Monday, October 29, 2012

A Tourist's Guide To Tokyo's Subway Train Network

Before going to Japan, I heard people say the subway train systems in Tokyo are complex and complicated. Now that I am back, I’d like to rephrase that to neat, well-organized, cost efficient and quite user-friendly. It’s the lifeline of the city and is intensively used as a chief mode of commute by the locals for getting around. When coupled with a 2 to 3 min. walking, these systems can give you an easy access to almost every point in the city!

 Tokyo Subway train, Japan
Tokyo Subway Netwok Train, Japan
Tokyo Trains

I got a bitter taste of it on the first day. A novice, I had the least idea of how the entire system interspersed with the multiple lines and stations, worked and was completely lost. But once I got my basics right and a fair share of my homework done, it didn't take much time for all my confusions to transform into admiration's and complexities to change into conveniences. I enjoyed moving around like the locals, with the locals. Based on my experiences, here are a few things that I’d like to highlight so as to help you, should you be travelling to Tokyo anytime in the future -

Maps: A must-have

Within the Tokyo vicinity, more than 10 different train operators span across above-ground train, subway and monorails and each have their own set of lines sometimes connecting to the other operator’s line. This fact is very well reflected in the multicolored map with each color representing one of the train lines.

My Tokyo subway train map

It all looks highly tangled and complex at first glance but believe me it is not. All you need to do is get out there and get into the system. Take a ride or two and warm yourself up and then see the magic. Tell me if you don’t start to enjoy.

A Tokyo train network map is a must have and you must keep it with you wherever you go.

Signs and Directions: You are never lost

Each subway station is spread in a huge area with different lines, gate numbers and trains moving in and out of it. If you get a feeling of getting lost, do not panic. Simply because you are not! There are lots of signs and signages at every step to guide you around. You just need to follow them.

Walking inside the Tokyo Subway network, Japan
A lane of the Tokyo subway station

Tokyo Subway network, Japan
A pillar at the platform shows the way

Maps on the platforms of Tokyo Subway network, Japan
A map in view soon after alighting from the train

Help yourself in the Tokyo Subway network, Japan
Someone told me these slightly elevated yellow lines are for the
visually impaired to find their way

Escalators at the Tokyo Subway network, Japan
Signs to guide you at each step of yours

A view of the platform at the Tokyo Subway network, Japan
The Tokyo subway station platform

Remember to: Keep your eyes open and be alert.

Interact with the locals: It’s good to be confused!

The efficiency of the entire subway system can easily be the highlight of the subway metro especially for a traveler, but for us nothing could beat the crowd that makes the system what it is. Our many confusions led to many interactions which were then followed by lots of care and concerns by the people and this was what truly made these rides memorable for us. We enjoyed taking their help because they loved giving them,

Japanese girl smiling - friendliness
Always happy to help

All with cheerful smiles and heartfelt tête-à-têtes that made for wonderful memories to be treasured forever in our memoir of Tokyo.

Remember to: Approach them with a smile and a plea for help. And if you are English speaking, do remember to speak slowly.

Train Lines: Intimidating? Not really!

This is the trickiest of all. The train lines interconnections can look quite intimidating at first but once you have taken a few rides and with the map in your hand, you do start to understand a few things and gradually you can’t help but admire its intricate design and well ordered layout. These lines are laid out in such a manner so as to give you an easy access to virtually reach anywhere, anytime! The only hassle multiplicity of lines causes is the need to change trains which means wastage of your precious time and buying of appropriate tickets for your complete journey but punctuality and excellent frequency of trains and Japanese helpfulness easily takes care of these factors.

Ticket vanding machine of Tokyo Subway network, Japan
A station lady officer helps us buy our tickets from a ticket vending machine

Remember to: Mark on your map the departing and alighting stations and the respective train lines for your destination.

THE KEY: Enjoy!

Ask the locals. Talk to the locals. Note what the locals say. Take their help and enjoy.

The inside of the Tokyo Subway train, Japan
Enjoying moving with the locals

Remember: This may not be the only way to move around but it’s certainly the best and I assure you once you do that, train rides will not just remain rides but transform into joy rides for you.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Japanese People - Helpfulness and Friendliness

When in Japan – one thing that we always had at hand was - Help. All we had to do was give a hint or ask for it -

Sumimasen (Excuse me), Can you please help me locate this place ...?

