Tag Archives: traveling to japan

the photo finale

so I didn’t actually lose my camera – ta da! I can go back to smugly thinking my brothers are the forgetful ones in our family.

I’ve placed photos throughout my posts of the trip to Japan – which feels like a very weird and wonderful dream now, from rainy Melbourne. (Much like the man who dreamed of being a butterfly, special k finds coming back to life here more of a dream.)

Here are some pics of the place we stayed in Tokyo, and our first ramen meal.

Here one of the best meals we had the whole time.

Here some weird sushi and Shinjuku in all its glory.

Here Harajuku.

Here pics from the Museum of Science and Innovation. (includes Doraemon and Asimo…gotta love the Japanese!)

Here Great Tokyo Cycling Tour!

Here more 8-bit.

Here Kyoto.

Here another amazing meal. (Meal the last.)

And because I’m not entirely sure where it fits in, some shopping madness that came over me in Don Quijote. Much, much worse than opp-shop fever. I ended up buying two of the three – can you possibly pic the two slightly less-ugly sisters?

Day 11: The Last Supper

(This title was only supposed to refer to our dinner tonight – our last in Japan – in a kind of silly attempt to make it catchy. But I just realised that as today I finished reading Christopher Brookmyre‘s Not the End of the World, a pretty hilarious and thought-provoking (and full-on) anti-religion rant (in fictional form – there’s a tall Scottish lad with long hair and a mad televangalist who’s going to make a tidal wave), it’s more appropriate than I intended.

The dinner was a massive pork steak that was beaten then poached in a tub of fat then sizzled with some thick sauce and heaped onto a pile of shredded cabbage. They plonked the saucepan down in front of us, along with a huge bowl of rice (Japanese rice is SOOOOO good!) some miso, cold jasmine tea and a glass of beer.

Pretty great last meal.

Cute waitress too, who giggled uncontrollably into her hand when we tipped her. (This was after we’d endeared ourselves to the staff by exaggerating the tear-making properties of the onion they were cutting in front of us. Boohoo, we’re funny foreigners and we like your food, boohoo.)

How we discovered the place, seeing it from the flyover:

So now we’re in our Last Hotel, after our Last Supper, awaiting our Last Sleep in Japan. Special k wants to come back for good, but when I ask him why, the most coherent answer I can get out of him is that he thinks it would be cool if our kids were little white Japanese kids.

Not sure that cuts the sashimi.

Day 7: special k lives up to his name

Today was a good day. Mostly it was filled with shopping. Then more shopping. And then when my feet were about to start dripping battery acid we shopped some more.


I think it’s been our attempts to shop and our utter inability to do so with any conviction whatsoever that have chewed up our days. But no more! Our bags are about twice as heavy as they were yesterday.

My favourite moment by far was when special k was trying on a shirt and the shop assistant – lovely, tall Japanese boy dressed goth-classy – started playing barbie dolls with him. The shop assistant was evidently bored and saw some fun to be had.

You have to understand at this point that Japanese guys aren’t afraid of dressing up. The men’s clothing is surprisingly difficult to distinguish from the lady’s. So special k grinned in a kind of polite horror as the shoppie draped a cloth vest over the shirt, tightening and ruffling various parts of it for greatest aesthetic effect. Add a black brimmed hat and the rather pushy suggestion of a coin pendant and different jeans and you have, as he put it “Japanese fashion.”

The day ended in a place called 8-bit cafe, where special k beat a Japanese woman at Street Fighter. (Ten points if you can guess which character he was playing.)

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 6: Tokyo Great Cycling Tour

It really was pretty great.

In our wee group of 8, with the fearless Yukiko guiding us through the white-shirted throngs, we cycled over many bridges to the constructed islands in Tokyo’s bay area.

We stopped off at Tsukuda (it sounds like scooter, said in a really abreviated, Aussie style), where the first shogun imported 33 competent fishermen.

(I know it looks like I was just walking around Tokyo wearing a bike helmet. I wasn’t, I promise.)

It was pretty interesting to hear Yukiko talk about Japanese history. After the 200 years of peace during the Edo period, Japan opened its borders and embraced Industry. I think I’ve only ever seen this period portrayed with great melancholy: Here is the end of a great, untainted culture. Yukiko gave the new perspective that Japan was desperate to catch up to the West, and to develop their own industry and technology – a fervour that is still alive and well today, evidently.

