There are a lot of people in Tokyo. MASSIVE understatement.
Now usually, this is not a problem. People are calm and orderly so it stops things feeling intense, especially away from the tourist hotspots.
However, this weekend I experienced a monumentally epic fail which reminded me never to underestimate the sheer volume of people in this city.
Now, the expat wisdom living in Tokyo instils in you the following mantra – ‘never go to a popular exhibition/museum/area of outstanding beauty… (basically don’t try and do anything except your local park) on a public holiday’.
We are usually pretty good at this. Tokyo Disney on a Tuesday (still busy if you’re wondering), all other hotspots visited on international school holidays when Japanese schools aren’t on holiday. This has worked well for us.
But it seems we have got a bit lax of late in repeating our mantra. On Friday we woke up on a public holiday, looked out of the window onto the most beautiful, crystal clear day. The autumn leaves were literally glowing and Mount Fuji was looking majestic at the edge of the city. “We HAVE to go to Mount Takao today” we cried with boundless enthusiasm!
Mount Takao is a mountain only an hour from Tokyo, where you can take a cable car and ‘hike’ up to the top for magnificent views over Tokyo and Mount Fuji. This is high up on our Japan bucket list so off we went.
The sat nav told us an hour and a quarter to get there. Fair enough, it’s a public holiday after all, so that’s ok we thought. Off we set and found ourselves crawling along in traffic with the sat nav slowly ticking up the time. Yet, so intoxicating was our enthusiasm we foolishly decided to plough on (we’re pretty painful when we have a goal in mind). Nothing was going to stop us.
3 hours later, we arrived. Finally. And, oh my goodness, the view was breath taking. No, not the mountain, the view or the Autumnal trees. The thing that took our breath away was the sheer number of people queuing. Yes, queuing (very patiently) to walk up this mountain. A sea of people cheek to jowl moving along like a huddle of Emperor penguins. This was the start of the hiking trail. Yikes.
OK, we thought. Eternally optimistic. We can do this. Let’s find a parking space. Ha ha ha ha , so foolish. A couple of miles down the road we had to accept that a parking space was not to be found. Men with batons (them again), holding them in a cross high in the air at the entrance to each car park. No getting past those guys.
To gather our thoughts, we stopped at a convenience store for snacks and a comfort break. Here under the bright fluorescent lights, we finally came to the conclusion, that this was not
going to happen. Thus far, I have failed to mention that we had our 4 year old with us, who up until now had been very patient and obliging with her ridiculous parents.
There was only one thing to do, accept defeat and drive home. We stayed philosophical and decided to chalk this one up to experience. Luckily the drive back to Tokyo only took an hour and we started feeling increasingly relieved as we sailed past the traffic on the other side of the road that had now come to a total stand still.
So, while Tokyo, is a calm, orderly and very pleasant place to live. The sheer number of people when concentrated is frankly overwhelming. Therefore, I offer up this story as a way of helping others avoid our mistake. If you come to Japan, please remember the mantra to do the popular stuff on a week day that isn’t a public holiday (and take the train!). Of course, this will have little impact if you visit Kyoto on any day during cherry blossom season, but perhaps it may just help a bit.
Right, I’m off to recite my mantra another 100 times until it sinks in again.