May 2006. I arrived at Narita Airport outside Tokyo bursting with confidence. Instead of staying at the airport for my 12-hour stopover, I was determined to plunge into Japan and Tokyo, alone.
Navigating through customs, baggage check and the sliding doors into arrivals was not intimidating. At the information desk outside, my goal was interesting ways to spend the block of time I had. The representative provided a thorough brochure with coupons that broke Tokyo into manageable parts with mini maps of each area.
My confidence melted and my knees wobbled when a scary mess of lines, colors and craziness appeared. Staring and winking at me was the map of Tokyo’s transportation system.
The last question was how to get to Tokyo for less. The deal was a local train for Y1,000. After eyeing the ticket machine from a few feet back, watching buyers without trying to stare, and finally hovering nervously over the panel of buttons, a ticket was in my hand.
Alternating waves of panic and exhilaration filled the 80 minute train ride after an eternity seemed to go by and my stop had yet to appear. The map wasn’t to scale so what I thought was a quick jaunt turned into a minor expedition.
I eventually arrived at Keisei Ueno Station with enough time to wander aimlessly looking for a kimono museum that didn’t exist, explore Ueno Zoo in the rain while most of the animals were sleeping, and get back to the airport by the same local train in time for sushi.
Fear not the map. I have yet to meet anyone who isn’t overwhelmed at first peek but Tokyo’s system truly works and is convenient and reliable. Even after moving to Tokyo, I never left home without the map and it eventually made perfect sense.
What did you think the first time you saw the map of Tokyo’s transportation grid?