Category Archives: Seen & Done Japan

my favourite Tokyo memories

15th June 2017

Last month I watched Steve Backshall’s Japan’s Northern Wilderness documentary and I loved it as it was so passionate and took me to a world I didn’t know. So I was excited to see a new documentary called The Art of Japanese Life, but the first episode soy didn’t do it for me (like, what’s with the suit Dr James Fox?) Anyhow … it did remind me some of my favourite Tokyo memories which I want to share with you.

The visit to Studio Ghibli museum was probably one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Japan. But before I went, online tickets were sold out for the period of my trip and I almost didn’t want to go, because how could I possibly not visit the birthplace of one of the things that introduced me to the country? Thank God my friends and me managed to find arrange tickets in the end and I cried. The museum itself was small but packed with intricate secrets and magic and I felt like Kiki discovering her new place. (Yes Kiki is one of my favourites, I know it’s not their most artistic or heartbreaking one but to someone who loves coming of age stories and finding your way in the world this has to be a favourite). The only down side was my mouth hurt afterwards from smiling so much.

I arrived at Asakusa directly from the airport and after having dropped my suitcase at the hotel and taking Asakusa in from the top it was time to go out and explore. It was a warm Sunday afternoon, so it meant everyone was out and about and I got thrown into it the best way possible without getting too overwhelmed after a long flight.

The stay at a ryokan was definitely one of the highlights of my trip! Who would have thought I loved sleeping on a thin mattress and boiling in an onsen bath? It was almost a little adventure within an adventure and the walk to the ryokan cuts you off from Tokyo business life. I loved everything about it, from stepping into the traditional, to finding a kimono set in your room and making green tea and pot noodles after a long day out. If you are heading to Japan I highly recommended booking one if you’re looking for a step back in time and for a quiet stay away out of the hustle and bustle of the metropolis.

Like any basic white girl I’ve dreamt of crossing at Shibuya ever since seeing ScarJo and Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. And it all was there: the crowds, the chaos, the see-through umbrellas, the neon lights, the loud music and the traffic. Bucketlist moment.

100 Yen Shops, Don Quichot, Tokyo Hands and pretty much every supermarket was an attraction that needed exploring. Baby’s first chopsticks? Hello Kitty battery? 15 types of green tea? Did I need it? No! Did I want all of it? YES. I’ve posted a selection of my some of my favourites here.

Have you been to Japan or are planning to go? What was your favourite place you visited or thing you did?

Yes No Maybe: What (Not) To Do In Kyoto

8th September 2015

Remember that I went to Japan in April? Well, if you did or didn’t I still have hundreds of stories to tell and tips to share. After a few days in Tokyo we took the Shinkansen train to Kyoto, which would be our base for the next few days so we could take some day trips and see more temples then you can shake a stick at.

YES

Gion is the geisha district of Kyoto. Though nowadays you won’t see too many Geisha or Maiko (young Geisha in training) outside, it’s still worth seeing if only for the architecture (of course traditional, but also modern influences too). Gion is also nearby to Maruyama Park, known for its weeping cherry tree – don’t worry it’s not a sad tree that’s been bullied by the other trees or lost its partner, it’s just a description of its branches! The main route to reach the park is via Yasaka Shrine – which hosts the Gion Matsuri festival – we’re talking one hell of a procession originally organised to appease angry, vengeful gods.

Talking about temples…temple hopping is a must if you are in Kyoto and I know this comes up in pretty much every guide, but really. And by temple hopping I don’t mean to go to EVERY temple since there are a ridiculous amount of them and you’d problem overdose and see temples everywhere you looked, even in your dreams/nightmares/cereal bowl.

You know that signature picture postcard shot of Japan with the red shrines? It’s most likely taken at Inari, or Fushimi Inari-taisha to be more exact. One of the most iconic sights of Kyoto, the shrine is well-known for the red-orange tori (gates) that are great for photos, but if you are pale like me it’s more likely to colour clash and make you look very ill and no filter magic can hide that. There are a lot of steps, so this might be a no if just had a hip replacement, are wearing your 10 inch heels or a bit lazy.

After a long day of walking around we ended up on a street with hundreds (I might be exaggerating here a bit) of restaurants offering so many delicious things that made it hard to pick, plus we were hangry (the phase that comes after hungry and just before angry) we settled for Zuzu in Pontoch dori as the menu + price rate was within our range. It was a good choice as we had the best Japanese style tapas there. I found the best option for when you are not sure where to go was ramen. This dish is present on every corner, from the aisles of 7-Eleven to mall food courts and little neighbourhood joints. A bowl of these heavenly noodles is super satisfying, and they taste is even better because they are so cheap. If you want a long, drawn out meal they might not be the best option as you order, slurp it quickly while the soup is hot and before the noodles get all soft, and then get out.