And there it would come, with such warm smiles and such loving kindheartedness that it instantly struck a chord in our heart – right from day one.  So here are some moments we managed to capture while our stay in Japan so that we could show you the people who never did let us feel strange in an alien land and were right there whenever we needed them.

Politeness and Helpfulness in Japan

Our introduction with the courteousness in Japan began from the first day itself, in fact moments after stepping into the country.

A Japanese boy helping us on the very first day in Japan

We were looking out for our hotel in Tokyo, when this boy came to our rescue. Not only did he give us the directions but sensing that they were a bit confusing for us, left his own track to escort and guide us on our way.

A Japanese man helping us locate our hotel in Tokyo

This man had no idea of what we were searching for and where it was
but that in no way was a reason enough to make him pull out of the scene.
He told us to wait, ran across towards his car parked half a km away,
got a large map book and flipped through its pages
till he had enough information to help us out.

Come to think of it, this was just the beginning of all the kindness that was to come. In the days to follow, we met so many people like these on the go and all of them helped us out in some way or the other, many times leaving their own works for ours.

So there was the subway office lady who came out of her cubicle to help us get a ticket, the bullet train booking staff ‘Midori ni Midogachi’ who left his seat so that he could return my camera that I, in my excitement to book my first bullet train ticket, had forgotten in his cabin, the man who left his own metro train just so that he could help us catch ours, the lady who got out of her way to help us get out of the confusing subway network, all my Nara blogger friends who opened their hearts out for one of their virtual blogfriends of a few odd months and... there were many more.

Japanese rail staff friendliness
Japanese people leaving all their works for helping us

We communicated with all of them, their voices coming straight from the soul; we connected with each one of them, their sounds uniting the strings in our hearts.

Their humility, their friendliness, their genuine eagerness to help
... flavored our senses,

A Japanese lady - friendliness
Japanese common people friendliness
A Japanese girl smiling - friendliness
Japanese lady helping us find the Imperial Garden
A bubbly Japanese girl guiding our way

Their smiles, their glowing faces, the twinkle in their eyes
...touched our souls...

Friday, October 19, 2012

Epson Aquarium, Shinagawa in Tokyo

Day 3 in Tokyo: Meiji Jingu Shrine - ISKCON Temple, Funabori - EPSON AQUARIUM, SHINAGAWA

A huge board directs you towards the Epson Aquarium as you step outside the Shinagawa station, one of the central and more crowded stations of Tokyo, a wade of shops and café restaurants leading to its entrance; this was our final destination in Tokyo.

Inside The Multi Storied Epson Aquarium

There are two levels to this indoor entertainment complex.

Entrance to the dolphin pool at the Epson Aquarium, Prince Hotel Shinagawa - Japan
Entrance to the Epson Aquarium - The Base Level

At the base level is an amusement space for kids besides the computerized ticket vending counter.

The real action starts at the first level. Here is where you walk into the beautiful world of marine, literally! A large tunnel overhead housing the exclusive alfred manta greets you at the very onset.

Alfred manta at the Epson Aquarium, Prince Hotel Shinagawa - Japan
The Alfred Manta in the overhead tunnel - the only one on display in Japan

Small and big glass paned tanks lined in succession flank each of the sides. Different species of world’s sea creatures (around 10,000 marine animals of about 350 species) and other aquatic animals like sawfish, sharks, stingrays, penguins, etc peep out through them. 

Coral reef set at the Epson Aquarium, Prince Hotel Shinagawa - Japan
Colorful marvels - Dwellings for our ocean friends

Aquatic marvel creatures at the Epson Aquarium, Prince Hotel Shinagawa - Japan
Star Fish

Fishes at the Epson Aquarium, Prince Hotel Shinagawa - Japan
Tropical fishes

Crab at the Epson Aquarium, Prince Hotel Shinagawa - Japan
Giant Crabs

Penguins at the Epson Aquarium, Prince Hotel Shinagawa - Japan
Penguins in a sunset themed house giving me a pose

Sea horse at the Epson Aquarium, Prince Hotel Shinagawa - Japan
Sea Horse

Semicircle angelfish at the dolphin pool at the Epson Aquarium, Prince Hotel Shinagawa - Japan
Semicircle Angelfish

It was fascinating to see the beauty of this part of the world whirling so close to me. The entire experience was only elevated by the aqua-radiance lighting of the waters that flashed across the otherwise dark enclosure.

The Epson Aquarium, Prince Hotel Shinagawa - Japan
Take a stroll in a fantastic world of marine -The Epson Aquarium!

