JAPAN trip summary

We are sitting on the plane from Tokyo to Paris and it seems to be the right time for a few lines of summary of this one-week trip to Tokyo. I have to confess I love long-haul flights for this cut-off they give.No phone calls, no messages, no emails and lots of movies and music to choose from. I hate flights that are between 2-5 hours as it is too little time to organise the space and enjoy movie watching and book reading, while way too much time just to sit and wait for landing. I have already seen a French movie „Marseille” (after all I’m flying AirFrance so a French movie seems to be politically correct to watch;)) and now I am listening to my Spotify collection and writing the post (“Lost on you” right now-I like it a lot:-))

First of all, it was really relaxing  and smooth time with no obstacles or unpleasant surprises or unnecessary ‚adventures’. Despite not knowing the language, traveling in Japan is easy and convenient. All the transport connections are written in English. All the commands and requirements are provided in English as well. On metro trains taking you to major tourist attractions or airports all the announcements are in English. Well, I have to admit that while shopping you can hardly ever communicate in English- well, you do not need to communicate much while shopping for clothes, but it would be helpful to speak to someone at the drugstore just to make sure that the face cream you are buying is not whitening (most cosmetics here are whitening of course). But here comes the power of the Internet and with a few screenshots you can get everything you want not knowing a word in Japanese. At least I hope I got what I wanted and I bought a lot. I got familiar with a brand called Hadalabo that apparently is sold by Hebe drugstore in Poland. I am looking forward to checking it out. The more luxurious brand to buy in Japan is SK-II, but most of their products are whitening and the price range is between 10,000 and 20,000 yen for an item (400,00 to 800,00 PLN).  Once my stock runs out I will need to get back to Tokyo for drugstore shopping. Maybe next time I will fly with one of my student’s mum who is a great specialist on cosmetics on the Japanese market?;-)

As far as food is concerned, whatever we ate was great! And good food isn’t difficult to find and it isn’t expensive. Of course we had a lot of great sushi and a sushi feast with starters and wine and desserts would cost us about 5000,00 yen (200,00 PLN). We also had a few bowls of udon and excellent ramen (price ranging from 600-1000 yen which is from 23,00 to 39,00 PLN). There is some misconception that traveling to Japan is expensive. Well, surely it isn’t as cheap as traveling in Thailand or Cuba, but it is cheaper than traveling in the United States. The plane ticket costs as much as a ticket to NY for instance. Accommodation is definitely cheaper than in NYC. And the food is inexpensive and soooo good.

I don’t know why I am kind of comparing Tokyo to NYC, but since I am  I have to say that I would rather come to Tokyo again than go to NYC (especially for clothes shopping-so much to my taste). Another reason is the fact that the Japanese are so quiet. You are in big city but strangely enough it feels relaxed and quiet and thus does not make you tired. Of course there are places such as Yodabashi or Bic Camera stores where they keep playing stupid  annoying jingles or Patchinko where the sound is unbearable. I think I haven’t mentioned patching yet; so let me explain it to you. So, Patchinko is a game place where everybody plays some rediculous games on flashing machines and the loud sound of the machines in impossible to bear-terrible experience!!! Though, if you are a fun of such things, Japan has more to offer. You can also go to a Robot cafe or to a Maid Cafe in which cutely dressed girls serve these cute looking food and make stupid faces and sounds, and get you involved in childish games for which you apparently need to pay and you only realize it when you see the bill. Not our cup of tea, but definately a Japan exclusive attraction. We also saw some Karaoke places but we didn’t have a chance to try.

Of course we loved Japanese toilets. I don’t know if you are familiar with a Japanese toilet means, but you would love it. Once you sit, it turns out to be heated:-). When you are done, you can get the parts of your body washed and dried with warm flow of air. Amazing luxury!!!! I’ll miss that the most;-).  What we will surely miss too is this Japanese politeness and great service.

What we both noticed and liked a lot is the fact that Japan does not get flooded by foreign world-wide chain stores. Of course at such shopping districts as Ginza, Shinjuku or Harajuku you would find h&m and Zara but strangely enough you don’t see people crying shopping bags from these stores. They have plenty of great domestic brands that offer better quality and cater for the Japanese classic tastes. Even a Starbucks or McDonalds would happen rarely and I believe they are available mostly in big city shopping districts. The only known to us cosmetic brand that I saw in drugstores was Avene and Listerine, the rest was domestic. On the whole, we didn’t see any neons or ads of the brands we normally see everywhere in the world. Japan seems to be keeping their own identity and culture and to be supporting the domestic market in everything. How great, hm? They behave a little bit like the French, but after all for many of them France is the country to go to admire in Europe.

