Before settling down and completing my studies at University, I spent a lot of time in Japan. I think in the span of 2 years I traveled back and forth about 4 times. It's a pretty painless flight from Vancouver to Tokyo since is only 9 hours in the air without any stops. The first 2 times I was there for 4-6 weeks and the 3rd and 4th times I averaged about 4 months on Japanese soil.
If you have been to Japan you will likely relate to my experiences... it is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting and exciting places to visit. Let me get a few things out in the open before continuing. Number 1: I do NOT speak a word of Japanese and am rather embarrassed to say that in all my time there all I really learned was, "arigato gosei mas' (thank you), 'mooshy mooshy' (hello, when answering the telephone), 'kunichua' (hello) and 'kawai' (cute). Yes, that's about the extent of my Japanese but please don't hold it against me. Number 2: I am tall... really tall. Six-foot tall women are not a common site in Japan and let's just say I felt a bit like the Green Giant (but not green of course) while walking the streets and riding the subway. I got used to little children looking up at me while on their merry way to school, pointing and giggling. I was a freak but hey, at least I was a great source of entertainment!
So, back to riding the subway... being tall did have its advantages. I was well above all the other passengers and hence got to breath the 'cleanest' air while staring down on the tops of everyone's heads (there are perks to being tall). If you have ridden many subway systems in your life and have not yet been privileged with riding the Tokyo subway then you have GOT to give it a go. It is, without a doubt, one of the cleanest subway systems I have ever seen (I've ridden subways in New York, Paris, Toronto and Sydney - none of them even come within an iota of being as clean and organized as Tokyo's). Get this - the subway attendants wear white gloves!
Be sure to follow these pointers when riding the subway - they will help you a ton if you do not read or speak Japanese:
- Be sure to enter the subway in the right place. Watch for the subway logo and be sure to look for the line color of the subway you need to ride.
- Use the English fare chart near the vending machines.
- Buy your ticket at the vending machine - insert your coins or bills and push the button for your destination.
- Insert your ticket in the slot above the green arrow at the gate (and be sure to retrieve your ticket as it comes through the other end - subway clerks will be checking for it on the train).
- Line up behind the white line on the subway platform and wait for your train.
- You may have to put extra fare in the fare adjustment machine if you have traveled farther than your ticket allows. The machine will let you know the difference in amount owing once you have inserted your ticket.
- If you are traveling on a one-way ticket, your ticket will not be returned to you when you exit the fare gate. If your ticket is for the full day, be sure to collect it after passing through the gate.
- Enjoy your day in Tokyo!
Of course, if you are feeling really adventurous, rent a car and explore the streets of Tokyo on your own. Just remember, you'll be driving on the 'wrong' side of the road!