Day 3: More of Tokyo, Train to Nagano
Day 3—my second full day in Japan—begins! I slept an hour later today, waking up at 5 a.m. instead of 4 a.m., so I guess that’s a sign I’m slowly adjusting to the time difference. Using the extreme skills I’ve developed over the years to sleep in, though, I didn’t get out of bed until 8.
This was my last day in Tokyo (until the end of the trip), so the plan of the morning was to get breakfast, pack, check out of the hotel, and wander around Tokyo again until catching an evening Shinkansen train to Nagano.
As promised yesterday, I ordered something that looked a bit more traditional Japanese from the menu this morning. The only part of the breakfast that was new to me was natto, which is in the lower-right of the picture.
I tried the natto and didn’t care for it. I even gave it a few more bites just to be sure. I can imagine developing a taste for it over time, but not today. You can read about natto on Wikipedia. Otherwise, the breakfast was tasty.
After breakfast I packed and checked out of the hotel, leaving my bags with the front desk to pick up later.
With the morning mechanics out of the way, it was time to hit the street. Since I was staying at the Komagome station, I figured instead of hopping on the train I’d check out the main local attraction: a Japanese garden named Rikugien that was constructed in 1700.
Thankfully, the rain from yesterday had moved on. Today was dry and partly sunny at times.
Rikugien is amazing. Really beautiful. It covers a lot of ground; I ended up spending a couple hours there walking the paths and sitting at various places to enjoy the surroundings. I’m only a couple days in, but I’d say it’s the surprise highlight of the trip so far. There are more pictures in the full gallery for day 3, but here are a few to give you an idea of the place.
I also saw quite a few of these big spiders. It’s hard to judge scale by the picture, but they are bigger than any spider I’ve seen in the wild in the northwest. I want to say the body of this guy (the actual body—not including the legs) was at least an inch long. Colorful, too. I really enjoying looking at them and watching them crawl around their webs. It’s very unlike any spider I know of in North America.
(Note: I did some research after writing this and found that they are Nephila clavata.)
The garden was a short walk from the hotel, which meant it was also the farthest I’ve ventured from a train station on surface streets. Here are a couple shots of the street and my hotel.
With nothing left on my list of things to do in Komagome, it was back on the Yamanote line to Akihabara. Akihabara is the electronics/gadget shopping district (“Electric Town”) and also has a bunch of anime and manga stuff. It’s pretty crazy.
There’s an alleyway that apparently used to be a hotbed for black market goods. Now it’s filled (packed, really) with lots of stalls with people selling anything and everything gadgety. It’s like a Radio Shack, Fry’s Electronics, Ham Radio Outlet, and eBay’s electronics section all rolled into one, but with an outdoor market feel.
There are also several—some quite large—“duty free” stores. With a foreign passport you can buy stuff in them without paying the 5% sales tax that is universal throughout Japan. I wandered through one of the stores, which was essentially a seven-story department store (although the floors were nowhere close to as large as at the department store yesterday) with everything from home entertainment systems to kitchen appliances to kimonos to sporting goods to watches (all of the high-end Swiss brands) to souvenirs to…you get the idea.
Back to the train station. You can just make out in the yellow part of the sign in the station “Akihabara Electric Town Exit.” This is definitely what this district of Tokyo is known for.
The reservations office at this station was empty when I was there, so I popped in to make a few train reservations for the next couple days then I hopped back on the Yamanote line.
I wanted to make a quick stop at Nippori because my book said that it’s a big rail hub and right outside the station there was a platform for watching the trains from several rail lines come and go. Sure enough, that’s what was there. This was my first glimpse of some various Shinkansen trains.
I also walked down the road from the station a little way.
With that, it was time to wrap up my initial stay in Tokyo. I caught the Yamanote line back to Komagome to retrieve my bags from the hotel, then headed to Tokyo Station.
I had some time before my train to Nagano, so I got dinner in Tokyo Station. Dinner tonight was beef curry. It’s at a little restaurant where you place your order and pay at a little machine out front, which gives you a ticket to give to the people behind the counter when you go in and sit down. A couple minutes later my curry was in front of me and I chowed down. Delicious.
After dinner, it was up to the platform for my first bullet train—Shinkansen—ride. It’s the Asama 535 from Tokyo to Nagano.
I’m writing this update from the train. I don’t know how fast we’re going (looked it up later: this line operates at 160 MPH), but it sounds like we’re about to hit warp speed (though the train is very quiet inside except when we’re in tunnels). It’s not as smooth as an airplane, but it’s a smoother ride than you’d expect from a vehicle on wheels going this fast.
My only complaint is that it’s a bit warmer in the cars than I’d like, but that’s been a trend I’ve noticed just about everywhere I’ve been indoors in Japan.
Arrival in Nagano
I arrived in Nagano and am checked in to my hotel, the Mielparque Nagano. The hotel was a short walk from Nagano Station.
The room is bigger than my room in Tokyo (I got upgraded to a two-bed room), but not nearly as nice. It reminds me of some Hiltons that I’ve stayed at: you arrive and the hotel lobby is top-notch, modern, and ornate, but then you go up to the guest rooms and are disappointed to find that they’re well overdue for a remodel. This would have been a really nice room when it was new, but it just feels old now.
Nonetheless, it’s perfectly adequate for sleeping tonight then it’s off to explore Nagano tomorrow, with a train to Matsumoto for my next stop tomorrow night.