The Seal Show

One of the twin highlights of the aquarium is The seal show! The seals obey their masters especially if treated with their favorite foods. So - they giggle, wag their fins, pass through rings, kick a ball and what’s more, they even throw a tantrum!

The sea lions show at the Epson Aquarium, Prince Hotel Shinagawa - Japan
Sea lions performing at the Epson Aquarium, Prince Hotel Shinagawa - Japan
Look at that seal performing!

What’s particularly striking though is the amazing rapport they share with the audience! The audience is held captive by the humor and the clever skill of the artistes and burst for an encore every now and then. And all that I am left wishing for is a translator so that I could pick up the jokes being cracked.

The conclusion of this show takes you to the final highlight of the aquarium which is another show – The dolphin show.

The Dolphin Show

Four trainers stand at 4 points of the pool each having 2 dolphins to play with. Amid loud cheers and claps resounding in the hall, it is fascinating to see these charming and friendly creatures twirl, dive and perform somersault – all at a slightest snap of their master’s finger! For all this, they are well rewarded too, in the form of food!

Dolphin pool at the Epson Aquarium, Prince Hotel Shinagawa - Japan
Dolphin show at the Epson Aquarium, Prince Hotel Shinagawa - Japan
Dolphin stunts at the Epson Aquarium, Prince Hotel Shinagawa - Japan
The Dolphin Show

Tips and Fast Facts

1. The tickets are a bit expensive. So visit it only if you really like visiting aquariums. Also, do take care of the show timings and reach the venue at the appropriate time.

2. The two shows last for about 20 minutes each. Once you purchase the tickets, you are free to roam around anywhere in the aquarium.

3. The seal show is in Japanese language and does not offer any kind of translation facilities. Be prepared to miss out on all the verbal fun, in the seal show particularly, if you do not understand the language. The dolphin show on the other hand is still more or less a purely visual delight!

Price: 1800 Yen (for adults)

How to Reach: 2 minute walk from Shinagawa metro station (Takanawa entrance).

Evening Show Timing: 5.00 PM JST

More information here:

Previous Posts from the Japan Trip -

Monday, October 15, 2012

ISKCON Hare Rama Hare Krishna Temple, Tokyo - Japan

Day 3 in Tokyo: Meiji Jingu Shrine - ISKCON TEMPLE, FUNABORI - Epson Aquarium, Shinagawa

Being a member of the ISKCON (International Society of Krishna Consciousness) for long, and having seen many of its temples in India, a visit to the ISKCON temple of Japan was high on our priority list. At the cost of sounding a bit gluttonous, I would also like to add that our poor dietary intake for the first two days in Japan had only further strengthened our resolve and since it was a Sunday, I was looking forward to the ISKCON feasts generally held on this day.

Thus, even though the temple was located towards the outskirts of the city which meant a bit more of time, search and effort from our sides to make it there but, we still made it.

Located in a peaceful area in Funabori station away from the hustle and bustle of the main road, the building of the ISKCON temple was an ordinary looking structure and somewhat hard to figure out. Except for a small signage board there was nothing that indicated – Yes, this is the place. One glance at its humble settings and we knew that this would be going down as the most modest of all ISKCON temples that we have previously been to.

Entrance to the ISKCON Temple, Japan
Entrance to the ISKCON Temple of Japan

A small bell at the door led us in. The room was no bigger than a residential house with a small gathering of a few bhaktas (devotees) seated on asanas (mats) immersed in the devotion for the Lord. The gates of the sanctum were closed.

Japan ISKCON temple room
The ISKCON Temple Room

In a corner, a Japanese girl supported by a small chorus group was playing the harmonium and striking melodic notes sinking the entire atmosphere in energetic devotion.

Bhajan prayers in the  ISKCON temple, Japan
Jai Radha Govind Madhava... Singing glories to the Lord

At one side of the hall, a small memento cum book counter was stacked with Hindu Religious Texts as explained by Swami Prabhupada, Tulsi rosary beads, Krishna paintings and statues and many other attractive paraphernalia related to Lord Krishna.

Religious paraphenelia in the ISKCON Temple, Japan
The library cum memento corner

“Aren’t there Sunday feasts organized here like the ones that we have in Juhu, Mumbai”, I enquired one of the bhaktas at the counter. “No Mataji” he replied, “the temple cannot cater to such expenses as it is running on a loan. Prabhu ki iccha se kisi din… yahan bhi bhandare lagenge (God willing, someday we also will be able to host lavish treats for everyone), but for now we cannot afford it. But we do have a Govinda’s restaurant serving buffet, you can check that out if you please”. It was sad to know that this humble temple was finding it difficult to find its feet in a foreign land.

