Posts Tagged ‘living abroad’

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It’s been 66 days since my last real travel post. 66 long days and all I’ve managed to write about is how I haven’t been able to write. Here’s the cliff notes on what’s happened in the past 2 months; I left Tokyo for good (sob), visited Mt. Fuji (yay!), explored Hokkaido and had a birthday before zipping down to the south of Japan from Sapporo to Nagoya, Ise Shrine, Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and Nara.

 

End of an era.

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My teachers, fellow students and friends at my Japanese language school. また会いましょう!

Leaving Tokyo was a little bit very difficult. I’d made a nice little home for myself there, studying Japanese and teaching English part-time, cycling around on my little green bicycle, sipping whiskey with my good friend and owner of the jazz bar next door, karaoke-ing my heart out, eating sushi at the Tsukiji fish market, Book Town browsing, pedalo boating, Hyatt Hotel movie scene re-enacting, beer garden roof top partying and sex shop visiting (not necessarily in that order). Still, it’s always an idea to leave a place while you still love it, so onwards we go.

 

Fuji

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I couldn’t very well leave Japan without visiting Mt. Fuji could I? I hadn’t actually had the chance to see it before as whenever I eagerly went up one of Tokyo’s tall buildings to have a peek the day I chose wasn’t clear enough. The area to stay in is called Kawaguchiko, about 2-3 hours from Tokyo. For ¥2600 (£14) a coach will take you all the way to Fuji 5th Station – the start of the climb. There are a few relatively well-priced ryokans you can stay in which have windows opening out onto a beautiful view of Fuji. Inevitably I went at a shit time and got a face full of cloud instead, but the framed pictures around our room made summer/spring look quite promising.

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My place was a hop, skip and a jump away from the large and statue-still Lake Kawaguchi (河口湖). I took a walk around the lake, had little sit and a think in a boat while looking out at the whale and swan shaped pedalos gliding across the water’s surface; it was all very profound.

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Yep, that’s me up Fuji in short-shorts and a crop top. DISCLAIMER: This was ill-advised. I didn’t make it all the way to 8th station because I got told off by the danger rangers who pointed at my footwear disapprovingly. “Bad shoes!” (Um excuse me no they’re fabulous.) “No jacket? Very cold!” Don’t worry, I’m not a complete idiot, I did have a thick jumper and raincoat stuffed in my satchel, but it still paled in appropriacy compared to my fellow hikers, who had gone gung-ho on the whole outfit thing, poles in hand and specialist clothing adorning each limb. To be fair it was getting pretty nippy the more I ascended so I was secretly glad to be turned away.

After Fuji I nipped back to Tokyo to catch a flight to the biggest city in Hokkaido (4th biggest in Japan), Sapporo. Posts to follow..

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I’ve been exploring again – and wonderfully bizarre Japan did not disappoint.

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The Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku isn’t so much a restaurant as it is a full-volume-maximum-theatrics-epilepsy-inducing-cavalcade-fusion that is, in parts, accidentally hilarious. One peek at their website should give you the general gist. It’s a little pricey at 5 to 6000 Yen (an extra 1000 for a bento box dinner) but it’s worth it, and you’d be following in many famous people’s footsteps:

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Go to the Robot Restaurant and sit in a seat that was potentially previously graced by Katy Perry’s bum.

As you wait to go downstairs for the main show, you’re led into the most garish lounge I’ve ever had the pleasure of being in (think Vegas, now add more rainbow lights, and mirrors.. a little more.. bingo) while being serenaded by scantily clad robot women. You couldn’t make it up. Or, you could, and someone did, and it’s awesome.

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There’s not much more I can say about this place so here’s a compilation video I put together of the ridiculous events that unfolded:

*  *  *

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I spoke about visiting a cat cafe in this post, and how although it was quaint, the ratio of cats-to-sophie was less than satisfactory. Undeterred, I visited yet another one based in Shinjuku. I’ll let these pictures speak the thousand words I cannot:

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Greg and Fleayonce Knowles caught in the act

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Time enjoyed wasting putting hats on cats is not time wasted.

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Plotting his escape.

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For more info on this gem, see here (though I’m pretty sure we paid ¥1500 instead of the advertised ¥1000.. however there is an outside chance we accidentally bought a package deal).

I’m leaving Tokyo to explore Japan a little better in 3 days, but I still have a few more Tokyo-related posts to put together. There’s nothing like an impending deadline to get your butt into writing gear.

😹

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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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Did you know cats around the globe have their very own kitty language? In English they say Meow but in Korean they say Yaong. “Nyan” is supposedly the sound a Japanese cat makes. (Hence the name choice for uber popular Nyan Cat.)

As well as Nyan Cat, Japan is home to Hello Kitty, Doraemon, the lucky “Maneki” cat with its beckoning paw (said to bring in good fortune and wealth – stick it by your door or window!) to name a few. I’ve heard a few things about why the Japanese love this animal so much – probably none of which are true, but I’ll tell ya anyway: supposedly cats were a huge helper in a country big on agricultural farming, chasing away the pesky crop-eating rats. Another theory is cats became a safer option than dogs. This is because  in the Edo Period, each time a criminal was captured they would be tattooed on the forehead. The tattoo strokes were done in such a way that once the criminal was caught and tattooed for the fourth time, they would form the kanji for “dog” – inu. The fifth capture meant the death penalty. The ol’ “five-strikes-and-you’re-out” rule.

