That’s a big tree!
More About Me
I'm a television producer living in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
I like eating burgers, roller coasters, swimming (I go every day), technology (especially Macs), cooking and getting e-mails. Drop me a line or ask me something!
These are my own views, not those of the BBC.
That’s a big tree!
Saturday saw my last full day in Japan. I started with a swim in the pool in the hotel with its amazing views before we checked out and headed to Shinjuku, leaving our bags behind to collect later.
After a quick Starbucks to get us going, we headed to Shinbashi station to catch an overground monorail type train which my Dad had told us would give us great views of Mount Fuji - if it was a clear day.
Unfortunately for us, it wasn’t a clear day, so we didn’t see Mount Fuji on the one hour round trip, but we did see this amazing building with its big globe bit in the middle, which, I think, would make the perfect lair for a James Bond type baddie.
Then we hopped back on the subway and headed to the Daikanyama area - small streets littered with pretty expensive designer shops. I wanted to visit one store in particular, but before that, we finally managed to find a fairly popular breakfast type restaurant for lunch - which didn’t have a queue!
Sarahbeth’s is apparently a New York institution, but I’d never heard of it. What I can say though is that the Eggs Benedict was delicious.
After lunch, we wandered around and eventually managed to find the A.P.C. men’s store I’d been looking for.
I was hoping to pick up a pair of Nike / A.P.C. boots to replace ones I’d left behind in Kyoto, but I was out of luck. I did get a t-shirt and some trousers though, so it wasn’t a trip completely in vain.
Before we knew it, it was time to get back to the hotel and collect our bags. Because our flight home was leaving Haneda Airport early (like 6.25am early), it wasn’t going to be easy (or at least cheap) to get to the airport in time from the hotel, so I’d booked a night at a hotel in Kamata, which was closer to the airport.
We caught a shuttle bus from the hotel to Shinjuku station, and that was the start of our journey with seven bags between us. Mostly it was ok, but I did nearly give up when trying to get my luggage up three flights of stairs and I got the giggles.
Finally, we got to Kamata, found the hotel, and then went a wandering for someplace to eat dinner. First though, I had to return my pocket wifi router I’d hired in the post. The receptionist at the hotel bizarrely told me to post it at a Family Mart store (it was already stamped). Finding one, and asking a guy behind the counter to post it resulted in a weird scenario.
He stripped off his uniform’s overcoat, handed it to another guy, and then beckoned me out on to the street. Saying “straight! straight!” he half ran, half walked down the road for about 100 metres, before pointing at a post box, and holding his hand up for a high five. Bit bizarre, but thank you for your good service!
We both wanted something traditionally Japanese on our last night - and after a walk up and down a street filled with fast food restaurants, we found it. A tiny little ramen restaurant. It was pot luck really, as most of the restaurants here didn’t seem to have pictures or plastic models outside.
Once we entered, we were faced with a ticket machine again to order our meal from. Seeing as the vast majority of the descriptions were kanji, I could only really make out the word ‘ramen’ which wasn’t particularly helpful. Soon the chef and a customer were over helping us though, and we ordered a pork dish.
It was cooked in front of us, and tasted absolutely amazing. Delicious.
After getting a photo of the staff (that’s the chef on the right), we headed back to the hotel. I saw a Mos Burger (which is Japan’s home-grown equivalent of McDonald’s).
I was full after my ramen, but I did not want to come all the way to Japan and not say I’d tried a Mos Burger. So in I went, and ordered the most unusual looking item on the menu - a burger with an omlette and mystery sauce on it.
We waited, and waited…. and waited….. for what seemed like an eternity at our table before the burger was delivered. It was tasty, but weirdly breakfasty because of the egg on it. And I couldn’t place the sauce either - but it tasted beefy. So it was kind of eggy-breakfasty-beefy which was unusual.
Stuffed by this point, we headed back to the hotel (where weirdly room doors opened out into the corridor, which I thought was a good space saving idea), and headed to bed. Our alarms were set for 3.15am. Ouch!
Friday morning Ailse and I had our last full day in Tokyo, and it was going to be a fun one, when we’d do three very typically Japanese things, but things which (as far as I’m aware anyway) you can’t do at home.
First up though, we grabbed a coffee and croissant at Delicatessen, the cafe at the hotel.
Then, we headed back to Omotesando, determined to grab a lunch at Hawaiian style pancake restaurant Cafe Kalia. We knew to expect a queue, but when we got there, things looked promising - there was only a short queue. But when I went downstairs to enquire, I found another massive queue of Japanese girls all waiting to get their fill of Hawaiian style pancakes. It turned out the waiting time was three hours - yes three hours!
Deciding that just wasn’t worth it, we stumbled upon another nearby cafe. All smoked glass on the outside and with no signage, we thought it might be some extremely stylish place so headed in. It was nice, but nothing special. We both had a Japanese style curry (fruitier than our curries in case you’re wondering!)
