Snapshots of Tokyo

Tokyo Japan Tokyo TV tower

I never imagined that I would ever get to travel to Japan with work, let alone more than once, but that’s exactly what I got to do at the end of January when I was taken along on another business trip to Tokyo. Seriously, although I used to dream when I was at school about the life I’d lead when I was older and working and stuff, but even now I’m used to some of the smaller things that come with working in the City, my job still has some real ‘pinch me’ moments for a girl from a small town.

Having been on my first trip at the end of 2014 I felt a lot more comfortable about what to expect from Japan this time. We had a week packed full of meetings and preparation for meetings but once again I booked myself a day off as holiday at the end of my trip to see a bit of Japan. When we booked to go before Christmas we had anticipated that something might come in which would mean a lot of fairly urgent work as soon as our trip was done. As things turned out, it didn’t come in and so there was no need for me to rush back to London and I could have spent at least another day out there exploring. Oh well….

Tokyo Japan Prince Park Tower Hotel Corner King room

We flew out on Saturday night and landed in Tokyo around 4pm on Sunday. We were staying, once again, at the Prince Park Tower Hotel. My room was on a lower storey this time but was a corner king room which meant loads of windows and gorgeous light – there was even a fantastic view from the bathtub, unfortunately I didn’t have much time to luxuriate in the bath. Once we’d checked in we all went to freshen up quickly before heading up to the 33rd floor Sky Lounge where we caught the last of the sunset as it descended below the horizon and I got my second glimpse of Mount Fuji (my first being in the taxi on the way from Haneda airport to the hotel).

Tokyo Japan Prince Park Tower Hotel Sky Lounge view Mount Fuji 33rd floor

For dinner that night we were meeting up with someone that had been seconded to our department for about a year from a Japanese firm. He had returned there in early December and so we had arranged a catch up at a restaurant not that far from where he lived. The restaurant specialised in Matsusaka beef which is supposedly very famous in Japan (think Kobe beef) but is less well known amongst foreigners. Just look at the marbling of the fat through the meat! We had some amazing food on our trip including an evening of all-you-can-eat skewers and a kind of Japanese hotpot, however, as most of our meals were with clients I couldn’t just pull out my camera and take photos. This was one meal I could!

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Delivered to our table was a box full of hot coals covered with a grill and we were left to cook the meat to our own liking. We also had a table full of salads, okonomiyaki and later a garlic rice and a kind of Japanese version of a bibimbap.

What I didn’t expect was a whole boat of meat to turn up! It was seriously a carnivore’s dream and we cooked and ate our way through all of it. Amazing. Although we had three Japanese speakers with us, the staff there spoke some English and, I think had English menus, so it might be worth hunting out if you also fancy a meat boat.

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As I found on my first trip to Japan, the jetlag hits hard. I found myself, once again, completely exhausted but fully wide awake at 5.30am. Knowing this time that it is impossible to fight, I decided to embrace it by getting up and watching the sun rise each morning over the buildings opposite our hotel with a cup of green tea. The other side of the world is the only place that I am a morning person!

Tokyo Japan Prince Park Tower Hotel Corner King room sunriseTokyo Japan Prince Park Tower Hotel Corner King room sunrise green tea Tokyo Japan Prince Park Tower Hotel Corner King room sunrise

Our first full day in Tokyo was clear as a bell in the morning (I have the best luck with weather in Tokyo) with beautiful blue skies which allowed us gorgeous views across the city and, importantly, over to Mount Fuji. According to those we were meeting that day the weather and views weren’t common and we were very lucky as Mount Fuji can only be seen on clear days. In fact, by the afternoon the sky had misted over a little and the view was nowhere near as good.

