Best way to keep a Tokyo adventure on track
Once I had sorted out my Nishi-Ogikubo from my Ogikubo and Okubo we were off travelling on our adventures in Tokyo and beyond.
To clarify, Nishi-Ogikubo was the district we stayed in, so that was the train station we got off at. Ogikubo was the stop before - Nishi means west, so we stayed in west Ogikubo - and Okubo was a stop about 12km away. Very important not to get them mixed up.
Catching the train in Tokyo appears a little daunting at first, especially at the larger and busier stations such as Shinjuku and Shibuya, but once you figure out what line and what platform you need, it becomes a lot easier. These stations are busy, but platforms are well marked in both English and Japanese and you soon figure out how to go with the flow.
We found it best to plan our journey online as you are offered the best train travel options at different times of day, including what line to take and what platform you need. We found the pocket Wi-Fi, which came with our Airbnb rental, invaluable for train travel as well as for Google maps.
If your accommodation doesn't come with pocket Wi-Fi you can rent one at a reasonable price.
My wife did a little bit of homework before our trip and found that the Suica prepaid e-money cards looked like the best option for train travel as they could be used on any of the trains. We got the cards out of a machine at Narita Airport when we arrived, loaded them up with Y20,000 ($A268) and headed for the trains with our suitcases. These cards are easily topped up at "fare adjustment'' machines at most stations.
Suica cards are versatile. They can also be used in vending machines and some stores, and to pay for taxis and lockers at train stations.
Our only mode of transport during our stay was the train, we travelled from one side of Tokyo to the other and on day trips out of Tokyo to Kamakura, Yokohama and Mt Fuji. It is by far the easiest way to get around - just avoid the morning and evening rush.
We unfortunately got caught in rush hour one evening. There is no way to describe the sudden press of humanity as the carriage fills and you are immobilised by the sheer crush of bodies. I'm kind of glad to have had the experience, but once was enough.
There is so much to do in and around Tokyo that it is advisable to plan your day with a little research to take advantage of all there is to see in the area you are visiting.
For example, we decided on a trip to Yokohama and Kamakura.
A quick check of nearby attractions in Kamakura showed there was Kamakura Daibutsu (Great Buddha of Kamakura) - a colossal 11.4m bronze statue of Amida Buddah at Kotoku-in.
On our way to the Great Buddah we happened across the charming Hasedera temple about halfway up Mount Kamakura with an impressive view over Yuigahama beach.
That's how it was for most of our stay. We were constantly surprised, coming across little gems - from a tranquil park down a side street to an impressive temple - when we least expected it.
We spent 10 days in Tokyo and places we visited included:
- Ghibli Museum at Mitaka, a must for lovers of anime.
- The graves of the 47 Ronin at Sengakuji, a fascinating piece of history.
- Tokyo Tower, a 332.9m communications and observation tower in the Shiba-koen district of Minato.
- Roppongi, the lively entertainment district buzzing with late-night bars and clubs.
- Tsukiji Market, the famous sprawling seafood market in Chuo City.
- The Sanja Matsuri, a three-day festival held on the third weekend in May centred around the Asakusa Shrine.
- Tokyo Skytree, a broadcasting and observation tower in Sumida.
- Shinjuku, the place for shopping, eating, and partying.
- The Harajuku district on a Sunday, famous for its alternative street fashion.
- Day trips out of Tokyo to Mount Fuji, Kamakura and Yokohama.
It's important to find your own pace in Tokyo. Fast or slow, traditional or modern, it has something to suit everyone and you'll soon find your rhythm.
47 Ronin graves
Sengakuji Temple is the resting place of the famous 47 Ronin or masterless samurai.
Their master Asano Naganori is also buried at the temple, and it is here that the 47 Ronin brought the head of Kira Yoshinaka, after they had avenged their master's death.
The ronin were buried here after meeting the same fate as their master - death by self-inflicted disembowelment, or seppuku.
Sengakuji Temple is located in Minato ward in Tokyo and is a major temple of the Soto Zen sect of Buddhism.
Entry is free to the temple grounds and the graves but there is a fee to visit the 47 Ronin-related museum.
The temple is a 15-20 minute walk from Shinagawa Station on the JR Yamanote Line.
For lovers of anime, a visit to Ghibli Museum is a must.
Located in Mitaka, just outside central Tokyo, this is the animation and art museum of Miyazaki Hayao's Studio Ghibli, one of Japan's most famous animation studios.
They have produced many feature-length films with worldwide distribution, such as My Neighbor Totoro, and Princess Mononoke.
Tickets are not sold at the museum and must be purchased well in advance.
The museum can be reached from Mitaka Station on the JR Chuo Line. There are shuttle buses from the station or you can walk in about 20 minutes from Mitaka Station or from Kichijoji Station through Inokashira Park, which is a beautiful option.
* Martin Tiffany travelled to Japan at his own expense, any recommendations are his own.