Travelling on the Shinkansen (“bullet train”) is expensive for foreigners. To soften the blow, you can buy a JR Pass voucher before you arrive in Japan. Once in Japan, you exchange the voucher for a pass, after which you can reserve seats on the inter-city trains. If you buy from the official website (not an agency), you can reserve train seats before you get to Japan; otherwise you must wait until you’re in Japan and hope that reservations are still possible on the days you want to travel or that there are unreserved seats available. I found this out when I wrote to the official site after we bought passes via an agency.
Our first task of the day in Tokyo was to exchange our JR Pass vouchers and reserve seats for the days we wanted to travel. We went to Ueno station and queued for over thirty minutes. When we got our pass, we were able to reserve seats for one train journey at the counter. This was the limit during busy times. For our other train journeys, we had to use the ticket machines, which was simple enough when you choose English as your preferred language.
With the essential admin out of the way, we popped into Starbucks after we’d spent a fair amount of time looking for breakfast/lunch. The two vegan-friendly places we’d found were inaccessible because they were in the part of Ueno station after the ticket gate. I later learnt that you could buy a two-hour non-travel ticket specifically to go through the gate to pop into the shops and restaurants.
My previous visit to Japan was in Autumn. So, I missed the cherry blossom season. This time, we arrived at the perfect time. We were staying in Ueno and learnt that Ueno Park is one of the best places to see the cherry trees blossoming.
When we got to Ueno Park, there were thousands of people having picnics and walking around the park. Everyone in Tokyo, it seemed, had the same idea. Even the camera crews were out in force. It turned out that our first full day in Tokyo was a public holiday and this is what people in Tokyo do when it’s cherry blossom season.
The people watching was almost as enjoyable as admiring the cherry blossom.
By now, we were hungry, having failed to find a place to eat. We looked up another place and started to make our way there. Within a few minutes, we came across the Everyone’s Cafe in the park, which had a vegan option. It was just a salad (nice dressing) but we were thankful to get any food at that point. We didn’t have the Cherry Blossom Mont Blanc Souffle Pancake.
After eating, we walked to Akihabara, sometimes known as “Electric City”, where the latest electronic goods are sold.
Jetlag got the better of us. So, after briefly looking around, we headed back to the hotel.
Once we’d rested at the hotel, we headed to Tokyo Station for dinner. Tokyo is renowned for places that are difficult to find — not just for tourists but for locals too. When we got to what we thought was our restaurant, we discovered it wasn’t. We asked the person where Soranoiro Nippon was and she pointed out the general direction. After circling around the station (which is huge), looking at many restaurants, we found our ramen restaurant. It was five metres from our original stop. The food was simple but filling.