Tokyo Japan city Mount Fuji Tokyo TV Tower Tokyo Japan city Tokyo Sky Tree

I would love for this post to run together in a coherent fashion with a sensible story, however, my time in Tokyo was mostly spent either in meetings or at business dinners and so my photos are mostly quick snapshots of things we saw on the way from one thing to another. Case in point being this clock that I spotted (it was hard to miss) in Shimbashi. Immediately it reminded me of Howl’s Moving Castle but as my colleagues disappeared into the distance and I failed at making any sense of the Japanese sign explaining the clock, I could only grab a quick photo. It turns out from subsequent research that it resembles Howl’s Moving Castle for a reason – it was designed by Hayao Miyazaki! It’s called the Nittele Big Clock and it springs to life several times a day. You can read more here.

Tokyo Japan city Shimbashi Nittele Big Clock Hayao Miyazaki

We were early for dinner at Kushi Agemono Shuns in Toranomon Hills and so decided to head up to the rooftop bar on the 52nd floor of the Andaz Tokyo. There was a fantastic view from the outside area, although sadly the inside could have been any bar at any height and service was slow, we saw our drinks sat on the bar for ages before they were brought over, not ideal when we were just after a quick drink before dinner.

Tokyo Japan city Andaz rooftop bar viewTokyo Japan city Andaz rooftop bar view Tokyo Japan city Toranomon Hills statue sculpture art

On my day off I decided to get out of Tokyo and head to Kamakura for the day to see somewhere a bit different. I fully intend on taking a big trip to Japan in 2020 to coincide with the Olympics so I don’t feel like I have to see everything that I absolutely can of Tokyo right now. After breakfast and a steaming cup of tea with a view across to the Tokyo TV tower I set off for Kamakura (more on that in another post).

Tokyo Japan city Tokyo TV Tower Prince Park Hotel view Tokyo Japan city Tokyo TV Tower Prince Park Hotel view breakfastTokyo Japan city cherry blossom sakura

After a day spent in Kamakura I was tired and part of me wanted to just head back to the hotel and curl up for a little while before meeting with my colleagues for a final drink. However, arriving back in Tokyo at Shimbashi station I knew I wasn’t far from Shiodome. Last time when I visited Tokyo I’d seen that they have winter illuminations around the city but didn’t actually seen any of the big ones as I’d spent my day off exploring Tokyo in entirely unsuitable ballet flats which offered no support. By the end of the day my feet were killing me and this was not helped by the fact that I had to switch hotels for my final night as the hotel I’d been staying in all week had been fully booked. I’d checked into my little businessman’s hotel, sat in the tiny bath with my knees pulled up to my chest and the water up to my shoulders and tried to persuade my body to want to go out and check out the illuminations at nearby Shiodome. However, try as I might I really couldn’t get my head to win that argument and ended up just curling up in bed to watch Japanese TV that I really didn’t understand before an early night ahead of my flight home. However, although I knew that physically I couldn’t move, I regretted it.

This time I wasn’t about to make the same mistake and so I headed for Caretta Shiodome where I knew there were still illuminations up as most had been taken down around Christmas/New Year.

Tokyo Japan city night neon

The illuminations were set up in a large courtyard area outside the complex. The theme this year was Canyon d’Azur.

Tokyo Japan city night winter illuminations Carette Shiodome Canyon d'AzurTokyo Japan city night winter illuminations Carette Shiodome Canyon d'Azur Tokyo Japan city night winter illuminations Carette Shiodome Canyon d'AzurTokyo Japan city night winter illuminations Carette Shiodome Canyon d'Azur Tokyo Japan city night winter illuminations Carette Shiodome Canyon d'Azur

Was it worth it? Probably not in the grand scheme of things, it’s pretty but not spectacular. However, I was glad that, after missing it last time and wishing I’d been that I’d seem it. Plus I was in the area anyway. I grabbed a bento box from 7/11 and headed back to the hotel to rest my tired feet and catch a disco nap before catching up with my colleagues in the bar.

