Day 2 - Akihabara and Ueno
There are two quirks to this traditional-Japanese-style room: one is that the doors are literally paper thin, so when people clonk around in the morning you know! And secondly, with the only window being at floor hight and opening onto a concrete wall 6 inches away, there is no natural light and it's pretty easy to not know what time it is. However, I slept very nicely and woke up ready for a day of exploring this amazing city.
Which is a good point… as a big city loather, I actually really like Tokyo. There is an amazing lack of cars; pedestrians, bikes and of course trains really rule this city. The cyclists are fun to watch; most of the time they're very pretty girls in their late-teens-early-twenties, riding "old" bikes (I find it hard to believe so many old bikes survived this long!) with bells and big baskets and no helmets and seemingly little regard for the traffic. They all have big chrome mud guards, and at first glance are never locked, second glance shows a tiny little lock on the back wheel. And they're everywhere .
Enough rambling. I set off into the sauna that is mid-summer Tokyo and made a detour via Mr Donut for a nice healthy breakfast of doughnuts. Then onto the Ginzo subway line, was a tad confused and then realised I was on the wrong platform to get back into town. Soon arrived at Ueno to change onto the Yamanote line. Excited the Tokyo Metro station and entered JR Ueno station and decided that while here, I might as well look around. Well..!!!!
First up was a very fancy looking train, complete with small crowd of admirers. Pretty amazing what they do on 3' 6" here, NZ could learn a thing or two. Look carefully above and you can see the driver in his cab in the little raised bubble.
I ventured downstairs and found some more trains, just fairly standard commuter stuff.
Well, standard if you're used to double deck commuter stock, again on 3' 6" narrow gauge lines. Can you imagine that in NZ?!
Then it was brain wave time. Ueno is a major Shinkansen station. JR Pass gives me free access to anywhere. I think you can see where this is heading! I headed on down to the Shinkansen dungeon.
Nine minutes after the photo above, and I was witnessing my very first Shinkansen!
These things are amazing . Extremely fast, very quiet, amazingly organised, and running with just minutes between each train. I don't know how they do it!
Every few minutes another Shinkansen would fly in and stop in exactly the same spot, pause, and effortlessly glide off again. There was a small crowd gethered at this vantage point now; to be honest I was surprised they would be so popular. With at one point a new Shinkansen every 3 minutes arriving at the station (and ditto for the opposite track) and the Shinkansen having been in operation since the 60's, you'd think people would be used to them! Not so, everyone was posing in front of them, and who can blame them.
The noses on these things are pretty serious looking, I imagine a lot of aerodynamic design goes into them. Three minuts alter and a very traditional looking Shinkansen arrived.
If my guess is right this is a fairly traditional series 200 Shinkansen, you can certainly see where the "bullet train" name comes from. Another 3 minutes and this guy arrived with a supremely long nose and double deck design.
On the opposite track this guy screamed in, paused for his passengers, and roared off again.
I think realised that all the trains opposite were heading for Tokyo Station, which was pretty close to where I was headed anyway. And I have a JR Pass…
A few minutes later and an out of service unit arrived. They have some pretty serious high voltage links between carriages!
As it roared off I was amused to see the station attendant checking his watch as the last carriage whizzed by. I dare say it was exactly on time.
And then, after an agonizing two minute wait, here comes my train…
I jumped on a non-reserved carriage, found a seat and we were off! Yes I rode a series 520 Shinkansen and it was amazing! Not a single bump, judder, rattle… just crisp cool air conditioning, big comfortable seats, and almost complete silence. I was very very very very excited!
Just 8 minutes later we arrived in Tokyo, and being inner city we weren't going very fast, it felt like about 40kmh it was so smooth, but looking out the window it must have been closer to 100kmh. All too soon it was over and I walked out into the sauna again.
However I found that Tokyo Station is big and grand and full of tracks, you just have to know where to look. And look I did!
Shinansen, Shinkansen, Shinkansen, Shinkansen! (Plus the two behind me as well)
Note the photographer in the last photo, and he certainly wasn't the first. It was a beautiful 30 degreese today, doubly so in the sun.
End of the Shinkansen line. Also, can you feel the heat?
I went back underground to cool off for a bit. Spied more "plain old" commuter trains. Interestingly one of the middle carriages had a little office for the conductor, complete with computer screen readout. No good photos of the cabs themselves, but they appear to have dual computer screens and all the mod-cons; but then when you're running at 2.5 minute frequencies I guess you need some good gear to control it all.