With a gloomy feeling and all my feast fantasies now collapsed, I grabbed a seat and joined in the standard chanting of Radhe Krishna, Hari Gopala intermittently while eagerly waiting for the sanctum door to open.

A few minutes passed by and the curtains were raised. A series of loud calls singing glory to the Lord echoed in the hall while the devotees kneeled and bowed their heads down in reverence.

Radhe Krishna Temple opens - ISKCON temple, Japan
Bowing down in reverence... the sanctum door opens

The priest lighted the prayer lamp motioning the commencement of the afternoon arti (prayer). The beautifully decorated Radhe Krishna deity shimmering in bright glow and glimmer blessing its devotees was now clearly visible.

Main deities of Radha and Krishna at the ISKCON temple, Japan
Beautiful deities of Radha and Govinda

Srila Prabhupada at the ISKCON temple, Japan
Srila Prabhupada - the founder of ISKCON

The highlight of the prayer was the simple candle lighting ceremony after the arti where each one got a chance to light one and register his presence in the house of the Lord. It was a nice practice, I thought, that encouraged engagement with your own self in addition to also drawing some personal moments in nearness to the God. 

Candle lighting ceremony at the ISKCON temple, Japan
The candle lighting ceremony in the ISKCON Temple

After the prayers, the prasadam of kheer and pakoda was distributed amongst all. I took mine and left the place with one silent wish... to see this temple standing on its own one day.

Prasadam at the ISKCON temple, Japan
Prasadam of kheer (a type of sweet made of milk) and pakoda

Adjacent to the temple is the Govinda’s restaurant serving buffet lunch for 1500 Yen. With an abundant line up of delicacies on the platter - rotis, sabji, idli, chutney, rice, dal, papad, sweet, etc. -

Govinda's restaurant at the ISKCON temple, Japan
Govinda's restaurant

Indian Thali - Veg. meal in Japan ISKCON temple
A full Thali

I had my heart’s fill... a little bit of everything from my thali which was wholesome, fulfilling, Indian... and purely vegetarian.

Getting there: How to Reach, etc.

Nearest Metro Station: 2 min walk from the Funabori station (South exit) on Toei-Shinjuku line
Admission Fees: Free
Open: All 365 days

Contact Numbers: +81-80-5412-2528 - Sanjay Karanji / +81-90-8053-6321 - Sanjiv Keswani

Previous Posts from the Japan Trip -

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Meiji Jingu Shrine In Tokyo: A Walk In Peace

Day 3: MEIJI JINGU SHRINE IN TOKYO - Iskcon Temple, Funabori in Tokyo - Epson Aquarium, Tokyo

The Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo

The third day of our exploration in Tokyo started with a place of worship again, only this time it was not a temple but a shrine - The Meiji Jingu Shrine - based on the Shinto religion, the ancient original religion of Japan. Dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken, the temple was built in 1920 as a dwelling place for their divine souls. Together, they laid the foundation for a modern Japan by endorsing sincere virtues of peace, amity and friendship which we can evidently see in the everyday lives of Japanese people today.

The Huge Torii entrance gate to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo
The grand and daunting Torri Gate at the entrance

The moment I had a first glance of the place, I instantly knew why it figured high on the must visit list of places for any traveler to this part of the world. An imposing Torii gate stood at the entrance, as the shogun (military officer) overlooking giant dense trees. From here the shrine was a 15 minute walk away. As I walked under it, I could feel myself step slowly from the day’s light into the shade of the trees. The Torii gate opened my view to a blissful world away from the hectic humdrum of the world outside.

The way to the meiji Jingu Shrine In Tokyo
The pathway to the shrine

Planted sincerely by hand some 90 yrs ago in admiration of the enshrined deities, the large cluster of trees today have grown into a dense forest and bent in such a way as if to give you a warm welcome in the house of the Emperor. It was a very pleasing experience walking under them and I could feel the pure energy floating in the air.

The forested area at the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo
The dense cluster of the tree plantations

Tree cover leading to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo
The thick green canopy overhead

Forested area at the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo

Further into the walk, there was a souvenir shop brimming with all kinds of Japanese knick knacks – Fans, chopsticks, wind chimes, etc. Having been at the Nakamise Dori Arcade, there was nothing new that we saw here.

