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I have just returned home from my first ever trip to Japan and I’m slowly unpacking and going over fresh memories from the last 9 days. Before my visit I was expecting to be dazzled by Japan and it’s quirkiness and I was not disappointed, although the things that captured my heart and imagination may not have been the obvious things, I kept a list by my hotel bed of those quirks that fascinated and delighted me along the way. So here are twenty things I love about Tokyo (in no particular order)…

  1. Warm toilet seats. And all the other wonderful functions of a Japanese toilet.

  2. Style. Socks and sandals/high heels working together. Clear umbrellas. Funky backpacks. Nail transfers. Pink hair. Matching outfits being the epitome of cool.

  3. Same same but different. It looks kind of the same as home. A big city with city buildings and city roads winding around. They drive on the left, they have a circle line. The weather at this time of year is even the same. But it’s not the same. A different current runs beneath. It’s quirky, it’s subtle, and it’s very, very different.

  4. Respect and rules. The depth of the bow, the exchange of business cards, where you sit in respect to the door, taking your shoes off, putting on plastic sandals for the bathroom. It feels safe there. Order is maintained.

  5. Karaoke. Perhaps a symbol of throwing caution of the wind in the face of the rules. After dark (or actually, 24 hours a day) on every corner, glass palaces of rooms built for singing. Pick up a tambourine and set of maracas, order your included drink, turn on the mic and select your song. Then abandon your senses with the music. Repeat. 3 times a week, if you have good sense (as I did!)

  6. Tokyo Hands. A 9 floor department store packed with the weird and wonderful. Personal stationary. Gadgets for non-surgical face lifts. Cute things to pimp your phone. DIY. Lunchboxes. All the things you didn’t know you wanted or needed.

  7. Green tea and plastic food. In my whole 9 days in Tokyo I had back to back delicious food, from the cheapest to the most expensive, all happy, healthy and delicious. The green tea is sublime, like nothing I’ve tasted in the UK, the ramen, the katsu curry, the sashimi and sushi, the gyoza, the many forms of chicken tasted in a chicken restaurant, all looking better than the plastic food displayed out the front to tempt in customers, all tasting better than the next. The drink equally intriguing and delicious, from the ume (plum) sour, to the sapporo beer to the warm saki. All good.

  8. Sound effects everywhere. Bird song piped into the corridors of our hotel, muzac blasted on the train platform, bleeping in the street to guide the blind.

  9. The Tokyo Tower, lit up like lucozade in the night. A garish Eiffel Tower, providing a perch for the view of the Tokyo skyline.

  10. People watching. On the train all eyes are down, each body entranced by their mobile phones, I get a chance to keep my eyes up and have a good look around. Fascinating.

  11. Cuteness (Kawaiiii!!!). Tortoro, Hello Kitty, a weird fried egg thing and 5 floors of kitsch cute craziness in Kiddyland. Phone jewellery, every company has a mascot, every advert has bunnies. Pose for a photo, throw up the V sign, get ready to be cute.

  12. Shibuya. Scrambling on the world’s most famous pedestrian crossing. Walking the neon lit streets, peering into small izakayas, karaoke bars, pachinko parlours, the noise, the people, the lights, the life. This is the Tokyo from my imagination.

  13. Juxtaposition, spending £12 on a cocktail in the New York Bar on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt (a la Lost in Translation), then grabbing a 450 Yen curry from a vending machine at the station.

  14. Cherry Blossoms. We missed the main season but there were a few final trees throwing out their beautiful blooms at Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens. Each day punctuated with a dash of pink.

  15. Salary men. Getting drunk and passing out on the train. Cramming into small bars and restaurants, lined up in their disheveled black suits. Reading comics on the trains. Faces red, ties squiffy.

  16. Vending machines. On every corner. A can of hot coffee, the most delicious dinner.

  17. Godzilla. Seen on the streets of Tokyo.

  18. Cafes. For cats, dogs, rabbits, owls. Didn’t make it to any of them, but I know they’re there.

  19. The bullet train. I swooned at the sleek lines of this rocket ship that stays on the ground. So beautiful.

  20. Fuji-san. After a week of searching for him in the haze, I saw him from the train, peeking from cloud cover. One day I’ll return in the summer and climb to the top!

So that’s my list, but even now there are more things that pop into my memory, after work drinks at an off-license that converted into a bar, stepping out into the patchwork streets of Shimokitazawa, singing Pearl Jam and Les Miserables in our glass corner Karaoke room in Shibuya, sneaking peeks at beautiful brides during a morning trip to the Meiji Shrine, a haphazard driving tour of Tokyo, taking in the Asashi building, the Imperial Palace, the Sumo stadium and ending up mixing and making okonomiyaki on a high floor in the Ebisu building. Green tea kit kats, wrestling with chop sticks, high fiving with drunken salary men, and the wonderful, warm hospitality of my work colleagues.

I have fallen in love with the city on the island on the other side of the world. It’s left new memories, new flavours, new sights, new experiences for every sense. And for that I can only say…

Arigatōgozaimas!!!!!

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