NO
A day trip to Nara Park wasn’t for me. Bizarrely enough it was due to the deers (a sentence I don’t think I will never say again). It is a nice park really, with lakes and ponds and some famous temple with the largest wooden structure in the world, which houses a huge Buddha. I knew there would be deers wandering around, but I didn’t expect hundreds of them in such a bad environment: in the part we visited there was more stone then grass which can’t be comfortable for them, there was a road in the middle of the park where cars drove by constantly which can’t be good for their stress level and the deers looked like they were high on the special deer crackers that were sold in the park. But if you like the idea of posing with Bambi on speed in a car park then this might be up your street.

My friends and I have an unwritten rule that we have to try Mexican food in each country we travel to, and Japan was no exception .Sadly, the one we spotted this time, Avocado was too pricey and the food was a let down – and that’s being polite. I wish we’d discovered the much better Zuzu earlier, so kids…the lesson here is to read reviews before you go to a place, especially if it’s a bit over your budget – it may not be the ‘amazing find we stumbled upon’ you hoped!

MAYBE
While I don’t have claustrophobia, I wasn’t hugely keen on staying at a capsule hotel – until I stumbled upon the Nine Hours on Pinterest, that is. It looks like something from a dystopian young adult film. Apparently when check in you a receive a packet with towels, a toothbrush and a pajama gown. Then you got to a white room with lockers where you undress into the gown and leave the rest in lockers. After that you go into the bathroom and once you’ve washed away your worries you go to a black room where you’ll find your pod. The place was unfortunately all booked up otherwise I definitely would have spend a night there to get my futuristic Gattaca, Alien, or The Mazer Runner vibes on.

Tetsugaku-no-michi or ‘ Philosopher’s Walk’ (nothing to do with the Philosopher’s Stone sadly) is a path it’s well worth a visit in the spring when the sakura start to bloom and in the summer when the fireflies start to glow. I’ve always wanted to capture a firefly in a bottle for the fairy tale magic, but I’m not sure if the wildlife protection people would find out and imprison me. It’s worth nothing that this place might not be as interesting in the winter months.

Have you had any heartbreaking tourist related animal encounter?

One Night At The Gate Hotel Kaminarimon, Tokyo

30th July 2015

Guys, I have sooooo many Japan stories to tell! I must let loose on the world the delicious food I had, the sights I visited, my public transport experiences and all the places I rested my head on a pillow at. Let’s kick off with Gate Hotel Kaminarimon, a boutique hotel located on the main and most vivid street of Asakusa – this place is the traditional temple town of Tokyo (now that’s aliteration!). Well, to be fair, it’s also got its fair share of modernity, but the temples are the main draw and there’s still festivals that take place in and around the shrines through the year.

We stayed here for one night. The Gate Hotel is designed to be looked at, no, I mean stared at, especially the reception on the top floor, which I’ll let the picture do the talking, as I can’t find a good enough adjective!

Aside from the room being a nice place to relax after our long journey (I can’t sleep on planes sadly, so I needed a bit of time to relax), there was lots of space for our three suitcases, and more importantly….the Tokyo Sky Tree and the Senso-Ji wasn’t too bad of a view.

The bed was my favourite though, it was just a shame our schedule was so full, the bed would have been a good tourist site to visit. Wi-Fi was good too and didn’t explode with three people uploading photos, checking Facebook and generally FOMO-ing.

Now, let’s talk about the toilet! Yes, I know that’s a weird way to start a sentence, but this thing had a control panel you probably need to go to university to understand completely. Thankfully no one in our party managed to crash or break it!  The shower was pretty much all you need after two long flights. (Well, except Ryan Gosling … )

The terrace was where we spent an evening drinking, and it might have been the cocktails, but I was definitely bowled over looking across the sea of neon lights that is Tokyo.

Breakfast was a fusion type thing – West meets East and all that. Because our itinerary was so packed we didn’t managed to grab any other meals at the hotel but if breakfast is something to go by, we missed out.

Location, location, location is a mantra to live by right? Well, this place was a quick walk from Asakusa Station (which is served by three metro lines) and near to 6th century AD Senso-Ji Temple – one of the city’s oldest religious sites, Otori-jinja Shrine where you can pray to one of the lucky seven gods of fortune and touch the shrine’s famous mask., and the Nakamise Dori shopping street where everything from clogs (Dutch connection!) to dolls, hairbrushes and local sweets are on sale.

So this is one Gate I’m gonna leave open … I shall return.