It’s really strange for me to think that I have been to Japan not once or twice but three times now with work, my most recent trip being in the middle of January. I’d barely adjusted to being back at work post-Christmas but there I was jetting off on my first trip of 2017. Of course it sounds glam, but there’s always a lot of work and not a lot of sleep involved (yes, I know, the world’s tiniest violin is playing just for me…).
This time we were staying in The Marunouchi Hotel which is right across from Tokyo Station. Ideal for train spotters and I enjoyed watching trains snake their way into and out of the station from my 17th floor room. We had a jam-packed week of meetings and work and started each morning with eggs, which apparently the Japanese like square… weird, but not the weirdest thing I ate over the course of the week.
I always remember when I was a child and a somewhat picky eater that my grandad would tell me about the times he would go for business dinners and have to eat things he didn’t like (cheese) because it was served up. Whilst I didn’t not believe him, at the time I couldn’t really put myself in that position. However, after a few work trips to Japan, I now can. This trips culinary delicacies included chicken *mime action for joints* – basically small crunchy balls of what tasted like kneecaps but which can’t have been because I’m not sure that’s really a thing (is it?), chicken sashimi (yes, raw chicken, which tastes exactly as you would imagine raw chicken tastes) and jellyfish, which tastes like a particularly flavourless rubber band. So, in short, square eggs, the least of the weirdness when it came to food.
Where we could, we snatched moments of Tokyo between meetings, including a quick walk around Hama Rikyu Gardens, somewhere I visited on my first trip to Tokyo. This time we were there at a time when the plum blossoms were starting to emerge, pretty and something which made me even more keen to return to see the cherry blossoms at some point.
We lunched a lot with clients and contacts, one of my favourite meals being a great bento box at Nobu. Seriously good.
We also spotted this street on our wanderings…
I had Saturday to myself and as I’d managed to get to Kappabashi Street on Friday afternoon to shop for ceramics and so I rejigged my plans for Saturday to start with a trip to the Meiji Shrine. I had also intended to wander around Yoyogi Park but whilst I’m sure it’s pretty in cherry blossom season, summer and autumn when the leaves are on the trees, in the middle of January it seemed bleak and full of crows, the homeless and joggers. So I made a beeline instead for the Meiji Shrine.
To say it’s located in what still feels like central Tokyo, the Meiji Shrine is surrounded by forest and nature, it’s very calming. A Shinto shrine, completed in 1920, it was built to venerate the Emperor Meiji.
When I visited, the walk up to the shrine was lined with ice sculptures. The biggest downside of not knowing any Japanese is that when I come across something I have no idea why it’s there or what it’s about. So I don’t know if it was part of a competition or a regular thing or something else. Either way, tjere were some pretty impressive carvings.
Much of the shrine itself seemed to be being used for various ceremonies. I saw one newly married couple and entourage and there were also a number of what seemed to be business men partaking in some sort of ceremony. Again, I have no idea what what going on because of the complete lack of Japanese language skills, but it was an interesting place to wander around. There were clearly preparations for Chinese New Year in place and the ema were already themed, even though the start of the Year of the Rooster was a good few weeks away at that point.
In the gift shop I spotted Konpeito, which fans of Spirited Away might recognise as the candy that Chihiro throws to the soot sprites. Of course I couldn’t resist buying a packet.
From the Meiji Shrine, I hopped practically just across the road to the shops of Takeshita Street, the heart of Harajuku-culture shopping.
I was there relatively early and so shops were still opening, but I was quite tempted by some of the food on offer, including some huge rainbow candyfloss (way too early for me to have pure sugar) at around 10am and crepes, which I assume were delicious as even their plastic counterparts looked yummy.
From Takeshita Street I headed along Omotesando, lined with its designer shops and ducked into Kiddy Land just to browse for anything that took my fancy for my nieces.
From Ebisu I headed back to the hotel to both drop off a few things I’d bought on the way and also to stop by Les Toiles Du Soleil where I’d spotted, but hadn’t had the chance to buy watermelon-style fabric which I intend to use at some point to make a summery table runner, it just needs hemming off at the ends.
After dropping off my stuff and a little sit down to rest my feet, I headed off out again up to Nippori Station where I intended to head to an area known as Yanesen, made up of a mash-up of three different areas (Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi). I’d heard it was a quieter, more traditional area of Tokyo.
Leaving Nippori Station you come almost immediately upon Yanaka Cemetery. I’m always interested in wandering through cemeteries, especially of different cultures, so I spent some time strolling around. I spotted the odd cat here and there and it seems like cats (both real and symbolic) are a part of Yanesen.
The main route down to Yanaka Ginza (a little pedestrianised shopping street) is lined with little traditional-style shops and also temples, it’s a nice little walk, even when it’s starting to get dark, as it was when I visited. Although it was getting late I still had the chance to browse the small shops lining the streets.
Although by this point my feet were killing me, even in sensible shoes (by the end of the day my fitbit clocked me in at over 12 miles), but I hadn’t yet made it to Akihabara on my travels to Tokyo and so I was determined to explore just a little bit more and willed my feet to keep going.
Akihabara is famous for its shops selling electrical goods, manga and anime paraphernalia and also for its general otaku culture, including arcades, maid cafes and more.
Although I didn’t try any of the hundreds of claw machines, I did delight in the many vending machines, ostensibly for my nieces, of course. There were Sylvanian Families machines selling Japan-exclusive tiny fake baked goods (to supplement the tiny Sylvanian walnut squirrel family and silk cat family we bought our nieces for Christmas) and a whale that lit up and flashed when it hit the water. All were delivered in tiny little capsules and cost around 200-300Yen each (around £2 or so).
Of course I couldn’t resist the lure of Purikura and so found myself hunting out machines in Sega Gamecentre. Of course it’s a bit weird doing Purikura by yourself, but that’s what happens with work trips. When I finally go to Japan for a proper holiday with my boyfriend, I’m totally dragging him into every booth I see!
And so the bright lights of Akihabara marked the end of another successful work trip. I’m getting to know Tokyo a little more with every trip and I can’t wait until 2020 when my boyfriend and I have planned to visit Japan properly for a holiday. I look forward to showing him the things I’ve seen and know and also to discovering new things with him.