What I actually came down to do was get a good photo of the NEX. Here, in the space of 6 minutes, they combined two NEX's into one, swapped drivers, loaded the passengers and all their luggage, and headed off again. Amazing trains, and these are narrow gauge too! Again these have a bubble cab, and you can see the immacute presentation begins with the train staff.
In the time it took me to get a couple of nice photos and walk 8 car lengths, they'd already finished coupling the two trains together. That is how efficient they are! As I walked down an Indian man tried asking me when they were leaving, I told him I didn't know, the correct answer is, of course, when the timetable says!
Coupling the expresses together.
There was a small crowd geathered to watch the joining, and a minute later the rear of the train was roaring past us. The timetable said 1:03 for the departure time; this photo was taken at 1:03:59.
As you can see, I'm not the only one enthralled by this train! That was photo #131 for the day…
Satisfied with my hunting I boarded the green train for Akihabara…
What is Akihabara? I'll show you…
Discount SD cards, discount CCTVs, discount transceivers, discount spanners, gloves, pliers, multimeters…
A shop selling discount pumps, fans, grills, kettles. Their neighbour selling "all kinds of LED lump! Please ask us!"
I'd rather not ask them about their LED lumps. Street after street lined with all sorts. If it's electronic, and it can be discounted, it's probably here! Oh and it's busy!
Down a side street I found a store selling wire: curly, straight, any colour, any capacity, and number of strands and any number of conductors. Another just sold osciliscopes and had a great window display.
Every street had girls dressed up in… well they were dressed up, some had cat ears for instance. The real attraction in Akihabara this afternoon though was this young lady who presumably was quite famous because there was a very large crowd of men around her. Actually the crowd is quite easily explained by her great figure and very skimpy bikini, but I'm not convinced so many people carry around high end cameras (i.e. 2-5x the price of mine), flash guns, flash diffusers, soft boxes, prime lenses, right angle flash mounts and so forth!
I even got a smile and a pose from her :-) At least she wouldn't have been feeling the heat!
Every few minutes a Yamanote Line train would rumble across the bridge that almost defines Akihabara.
Note the truck above. It is advertising a new single from some Japanese singer and did laps of the main drag all afternoon. I secretly hope the driver was listening to some death metal in the cab. Other sights included a woman who was many stories high, no doubt a little bit of Photoshop went into making her look perfect at that kind of scale!
And a fairly typical Tokyo intersection scene. Note the perfect legs and matching umbrella, the train, the crowds waiting to cross, and the numerous cyclists.
I found a nice vantage point to watch the trains from. This is a perfectly typical 10 car train that seems to stretch on as far as the eye can see. Impressive stuff.
I also found a bull riding competition, and a TEPCO power usage roundout.
I finally dragged myself away and climbed onto the Yamanote train to Ueno. Here I took a wander and found that Ueno has an amazing park with crickets so loud they drown out the traffic. I found a huge pond/swamp. I'm not sure what the plants are, but they have amazing flowers.
And the pond was alive! These guys got up to about 2 feet long, and there were plenty of turtles too. Imagine that, wild turtles just hanging out in the middle of Tokyo!
I went for a wander, and here is a typical rich-neighbourhood side street. Note the vending machine, and the subcompact car.
Back in the park I found a pizza place and was very proud of myself when I managed to order in point-and-grunt-Japanese, only to find the teller spoke perfect English. It was good pizza though, and the perfect size. The pidgeons had gnawed off most of the "Do not feed the pigeons" sign though so it now said "ot feed the pigs".
Eventually I headed back to the Ginzo Line only to miss my train. Not a problem for 5 minutes later and I was homeward bound again.
Walking back from the subway I was amazed to see I'd missed this massive tower.
I purchased some "COW" brand beauty soap, and some "Lion" "Breath Communication" aka toothpaste. It took a lot of staring and chin scratching to work out what was tooth paste and what was hair gel ("FOG BAR") and what was something completely different again, but I got there in the end. I also ordered a rice burger and a refreshing bottle of green tea, which would be great if I liked green tea. The rice burger was good though, consisting of two "buns" made from rice, and teriyaki style meat and lettuce.
Once dark I went for a big long walk over the river and saw fireworks and more teenage girls on bikes. Also a fire engine and ambulance, a talking blaring police car, and a youth being escoted by some police officers (by the arm, no force needed). Also ticket gates that cheep whenever a child ticket is presented, and bus stop signs that have a happy bus with feet on them. And a little research about the surrounding buildings suggests that "Hotel Amuse" and "Hotel Boston Club" are both love hotels, where you hire rooms by the hour, if you get my drift.