Posts Tagged ‘culture’

When I tell people where I’m off to next, or where I’ve been, I’m usually faced with the same responses. And I’m here to elaborate.

 

Common reactions include: “Please don’t die” and “Oh you’re just so LUCKY!“. While I do agree I am a fortunate girl as the world goes (money in my pocket, a roof over my head, food in my belly) it really gets my goat when people put my lifestyle down to “luck”. I’m not trying to come across as sour, I know its an automatic reaction, bear with me..

 

I’ve put quite a lot of effort into getting where I am today. I’ve had to navigate my way across the correct sequence of stepping stones which took time, risk and a LOT of thought. I’ve quit jobs, attended Skype interviews for new ones in new countries, worked my butt off and stored money like a squirrel preparing for winter; for this reason, I don’t want to give Lady Luck any credit. Anybody who has taken the leap to sell their worldly possessions (bar what you can carry on your back – which for a tiny girl like me, is not much) and up sticks to a foreign land is blessed with one scrap of luck: the balls to get up and go!

 

Another thing I irrationally dislike is when people ask “When are you coming home?” or “How long is your trip?” The answers to which are NEVER and FOREVER. This isn’t a trip to me, this is a way of life. (That sounds so wanky and awful doesn’t it?) To me, a trip is spending a few weeks or even months in a new place before going back to a home; a base, where all your things and people are there waiting for you upon your return. I don’t have this. Every time I leave one country and enter a new one I have to set up house all over again. I don’t even remember what it’s like to live back “home”, and I certainly don’t want to be reminded until I’ve explored as much of this earth as my little legs will allow. Home is where the heart is, but what if your heart is in a million places at once? With the people I’ve met along the way, the cities I made a living in, everywhere from the tops of the mountains in New Zealand to the bottom of the ocean in Thailand. This is where home feels like; my new normal.

 

Let’s flash back in time to last week, so I can show you what being “lucky” really feels like to me…

 

There’s someone dancing almost violently on the sofa next to me, while someone else is screaming out an interesting version of “La Bamba”. I’m in a karaoke booth. I look up and around at the crazy, amazing people I’ve collected during my time here in Tokyo and feel overwhelmed with pride and happiness. If only I could capture this moment and send it to the pre-travels Sophie of early 2011 and say “Look! It’s going to be all right!”.

 

This is the part of travelling that makes me feel richer than MC Hammer pre-bankruptcy; the people I connect with and the unique situations we find ourselves in across the globe. Usually these people have moved around a fair bit too, which makes for some interesting conversation. These are the times that make me stop and think, “Gosh, aren’t I lucky?

 

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This was my walk home from work last week. Coming from such a small and relatively quite place myself, all these bright lights and scyscrapers still get the better of me.

What followed this walk was decidedly less serene.. rush hour on the subway yeeey \○/

I’ve learned that having a mobile phone, tablet or some iPiddling device is a necessity on the subway, if only to give your eyes somewhere to look on a fully packed train. Just when you think the carriage couldn’t possibly fit another sausage in it, about 20 more people flood in. You begin to feel like a Tetris brick. If your lucky enough to nab a free seat, it’s like a gift from the Gods.

“Master has given Dobby a seat!”

I’ve also got pretty good at pretending to be asleep. Standing, sitting, sandwiched between two strangers, I’ve got it nailed. Anyway, this month I’ve made it my mission to visit as many weird places as possible, and I think I succeeded. Here it is:

Cat Café

(Or “ねこのきっさてん – neko no kissaten”, neko being the Japanese word for cat, and kissaten being coffee shop.)

I was probably MOST excited about this one. I love cats, and I’m somewhat partial to hot drinks. After conducting some serious research on which cat café in Tokyo to go to, I decided on Temari no Ouchi  (てまりのおうち) in the popular area of Kichijoji.

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It was like stepping into a fairytale! The interior design was every bit as cute as their website. We opened the entrance doors into a small corridor where we paid the receptionist ¥1200 (about £6) for half an hour, not incl. food or drink, before being led into one larger room full of furry little monsters.

This particular caf only houses 17 cats. (I say only, but if you were to pop round someone’s house and be greeted by 17 cats you’d probably think “yeah, overkill”.) Still, as Japanese cat cafés go, this one is modestly stocked.

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As you perch on one of the little tree stumps or floor cushions, you’re handed a menu for drinks/food and a menu for CATS! Okay it’s not a menu per say, Japan’s not that sort of country, but you do get to read up a little on the resident cats.

I’m going to be brutally honest; it wasn’t all I’d hoped it would be. The ratio of locals to cats was less than desirable. Each cat had about 3 people crowded round with their camera phone pointed at it (guilty). The café also provides lots of toys like shiny things on sticks to lure the cats to you, but like to a spoilt child, the novelty of all these toys has definitely worn off on them. I spent most of my time wildly and sometimes over forcefully shaking sticks and throwing balls as the cats walked nonchalantly past me.

