An unexpected day-long layover at Toyko's Narita Airport can be met, head on, in two ways:
- Frustration. How DARE the weather in Shanghai not cooperate with my travel schedule? Is it really true there isn't another flight to San Francisco later this evening?
- Elation. There's an unexpected chance to experience as much Tokyo as possible in 24 hours.
When met with this situation in August, I spent one hour in frustration. And then I came to my senses and realized how very attractive option TWO was given that I was in the fine paper capital of the world.
I did what any paperphile with a lust for travel would do and jumped on an express train into the city with a single room booked at the Smile Hotel and no plans beyond that.
In 24 hours, I managed to begin to learn the ins and outs of the beautiful, amazing city that is Tokyo and left with a plan to return in the near future.
1) It is the most ordered and organized culture on the planet…aided by good design
Walking in Ginza, all you can hear is the quiet whoosh of the cars down the road, soft murmurs from the women walking in and out of stores and the occasional Arigatou-gozaimasu as someone leaves a shop. No honking horns. No shouting. No doors slamming or dogs barking.
It's the type of culture that makes you think twice about eating in the subway (for the record -- it's rude) and makes you think that you'll got to hell if you ever cut a line.
All of the order and culture is sustained through good design. Painted lines on the Metro platform indicate where to stand, a simple number system for subway stops gives you a sense of direction and trip duration. There is ledge built into nearly every cashier station, so you have a place for your purse as you pay. The hot towels before every meal. Trays to hand dollar notes and coins, or a credit card back and forth. No spills, guaranteed. Good, methodical design.
2) Prepare yourself to be in Paper Bliss
If you're a paperphile, you better make sure that you're hydrated and that your blood sugar is at a stable level before heading out. I set my sights on two places for the day that I was there - Tokyo Hands, the famous DIY emporium, and Ito-Ya, which boasts 9 levels of stationery. Give yourself at least 2 hours to explore either store.
Tokyo Hands is better for delicate, well-designed office products -- pens, notebooks, and binders.
Ito-Ya will fulfill all your chiyogami and origami dreams, and more.
Late at night, if you want to still want to be designspired, but the shops have closed, head to TSUTAYA - a 21 hour bookstore in Roppongi Hills where you can browse through an astounding collection of western and japanese design books and magazines. Oh, and the shopping area features the tastiest type and graphic design!
3) Cabs are Expensive
The base fare is 710Yen, roughly 10 dollars. If you can, walk or take the metro. A day pass on the Metro will run you just 710Y, roughly 10 dollars. Bonus: Japanese Fashion Eye Candy.
4) Leave your suitcase at the airport
If you're going to be in Tokyo for 24 hours, don't lug your big suitcase to the city. Prepare a day pack with a change of clothes and room for your paper goodies.
5) Google Maps on your iPhone with no international plan
If you're like me, and the sole reason you brave public transportation is because Google Maps tells you where and when to take it, being in a new city without GMaps at your fingertips can be a handicap.
However, if you find internet connection, map out your day on your laptop, take pictures of the directions for all your destinations. Head out with your smartphone. It looks and feels like you have the safety blanket of Google maps... but just make sure your phone is in airplane mode.
6) Most importantly: book all future travel in Asia through Tokyo and pray for missed connections (no, not that kind).
More than anything, being in Tokyo was a tease. I can't even imagine the food and paper sights that I didn't have time to experience. The good news? I have four months to plan my next trip out there. Any suggestions?