Tokyo – Lost in Translation…

Not specifically wedding related although a great place for honeymooning, I wanted to share this blog post with you to keep up with my travel writing and so you can see our photos which may inspire you to travel to Tokyo…

“As we began to explore Japan it became clear that my preconceptions of the Asian city were all true – huge, loud, crazy and fun. What I hadn’t realised that in a city of 35 million people just how many sub cultures the Japanese have and the depth of layers a city could hold.

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Tokyo is streets ahead of the other Asian cities I’ve visited. Yes I loved the edginess of Hong Kong, Tokyo has that but without the grime. Everywhere is so clean and I never smelt anything unsavoury. Although its clean, it doesn’t have the sterile feel of Singapore. It has the chaos of Bangkok but an organised chaos. And like Bangkok it ranks high in the culinary world.

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Tokyo is HUGE, yes, and it can be difficult to travel around but it means there is so much to explore and a week is needed just to scratch the surface. And it is loud, REALLY loud, but just outside of the music, lights and noise there is a world of peace and tranquility. From the tree lined canals of Naka Meguro to the quiet and serenity within the temples, inner city parks and gardens. We were lucky enough to catch the end of Sakura (cherry blossom season) which creates a stark contrast to the grey of the city and is a special time for the Japanese.

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I had expected the Japanese to be crazy, I’ve seen the films, the shows and magazines. I’ve heard how things easily become obsessions like anime and manga but I had no idea just how much fun, harmless and fascinating it all is. As the Japanese would say its very Kawaii (cute). From the cat cafes to the Robot show aka the most insane show on the planet to the cosplay happening in the parks, I LOVED it all. 

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And the shopping…WOW! Mason who describes his look as “Japanese high end” had raved about the shopping in Japan but I seriously had no idea just how amazing it would be. Japan is all about the material, design and fit. Everything is so well made and designed to last. From the vintage shops of Shami-kazawara, the second hand designer shops of Harajuku, the up and coming designers in Daikyanama and the sleek modern designed shops of Dover Street Market and Naka Meguro, we shopped till we dropped. I had aways rated New York for shopping but I have to say my next shopping trip will certainly be Tokyo. 

One of my preconceptions was wrong. That Japan is an expensive country and that we would need a lot of spending money. Oddly that image of Japan is so wrong! Yes you can spend money – we paid £50 for two drinks in New York Bar but I would do it again to be sitting 52 floors up listening to live jazz looking out at the most amazing view of Tokyo, recreating a scene from Lost in Translation. But apart from that and the cost of the Japan Rail Pass (£175 for a week but well worth it covering bullet trains, airport monorail and some city lines) nothing else is expensive. The metro is roughly 80p-£1 per journey, and in a city of 88,000 restaurants there is so much competition that we rarely paid over £20 for lunch and £30-40 for dinner. And we ate well every day and night, the food is absolutely sublime! In fact there are 30 types of Japanese cuisine and you can eat a different one every night. Each restaurant specialises in one area so they become experts in their field. And don’t be scared to try something that isn’t “in the book” – one of the best restaurants was one we stumbled upon when we saw smoke coming out of it just under a railway arch.

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When we first arrived i did feel a little “Lost in Translation” (if you haven’t seen the film go watch it!) I hadn’t realised that the Japanese speak limited English so we really were like aliens. We found it hard to get around, getting lost within the crazy underground network and not having any road names was such an odd experience in a world where we are used to mapping everything and being taken to exactly where you need to be. For someone who has easily travelled around countries like India on my own, I was surprised at how hard it would be, But it was all part of the magic, the getting lost and finding something better off the beaten track, feeling like the only tourists in most places and the hilarity of trying to explain what you needed with hand gestures, drawings and translation apps!

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One thing I will really miss about the Japanese is the quirks of their customs and traditions. Once I finally got used to handing everything over with two hands and taking it back the same way, taking my shoes off everywhere and the trying to figure out the computerised toilets, it was time to go home. I will even miss the birdsong and animated music playing on the subway and at stations, the slow but organised processes in shops, sleeping in a ryokan on a tatami mat and the bright lights and noise. I won’t miss the politicians driving around waking me up each morning, the changing intonation of the shops sales pitch (like a high pitched whine) and the constant “Moshi Moshi” but it was all part of the fun.

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So here are some of our favourite neighbourhoods and things to do:

Hip neighbourhoods

Naka Meguro 

Next time we visit Tokyo (I can’t wait already!) we said we would love to stay in the pretty area of Naka Meguro. Just out of the station you will find tree lined canals similar to Canal St Martin in Paris and Regents Canal in Hackney. During Sakura season, blossom lines the canals and falls into the water, so photogenic. Along the canals are trendy and cute fusion cafes, craft beer and coffee shops and best of all beautifully designed boutiques with cutting edge design. Our favourite shops were Vendor, Soffitto, Bamboo Shoots and Standing Still coffee. A short walk from the canals you will find Meguro-Dori, a street famous for its interior design and antiques.

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Dakyianama

Not far from Nakara Meguro is the trendy area of Dakyainama where fashionable 20-30’s shop for the latest trends. I don’t know how to describe this area, one of my favourite parts of Tokyo it has a real mix of old and new. Shops within beautiful and traditional teak villas to boutiques with slick glass architecture and Tom Dixon style fittings. Its a little like Brooklyn, a lot like Nolita with some added features of LA. This is the area where modern day streetwear in the form of Supreme, BAPE, etc was born in the early 90s.

