Thursday, July 21, 2011

Japan tour - Day 4

Meiji Shrine

In the morning, I set off for Yoyogi Park. It’s located at the site of the 1964 Olympics village. I was told that nearby there is a Shinto shrine. That’s what made me choose this over Shinjuku, more of a commercial and entertainment hub. What I missed though was walking through and getting lost in the world’s busiest railway station at Shinjuku.

I took a subway from Ikebukuro to Yoyogi station. I asked the ticket inspector as to from which side I should exit in order to go to Yoyogi Park. He replied in broken English that I had got down one station earlier! Yoyogi Park and the shrine are near the next station: Harajuku.

Quite perplexed as to why Yoyogi Park should be so far away from Yoyogi station and closer to the next station, I nevertheless exited the station and thought of walking around Yoyogi. I met two college students, a boy and girl, and I asked them how far is the Park from the station, and if I could walk.

She made a painstaking attempt to tell me in English that it’s quite far. (Very few Japanese can speak English.) They took me to the nearby junction, where there was a map of the locality. They very patiently showed me the route I should take. Their effort at helping me was typical of Japanese. They are very kind and considerate. These two were rushing, probably for their morning classes, but patiently spent five good minutes to explain to me the route.

I took a deep bow – the extent to which you bend shows the extent of your gratitude. I was really short of time, so I traced my way back to the Yoyogi station and took a ticket to the next station: Harajuku.

The Meiji shrine is indeed close to the Harajuku station. Later, I realised that this was the southern entrance, and the northern entrance was near the Yoyogi station. The tranquil forest within which this shrine is located took me by complete surprise – a world of difference from the busy city area.

Immediately after the massive Torii gate (the typical entrance of a Shinto shrine), there are thick trees on either side, fully blocking any sunshine. The shrine is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken.

Meiji was the first emperor of modern Japan in 1867. It was during this period that Japan became a modern and westernised state fully integrated with other countries.

This shrine is open on all days, but admission to the Treasure House and the Inner Garden is after payment of a fee of 500 yen.

It took nearly 3 hours to walk around the premises. There was little time for Yoyogi Park. Just had a quick short round of the place, and I headed back to Harajuku station. Around 1 pm, I was back at Ikebukuro, and after lunch, took a train to Tokyo for my onward journey to Osaka.

Bullet Train and Japan Rail Pass

We all grew up reading about the Japan’s technological marvel on rails called Bullet Trains,  Shinkansen in Japanese. It’s an amazing success story. Ever since the first one began running in 1964, there has not been even one fatal accident.

It’s Japan’s answer to saving time to increase productivity. Afterall they value time so much. The train speed reaches almost 300 kmph. The inside ambience is close to that of a plane. It runs so smooth on the dedicated railway lines.

The bullet train is costly, so for a tourist – who is planning to do a bit of traveling around Japan -- it’s advisable to take a Japan Rail Pass. With that you can travel unlimited on Bullet trains, Japan Rail trains and in buses operated by Japan Rail. These passes are not available in Japan but only abroad.

I obtained one from the Japan Airlines office on St Marks Road. You can take one for 7 or 14 or 21 days. The one for 7 days, that I bought, cost close to Rs 17000. It depends on the exchange rate.

After I reached Tokyo station, and headed to the Japan Rail pass exchange counter to swap the coupon I got from Bangalore for the pass. It’s a 5-minute process that includes filling up a form with some personal and passport details. Take good care of the pass, since if it’s lost there’s no replacement.

The Shinkansen for Osaka left Tokyo at 3.30 pm. There is one almost every half or so. Not just this train, there are plenty of Shinkansens connecting major cities of Japan. It’s an amazing network of trains, not just the Shinkansens, but the entire train network.

By the way, the entire train network is private. Nearly 70 per cent of it is owned by Japan Railways and the rest by a few dozen other private firms.

Trains are the most popular way of getting around places in Japan. It’s very reliable. After all, the success of public transport depends entirely on reliability. You never find too many people waiting for trains. Everyone reaches just 5 minutes before the departure time.

On the platform there is a clear demarcation as to where the doors of the train will be, and people line up there. And, unmistakably, the train stops in a way the people are right in front of the door. Everyone waits for the passengers to disembark, and then people board. Remarkable discipline!

I reached Osaka – some 550 km southwest of Tokyo -- at 6.30 pm, in three hours. On the way I saw Mt Fuji at a distance, partly obscured by clouds. My friend and school mate Prageeth was at the station. We then travelled to Sanda, some 35 km northwest of Osaka, where he stays and works.

Looking forward to the Hiroshima trip tomorrow.

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