It was then time for more shopping before our uniquely Japanese experiences. We checked out the ultra chic (and ultra expensive) Opening Ceremony shop but made no purchases (I didn’t really see anything I fancied anyway). Then it was time to head back to Shinjuku one last time to check out two more stores on Ailse’s list - Supreme and Bape.
The Supreme store was really tiny, and didn’t have that much stuff in it. Bape was a bit more promising, and I got Ailse a t-shirt as a belated birthday present. I also picked up a pair of Japanese trainers.
Then, we went into a pachinko parlour in search of something we’d both been keen to do since we arrived. A photo booth with a difference. In Japan, purikura booths are really aimed at Japanese teenage girls. They are much more complicated than the booths we have at home, and have touch screens before and after you’ve had your photo taken. The outside of the booths were covered with pictures of models, and after choosing one and selecting what kind of lipstick and eye shadow (GRRRR!) we wanted, we headed in to get our photos taken.
Basically what the booths do is make girls’ eyes bigger, their face thinner, and smooth out their skin tones before applying make up. It’s all to look kawaii - or cute. Then when you come out, you can add captions, the date, love hearts and all that kind of thing. It works brilliantly on girls, but not so well on men….
Ailse looked brilliant, I looked like I’d got drunk in a make-up shop by myself.
I’ll admit it was a laugh though, and we both wanted to try another one, so we did. The best thing is you can download the photos too, so I have a permanent reminder of what I would look like as a Japanese kawaii girl.
Next up was something I’d already experienced a bit of on my trip, but which Ailse was desperate to do - visit an animal cafe.
I hadn’t really liked the dog one I’d visited, but Ailse was keen to visit a cat cafe. Now neither of us are cat people - more dog people, and I was a bit wary as we headed to Cafe Calico in Shinjuku, but actually it was completely different from the dog cafe. Firstly, the girl there obviously loved cats. She explained carefully that we weren’t to lift them up, but could stroke them, and she warned us (with a picture) to avoid one particular feline who may attack if her stomach was touched. After washing our hands, we entered….
There were loads of people there (including three girls, one of whom seemed a bit too plastered considering it was only 5pm in the evening). And, there were some cute cats.
All different shapes and sizes. There were binders lying around so you could learn the cats’ names, breeds and what kind of personalities they had. It was pretty cool! I have a new found respect for cats.
So that was number two crossed off the list - the third one was literally just around the corner. We headed to Big Echo - a Japanese karaoke chain.
These buildings are full of rooms where you can practise your karaoke skills alone, with a couple of mates, or with a roomful of friends. Drinks and food are only a phone call away from your private room.
There was a bit of a language barrier at the front desk, but we managed eventually to book a room for half an hour. I ordered a beer (which sadly later turned out to be non-alcoholic), and we headed to room 233. A friendly guy popped his head around the door and showed us where the English songs were on the menu. In no particular order, I sang classic hits by Backstreet Boys, Miley Cyrus and Elton John (actually emotional if you were there). I need to brush up on my karaoke playlist, it’s been too long! We also discovered that “Mirrors” by JT goes on for about 15 minutes.
After singing our hearts out (and extending our stay for half an hour), we paid our £5 each fee (we need places like that in the UK!) and headed over to the Lumine Est shopping mall for a spot of dinner. We picked a Hawaiian style restaurant. My burger looked great, but was a bit disappointing - clearly not home made!
Then, it was back to the hotel to pack and get ready for heading home. But we’d squeeze some more sight-seeing and shopping in tomorrow…..
Thursday was a day for sight-seeing in Tokyo. Apart from temples and shrines, there’s actually not that many touristy things to do in Tokyo - hence we’d been spending most of our time exploring different areas and shopping.
We decided to go to the Tokyo Skytree. With a viewing platform at 350 metres high, it offers an unrivalled view of the city. (Although the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building has a similar view and is free).
We arrived at about 12.30, and got a ticket to come back for the 1.30 queue. So we checked out the shops. And saw some straaaaaange things. Like these crisps.
Also, in Japan, most restaurants offer plastic replicas of their food outside the restaurant so you can see at a glance what they offer. I visited the street where they sell them on my last trip to Tokyo, and they’re expensive - you’re talking at least £100 for a decent one. They did have a shop at the Skytree which sold them though, which is where I saw this beauty:
We grabbed a McDonald’s for lunch, and then headed back to join the queue.
And then we queued, and queued, and queued…. for an hour, with the queue moving very little. Then quickly all of a sudden. Then we bought our tickets and entered a queue for the lift…. which thankfully did move quite quickly.
