On foot in Tokyo, Japan

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When visiting a new city, I’m a big fan of exploring on foot wherever possible. I’ve been fortunate to visit some great cities and will try and post some walk suggestions over the course of the next few weeks. To get started, here’s a few from Tokyo, Japan.

My first visit to Tokyo back in 2003 was not really planned – I’d cashed in some frequent flyer points, generated during my former sad life as a management consultant, for a trip to Europe. The ‘kangaroo’ route (via Singapore/Bangkok) was fully booked, but there were still seats going via Tokyo. I figured that if I was going that way, I may as well have a look around beyond the confines of the airport, so decided to stay over for a few days. I loved the place, and have been back several times since.

Described in Lonely Planet’s “Best of Tokyo” guide as an “engaging, bizarre, manic and totally fascinating maze-like cosmopolis,” Tokyo is a great place to experience on foot. It’s a large city, but the public transport system is very efficient, allowing easy access to the various neighbourhoods.

Here are some recommended walks – they’re only suggestions, part of the fun is exploring for yourself – and are offered from the perspective of an interested tourist; I’m by no means an expert.

1. A splendid Shinto Shrine and a magnificent view

The suggestion here is to catch the metro to Harajuku (Yamanote line) station and then walk through the peaceful grounds of Yoyogi-koen to visit Meiji-Jingu, a beautiful Shinto shrine. The shrine itself is a reconstruction, the original was destroyed during WWII. After exploring the shrine, visit the Meiji-jingu-gyoen, a peaceful park, and then walk north through the grounds to exit from the north passing under the Shuto Expressway no. 4.

From here continue northish towards Shinjuku; this section provides a good glimpse of city life. The final destination is the New York Bar & Grill on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt hotel, from which there are magnificent views.  A drink here is a fine way to finish off a day of sight-seeing. This hotel was used as one the main settings for Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film “Lost in Translation” – if you’ve seen the film you’ll probably recognise the New York Bar. From the Park Hyatt it’s a short walk to Shinjuku JR and metro stations.

The walk can be extended by walking north through the Shinjuku Chuo-koen and then turning right (east) past the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices (there’s a public observation deck in these buildings) and back to Shinjuku station.

2. The Imperial Palace

Start at Tokyo station (JR or metro) and walk east towards Wadakura Square. From here proceed south into the Imperial Palace outer gardens and just have a stroll and look around. If you’re fortunate enough to be visiting in Spring you should see some Cherry Blossoms. 

From the gardens proceed west and have a look at the Tokyo International Forum, before turning north back to the start.

Other areas worth visiting:

  • Ueno – take a walk around Ueno Park – there are temples to see as well as a concentration of museums and galleries. The Tokyo National Museum and Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art are both well worth visiting and both have a useful amount of information in English.
  • Asakusa – walk north from Asakusa subway station and visit Asakusa-koen and the Senso-ji shrine. Enter through Kaminari-mon (Thunder Gate) and proceed through a street of shops (Nakamise-dori) which is likely to be very busy, before entering the main temple area. Return to Asakusa subway station or alternatively take a Sumida-Gawa cruise.
  • Ginza – explore the stores in this area – if you’re a tech geek (I am) make sure you visit the Sony store.
  • Shibuya – a great place to people watch. The Starbucks across the road from the subway station provides a good location to do this.
  • Yebisu Garden Place – My main motivation for coming here was to visit the headquarters of Sapporo breweries and the attached Beer Museum to pay homage to their excellent product. Note that there’s no actual garden here – it’s a collection of shops and restaurants along with the aforementioned beer museum and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.

Further afield:

For a description of a climb of Mt Fuji in September, click here.

For more on hiking (and climbing) in Japan, check out i-cjw’s blog.

Gear: Berghaus 64Zero daypack

The Berghaus 64Zero rucksack is a light 30L capacity daypack weighing in at 690 grams. It has one main compartment plus 7 mesh pockets, 2 on each side, one on the back and a small pocket on each hip strap. It’s made (in China) out of nylon fabric and includes a hydration pocket.

I chose this pack because I wanted something light and simple that would fit all the gear I’d need to carry each day on the coast to coast walk. I’ve recently being trying to reduce the amount of weight I carry both when walking and when travelling, hence the requirement for minimum weight. I also didn’t want to spend too much on something that when not being used on the c2c walk was going to be scrunched up in my suitcase.

This pack fit these requirements well. It’s light at around 690 grams, does not have any internal frame thus allowing it to be compressed for packing, and is quite cheap. Capacity wise, there’s enough space for a jacket/fleece, lightweight gore-tex jacket and over-trousers, hat and gloves plus water and lunch, which is ample for most daywalks outside of winter. Personally, I would have liked a zipped pocket on top or on the back (the only pockets with zips are the two on each hip strap), but the trade off here would be extra weight.

Construction wise, it survived both the c2c and my extended overseas trip unscathed. We didn’t get much rain, but when it did rain, it started to leak fairly quickly, the material didn’t strike me as particularly water resistant and the slit in the top for the hydration tube to go through seems like it would let in water pretty easily. I had my gear in an internal waterproof bag, so this wasn’t a problem – but I’d certainly recommend a waterproof bag or external waterproof cover.

The pack has a mesh back which is supposed to encourage ventilation, but I didn’t really find it any different to my old Berghaus daypack without this feature – my back still got damp. There’s a round badge sewn into the back with slightly rough edges that will rub and cause your shirt to pill where the badge presses against it.

Despite the few niggles noted, I would recommend this pack. It’s light, has a useful amount of capacity and is well constructed. I’m finding that lightweight walking is much more fun and I’m happy to put up with a few compromises for less weight.

UPDATE 25/11/2012:

I’m still using this pack, and it has proven to be an excellent buy. In addition to the c2c I’ve used it on daywalks in the UK, Switzerland and Australia as well as on the Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Base Camp treks in Nepal. Alas, it appears that it is no longer available – the link below goes to Berghaus’ current range of daypacks.

(Link to manufacturer’s current range of daypacks)