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Ebisu
We didn’t get to explore much of Ebisu other than visiting the Cat Cafe (where Tokyoites go to stroke cats, work / take a break in a homely environment) yes its an odd place but in a city which doesn’t have space for pets you can see why it’s a novelty. Ebisu comes to life at night with the street food market, open until 4am and at Buri, a trendy standing bar and eatery (a bit like Jose of Bermondsey Street). But we enjoyed walking through and stumbled upon an amazing juice bar.

Shima -katazara

Another of our favourite parts of Tokyo, Shima-katazara, a 10 min train ride West of Shinjuku. is THE PLACE TO BE AND BE SEEN. Yes there are lots of hipsters but a lot of it is really cool, its a relaxing place with a hippy vibe. We loved the vintage shops. American work-wear stores and most of all the recycled clothes which had been updated into more modern designs. Here I bought 3 dresses for under £40.

Our favourites shops were in the market by the station (similar to Up market in Brick Lane), Latte Art coffee shop and Frank and Easy.

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Harajuku/Shibuya/Ometsando

This area is definitely the craziest and the most fun. Its a complete mish mash of modern, vintage, kawaii – you name it, it has it. Growing up to Gwen Stefani singing about Harajuku girls I couldn’t wait to see them and the best place is in Harajuku Park. It has to be seen to be believed – go on a Sunday where you can see Cosplay (the Japanese pastime of dressing up in costume and… playing!) in full swing from people acting out music videos in one area to folk groups in another and giant bubble making in another).

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Tekashita Dori has lots of kawaii stores where you can pick up the popular Sonny Angels for £2 (sold for £10 in the UK), good coffee at Repi Doll and a huge Monki store where you can grab a bargain. Just off of the main strip there are some of the best second hand shops I have ever been to – I even found myself a pair of almost new Marc Jacobs cat shoes for less than £20 which retail for £200!!! It’s also great for people watching!

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Ometsando Hills is where you will find the high end fashion – Comme de Garcons (much cheaper than the UK) and Dior store are beautiful!!

Just behind Ometsando Hills the backstreets between Shibuya and Harajuku are really quirky and you can find Visvim, The Great Burger and a pretty cool rooftop bar above a car park.

We spent a lovely evening having dinner in a traditional Japanese private booth restaurant followed by cocktails with a view at rooftop bar Two Rooms.

Traditional Tokyo

Asakusa is old Tokyo where you can visit beautiful temples, see traditional Japanese architecture and visit the legendary Kamiya Bar (Est. 1800s) to taste the famous Denki Bran / Electric Brandy.

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Ueno is pretty central. There is a huge city park and a yummy street market where you can grab delicious meatballs and fried food (although we had no idea what exactly we were eating!)

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Tsujiki – The fish market is an absolute MUST do and shouldn’t be missed.  Just outside the madness of the fish market you can find peace and serenity in the gardens and the teahouse where you can take part in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

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Get there early to join the queue for the BEST SUSHI EVER at Dawaii sushi.

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The Tokyo of films

Shinjuku – Get dressed up and visit New York Bar, where Bill Murray spent most of his time in Lost in Translation, for some AMAZING cocktails and the best views of Tokyo. 5 mins around the corner and you are in the middle of the craziness of Shinjuku and it’s neon lights. The  Robot restaurant, high on many a celebrity list, has to be seen to be believed – don’t bother eating just buy a ticket to the show. I won’t tell you much more… I don’t want to spoilt it!!

Shibuya – I absolutely loved the experience of walking across the famous Shibuya crossing. There is only one word for it…. madness!! Do the walk then head to the McDonalds on one corner to take some pics of the scene from above.

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Akihabara – Electric Town with neon lights and where you can pick up electrical bargains and in Japanese stores Muji and Uniqlo.

Modern

Ginza – Ginza is the modern part of town and another great place for shopping. I purchased an Apple laptop for 30% off and loved the beautifully designed Dover Street Market where we had coffee and cake in the Rose Bakery on the top floor. We also tried hand drip coffee for the first time in Ginza, soooo good!!

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Roppongi – another modern and Westernised area and the business district of Tokyo. One of the best restaurants we visited in Tokyo was Gonpachi  – an institution, famous for its Kill Bill like setting and its shouting waiters. You can also visit the sky high Mori Art museum, Roppongi Hills luxury shopping centre and the infamous Geronimo Bar where patrons bang the drum and buy the whole bar a shot!

Get out of Tokyo…

Take the bullet train to Kyoto to see a more traditional Japan – absolutely beautiful and we even spotted a geisha which can be really difficult.

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Visit the Bamboo Grove and the Golden Temple….

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Things to watch out for 

  • Bank cards not always working and limited ATMS
  • Getting lost ALL THE TIME!
  •  various tube/train companies to pay for different lines 
  • Japan rail pass can only be bought outside of Japan before you travel
  • Limited English
  • The Japanese are very polite and do not like confrontation etc.
  • Always take off shoes before trying clothes on and in some restaurants

Where to go next…

  • Back to Kyoto (mainly to eat the most amazing icecream I’ve ever had – a mix of matcha and green tea!)
  • Okiwahana islands
  • Japan alps
  • Onsen town

 

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