 Tokyo Japan city night winter illuminations Carette Shiodome Canyon d'Azur

The next day I was up bright and early for my flight back to London. I had fully planned to have a nice long  12 hour flight home just eating, watching a film and catching up on things like photo editing that I never have time to do. Sadly the tiredness beat me, I had lunch and once that had been cleared I reclined my seat fully back (thank you Business Class – honestly life changing), pulled the window shades down and my blanket over me and fell asleep. Although I did wake periodically, I mostly turned over and fell asleep again. The sleep deprivation and jetlag had well and truly got me. All of this though was once we’d taken off, which was the most spectacular part of my flight. We took off from Haneda and then circled over Tokyo, dipping and turning so I got a wonderful view over the city and you should be able to spot the Tokyo Sky Tree towering over everything else in the photo below.

Tokyo Japan city air flight from Haneda

We also got to see Mount Fuji emerging from the mists and looming over the city. Have you ever heard that thing about how you know who is a local in Rome? They’re the people that never turn their head as they pass the Colosseum on a bus. Apparently it’s the same for the Japanese. Whilst I had my forehead to the window in amazement as we slowly passed Mount Fuji, the Japanese on my flight all seemed absorbed in whatever they were doing and barely gave it a second glance. Then again, I’m still a tourist in London, I still gape in wonder as I pass St Paul’s and other landmarks.

Tokyo Japan city air flight from Haneda Mount FujiTokyo Japan city air flight from Haneda Mount Fuji Tokyo Japan city air flight from Haneda

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January 2016: Payday favourites

For my payday favourites for January I thought I’d look forwards a little bit to the middle of this month and theme this post appropriately, because love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is coming. I have never been one for Valentine’s Day (a feeling stemming from one too many Valentine’s Days watching other girls get roses perhaps?) and don’t go in for sappiness or sentimentality. However, having said that, it’s impossible to ignore Valentine’s Day because it seems to be right there in every shop window and supermarket. Ignoring the massive teddies and weird soppy cards, there’s some cute stuff out there. So here’s a little round-up of some of my favourite love/Valentine’s Day themed stuff:

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Left: Nesting Heart Trinket Dishes (set of 3)
Right: Personalised Message Candle

If you want to bring some love into your life, why not start with bringing some romance into your home with these trinket trays, perfect for holding jewellery or loose change.

Bring a romantic glow into your home with a candle in a glass holder engraved with your own personalised message/saying.

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Left: Red strap heart dial watch
Right: Heart cross body bag

Forget wearing your heart on your sleeve, wear it on your wrist or across your body instead!icon

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Left: You’re my lobster big biscuit card
Right: Le Creuset heart ramekins (set of two)

Apparently the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach (which means I must be partly male because it’s the way to mine too) and combining food and Friends is perfect. I’m a big fan of Biscuiteers, their biscuit tins always make lovely thoughtful gifts, so I’m a huge fan of this.

Although, whilst buying something is nice, something homemade is always so much nicer and how much cuter would it look in a heart shaped ramekin? I’m not sure why, but there’s something I love about leaving a restaurant after the main course, heading home and having dessert at home all curled up on the sofa under a blanket. Now to find the perfect dessert recipe for a ramekin, maybe something chocolate-y and mousse-y, or something light.

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Left: Shell pink heart whatever t-shirt
Right: I Love Me Mug by MugBug

And if Valentine’s Day isn’t for you then a night in with this t-shirt and a mug of prosecco might just be the tonic, even better if you’re celebrating Galentine’s Day.

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January 2016: This month I have mostly been…

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Feeling: Tired

Oof, hasn’t going back to work been tough post-Christmas? We started the month with a full first week back at work and it’s just been a very long month. That start was compounded by a work trip to Japan at the end of this month which has left me rather sleep deprived, although I can’t really be one to complain about tiredness due to jetlag, especially when it was such an amazing opportunity. But still…. I need some quality time with my bed and I’m hoping that quality will be increased by the fact that I am finally replacing my disgusting old pillows with lovely new ones, it’s the least my new mattress deserved. Oh wonderful sleep, come to me.

