Japan: Tokyo Part 1

Day 8

Our week with the van was up and it was time to return it to Tokyo. The quickest route was on the expensive toll roads, but going over the mountains would consume more fuel and take longer so we followed Google’s instructions this time.

Navigating through the city and its monumental urban sprawl that is home to 37 million people was relatively easy since traffic is nowhere near Bangkok’s manic levels. This could be because Japan’s public transport and rail network is one of the best in the world and very cheap to use.

Van life for a week had its ups and downs, trash disposal was a challenge until we found out how to do it in stages, there were no showers at road stations, and it was cold inside up in the mountains. On the upside, driving the beast was relatively easy, it was great to be able to park anywhere and put on a coffee, though the vending machines all over the country dispensed plenty of that, and we got to see parts of Japan that most visitors wouldn’t.

Route map

We arrived in Tokyo just after mid-day but you can’t check in to hotels in Japan until 3pm so we went out to try and find accommodation for a third night in the capital city. However, November 3 happened to be a national holiday (Culture Day) and after being sent away from three hotels saying they were full and Agoda telling us there was nothing under $250 downtown for that night we gave up and decided to leave Tokyo a day earlier than planned.

It was off to central station to book the Shinkansen (bullet train) tickets to Osaka, fearing that would also be full. Tokyo’s grand central station is bigger than most airports – a massive sprawling rabbit warren on multiple levels with hundreds of exits. It took half an hour to find the JR rail ticket office since the ticket machines were telling us there were no seats available.

After speaking to a nice human and parting with around 29,000 yen (approx. 7,000 baht) we had two tickets on the Shinkansen departing at mid-day on November 3.

One thing Google Maps was very good for was planning rail journeys across Tokyo as it could calculate the best lines to use, the costs, times, walking distances, and where to enter and exit the stations, each of which is its own multi-level maze. The Pasmo travel cards came in very handy and local journeys were cheap, seldom costing more than 200 yen (around 50 baht).

After a bit of a laborious check-in procedure at the APA Mita hotel, we could relax in our room (which wasn’t much bigger than the motorhome) before walking over to Tokyo Tower in the evening.

On the way, we stopped for some famous Bario Ramen which came in portions large enough for a whole family and was very reasonably priced.

On a full stomach, it was time to walk over to the big orange Eiffel Tower for a trip to the top which cost 3,000 yen (around 750 baht) each. The tour was informative but I was more interested in the views and photo opportunities of the sprawling urban jungle from the top, 250 meters up.

Previous: Road to Chichibu
Next: Tokyo Part 2