Showing posts with the label Tokyo

Tokyo's National Art Centre

The sun shone bright this morning when we left Kanazawa and took the shinkansen back to Tokyo. As usual, the 10:56 train left the station at 10:56 on the dot. Going back to Paris is going to be devastating after these two weeks.

We arrived at Tokyo Station two hours and change later, just in time to have a quick lunch amidst throngs of people going from one track to another. We have one night booked at the MyStays Haneda; I figured it'd be convenient to stay near the airport for tomorrow. Even though our flight is at noon, we can take our time with breakfast and not have to rush. The downside is that it takes about 50 min to get there from Tokyo Station; I wanted to check out Roppongi on our last afternoon here, but it would be a pain to get to Haneda, check in, drop our luggage, then get all the way back to Tokyo again.
The solution? A quick Internet search, which told me that Roppongi Hills has suitcase-sized coin lockers! Remember when train stations had lockers? In Japan, they…

Ueno and Shinjuku

Our last day in Tokyo! After walking up and down the city for about five days, two and a half hours sitting down tomorrow in the shinkansen sound pretty good right now!
We decided to start the day with a good dose of culture and hopped on the Yamanote line to go to Ueno, on the north side of Tokyo. It was sunny and clear today but every once in a while freezing winds would sweep through.

We walked across the park square, surrounded by more schoolkids than tourists, looking at the odd red tree in an otherwise very green landscape. An old man appeared out of thin air, handed me a map of the park, and vanished as musteriously as he arrived -if this is going to embark me on a vision quest I think I haven't the time! (But a very kind gesture).
Our goal was to go to the Tokyo National Museum, the Louvre of Japan, which occupies four or five buildings inside a compound. I had been here on my last visit, but I was so exhausted by then that I only took a very cursory tour of the main exhibit …

The Ginza Experience

So our plan to spend this beautiful, sunny day in Kamakura went out the window when the airline failed to deliver our luggage yesterday, after we spent all afternoon stuck in the apartment. After two excruciating phone calls with customer service, in Japanese as well as English, we discovered that the deliverymen had actually visited... An hour before the 16:00-20:00 window we had been given, while we were out. So today we managed to get them to commit to come by at 14:00 on the dot (they came at 12:00; good thing that we had wised up and mom stayed in the apartment).
After my experience with Japanese customer service, I made a quick foray into Akihabara, to browse in a couple of manga/anime/game/geeky stuff stores. It was even more colourful, loud and maddening than I remembered it. I love the place! In some stores even each individual bookcase had its own unique soundtrack, contributing to a sensory overload that builds up over time and only becomes evident when you walk away and not…

Tokyo Fashion Tour

Save for a couple of jetlagged awakenings, I had a good night's sleep and woke up to blue skies, the shining sun, and a glorious 17°C. Back to the suitcase with the winter clothes!
Today's plan was to do a tour of Tokyo's fashion hub around Harajuku. We had a very early start because I wanted to beat the crowds, which we did, to a fault: we arrived just as they were beginning to open the stores (most open between 10:00 and 11:00). We had to loiter a bit because there has to be some madness in Harajuku for the full experience!

We took the JR line to Harajuku station and began our walk with Takeshita-dori, the crazy loli/goth street where every other store sells platform shoes, ruffled skirts, or crepes. It was as deliciously mad as I remembered it, with many stores playing sickeningly sweet jingles outside. Some of the passersby looked even more garish than the mannequins. Even the food offerings here are sugary and cute, with every corner housing a Japanese creperie. Crepes …

Japan, Round Two

I'm on the road again! As you probably know, ever since I first came to Japan three years ago I've been looking for an excuse to come back. When my mom said she wanted to go, I took the chance to volunteer my services as a guide and here we go!
Last time I came here in the spring; it was shortly before the cherry blossoms, but plum trees were in full bloom and I enjoyed beautiful vistas of the springtime, so I thought this time around I should visit in the fall hoping to see autumn colours. It is currently 17°C at 9PM, so I don't think cold weather will be a problem (look for my Koya-san entries in the category list and you'll see that one fountain that froze solid) but it is true that it starts to get dark before 17:00. I had tried to account for that when planning but I forgot about daylight saving time!!
The flight from Paris was smooth enough, but when we landed in Narita at 09:45 we learned that my mom's luggage had not made the transfer and would have to follow…

Last day in Tokyo

Yesterday, my last day in Tokyo, was mostly about tying up loose ends. I began the morning peacefully enough, by doing laundry. A little Ueno housekeeping to start the day on the right foot! Sawanoya has a washing machine, a dryer and an iron, and the whole thing adds up to only 300 yen.

At around noon, I went down to Ueno Park to visit the Tokyo National Museum, which I'm told is the Japanese Louvre/British Museum. Unlike those two institutions, this museum is spread out over four or five buildings around a central square. The main building holds a very informative "Highlights of Japanese Art", about 8 or 10 rooms on the second floor that summarises the main developments of Japanese history through pottery, clothes, calligraphy, and other traditional crafts. It's a very well curated exhibition; with a manageable amount of objects, they manage to display the main characteristics of each period.

Already in the afternoon, I went to Shinjuku, the last must-see on my list…

Ghibli Museum; Nezu Shrine

This morning I went to the Ghibli Museum, the hometown of all things Totoro in Japan and, consequently, the world. Tickets are sold out months in advance, and although the entire journey there didn't seem very busy at all, once inside the museum it was indeed a full house.