Reading: In Times of Fading Light by Eugen Ruge

Fadinglight

I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while but it was only recently that I picked it up, I’d first been attracted to it by its setting in East Germany and with the start of my new semester of German classes I thought that January might be a good time to read it. It follows one family across a number of decades from the 50s through to 2001 and jumps about across the years to wind together the narratives. Naively I was probably expecting the events to encompass the fall of the Berlin Wall and to centre around the characters’ reactions to the change that resulted. Instead, the events all come to a head the month before GDR citizens were allowed to travel once again to the West, at a birthday party. This is a family saga and, I must admit that I have not had a great deal of success with family sagas before. I couldn’t get into One Hundred Years of Solitude and struggled through as one generation after another was named after a previous one and became hopelessly smockravelled as to which Aureliano was which. I found the same thing with The House Of The Spirits so I think it’s clear that family sagas are not for me. Having said that I did at least finish In Times of Fading Light, although I failed to be enthralled by any of the characters and mostly got through it because I forced myself to read the second half quite quickly so I could take something else with me to Tokyo.

It was a prizewinner and bestseller in Germany though, so if family sagas are your thing it might be worth a try!

Watching: The Man in the High Castle

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In my first year of university (and to a lesser extent in my second year of university) I read an awful lot. I was in a crazy exploratory phase with reading and read books I might not have ordinarily picked up and genres that I don’t even look at now, it widened my outlook and narrowed my understanding of what I enjoy to spend my time reading. Although I picked up Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? a number of times, somehow it never made it onto my bookshelf, nor did any other work by Philip K. Dick, that included The Man in the High Castle. So, when I saw that Amazon had made an original series based on The Man in the High Castle, I was intrigued, we haven’t finished it yet but I’m enjoying what I’ve seen so far. Let me know if you’re also watching and what you think of it!

Planning: On making this year great

I sort of missed the boat for resolutions this year, but I’m definitely making plans for this year, in fact, I’m pretty much booked up every weekend until mid-May at the moment with plans for weekends away, nice meals out, birthday plans and more. I’m also planning on resuming my education after a brief pause this year. The postgraduate course I was studying for is broken into two chunks; a Postgraduate Diploma and a dissertation which then gets you a Masters. My work required me to do the first part (and paid for it) and I could have just left it there but it seems silly to not do the dissertation and get a Masters. I always wanted a Masters and before I started this job applied for a Masters course and got a place but ultimately I couldn’t quite get the money together to do it, so this is the perfect opportunity. Now I just have to choose a topic and apply. I’ve started this year with a great trip to Japan and so hopefully it can only continue as a great year.

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A weekend at the Barbican

Barbican centre LondonBarbican centre London Barbican centre LondonBarbican centre London

The other year we had a weekend mini-break in Stratford-upon-Avon where we saw the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Henry IV Part II although we didn’t get to see Part I. So, when I received the email saying that the RSC would be bringing a number of the Kings plays, including Henry IV Part I and II to the Barbican, I was on it. However, in my usual way of taking things to extremes of obsession, I didn’t just book us tickets to Part I. Instead I booked us tickets to one of the Kings Cycle weekends.

There seems to be greater and greater crossover between TV, film and stage nowadays with theatres using big stars of screen to lure those who might not normally step foot in a theatre into paying an extortionate amount for tickets with the promise of being in the same building as their idol (I’m looking at you Cumberbitches). So, the idea that bingewatching a show could be translated into theatre maybe wasn’t the most radical step, but that’s exactly what the RSC set out to do with their Cycle of Kings, four history plays over the course of one weekend.

So we would be seeing Richard II on Friday evening, Henry IV Part I and II on Saturday (matinee and evening) and Henry V as a Sunday matinee. David Tennant would reprising his role as Richard II and the same cast that we had seen in Henry IV Part II would be reprising their roles, including Antony Sher who had been excellent as Falstaff and was just as good the second time around.