The sun started to get really hot. Here’s a short video of probably the most delicious part of the whole day: we arrived at the Tsukiji fish market (biggest in the world – it is truly amazing) and dunked cloths in a bucket of iced water.

Then we cycled to the beach and ate a delicious picnic from bento boxes. I went down to the beach to dunk my head in and interrupted three little boys gleefully pushing each other into the water.

We saw some temples – walked the Steps of Promotion so that we would all be mightily successful in the work place.

It was such a great way to see Tokyo, and felt a lot more productive than walking for miles through Shinjuku station and surrounds (though I’m pretty fond of that old place).

Do it! if you’re ever in Tokyo.

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Day 5

Day 5: Run, Robot! Run!

Ok, the complaining is officially over. Promise. We’ll blame it on the heat, and not mention it again.

Seriously, I saw a robot run today. Anyone who could stay in a funk after that would have a thing or two to learn from Asimo about being human.

It’s amazing how endearing the little guy is. Makes you realise how indiscriminate and easy our affections really are, and raises all kinds of incredibly interesting questions. (I’ll spare you from them, you’ll be glad to know. I need some sleep before our 6-hour bike tour tomorrow. It seemed like a good idea back when I was in Melbourne and it was cold.)

The Museum of Science and Innovation:



I went through a wormhole and shrank as I went!

okonomiyaki for dinner. mmmmmmmm.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 4: Rock Bottom Has a Bidet

I feel rather like a character from a Jennifer Crusie novel: “Things are bad, she struggles, things get worse, she struggles, things get so bad they seem insurmountable, she struggles.”

Harajuku, on a Sunday, in the relentless sun = not the funnest thing, despite the big clown made of balloons.

Today pushed lots of buttons. Old ones about traveling and being a tourist and not being “exciting” enough to walk down that alleyway and find that bar that serves single origin sake on a full moon. If you know the password.

There were no passwords today, but special k and I had words. Rather a lot of them. We’re both more timid than not, and when neither of us steps up to the plate we get the amorphous holiday we’ve been having so far. So the words weren’t all particularly fun to hear, but we got that sorted out, anyway.

We did end up going down some tiny old alleyways and looking at some pretty odd bars, but it was in Kita-senju late on a Sunday night. Which is pretty hard to describe. The only places left open are the gambling dens and brothels. There was one little shanty filled with piles of books and magazines and one old lady drinking on her own. Another had businessmen singing something into a microphone, which looked like it was going to hit the bar any second.

A man put on his bike breaks too hard and his cat scrambled out of the front basket in disgust.

Oh yes, and I tried a bidet, which was a rude, illicit sort of an experience. They have a special button just for women. Enough said.

If my trip is really following the Crusie formula, I should soon be reaching the Point of No Return, after which everything begins working towards a happy ending, even if it’s not at first apparent.

Day 3

Day 2

Day 1

Day 3: Sponge Cake on Your Sushi (not a Peter Combe song)

Today I learnt some things:

a) I am a control freak

b) er, a) pretty much covers it.

I didn’t actually realise anything was amiss until we were a couple of meters into the foodhall of the department store Isetan, and special k looked over at me with concern and amused sympathy and told me it was ok to not be perfect and just to be lost.

This foodhall is….crazy. I’ve never seen or been anywhere like it. There were beautifully sculpted sweets, sashimi and fruit combos of all sorts, dumplings being scooped and twisted and five perfect lettuce leaves sitting inside a plastic container in a bed of styrofoam.

It was incredible, but it was hard to enjoy in the face of how uncomfortable I was. It all looked quite normal, and I felt like I could understand where I was/what it was, but there was just something I couldn’t get a handle on. There was one (or a hundred) too many unfamiliar things. Or just things full stop.

For example, here’s Shinjuku, the part of town we were wandering about in. The unfair thing about this photo is that it doesn’t look hot. It was.

So. I like to be in control, and I’ve never understood this about myself as clearly as I did today.

Oh yeah, and we ate sushi with sponge cake around it.