Still, I did manage to stroke a few and even got to meet an adorable sausage cat in a bow tie, so my overall verdict is: mostly success. I recommend this place if only for the whimsical décor.

Rabbit / Maid Café

Maid cafés are BIG out here, especially in Akihabara, the “electrics centre” of Tokyo. There are currently 2 to 300 of them. The idea is that young attractive Japanese women dressed in OTT cutsie maid outfits come and tend to your every need. (Not those needs.)

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Another popular hangout spot for tourists and locals alike are rabbit cafés. Just as the name suggests, and based on the same premise as cat cafés, you can grab something to eat and drink while rabbits run amok around you. Basically in Japan, cute animals + coffee = good.

I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and visit a lesser-known rabbit/maid café in Akihabara (or ‘Akiba’, as us locals call it 😬)

To be frank, it wasn’t what dreams were made of. We were essentially in someone’s glorified living room. And by glorified I mean small, with an aroma of wee.

The few tables were a little chewed up and close together enough for it to feel like an awkward family reunion, if your family had suddenly turned Japanese, adopted 21 rabbits and donned maid outfits.

We paid ¥1100 Which gave us 30 minutes and unlimited tea and coffee (which we had to make ourselves from powdered sachets and a hot water machine).

Only 1 rabbit was allowed on the floor at any given time, whilst the other 20 stared wistfully at the one enjoying his freedom from the confines of their cages, which took up one wall of the ‘café’.

For an extra couple of hundred yen you can buy a plate of rabbit food (chopped veg) which I of course did, to make the rabbits love me. The rabbit on the floor was far too focused on his break for freedom than my crudités so I shoved them through the bars of the incarcerated rabbits instead.

They also have two gated booths at one end of the room, (I say “end” but it more or less took up half the bloody place) should you feel inclined to have yourself a little rabbit party.

To be fair, there is a good selection of rabbits and the maids will bring one over for you to hold, which was nice.

In all, this experience consisted of: trying to down scalding hot chocolate so I could convince myself I’d got my money’s worth, putting my hand in rabbit shit, trying not to step on the epileptic rabbit shooting around the room before his inevitable capture and replacement, and contemplating whether eating the carrot sticks would be better value than feeding it to the rabbits.

I’m not going to give you the address of this place lest they read this and hunt me down, a deranged rabbit under each arm, threatening to force feed me soggy vegetable sticks. I also don’t have any pictures of this place which is probably a blessing in disguise, but don’t let this put you off other rabbit cafés! I hear the one in Harajuku is pretty good.

 

The Lockup

NOW we’re talking. If you want a unique dining experience that will make you want to both laugh hysterically and do a little bit of screaming, this is a pretty good shout.

The Lockup located in Shibuya is one of a few prison-themed restaurants in Tokyo. As soon as you arrive you get handcuffed and a pretty Asian girl who is dressed too sexily to be a real policewoman takes you to your “cell”. I quite liked having my own little room for dinner. It was a good balance of personal, and fucking terrifying. The menu is pretty funky too; you can order eyeball cocktails and various entrails (fake – thank the Lord). We went for some pretty normal spicy spaghetti and “black beef” which was actually pretty delicious! BEWARE THOUGH, don’t you go getting too comfortable now, because every hour or so the lights go off, alarms sound and “monsters” run amok through the prison. They open your cell door and come right up to your face which, after the amount of beer I had, nearly made it all come back out again. This goes on for a while until the policewoman and her cohorts batter them with plastic clubs and lock them away.

I managed to destroy my SD card and most of the videos/photos I took, but watch this nice lady’s video to get a feel for the place:

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My creepy friend Andy under next to an even creepier painting.

 

Arabian Rock

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This is another fun restaurant in Shinjuku. I woke up the morning after this night with a splitting headache and, inexplicably, a boiled egg sprayed gold in my handbag.

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Looking back through the photos I pieced my night together and discovered it had been gifted to me by none other than Aladdin himself. Or at least, a Japanese man dressed like Aladdin. Same same. I think the food was good but to be honest I was apparently too preoccupied with peeling and eating the eggs, and drinking the numerous beers Jasmine bought me.

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That’s all for now, but I still have uncharted territory to explore yet! Next on the agenda is a robot cafe, and a restaurant that has.. PENGUINS.

おやすみなさい Oyasuminasai – Goodnight! 🙂

 

** N.B. The title of this post should be written as “ペットのきっさ” – ‘petto’ means pet, and ‘kissa’ or ‘kissaten’ means coffee shop!

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And so the travels begin again.. (if they ever stopped). I only arrived in Tokyo 3 days ago, but already SO much has happened. Just before we set off, Chris did this..
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So it looks like my travel buddy is now my travel fiancé! In Chris’ own words: “I liked it so I put a ring on it”.