Well, there are things we didn’t see this time. We didn’t have a chance to see sumo wrestlers practicing as there is an annual tournament going on now and they are all off to the tournament and the sumo stables were closed. We also didn’t rent a kimono and we have no pictures in traditional attire. We also gave up o one of the greatest attraction that is tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market but as they admit only 120 people a day, you need to queue as early as 2 am in the morning to get admitted at 6 am to see the giant tuna auction. We are both tuna lovers but not that much determined as to get up at 2 am and queue for hours. What is more ,Tomasz somehow forgot that he wanted to buy a vintage Hasselblad camera and remembers only in the evenon the last day Maybe next time?

We definitely recommend Tokyo as  place to see and enjoy.

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JAPAN – Asakusa

Today we decided to do nothing buy relax! We got up so late that it was already lunch time so we only had a cup of coffee and headed to a sushi place. As a starter Tomasz took clam miso soup while I went for udon with fried tofu. And then lots of sushi:-). And as a dessert we tried green matcha ice cream. Not the best flavor but a must-eat in Japan. And when time for dinner came we went for delicious ramen.

After lunch we just started browsing at Asakusa market and nearby shopping centers and we found some ‘treasures’. First of all we bought a vinyl of Miles Davis as supposedly vinyls produced in Japan are produced with the best quality. We also got original origami paper although we have no intention of getting into origami. Of course our shopping would not count without the attraction of browsing in a drugstore where we bought some heated eye masks, face masks, super soft face brushes, rubber heel covers that help oils and moisturizers get absorbed overnight, konjac sponges, oil blotting papers, …… As far as ‘grocery’ is concerned we bought some matcha tea as well as cookies and chocolates all made of matcha or with matcha-so all are green; and a bottle of Japanese whiskey. We also added some more regular souvenirs such as chopsticks, sushi key rings, rubbers in shapes of Japanese food, soup bowls, fans, …. We also got an apron for a sushi chef. And I can’t even remember what else we purchased, but it was sooooo much fun! And the day flew like all the others before.

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JAPAN – Kamakura

Today we spent a day at Kamakura and have seen shinto and zen shrines and temples enough for the entire lifetime. Kamakura is a small city and a popular tourist destination as it offers temples and shrines and sandy beaches.

The first stop was at the Great Buddha (Kamakura Daibutsu) with a height of 13.35 meters, the second largest bronze Buddha in Japan. Well, just a big Buddha and definitely not as impressive as the Leaning Buddha in Bangkok.

Then we stopped to see Hasedera temple from which we got good views of Kamakura and that was  it!

Then Hachimangu- Kamakura most important Shinto shrine founded in 1063. It was crowded but worth a visit and it had beautiful surroundings with trees in beautiful great colors.

Our next destination was a temple with a bamboo garden. Hokokuji is a small Zen temple and behind its main hall you can find a bamboo grove with over 2000 green bamboo stalks. A few narrows pathways led through the bamboo grove to a tea house where matcha was offered.

I already had enough but we headed for yet another Zen temple famous for its garden. Zuisenji temple is located in the far east of Kamakura in the back of a narrow valley and surrounded by wooded hills, which makes it very quiet and not touristy at all. It was a long walk to get there but we really liked the old temple and its serene surrounding.

On the way from there we stooped at some two more minor temples and at some point we had more than enough. So we got back to the station and went back to Tokyo.

And we actually called a day while having another sushi feast. And it wasn’t the last one:-).

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JAPAN – Tokyo day 4

 

Today we had a short but great day. Why was it short? Last night we tried to go to sleep without sleeping pills and we fell asleep around 3.30 am so we woke up today at midday and had breakfast only about 1 pm and then we finally hit the city. Our initial plan was to see Tsukiji Fish Market at Ginza and Ginza itself- the most famous upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment  district. One square meter of land in the district’s center is over ten million yen ( 38,000 PLN). It is Ginza where you can find the infamous cup of coffee for $10 and where every leading brand name in fashion and cosmetics has a presence. But since the Fish Market closes at 2 pm there was no point for us going after our breakfast at 1pm so we changed the itinerary for the day.

