The best way to avoid jet lag is to organise things in such a way that you arrive at your destination in the late afternoon or evening. That way you can drop into bed and sleep a full night to awake with your body clock re-set to the time zone in which you happen to find yourself.
I have to say straight away that I should have allowed at least one more day for Tokyo. Even with the above system one tends to get up late and by the time you have organised breakfast, come to grips with the local transport system, and conducted various financial transaction it is lunch time and you have already lost half a day.
On the way to the nearby Metro station we noticed a sign for the famous Happo En Gardens (click on the link for a virtual tour). We came to realise that the garden view at the back of the Sheraton Miyako was actually part of the original Happo En gardens. After a very enjoyable visit (free of charge) we continued on to the Metro station.
On arriving at the station it took us a few moments to understand the ticketing machine but in the end we bought three day tickets for use on the excellent Tokyo Metro system. When I say excellent I mean stations within a reasonable distance of almost everywhere in Tokyo, clean carriages and stations (not even a spot of graffiti anywhere) and trains that run every few minutes. The Metro map is easy to understand and all directions and station names are written in English as well as Japanese. Most trains also have announcement of the next stop in English and Japanese.
Our first chores were to change some money and change our Japanese Rail Pass vouchers for the actual passes and obtain tickets and seat bookings for the Shinkansen bullet train. We found the JR girls at the ticket counter not only helpful but polite and cheerful. After we booked our ticket one of the girls gave Francesca a small origami bird and explained that she filled quite moments with this hobby.
The Shinkansen ticket contain all the information one could wish: carriaige number, seat number, time of departure and time of arrival at the destination. At the station the train pulls up and the door opens exactly at the nominated spot. Passengers join the train in an orderly queue and the train invariably departs and arrives exactly on time. In fact it is quite usual for the ticket seller to say something like “at 11:56 you get off the train and that will be Kyoto”, and it is!
Anyway by the time all this was organised it was mid day and we went in search of a light lunch. You can imagine our shock when the first restaurant we saw was an Italian restaurant. We certainly did not go to Japan to eat Pizza! In the end we found a basement level in a complex of shops and offices that had a vast selection of small restaurants offering different styles of meals.
In Tokyo you find a whole world underground that extends from the major Metro stations through restaurant, bar and shopping sections. Many of the nearby department stores, shopping complexes and office building are connected by underground walkways. In the heat of summer many can exit the trains, and arrive at their place of work without having to expose themselves to the summer heat and humidity. The fact is that the train and Metro system is so efficient that the road traffic in peak hours is kept to a manageable level with few bottlenecks and relatively low pollution levels. We saw many buses and can only assume they run with the same efficiency but we did not try them.
The next point of call was the fabulous Mitsukoshi department store which, as it is attached to it’s own Metro station, seemed to be the logical place to buy a small clothing necessity. Alis found the shop, its displays and fashions absolutely fascinating and instead of a quick visit we found ourselves in the midst of a major shopping expedition and purchased quite a few souvenirs and gifts.
The end result was that we headed off far too late to view the Meiji-Jingu Shrine and associated park. I had not allowed for two facts; (1) Japan does not use daylight saving time consequently even in July the sun sets at 7:00 pm but with the overcast skies of the rainy season it is already getting dark by 6:00 pm, and (2) more importantly I neglected to read in the Lonely Planet guide that the park closes at 5:00 pm. Oh well, hopefully there will be a next time.
On our return to the hotel we met Alis’s nephew Druso and, after a pleasant aperitivo in the hotel bar we headed off to Asakusa in search of yakitori. Yakitori is actually pieces of chicken and vegetables or mushrooms on a thin bamboo skewer grilled over a charcoal brazier. You choose from a selection on the menu and pay by the number of sticks of each type that you consume. We eventually found ourselves in a basement level restaurant which we shared with a group of Japanese businessmen on a night out. Unfortunately one of them was very drunk and the evening was somewhat spoiled by his continually staggering past us to the toilette. His companions and the restaurant staff were apologetic and I can only say that he thoroughly deserved how he would feel the next day. None the less the food was excellent and the cost moderate.
We finished the evening wandering around and enjoying the atmosphere of this busy quarter, which, though we were ready to call it a night, seemed to be just getting started.