Barbican centre London Royal Shakespeare Company RSC Cycle of Kings plays Barbican centre London Royal Shakespeare Company RSC Cycle of Kings plays

Our very first mini-break as a couple was to Stratford-upon-Avon years ago (we saw Julius Caesar). While we were there I bought a book in one of the gift shops – Exit Pursued by a Badger: An Actor’s Journey Through History with Shakespeare – a book that brought together blog posts written by Nick Asbury an actor involved in the performance of eight Shakespeare history plays over the course of a few years. It culminated in (from what I remember, it’s been a while since I read it) two intense weekends when they performed all eight plays, an endurance exercise not just for the actors but also for the audience. It sounded fascinating and a great way to pull together the narrative threads that run through the plays, things that you might fail to appreciate when seeing each play in isolation, I was sad that I’d missed out on what sounded like an amazing experience. So, when I realised that we could do something similar, albeit in a slightly more limited way, I was definitely keen and managed to book us two tickets for the front row of the upper circle in the Barbican which turned out to be great seats, we had an amazing view and for only about £140 a ticket (which might sound a lot but it was for four plays so not too bad at all really).

It was definitely an intense experience. Twelve hours of Shakespeare are not for the faint-hearted, especially doing two plays in one day, we just about had time on Saturday to run from Henry IV Part I across the road to Vecchio Parioli to have dinner before heading back in Part II.

On the  Sunday we arrived at the Barbican slightly early (actually earlier than slightly early as I hadn’t realised that the Sunday matinee started later than the Saturday matinee) in order to spend some time exploring the Barbican Conservatory. It’s only open on Sundays and Bank Holidays from 12pm to 5pm and even though we had been to the Barbican before, we’d never been at a time when it was open. Spending a weekend in the Barbican was the perfect opportunity to visit.

Barbican Conservatory centre London

The brutalist style of the Barbican combined with the plants reminded me of a sort of post-apocalyptic abandoned lab space, although of course everything was actually impeccably maintained.

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The Barbican Conservatory is apparently the second biggest conservatory in London (after Kew of course) and is dotted about with ponds, fountains and walkways. I love that you can be in the middle of a kind of tropical conservatory and look out across the various Barbican towers. The Barbican itself feels like a weird quiet space in the middle of the city but the Conservatory is its little green heart.

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Upstairs is an arid room full of every kind of cactus or succulent that you could imagine (and many that you probably couldn’t, especially those that hang down from baskets and threaten to assault you if you forget they’re there and unexpectedly turn around straight into one). There’s also the odd orchid or two hanging out in there.

Barbican Conservatory centre London arid room succulent cactusBarbican Conservatory centre London arid room succulent cactus Barbican Conservatory centre London arid room succulent cactusBarbican Conservatory centre London arid room succulent cactusBarbican Conservatory centre London arid room succulent cactus Barbican Conservatory centre London arid room succulent cactus orchidBarbican Conservatory centre London arid room succulent cactus orchid

There are also fish!

Barbican Conservatory centre London pond fish Barbican Conservatory centre London pond fish

It’s possible to enjoy afternoon tea in the Barbican Conservatory and I think on a sunny day it would be a lovely place to while away the afternoon.

We had a fantastic, albeit exhausting, weekend of theatre watching some amazing actors. If they ever do a similar thing again we will definitely be there and I highly recommend it. It felt like a shared experience between us and the actors and they thoroughly deserved the applause they received at the end of each show, particularly Alex Hassell who had three plays to contend with as Prince Hal and later Henry V.

Maybe binge-watching theatre will be the next big thing. Admittedly watching four plays in 48 hours requires a little more self-discipline than hours spent vegged out on the sofa in front of Netflix, but will at least be enriching rather than guilt inducing – at least there’s no ‘are you still watching?’ screen of shame in theatre. Let’s just hope that Theatre and Chill doesn’t become a thing.

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