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….
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).
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
The illuminations were set up in a large courtyard area outside the complex. The theme this year was 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.
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.
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.