Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

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…































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Woke up to this view this morning. Tokyo, laid out in all her high rise glory. It’s a beautiful, hazy day, and as I go about my morning “hotel room” ritual (making tea with dodgy creamer, selecting work outfit from scattered case innards) I am looking forward to my second 24 hours in this intriguing city.
Tokyo morning
We landed yesterday at 7am and the challenge was on, after not sleeping at all on the 12 hour flight, we had to stay awake until bedtime to have any chance of beating the evil jet lag that hits you when you travel East.

We got to our hotel, The Celestine, by about 8 and had 4 hours before we could check in, so we headed to the subway (which was a fun experience!) and over to Shibuya Crossing, to grab a coffee and muffin with a view of the famous intersection, where we watched the flocks of commuters and human traffic gather on the sides of the roads before peeling out onto the crossing when the green man told them to go.

From there we meandered around the back streets, checking out the weird and wonderful cafes, karaoke emporiums and incredible clothes shops, stacked high with weird and wonderful “youth” attire, every now and then contemplating whether I could get away with some daisy-rimmed sunglasses, or an ice-cream shaped handbag.

We managed to while away a good couple hours people watching, street strolling, and getting lost in the awesome department store (if that is what it is) called Tokyo Hands. This giant stacked building full of “everything you didn’t know you ever wanted”. We visited the Costume Floor, the Personal Stationary Floor, and a floor that seemed to stock contraptions to give yourself a non surgical face lift. Who knew this stuff was even invented?

Then it was time to head back to the hotel to check in and have a much needed shower.

After check in I met my colleague Lucy in the business centre to get some work done (this is a business trip). We put together our presentation for tomorrow and washed it down with several gallons of delicious green tea.

In the afternoon we headed to our office for a meeting, the jet leg was kicking in to full affect and several hours later we emerged into the fading Tokyo evening, in search of a final few minutes of Vitamin D and some hot sweet coffee from a nearby vending machine.

We walked towards Tokyo Tower, the great orange Eiffel Tower like structure poking up into Tokyo’s evening sky, and had a lovely promenade around the Shiba Koen Park. Taking in some fat cherry blossoms and a beautiful tended garden along the way. Then darkness fell and the Tokyo I’d been waiting to meet, in all its neon blinking glory, started to spring into life. We picked a rather random doorway into a cafe to grab some dinner, trying to find the one with the least about of business men (salary men) sitting on chairs up at the bar in. And we then ordered what I like to call “Japas” – Japanese Tapas, or a very strange selection of small dishes from the bizarre menu. A pasta dish with avocado pesto and prawns, a very garlic buttery shrimp and octopus dish, some “burdock sticks”, and a beer. Yum!

Then it was time, with very heavy eyes, to head home, glancing for one final time at the Tokyo Tower, which was now lit up in bright luzocade orange lights. To those very inviting white linen sheets at the Celestine, we’d made it through to 9pm. I cracked open some mini bar M&Ms for pudding, started reading my TimeOut and feel asleep as the Tokyo skyline outside my window twinkled and blinked neon into the night.











weird signs


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