Day 2

Day 1

Day 2: My Heart Throbbing With Desire

I dunno, would you get that on a t-shirt in an English speaking country? I think it’s the word “throbbing” that crosses the line (and as someone who writes romance, my tolerance for the word is higher than most).

Breakfast this morning was not an easy task.

First we ate chocolate covered almonds in bed, because we were too snuggly to go out for anything. We finally left forĀ Bear Pond Espresso and thought it made sense to just wait and have food there.

Unfortunately, there was much less to be smug about in our transport navigation this morning.

But the time we’d walked about 3k trying to find the right train line in Shinjuku Station we were far too hot, confused, and hungry. And hot.

We walked past some fresh fruit and special k stopped me, deciding that what I needed was a peach. He was right, too. Did I mention that Tokyo is hot right now? (In the climatic sense.)

So he went to the vendor, made the transaction, and I watched with growing trepidation as the fruit was hastily taken from his clumsy hands, wrapped in styrofoam then bubble-wrap, packed into a floral box then tucked into a bag. Special k walked back somewhat stunned and red in the face and said:

“I think I just bought some really expensive peaches…”

“How much?”


I tell you what though, that $13 peach sure was delicious. And speaking of weird Japanese fruit:

We found Bear Pond with its yum cold coffee, but alas no food aside from some unidentifiable donuts. Still not quite sure what flavour they were.

The Bear Pond chaps finally pointed us to a fish place where we ate this:

ah, heaven.

Followed shortly thereafter by its opposite. We walked around Shibuya with the sun bashing against us, trying to shove us into the pavement. My navigation skills are evidently not what they could be. And to be in Shibuya of all places, where everything is lit up and moves and music blares out into the public spaces – not ideal.

We finally found Shibuya 109 and it truly was like descending into a kind of hell. It was lit with a bright, almost orange cast to it, packed in every possible way with streams of yapping devil-girls. (Hey, it had been a long day. And the sensory overload is hard to fully express.)

We went home at that point.

Day 1

Day 1: Birthu-pulaysu of Astro Boy or: Help! I Can’t Stop Adding U’s to Everything I Say!

Japan looks different from the sky to anywhere else I’ve ever been. Flying in to Tokyo we came within touching distance of these lumps of forest. I don’t really know how else to describe them. They looked like the heads of broccoli: dense, impenetrable and very, very green.

Very Miyazaki.

A-ha. We are in Japan.

I’m rather smug because we navigated the train system like pros, rubbing our very tired eyes in case we were just imagining all the white shirts. Seriously, it’s like one of those kids books where the tops and bottoms of animals/people have been separated so that you have to flip the two halves until you match them up right. Only someone made a mistake and every top is white, no tie, rolled up sleeves.

The Astro Boy theme tune blared out when we arrived at the station. The charming little lad was born here in Takadanobaba, where we’re be staying. (Apparently the locals call it ‘Baba, but I wouldn’t dare.)

Walking out onto the neon street was pretty exciting. I tend to try and be very worldly when I travel, you know, nothing could surprise me in the least. But I just gave in to the daggy grin on my face, because I had just emerged into Jap-furickingu-pan!

Tama Ryokan (a ryokan is like a family inn – they fix up some rooms in their house and let it out) where we’re staying is kind of perfect. It’s got wood frames, paper doors and little vases with clippings of ivy in the oddest places. Eiko, our hostess, was born here.

She was very nice, showing us how everything worked at least 5 times (I do not exaggerate, she is a master of rote learning) in case her English/our thick heads got in the way. By the tenth time she had wiped her mouth with a wet cloth Ken was starting to wonder if she was OCD, but I just put it down to her being Japanese.

I should note here that because this trip is first and foremost a holiday, to which being in Japan comes decidedly second, I have excused myself from being a sensitive traveller. I am not here, I have decided, to understand Japanese culture/compliment the Japanese people by my exulted presence in their company/pretend I’m not a tourist.

What I’m saying is: bring on the generalisations! And it’s quite possible I might have some racist days (the only thing that kept me sane when I lived in Berlin. Nothing vents feelings of isolation quite so well as allowing oneself a whole day to blame those feelings on everything but oneself.). I will also probably visit scandalously few museums and other cultural icons.

Anyway, my tummy is full of ramen, and the lights are out, making our little room feel like nothing so much as a sophisticated tent.