We arrived in Tokyo Haneda airport at around 7:30. The flight had been uneventful and smooth but the landing at Haneda had been disconcerting as the view from the window was mainly of sea and boats and industrial installations that seemed unnaturally close to the plane. After collecting our bags, we had our first taste of Japanese hospitality and helpfulness with several people helping us to clear customs and another person who was helping everyone waiting to get their JR Rail Pass. There was a lot of queuing involved and lots of forms to fill out and get stamped but eventually we were able to leave the airport and begin the adventure. Using our shiny new JR Rail Passes we hopped on to the Tokyo Monorail (literally a hop from where we collected our passes) and headed into the city.
We were staying in Shinjuku so we changed from monorail to JR Yamanote line (again with the JR Pass) and got off at Shinjuku Station, “the world’s busiest transport hub“. The station was very busy as we had arrived shortly after peak rush time and we spent quite a while wandering around trying to find a luggage locker to leave our bags in until we could go to the hotel. It turns out we could probably have just gone to the hotel and left them there until we were ready as all the hotels we visited on this trip were happy to store luggage for customers either before or after their stay.
Still in a bit of a daze from travelling for more than 12 hours and tired from not sleeping on the plane we staggered out of the station and into Tokyo for the first time. After a while walking around just gawping at stuff and delighting in buying things from vending machines, we decided that it would be a good idea to have something simple and relaxing to do. Consulting the guide book we realised that we were very close to the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden and decided to take a look.
We had to wander around quite a bit to find the entrance to this garden but we didn’t mind because most of our wandering was done along quaint little back streets with interesting buildings. At the gate of the garden was a big sign forbidding photography and there were guards searching bags which was unexpected. The bag search was what I came to think of as the standard Japanese security bag search, a polite request to please open the bag, a quick peak at what is on top of the contents and a brief squeeze of the bag before being handed back to you. What this “searching” achieves I have no idea but we had to do it several other times on this trip. The garden costs 200 yen to enter which is cheap but unusual as many similar places are free. Tickets are bought from a vending machine just after the bag check.
Directly inside the gardens there were dozens of Japanese people taking photographs of cherry blossoms so we decided we would also disregard the no photography sign and take pictures of our beautiful surroundings. I can highly recommend the national garden when the cherry blossoms are out and I’m sure that it is beautiful at other times of year too. There are lots of flowering trees and other plants, picturesque lakes and bridges as well as formal gardens and lawns that are very popular for picnics and hanami. There is also a hothouse in the garden filled with orchids and other exotic plants which is well worth a look.
We bought sushi rolls for lunch from one of the many vendors in the park and sat to eat them watching all the picnics. My first taste of “proper” Japanese food included rice balls wrapped in some kind of batter that tasted like doughnuts. Weird but tasty!
After a few hours in the park, we were getting very tired and headed over to the hotel to check in. Slept for the rest of the afternoon and got up late evening to search for food. Found that there was a 7-11 across the road from the hotel and decided we were too tired from the travel and culture shock to search for a restaurant. Had some very welcome hot food from the 7-11 and collapsed back into bed to rest for the following day’s adventures.