True travelers take every opportunity they can to explore, even if it means sampling a bit of sushi in Shibuya during an airport layover. It was the summer of 2012, and my family and I were stuck in Narita International Airport with an eight hour layover on our hands. It was the last layover before our very last flight home from a two week tour of Southeast Asia.
We were a bit travel weary, but the thought of hanging around in a stuffy airport for eight hours didn’t really appeal to us either. We were itching to visit Tokyo, particularly Shibuya, even if it was just for a couple of hours.
Taking a train into Tokyo
Unlike cities like London, DC, or even Toronto, Tokyo’s airport is considerably far from its downtown. In fact, the Narita International Airport sits about 30 kms (or 48 miles) outside of Tokyo. Taking a taxi was out of the question, as many guidebooks say it would cost upwards of $200 or more. The better option for us was a train ride into the city, which we could catch directly from the airport.
After dropping our bags off at the airport luggage storage and exchanging some of our money into yen, we headed down to the train station to buy our tickets. There are a couple trains that travel between Narita and Tokyo, but the Narita Express was the fastest. We bought tickets for the four of us (my husband, stepson, daughter, and me) to travel into Shibuya station, and walked to the train platform to wait for our train.
The train ride was pleasant and fast, though relatively uneventful. One thing I’ve noticed about what little I’ve seen of Japan is that things are very neat and tidy. The train was clean, and looked relatively new. It was a pleasant change from some of the run down cars and buses we saw in Southeast Asia.
At Shibuya station, we got off the train and walked outside. This was my second time in Tokyo. I had spent a week in Tokyo years before, visiting many of the sites, including the Tsukiji Fish Market. For the rest of my family, however, it was their very first time. I chose Shibuya for a couple of reasons. First, the station is known for the story of Hachiko, the dog who waited at the station patiently everyday for his master, even after his master had passed away. There is a statue of Hachiko right outside of the station, and I think the Japanese love the story because it’s such a great example of loyalty, something that is so important to the Japanese.
Seeing the iconic Shibuya Crossing
The second reason I chose Shibuya is for Shibuya Crossing, essentially Tokyo’s version of Times Square. Shibuya is considered the fashion district of Tokyo, and you can see it in the plethora of stores, the giant billboards and video boards showing advertisement after advertisement. It’s sometimes overwhelming to me to be surrounded by all this stimuli. Much like New York City, it can get a bit overwhelming. But I suppose you get used to it after awhile, especially if you are living there.
Since taking the train took us a little over an hour, and we still wanted to get back to the airport a couple of hours before our flight, we ended up having only a few hours to spend in Tokyo. Just enough time to walk around Shibuya and have lunch. We stumbled upon a cute little sushi restaurant tucked away on a side street. What a perfect opportunity to try some sushi in Shibuya! It was 11:30am, so the restaurant was virtually empty.
Sampling some sushi in Shibuya
Despite stumbling through language barriers – we spoke no Japanese and our waitress spoke no English – we were able to order our meal. It was nice to sit down to a meal together, after several hours of being crammed in your airplane seat. We spent most of the time looking through the pictures from our trip and reflecting on our Southeast Asia adventure.
When our food came, we hungrily gobbled it up. The food was delicious, and by the time we were done with our meal of sushi in Shibuya, the restaurant was packed with lunch time patrons. After our meal, we headed out into the streets to walk around a bit before going back to the airport. We were able to get back to the gate with enough time to spare before boarding our flight back to the United States.
I love these kinds of mini adventures. It makes travel so much more interesting and spontaneous. OUr little adventure of getting sushi in Shibuya was so much fun!
Sometimes when we travel by airplane, we get in the mindset that we have to stay at the airport and wait for our flight. But if there’s enough time, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take advantage of an opportunity to explore a new city. Who knows, you could stumble upon something fantastic like we did.
Don’t miss out on my latest tool, the Overseas Family Vacation Checklist. Click here to receive your free copy and subscribe to my newsletter.