Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tokyo Experience - Navigating Shinjuku Station

There is much to see and do in Tokyo. Admittedly, we didn't get to experience Tokyo in its full "busyness" as we were there during the Golden Week holidays. So we didn't have to be squished into the trains during peak period, or encounter the hordes of work crowds crossing the streets of Tokyo.

Our first experience of Tokyo city was Shinjuku station, probably the busiest train station in the world serving more than 3 million passengers per day. Arriving on the Narita Express (we got the NEX + Suica pass), our first order of the day was to go to the Odakyu Information Centre to collect our Hakone Free Pass. This was not an easy task. First-time visitors to Tokyo and Shinjuku Station can attest to the daunting size of this train station. It serves as the hubs for the JR, Odakyu, Keio, Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway. Get a copy of the Tokyo subway map from the Narita Airport Information Counter as well as a copy of the JR trains to help with your Tokyo travel.

Whilst it's fairly easy to catch the trains operated by the different train companies - follow the signs and make sure you have allocated enough time because some stations can be a couple of kilometres apart, it's more complicated trying to locate the exit you need to take (there are about 200 exits) or as in our case, locate the Odakyu Information Centre. Add the language barrier to the equation, you have four jet-lagged tourists climbing up and down the stairs asking for directions, being led on a wild goose chase.

We managed to locate the Information Centre after about 1/2 and hour or so of traipsing round and round. The Odakyu Information Centre has dedicated personnel to assist foreign visitors so we had no issues getting our passes. By then, we were more than ready for lunch. Options are plentiful as the Shinjuku Station is connected directly to at least 8 malls. The department stores are a great place for food. You can either opt for the bento sets at the basement of the deparment stores or check out the restaurants at the top floors. We headed to the top floor of the Odakyu Department Store, just above the Odakyu Line Concourse. We had our first Japanese meal of our trip - tempura and cold soba, the first of many delicious meals. One of the best tips we learnt about eating in Japan is to check out the menu boards in front of the restaurants. The pictures of the food sets and prices can help you decide what to eat. Make sure you remember which one set you want because the restaurant may not the English language daily special menu in the restaurant. If the restaurants don't have a menu board outside, chances are it's quite an upscale restaurant.

After a very satisfying lunch, we headed towards the Marunouchi Subway line to catch the metro train to Shinjuku Gyoenmae to go to our hotel. Which brings me to my next tip - it's probably easiest to stay at a hotel near to smaller station like Shinjuku Sanchome or Shinjuku Gyoenmae. That way you can avoid the experience of trying to locate the exit you have to take out of the 200 exits at the main Shinjuku Station.

"The only way to be sure of catching a train is to miss the one before it"
GK Chesterton

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