There’s no doubt the views were amazing, but I guess because we didn’t know the city that well, and there aren’t that many stand-out landmarks, it was hard to tell what was what, and it was just a very high up view of the city. Still good to do though! And they had a bit you could walk on with a glass floor…
By the time we’d done all the queuing (there were queues to get back down again as well), it was close to 4.30pm, so we headed across town to Asakusa to visit a temple, as Ailse hadn’t seen one. Unfortunately when we got there it was closed. But she got to check her fortune (like I’d done before with disastrous results).
Then it was back to the pool for a swim and couple of drinks in the hotel’s famous New York Bar - on the 51st floor. I had a couple of glasses of Francis Ford Coppola’s Sophia Rose in honour of her Lost in Translation.
The bar was lovely, and yet again offered incredible views, but it was a bit rude (so I thought) to get charged a 2000 yen cover charge (about £13) when we were staying in the hotel!
We also spotted two people asleep - can you spot them in the photo below? Actually I’ll circle it to make it easier…
They were woken twice by a bar man.
So after a couple of glasses of wine, it was time for bed.
Trying out the old kawaii Japanese photo booths with make up
On Wednesday morning, we decided to have a long lie - hoping to avoid the worst weather that Typhoon Wipha was bringing to the Tokyo area. When we woke, the skies were clear, and there was little sign of the devastation the typhoon had wreaked just south of the city. I still think of Japan as a country recovering from the effects of the tsunami and resulting nuclear incident - and thought it really unfortunate that more suffering was taking place again on the island.
We were headed to the Ginza area of Tokyo today - we had a couple of intriguing restaurants we wanted to check out for lunch and dinner, and also a couple of stores to check out. The Ginza area was where I stayed on my previous visit to Tokyo, just over a year and a half ago, so it was strange to be back in the same station and being able to navigate around pretty easily.
First stop was at the post office - I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before or not, but getting money out at Japanese ATMs can be tricky if you’re using a chip enabled Mastercard issued outside Japan. The only ATMs that currently accept these cards are situated in post offices - thankfully there seems to be plenty of them!
After that, we headed to a well known Japanese toy store - which also sells wacky and unusual Japanese stuff. Hakuhinkan has several floors - with the more fun stuff on the bottom floor. After that it’s mainly stuff for kids. Maybe I’ve been here too long, but this time, I managed to resist buying any more Japanese items!
By this point, it was time for lunch, so we went off in search of a restaurant Ailsa had had recommended. Abura Soba in Ginza isn’t your usual soba noodle joint - first of all, the noodles they use are ramen style rather than soba. And secondly they don’t come in a broth - they come with a bit of sauce in the bottom of the dish, to which you add vinegar and chilli oil.
We stumbled - literally - across it, recognising it from a photo. It was tiny - just about eight seats at the bar, like a lot of Japanese restaurants. Also - like many eateries here - you didn’t order by speaking to a waiter.
You ordered from a machine. Basically you insert your money, select the dish you want, and hand the resulting ticket to a member of staff who then ensures your meal is with you promptly. I guess what’s clever about that is that people have decided and ordered before they sit down, meaning more people can pass through the restaurant.
I chose the Spicy Miso option, while Ailsa went plain. Five minutes later, the meal was in front of us, and it was delicious. Slivers of pork lay on a bed of noodles, spring onions and other bits and bobs.
Unfortunately for me, spicy miso was quite spicy, and within three minutes I had sweat on my forehead and my nose was running. Still it was a delicious (and very reasonably priced) meal.
After that, it was shopping time. We checked out a couple of stores in Ginza (amongst which are foreign names like Barneys New York and Printemps from Paris). I made a trip to an amazing food shop called Akomeya.
It’s literally a shop devoted to rice and everything you need to cook with it and would want to add to it. It was a really, calm shop with lots of Japanese delicacies and really pleasant staff.
We then had time to check out three of our favourites - this time in a new location - LOFT, Tokyo Hands, and the biggest Muji in Tokyo.
Believe it or not, by the time we had wandered all over the place, and made a couple of small purchases, it was honestly time for dinner. This time, we headed to a Izakaya - or a bar that serves small dishes of food.
To be honest - Tsuki no Shizuku's location in the basement of a shopping centre didn't look that promising. We found it and entered, took our shoes off, and were shown to a small private room. The waiter explained that there was a touchscreen that we ordered food and drink from, and it would be delivered straight to our room. Class! Oh - and the touch screen menu had an English option as well, which was handy.
I didn’t have a problem with the food at all - I had tofu wrapped tuna, avocado and cream cheese, and a bowl of BBQ beef on rice.
Ailsa… well she didn’t have as much luck as me. She was put off a bit by the horse sashimi, chicken gizzards and octopus on the menu. When some salmon sashimi arrived she couldn’t eat it because it had a couple of scales left on it. Chicken meatballs that she ordered never arrived, and instead of the grilled eggplant she thought she’d ordered, she got tofu and eggplant tempura.
