After the, um, surprising experience at Halong Bay, I spent a quiet day in Hanoi partly at a spa and then at the sports bar in the Hilton before catching a taxi to the airport and checking in for my red-eye flight to Tokyo. I was going to be catching a First Class flight on American Airlines from Tokyo-Dallas, and Japan Airlines had an overnight flight (albeit in Business Class, poor me) that would get me there in time to see Tokyo for a bit before flying home. The only downside is that I landed in Tokyo very early in the morning after flying all night. True to form, I wasn’t incredibly well-rested and didn’t have much of a plan for how to get where I wanted to go.
There are two schools of thought on what to do during a layover of 7-8 hours in Tokyo. Many say it’s not enough time to go into Tokyo and get back in time for your flight. Pshaw, I say to those people. It’s doable as long as you know exactly where you’re going and know exactly how you want to get there. For the first-timers, the trains can be a bit confusing, since there are quite a few different lines. If you’re at Narita airport (I was), there’s the town of Narita very close by, and there’s an older temple there that gives you a good sampling of Japan, so many prefer to go there. I decided to go into Tokyo proper. Due to time restrictions, I really only had time to go into one area of Tokyo (it’s INCREDIBLY large) and I picked Asakusa, site of the Sensoji Temple, a destination for tourists and locals alike.
I took the Narita Express and found my way to Asakusa. There weren’t many people on the train from the airport at this time in the morning (shortly after 7am), so I got to enjoy a quiet and punctual train ride. I exited the train station, found a coffee shop, used my extensive knowledge of Japanese to say thank you to the girl at the coffee shop (which I may or may not have learned entirely from the Styx song Mr. Roboto). I walked down a narrow street towards the temple and started taking pictures of what were probably random road advertisements, but looked Japanese to me.
It wasn’t long before I came to the entrance to the temple. Although it was early in the morning, there were already people wandering the grounds.
Once you get past the entry gate, you walk down a 250m long street with all sorts of vendor stalls, although none were open this early.
After I made it down the street to the temple grounds, everything opened up into large courtyards with all sorts of Buddhist symbolism and meaning.
There were all manner of buildings that fit what I imagined to be Japanese architecture styles, and of course there was a large pagoda.
The grounds are incredibly peaceful, especially for being amidst the largest metropolis on the planet. I enjoyed walking around and seeing the various sites. At each building the expertise of a skilled craftsman was evident.
I found the other sides of the pagoda eventually and grabbed some other shots.
Eventually I found myself at a garden with a small shrine in it that featured a large Buddha.
In the garden was a koi pond that ended in a nice waterfall.
Outside one of the temples was a water fountain that was gently set on a small pool. While the significance of the fountain was lost on me, it represented the serenity I felt at the temple, and, just as my camera’s battery was dying, I managed to grab a good shot of the fountain.
So, did I “do” Tokyo? Absolutely not. I went to Asakusa for a few hours, which hardly counts. I need to go back to see Tokyo properly, and it’s on my list to visit someday and do it right.
Next time I have a layover in Tokyo I’ll try visiting Narita so I can do a compare and contrast of the two options.
This was my first ever trip to Asia and my first mileage adventure. I learned many lessons on the trip, the main one being: slow down! You can see a ton of stuff in just a few days, but don’t move so quickly that you end up just checking boxes (“beautiful sunset? check. ok, let’s go, we have another museum to see”). This was the beginning of a wonderful hobby that I still enjoy today, so I hope you’ve enjoyed a little throwback trip report. I look forward to taking you with me on many more!