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Opinion

Newly-minted world traveler enjoys Tokyoʼs sights

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March 28, 2014

For spring break, a professor and four UW-River Falls students traveled to Japan.

For 11 days they traveled across the island of Honshu, making various stops along the way. I was one of these 4 students. As a small group, we got to easily jump onto crowded public transportation and race through train stations. It was a whirlwind of activity but one that I believed all four of us fully enjoyed. The sights, sounds and tastes of Japan were unlike anything I had ever experienced before but they were still something that I would gladly do again.

I should mention the fact that I have not traveled much. My experience is Minnesota, the bordering states and one memorable trip to Michigan. To say I am a world-wise traveler would be a bald-faced lie. So my experiences in Japan are ones with eyes off a newbie traveler; perhaps those with more experience would say my observations are obvious but to me, they are new. Okay, there is your one and only disclaimer.

Japan is a bustling, technically advanced yet ancient civilization. There has been a central government ruling in Japan since at least the 7th century, though it should be mentioned that several history books written back then say that Japan has been around since the 7th century BC, but for the sake of this column we will go with what our history books say.

The starting point of our trip was the capital of Japan: Tokyo. Tokyo is one of, if not the largest populated cities in the world, with the greater Tokyo area containing over 35 million people. There are a lot of people there to say the least. To help the population move around, there is a network of trains that crisscross the city. One, the Yamanote line, encircles the heart of the city and is perhaps the most used line in Tokyo. Our guide book mentions, and I believe it, that during rush hour, attendants on the platforms have to push people into the overcrowded trains and windows have been known to shatter. My group never had to deal with that big of a crowd but our personal space was severally encroached on, so there is still that.

Our hotel in Tokyo was in a prime location, several blocks from two different train stations. Also, right behind our where we were staying were a large number of small shops, located in the nooks and crannies of smaller buildings. During and immediately after World War II, this was a black market area but my guide book assured me that most of the shops were completely legal now. Never the less, the shops of Candy Store Alley (Ameyayokocho) were varied. In the evening, large crowds of people wandered through this area, passing the time by eating, shopping and gambling.

Also near our hotel was Ueno Park, which contained several museums and, at the time, budding cherry blossoms. If you ever go to Tokyo and want to experience culture, history and nature, Ueno Park is an excellent place to start. Not to mention the fact that a zoo is located in the park which contains pandas.

Beyond those two very convenient locations, Tokyo seemed to be filled with entertaining things to do no matter what your interests were. Random historical places dot the city along with restaurants, karaoke shops and public transportation stations. It is a large bustling city which seems to stretch for miles. If you want a blast of Japanese culture in the environment of a busy city, Tokyo should be on the top of your list. Stayed tuned readers for other fun things to do in Country of the Rising Sun!

Rachel Molitor is a student at UW-River Falls.