So, while I really enjoyed it, she was definitely out of luck!
We just headed back to the hotel after that - not a particularly eventful day but thankfully the weather had been kind. I headed to the hotel bar for a glass of Australian chardonnay and to write up my blog for the day.
In the New York Bar on top of the Park Hyatt! (at New York Bar)
Tuesday was going to be spent investigating more of Tokyo’s shops, but little did we know our day would be cut short.
In the morning we headed to Tokyo’s Harajuku area - and you couldn’t get a stranger of mix of shops only streets away. The main street in the area, Omotesando is sometimes referred to as Tokyo’s Champs-Elysées. It’s lined with expensive shopping malls, and high end stores like Chanel and Gucci. But just a couple of minutes walk away, parallel to Omotesando is Takeshita Dori. On weekends in particular, it’s home to Tokyo’s most extreme teenage cultures - with girls dressed as just about anything you could think of, including cos-play and anime inspired outfits.
We started on Omotesando. I knew my favourite chef Bill Granger had a restaurant in the area. My friend Jill and I ate in one of his restaurants in Sydney, and I’ve got most of his books, and even met the man himself in London. We stumbled across it quite by accident in Tokyo - finding places is never easy as most streets aren’t named. It was in the mall shown in the picture above.
Next up was experiencing another thing quite particular to Tokyo - queues to get into restaurants. We saw enormous queues of people waiting to get into Eggs & Things, and also Cafe Kaila - both Hawaiian restaurants. We also saw queues to get into popcorn shops. Bill’s doesn’t taking bookings, but operated a kind of ticket system, so we got a ticket for 2.15pm (two hours after we arrived) and headed off to explore more of the avenue.
A Tokyo legendary shop is Kiddyland - it’s a big shop which specialises in character goods. And the Japanese have a lot of characters. Inside, it offers five (I think) floors stocked with every piece of merchandise you can think of for every Japanese character you can think of (think Hello Kitty and so on). I managed to get a birthday present for my niece which I’ve no idea how I’m going to get back in my suitcase, and Ailse picked up a new phone cover featuring Rilakkuma which she’s particularly proud of.
We walked further up the street laden down with Kiddyland bags, and before we knew it, it was time to return to Bill’s for lunch. A bit of a language barrier with out waiter meant Ailsa’s salad arrived as a starter, but that was soon sorted out and the delicious wagyu beefburger I ordered arrived. It wasn’t big by any means, but was absolutely delicious. I washed it down with a kiwi, apple and mint smoothie. Delicious!
And at about £20 a head, it was pretty reasonable as well. Next we continued to explore some shops and malls, before we headed for a coffee. Highly recommended, we wanted to check out Streamer Coffee Company. As we started walking towards it (navigating with Google Maps as always), the heavens opened and the rain became torrential. Wind was lashing around us as well. Soaked, we found Streamer just half an hour before it closed at 4.30pm.
Poor Ailsa was suffering from visual overload by this point - everything in Japan is so crowded, and everything screams for your attention so much that it can be a bit overwhelming, and she said her brain and eyes hurt from looking at so many different things at once. I knew the feeling!
We were the only people in Streamer when we arrived, and although my mocha really deep and delicious, the atmosphere wasn’t quite what we were expecting. But that was maybe down to the time of day and the rain.
Walking back towards Takeshita Dori I stumbled across a limited edition t-shirt store from the Japanese retailer Beams. Going in, little did I realise I was to come out about £120 lighter as I bought three t-shirts, including a Kitsuné Tokyo one I’m particularly proud of. I got chatting to the guy that served us and said we were planning to go shopping (yet again!) tomorrow, but he warned us that there was a typhoon coming our way - not the first one I’d nearly encountered on my trip, and that the shops may actually close.
Putting two and two together, we realised the horrendous weather was actually the oncoming typhoon making its presence known, and decided to head back to the hotel before it got any worse.
We kind of sped-walked up Takeshita Dori and saw some really weird outfits, but because it was a school day, unfortunately we didn’t see any live models wearing the unusual get-up. We may come back on Saturday morning to see that if we have time.
We grabbed a quick sushi dinner and an amazing dog shaped chocolate mousse (above) at Shinjuku station (I did anyway, Ailsa couldn’t work out what didn’t have fish or duck in it so went with room service again), and headed back to the hotel. By now the weather had deteriorated even more. A quick swim in the pool on the hotel’s 47th floor, and a glass of wine later, I was in bed - after reassuring Mum that we were safe from the typhoon. Apparently the worst was to come tomorrow……
at 東京スカイツリー (Tokyo Skytree)
Weird crisps of the day (at 東京スカイツリータウン (Tokyo Skytree Town))