I was most charmed by the building itself, a beautiful house with winding staircases, little child-sized corridors, a roof garden... The collection comprises all kinds of material, from the early drafts to the finished celluloid (the ticket is a piece of one, in fact!). I loved checking out the actual storyboards for My Neighbour Totoro. They're drawn with such detail that some frames could have been painted over and included in the film.

I was very disappointed, however, to find that there were no English explanations to be found anywhere in the museum. The room that reproduces an animator's desk is probably fascinating, but without being able to understand the numerous panels detailing the creation pr…

Kabuki and Tarantino

For the afternoon, I had tickets to see a Kabuki play at Shinbashi Enbujo, near Ginza. While Kabuki-za is still being renovated (set to reopen later this month or April, I believe), Shinbashi has apparently picked up as the main Kabuki stage in Tokyo these past few years.

Once again, I thought I was hopelessly lost (can more streets please have names? Just a few?), but in reality I was right next to the really unremarkable building. I was about to walk away when I saw two middle-aged ladies in beautiful kimonos walking by, so I made a screeching U-turn on my heels and stalked them for a few minutes -indeed, they were going to the theatre.

The play I saw was "Ichijo Okura Monogatari", about a married couple from the Genji clan who infiltrate themselves in the Heikei clan to spy on its leader and a Genji widow. As it turns out, the former's madness and the latter's debauchery are just a fa├žade and they remain loyal to the cause. There's a bad guy who threatens to …


Today was shopping day! I headed down to Ginza to check out the shopping heaven of Tokyo. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and it was just a pleasure to be out and about.

This is where the flagship stores of Muji and Uniqlo are located. The former is at least moderate in its hugeness, but Uniqlo occupies a massive 12-storey building that exhausted me just by getting to the men's section. As in other Uniqlo stores around the world, the clothes are... very Japanese. I tried a couple of things, and nothing fit. Like the H&M in Stockholm, it's all just cut for different proportions!

Luckily for me, I had come down to Ginza extremely well recommended. Kazuyo had advised me to check out Loft, a huuuge store selling everything from travel accessories to cooking utensils and more crazy Japanese phone accessories than you can shake a stick at. That was great, but what really engrossed me was a section they had at the entrance with stuff featuring what looked like a rotating set of l…


Since I had time to kill after concluding my visit to Yokohama, and the 30 minute train ride had given me some illusion of rest, I thought I might as well take the opportunity to check out Akihabara, which at 2 Yamanote-line stops is relatively close to Ueno.

Akihabara is the electronics town, although nowadays the otaku business is just as, if not more, prevalent there as well. That's really what I was looking for, because all the compatibility issues really take the fun out of shopping for videogames here.

All the buildings in Akihabara seem to be tall and narrow, as a result of which most megastores have 7 or 8 small floors rather than 2 big ones. I had to adapt quickly to the routine of walking onto a floor, peeking around, going up to the next one and repeating the process.

If I didn't have an epileptic seizure today, then I know I never will. The place is everything you've heard people say, and then some -there are TVs playing loud anime, at the same time they'…

Shibuya, Harajuku, Omotesando

After a relatively sedate first day in Tokyo, I thought the best next step was to jump straight into the madness that is Shibuya and Harajuku.

The Shibuya crossing is the first movie-checkpoint of this trip, as it featured in one of the posters for Lost in Translation. Every time the lights turn green a flood of people cross in all directions at the same time. On a Sunday morning, the atmosphere was less busy and hurried, but even in this low season the entire neighbourhood was packed.

Strolling along the Shibuya area is like entering into every exaggerated Japanese metropolis scene you've ever seen in the movie. Many stores even have J-pop or commercial jingles playing *on the outside*, so you have your own soundtrack while you walk around. It's all an explosion of colour, sound and consumerism.

It's an ideal place to get lost, which I did, repeatedly. Even with a map in my hand and having already established a route, orientation grows difficult if only one in every five …

Asakusa and izakaya

What is the very first thing you visit in a trip to Japan? Jumping straight into the madness that is Shibuya or Harajuku jetlagged and exhausted would have given me a seizure, so I opted for a quieter approach: Asakusa, the Old Town of Tokyo where there are still some streets that haven't given way to dinosaur-embossed skyscrapers (we love you too, though, dinosaur-embossed skyscrapers).

We began by visiting Senso-ji, Tokyo's biggest temple. Your arrival into the temple itself is preceded by the crossing of several massive gates, flanked by endless stands of tourist-trap shops of every kind imaginable. Then there is a big pot with incense burning inside; you're supposed to wave the smoke towards your face, so that it may cure you of any ailments.

The place was absolutely packed, even though by this time a very cold wind was already building up. Still, there were very few tourists to be seen: on the outside people were just strolling along the shops, and inside people were…

Arrival in Japan

I am in Japan! I began booking this trip in October last year, but when you take into account the fact that I was learning Japanese at 16, this project has been in the making much longer.
So. Let's start from the beginning.

In case you've ever wondered, flying on the upper deck of one of those massive two-floor long-haul planes is glorious. There's more storage space, there's less people, and what's best: the side rows only have two seats, so you can get yourself a window seat while still only having to bother one person to get out and stretch your legs.
I was surprised to discover that the passengers on this Paris-Tokyo flight are easily 90% Japanese -I think I may have seen 10 soon-to-be-gaijin faces in my queue, tops. Clearly I must be travelling at the wrong time.
I began by ravaging the in-flight movie collection, as usual, by watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which I loved), Cloud Atlas (which, having read the book, I thought did a pretty good job), …