One of the students we taught in Oxford is now home living in Tokyo, and was kind enough to go hours out of his way to pick us up from the airport and deliver us to our hostel. (Which is a good job, because we’d probably still be at the airport if it wasn’t for him. Thanks Jun!)

We booked our hostel in advance, which is terribly grown up of us. Usually I spend my first day wandering around with both fear and hope that I wont be sleeping with the local wildlife. We chose Tokyo Sumidagawa Youth Hostel in Asakusabashi. It was a spacious private double room in traditional Japanese tatami style. It would have been pretty ideal were it not for the poor ventilation/dampness and subsequent faint smell of hamsters. I don’t want to say anything bad about Japanese décor, but if you type “do tatami mats” into Google, it suggests the ending “smell”. Jus’ saying.

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We only managed to visit a small shrine (which Chris thought was written in Japanese and so pronounced “Shree-nay” – hilarious) before falling into bed (futon?) for an accidental 4 hour face-to-face mid-conversation nap. I didn’t even get to drink the Sophie sized bottle of wine that I stole from the plane! The struggle with jet lag is REAL. It can turn you into a hosepipe of emotions. I spent a solid 5 minutes sobbing on the first day because I came across a picture of Robin Williams.

We were pretty gutted to miss the cherry blossoms by a week (!). I got to see their little papery pink corpses all over the ground though.

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Later that night we headed out to an “Izakaya”, which is basically a place to drink which doubles up as a restaurant. Expect to see lots of post-work businessmen getting mashed up on some questionable looking sake. It’s probably also a good place to meet other travellers. We tend to flock to these watering holes. It’s weird being in a place where I’m the minority. I’m developing a bad habit of smiling at any Caucasian person I see as though we’re related. Actually I’ve been smiling at everyone. It’s probably creeping them out.

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Check out this amazing view from atop the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building. It’s free to go up, if you can stand awkward lift silence. It’s like at home, where you go all British and pretend to be checking something important on your phone or carefully selecting the right front door key but for FORTY FIVE FLOORS.

The next day we were lucky enough to be shown around by a friend we made through work in Oxford. She took us to a Torikizoku. “Tori” means chicken and “kizoku” is supposedly aristocracy. So we ate at a chicken aristocracy.  She also took us to what I like to think of as a Japanese Primark, only bigger, louder and more hectic; Don Quijote (which the locals fondly refer to as ‘donkey’)

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I think I regressed about 10 years in this multi-storey shop of excitement. On one floor they had a number of photo booths on one side of the room and a clothes rail full of fancy dress items on the other. We put 2 and 2 together. I went from “Omg how embarrassing” to HAHAH LETS DO IT AGAIN in a speed I am most ashamed of. It was really fun.

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I want to point out all the quirks and habits of Japan along my travels, so here’s a small one: every shop has one of these trays. I thought it was some sort of unnecessary glorified beer mat but it turns out it’s where you put your CHANGE when paying. Interesting.changetray

Right so.. the trains. I’ll try to write a more extensive post when I figure this out myself, but as far as I can tell there are 3 lines just to really screw with you. The JR line and TWO subway lines operated by different companies?! To be honest though I’ve navigated through without any major hiccups. Put me on the London Underground and it all goes wrong, but in Tokyo apparently I’m some sort of grounded Amelia Earhart (sans disappearance)

(so far).

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Take heed; do not try to ride when hungover. Each station plays its own little jingle which is all fun and games until your splitting headache gives way to full blown migraine. Some of them aren’t so bad actually.. have a listen:

Have a read of this article (click here) if you’re interested in learning about why these jingles exist and must torture me so.

One thing people consistently came out with when I said I was moving to Japan was “oh em geeeee it’s going to be well expensive”. Nuh-uh!

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As with most cities, it does largely depend on where you go and how fancy you’re feeling that night, but generally you can get everything in that photo ^ for about 3 quid. 3 quid!!! That’s a meaty/ricey dish, bowl of miso soup (comes with pretty much everything), unlimited water and a small salad. Some places also throw in a free green tea or five. Beer is around 2-3 quid. Danger.

I think it’s pretty essential to try out the local cuisine and not give in to any of the familiar fast food joints like Maccy D’s or KFC. Sweet, sweet KFC….

No seriously get stuck in, it’s all part and parcel of the Japanese experience. It’s also DELICIOUS. And cheap. Did I mention cheap? I’ve also been enjoying a good game of “buy-something-unidentifiable-and-put-it-in-my-mouth”. Today was some rather tame Kiwi flavoured sweets which I chewed to the point of disintigration just in case it was gum. Gum? Sweets? WHO KNOWS! That’s the fun of the game.

I’m going to try and condense my time here into convenient little videos. Here is number one for your viewing pleasure:

Right that’s quite enough for one day.  I will leave you with this motivational image:

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Change bacon is good bacon.

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