Souvenir shop to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo
Souvenir Shop

Except a tea tasting kiosk, where we had our very first green tea tasting experience thanks to the warm insistence by the lady seller. The tea tasted quite bitter much in contrast to her cheerful smile which was very lovely and sweet. Besides this, there was a food court but the chairs were vacant and people seemed more interested in the stuffs on sale rather than filling their platter.

A green tea tasting kiosk at the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo
Tea-tasting kiosk

A few steps ahead, 60 wine barrels lay neatly arranged in an organized fashion. Adjacent to it was a board highlighting the significance of the barrels. The Meiji emperor believed in taking the good from other lands and rejecting the bad. In an endeavor to promote modernization while also keeping Japan’s age old spirit and traditions, he adopted many of the western features and set an example by taking western food and in particular enjoying wine with it. Thus, in his honor, the French contributed these barrels of wine which today stand as an earnest prayer in peace and amity amongst the two countries.

Wine barrels in the path towards the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo
60 wine barrels arranged neatly in honor of the emperor

Diagonally opposite was an additional arrangement of a similar fashion; that of barrels of sake offered by the eminent brewers of Japan to the enshrined deities once every year to pray for the prosperity of the brewing industry of Japan.

Barrels of sake in straw at the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo
Sake barrels

A second Torii gate indicated that the shrine was now near. The sideways were lined with paintings and pictures illustrating Emperor Meiji's life.

View from the second Torrii gate at the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo
Passing through the second Torii gate

Through them, it was fascinating to get a glimpse of the entire history of the Emperor spanning right from his birth to his concluding enshrinement here.

A painting showing the ensrinement of the Emperor Meiji at the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo
Painting depicting enshrinement of Emperor Meiji Jingu

A short walk through history and the third and final Torii gate was now in view.

The third torrii gate at the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo
The third Torii gate

Beyond this gate stood the main temple, a different kind of a prayer offering space and a sacred rope. There was also a washing area where I cleansed my hands and rinsed my mouth just the way I had done in the Sensoji temple. 

Hand washing ritual at the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo
Washing area in the shrine premises

The main temple was plain and simple and painted green in color. As it was a Sunday, there was a bit of rush and I saw many people busy clicking photographs. Inside, however, the main temple hall was quite peaceful. Photo taking was prohibited. Only tranquil moments of peace and prayers prevailed.

The Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo
The Meiji Jingu Shrine

Outside, in the temple complex, in one corner dangled a sacred rope bound to two huge trees.

The sacred rope in the Meiji Jingu Shrine complex, Tokyo
The sacred rope

In another, a large table lay stretched besides a wooden board and a huge tree. A wooden box, some blank papers and a few pens lay scattered on it. The box specified to write down your prayers and place them in an envelope along with your offerings. Many did likewise.

Prayer envelopes at the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo
People writing prayers at the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo
Writing down prayers

Some others preferred etching them in chunks of wood and hanging it on the wooden board instead. Most of these prayers were in the local Japanese language but I did see some that read in English – I hope to continue to be happy in future and find ways to lead a meaningful life ahead – Simple prayers and simpler wishes were all that had been asked for.

Prayer wooden hangings at the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo

As I drove back out of the shrine, I happened to read a waka poetry written down by the Emperor in the shrine information pamphlet that was handed to me a few moments ago at the entrance.

For the times to come
And for meeting what must be met
All of our people
Must be taught to walk along
The path of sincerity

People must be taught that we can face any situation if we have makoto, or true sincerity, in our hearts. This is the foundation of education.

- Waka Poetry by Emperor Meiji.

... And I found my mind filled with thoughts of the Emperor, his consort and the temple’s concealed messages of gentility and naturalness in deeds. It all blended together beautifully - the poetry, the message, the environs, the feel... and I came to appreciate the simplicity of the shrine even more.

A few months later, that is today or even years down the line, with all due respect to the shrine, I may or may not remember the exact make of the shrine or its interiors, but I will surely remember that walk... an oasis of peace, calm and tranquility... and that is the reason I will be there again if I ever get to Japan, someday.

Getting there: How to Reach, etc.

Nearest Metro Station: 1 min walk each from the Harajuku station on the JR Yamanote Line and from the Meijijingumae Subway station on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line Exit 1/2.
Admission Fees: Free
Open: All 365 days
Timings: Sunrise to Sunset