Yup, only 4 ½ weeks after our last trip, Ken and I are in Japan. We are here to discover a new country and to visit with our son, Max, who has been here for more than a year teaching English as a second language in a city on the west coast. After our long flight from Ottawa via Toronto, we landed in the early evening at Haneda airport, one of two airports serving Tokyo.
All we had left to do was to find our accommodations for the coming week, an apartment near the Akihabara neighbourhood. Maybe it’s because this trip came so close on the heels of our last one, but we didn’t have a plan on how to do that. So, after spending over 13 hours trying to entertain ourselves in the tiny confines of our assigned seats on a large Boeing 777, we now had to sit down again and search our tour book for the best transportation options into the city.
Haneda is only 20km from Tokyo Station, the city’s main train and subway station. It’s much closer than the other airport, Narita, which is 60km away. Haneda is served by a monorail, a train, the subway and, of course, taxis and limos.
For us, part of the adventure of arriving in a new city is to try to find an inexpensive way from the airport to our destination. This often ends up being public transit. It provides a great introduction into the character of the city. Often our fellow passengers are not tourists but those who work at the airport and from the windows we see the communities where people live as opposed to the tourist sites and attractions.
We studied our guide, examined the maps and chose our route – the monorail (fun!) and the subway. Walking towards the monorail, we spotted a tourist information area – always a good place to check in. We told the young attendant where we were going and she said, “Not the monorail, the subway is best.” (Disappointment!) After collecting some brochures and maps, we followed her instructions. Tokyo public transit has abundant English signs making it easier for foreigners to find their way around. Soon we were heading towards the city.
Since it was around 6:30 p.m. the subway car got very crowded as we neared the core of the city. Most of the passengers were men of various ages wearing dark suits, white shirts and ties, the uniform of the office worker. They carried satchels or briefcases and seemed to be heading home. Many looked tired, most were busy with their phones as they stood swaying with the motion of the subway car.
Getting off at our station was a matter of threading through the crowd with our suitcases and carry-ons in tow. One quick transfer and we were out on the street. We found ourselves in a mixed-use area full of 12 to 15 story buildings of offices or apartments. Dotted here and there were restaurants, convenience stores and other services. The streets were nearly deserted of people and cars, yet the area felt safe. We easily found our apartment thanks to the illustrated instructions provided by our host. Bone tired, but delighted, we settled into our new digs.