination and set off in the wrong direction. Flushed with sucess, I took a few photographs whist waiting for the train. It was the right train but, initially, I boarded the wrong section. Some trains have one or two double-deck coaches. These are 'Green Cars' (the equivalent of first class) and are fitted-out to a better standard than the remainder of the train. Having straightened that out, we have a fast and uneventful trip to Yokohama station, calling at Shinagawa and Kawasaki.

Yokahama is a huge transport hub, interchanging with 'bus and road, plus a ferry. There's a large shopping mall within the station and, a short distance away having crossed about six elevated roadways by bridges and underpasses, there's a massive Sogo department store. I checked all this out hoping to use the ferry but it was only 08:50 and I found the ferry hadn't yet started. So I picked my way back to the station and tried to work out how to use the Yokohama Subway. It took a few minutes to suss it out, but I went East about 4km to Motomachi. Yokohama has a huge Chinatown, so I spent a while wandering around, along with a lot of other visitors. Then I crossed the river to get to the long, narrow street of Motomachi, a 'strip mall' of mainly high-class shops, already well-patronised by visitors. I abandoned the designer boutiques for Yamate, a hilly area and the oldest part of the city originally settled by the foreign traders. There's a "Foreigner's Cemetary" and an English-looking Church (razed to the ground in the Second World War and rebuilt). A few more steps takes you to Harbour View Park (which does what it says on the tin). Having surveyed the Container Terminal, the industry, the power station, the Cruise Ship Berth, the solitary huge wind turbine and the sweep of the bay with the new town of Minato Mirai 21 in the distance, I descended the hill via a steep path, crossed the river and expressways, decided not to visit the Doll Museum and walked through Yamashita Park to the ferry terminal. Now the ferries had started so a bought a ticket and had a splendid trip back to Yokohama main station, making brief landings at Akarenga, where two brick warehouses from the old port appear to have been 'yuppified' and 'MM21' (the suitably-obscure soubriquet for Minato Mirai 21, the collection of modern apartments, museums and exhibition halls no super-annuated port should be without these days). En route back to the station, I looked at Sogo - very large, very upmarket, very like everywhere else you've seen, with the same designers represented. Video clip of entertainment in the Sogo store. I managed to purchase a ticket, find the right train and travel back to Shimbashi without incident, standing behind the driver's compartment. These particular EMU (Electric Multiple Units) have wide expanses of glass so I got an unrestricted view down the line. Video clip. I walked back to the hotel and treated myself to a soup whilst I planned an afternoon visit.

I went on the Subway up to the Park at Ueno which was very busy on this holiday weekend and toured the Tokyo National Museum. Then I got a Japan Railways train back to the main Tokyo station so that I could exchange my travel pass voucher for the actual railway Travel Pass I'll start using on Tuesday. Finding the right place to do this took a little while and then trying to find the subway station for the Marunouchi Line which I'd decided to use back to Ginza took a little while as well. But, eventually, all planned tasks complete, I returned to the hotel. I'd better cut this short as I have a fairly early start tomorrow. Tomorrow evening should find me in Nagoya and I'll give you a report when I can.

Click for pictures of Tokyo and Yokahama
Click for my railway photographs of Japan