We just walked around Asakusa and made it to Yanesen- the streets of Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi that provide an idea of what pre-war Tokyo was like. We came across some interesting craft shops, some old houses and finally we explored the Nezu Shrine. Once we made it back to Asakusa we came across an amazing sushi place and stayed for dinner. It was a very modern sushi place with menu on iPads. Once we were seated, we saw that each place apart from a box of green tea, pickled ginger, stock of chopsticks, a box hot water tap also had an iPad. On the iPad was the menu in an interactive version so we ordered by clicking. Once the food was coming on a moving table there was an alert popping up on the iPad screen and our job was to pick the food up and confirm by clicking on the iPad  that it was received. We could order more at any time and after our binge we checked out at the iPad and paid at cashier at the exit. So as you can see it was very convenient but first and foremost it was so delicious!!!! The fish was so fresh, mouth-watering, buttery…hmmmm…..hmmmm. We ate too much but we could not resist and browsing the menu we kept founding some new kinds of fish that we had never tried before. The dinner would be incomplete without a dessert so we ended up eating Hokkaido ice-cream choux. Everything was so delicious that we will be back to Sushi Nova Asakusa.TPD_5725 2.jpg

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JAPAN – Tokyo day 3

Today we just wandered around and observed what people do in a temple and how they are dressed in the streets.

In the morning as usual we stopped by Sensoji Temple since we always walk by on the way to the Metro station and we drew the lots of fortune in the temple. There are shelves with small drawers with the lots, called OMIKUJI, and near them you can find metal boxes with wooden sticks inside. You pay 100 yen, shake the box and wait for a wooden stick to drop out. Each stick has something written on it, so you look at the writing and look for a drawer with exactly the same signs. Then you open the drawer and take out a sheet of Omikuji which tells you your fortune: excellent, ordinary or bad. If you happen to have bad fortune you do not take the Omikuji home but you tie it and thus leave the bad fortune behind. We also went near the pot with ash to get smoked by the smoke coming out and thus get purified.

On this wave of imitating the Japanese, we also went shopping for Japanese cosmetics: face masks in cute packagings; deep cleansing oil; lotions that are not really what we understand by lotion but they are simply moisturizers;nand baby feet masks. And finally some matcha milk to make healthy shakes;-). For someone who is illiterate shopping might be really hard, I can imagine now!

We took a break at an amazing coffee place, so called “Single Origin Coffee’ shop (The Roastery by Nozy Coffee). They actually served two kinds of coffee : one from Costa Rica and the other from Honduras. The taste of coffee was outstanding and the whole place so cosy. We can’t call it a Japanese culture experience for sure, but for two coffee lovers that we are it was an unforgettable coffee break.

Well, look at some pictures and see a bit of what we have seen today.

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JAPAN – Tokyo day 2

Our second day in Tokyo is finishing so time to post some of our impressions.

Before I write about our day step by step, let me share with you some of our observations.

First of all, I would dare to say that the Japanese in Tokyo are very elegant, both men and women. Great majority of men traveling by metro wear formal suits. I guess it must be the dress code that requires all workers to wear suits, and it makes the metro trains look formal and black. Oh, men here also carry handbags- all of them have more or less fancy handbags. What struck me as well is the silence on trains. People do not talk because they are all strangers, however, even those riding in company do not speak much and if so then quietly. They all use phones like people on metro trains all over the world, but they do not talk on the phones and are asked to have the phone sounds switched off. So altogether it contributes to quiet and peaceful metro rides for everybody.

If it comes to female fashion, I have to say they are very feminine and elegant. Most women wear high heels, not necessarily very high but reasonable pumps are very common. Despite being quite short, they often wear calf-length skirts and short socks (even on tights). They seem to love to cover their heads with mohair berets or cute hats. What is now perceived in Poland as sexy and fashionable: over-knee boots, short tight skirts, and lips ‘boosted’ by a plastic surgeon, does not happen here. As long as we do not talk about cosplay fashion, the Japanese are very classic and classy. Michael Kors that has taken Europe and USA by storm, is very hard to find in the streets of Tokyo. While Coach is omnipresent, popular among men and women. Even my husband noticed it since he is a fun of Coach bags for men;-). Well, of course LV is popular here as much as everywhere else, but unlike in Europe, no fake LVs carried in the streets. Summing up, they go for more upscale brands of handbags and for more timeless garment pieces.

The other striking thing that Tomasz had told me about before is people watching or guarding places and things and giving directions to people when not necessary. Imagine that there is a whole in the street being repaired by workers and there is still a guy standing by and telling people that they need to divert a bit to go around it. Or at every second or third train door at the metro station there is a man watching over and if necessary pushing people onto the train so more can get in. And what is the funniest, is these men saying something to a train coming and leaving the station. Apparently they greet and say goodbye to every train that arrives and departs.

One of the great attractions for local ladies as well as tourists is browsing at a drugstore. OMG- shelfs full of colorful gadgets with labels all in Japanese. But with the power of Internet and screen shots I have already gathered a decent bag of beauty ‘must-haves’ from Japan. I just show a picture of what I want and I trust to be getting the right thing. I hope I will not lose my face, literally! We do pretty much the same with choosing food but where if not in the country that is famous for plastic food images displayed in restaurant windows. Also quite often menus have pictures. I have to admit that there are plenty of restaurants where everything is written in Japanese ‘bushes’ so we do not dare to enter. Maybe we will gather the courage someday soon?

It is all for now as far as my observations are concerned. Let me report a bit on our second day in Tokyo.

Today we were spoilt by the weather- sunny and warm (20 C). So we started the day with walking around Sesnsoji Temple in Asakusa where we live and taking pictures of Shichi-Go-San celebration. Shichi-Go-San that is “Seven-five-three” is a traditional rite of passage and festival day in Japan for three- and seven-year-old girls and three- and five-year-old boys, held annually on November 15 to celebrate the growth and well-being of young children (observed on the nearest weekend). As the place was terribly crowded we were happy to leave and walk to Ueno Park, where the main attraction was yet another temple;-). I felt like spending the rest of the sunny day there just lying on the grass, but we had a few more things planned for the day.

Right from there we made it to the Imperial Palace- which you can only see from a distance but it is beautifully located and after all it is a must-see for tourists.

From one tourist attraction we took a train to another and landed at Shibuya crossing. Crowded, vibrant, involving, one of its kind- it made us stay there for a longer while. Not only did we watch and take pictures but we also crossed there and back a few times. Shibuya crossing is very much like Times Square with lots of neons on and noisy commercials being played on and on again and lots of shops that were unbearably crowded and thus for us not welcoming at all. But we went there to see Hachiko and to enjoy the crossing and so we did with great pleasure. You may be familiar with the story of Hachiko- a dog who always greeted his owner returning form work at Shibuya station and even after the owner’s death he kept waiting there for almost ten years more. Tokyo dwellers rose the statue of Hachiko to honor his loyalty and commitment to the owner.

From Shibuya we walked to our already favourite district of Harajuku and just chilled for a while before we took a train back to Asakusa.

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JAPAN – Tokyo day 1

After quite a long but not so tiring journey we made it safely to Tokyo. We had a  2-hour layover in Paris, which was enough to have a glass of champagne in the lounge and off we boarded the plane to Tokyo. As there were quite a lot of seats free, we had a chance lie down and thus we slept most of the night. I just watched one movie „I, Daniel Blake” and it was definitely a bad choice as it was really sad and made me think sad thoughts on life.

We landed at Haneda airport and made it straight to our hotel in Asakusa that is located right behind the Sensoji Temple. And we called it a day. And took sleeping pills to be able to fall asleep according to the local time that is 8 hours ahead of Warsaw time.

Our first day in Tokyo turned out to be rainy so we could not do much except shopping;-). I had googled must-buy cosmetics in Japan so we had some stuff to look for. We started with visiting Akihabara- the Electric City. It would not count if we had not dropped to Yodabashi Camera. I would call the store old school and for sure its best days are past and it does not even look attractive, not to mention that all the stuff is considerably more expensive than in Europe. Ticked off the list I would say.

Then we headed for Harajuku and I loved it!!! We both loved these cosy streets with designer stores selling really great fashion, soooooo different from what we see every day at home. We started with a lunch at a small canteen filled with locals. We had delicious warming-up tempura soba that you can see in the picture below. Then we browsed some stores in Harajuku getting to check out on Japan youth fashion. I finally ended up investing in a designer timeless piece that should last a lifetime. Shopping for investment pieces doesn’t happen often to me, so I couldn’t resist. All these narrow small alleys had so much ambience and the stores were so welcoming- we will definitely get back to Harajuku not to shop but to observe the youngsters dressed up.

The last highlight for the day was sushi for dinner. We are both sushi lovers and while in Japan we will have sushi ever day either for breakfast or lunch or dinner;-).

Tomorrow the weather is going to be much warmer and really sunny so we will definitely keep away from shops and enjoy temples and parks.

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JAPAN-off we go


We are already at the Chopin airport celebrating the begining of a short holiday with a glass of wine at Fantazja lounge. We have a 2-hour stop-over in Paris and then non-stop service to Tokyo Haneda (12 hours and 50 minutes). 

For Tomasz it isn’t the first time to Japan but for me it is and I am probably a little bit more excited. But to be honest I do not have any expectations as such. We have seen tens or hundreds of asian shrines and temples in our lives. So what I hope will surprise me is this immense accumulation of electronics and I am looking forward to being amazed by the food. Sushi for breakfast, soba or ramen for dinner sounds exciting, doesn’t it?