Read more about Japanese people and cats here.

You may have gathered by now that I am up for all things animals, especially cats, something I’m glad Japan and I have in common. I’ve picked up a fair few cat “souvenirs” as I keep calling them, or “pointless shit you don’t need” as Chris calls them.

So far I have:

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My lucky calico cat (招き猫 maneki neko) stamp, a “good” stamp to give my students’ homework the cat of approval, my cat coin purse from Kichijoji, and a pencil case that reads hunter.. action.. hungry.. so busy. (I am basically a cat.)

And that’s it!

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..Okay and these cat paper clips.

 

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Aaaand these post-its. (How else am I meant to remember to buy “miruku” for my coffee?)

 

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I found out about a cat fair (!!) through the website timeout.jp (great site for those of you looking for things to do in Japan) and so made my way down to Asakusa to attend “Nekosen 2015“.

 

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It was held in one large room on the 3rd floor of a building; lots of people had set up their stalls. You could buy little collars for your cats, framed photos, stuffed animals, jewellery, key rings.. you name it! Heavenly.

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On the way out I was given this excellent “cat newspaper” with 2 comic strips on it. It’s meant to be read downwards, right to left. So put your finger on the very top row, right hand square, and work your way down, then move to the top row second-to-last square on the right, down, etc. (Seems obvious now, but I spent a good amount of time trying to read it across, left to right as you would a traditional English comic, which is quite a challenge. I just thought it was being all Japanese and quirky.) Here it is for your viewing pleasure:

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If this didn’t fill your daily cat quota, then you can also read about the time I went to a cat cafe here.

I also visited one of Japan’s 11 cat islands (!) and saw.. wait for it.. 7 WHOLE CATS! I don’t know, I seem to have a knack for accidentally choosing all the wrong places. I’m still holding out hope for the rabbit and fox island; the dream is not dead.

Edit: To be clear, the “rabbit island” and the “fox island” are two separate ones – if they were all on the same little chunk of land I suspect this would soon just become an “island”.

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Spot the Kitty

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Beautiful Enoshima

I recommend giving Enoshima a visit; it’s about an hour and a half from Tokyo. On a nice day you can paddle at the beach, eat some of the (very) fresh seafood, and buy some seaside souvenirs as you trek up and around the island.

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Alright I also bought these teeny tiny note papers with cat envelopes. I will stop soon, maybe.

And that brings us to the end of this post, but inevitably not the end of my catventures here in Japan.

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さよならSayonara!

 

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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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Spot the wild Sophie

Tomorrow marks an entire week in Japan. It’s gone by so quickly! I’ve gone from terrified westerner with a myriad of insurmountable challenges to an excited ‘gaijin’, picking up the lingo, figuring out the subway (finally) and fully immersing myself into Japanese life!

Here are a few more oddities and experiences that filled my week:

Toilet seats. Heated toilet seats. They are so fantastic I don’t know how I could possibly live without one now. Making a sacrifice to the porcelain Gods has never been so good. If you didn’t need a pee before, you will after sitting down for a second. I wasn’t brave enough to try the “bum spray” for a few days.. until I was. All I’m going to say is check the settings before you go all gung-ho on the controls. Nobody needs the strongest setting. *Shudder*.

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When you see this sign you know you’re in for a good time.

 

Bathrooms here are much smaller than across the way. They resemble the sort of wetroom you had in halls at uni. but a bit better because you have a MINI BATH! I am mini, so this makes me happy. Also, the toilet. Don’t forget the toilet.

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Exhibit A

So there is no button to press at the traffic lights when you want to cross, you have to wait patiently until the green man puts in an appearance. In a way it’s handy because the crossing intervals are fairly regular, and if you’re lucky you’ll reach the pavement just as it turns green. Yesssahhh. Jaywalking is a bit of a faux pas here, as I found out myself (oops). People GENERALLY won’t make a cheeky dash for it, even if the road is pretty empty.Screenshot 2015-04-29 at 22.32.01

The subway is a veritable rabbit warren. Every time I leave the same station I end up in a completely different part of town. Usually each station has a north, south, east and west exit, sometimes a little way apart. Good luck.

One thing I have learned about Japanese directions on posters, websites and pamphlets is that everywhere is a “5 minute walk from the station”. NOT TRUE. Google maps likes to take the piss too:

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Camaaan, give me a left.. throw in a right.. I’ll even take a straight on.

 

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You can buy a train card at the ticket machine to save yourself time and hassle fiddling about for change. The options as far as I can tell are a Suica or Passamo card. It’s basically an Oyster card, but cuter.

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The preconception that most Japanese sleep on trains is accurate. I thought it must be their long work hours but people are at it in the middle of the day on weekends too! People are quiet and its mostly a nice temperature so it is ideal napping conditions to be fair.

Rush hour is a whole ‘nutha story. As someone who hates small spaces without an easy exit, I’ve struggled a bit with this one. If you thought the London underground was packed like sardines in a can, this is more like conjoined sardines in a thimble. Pushing people to get on/off is also totally normal and not deemed rude. I’m trying to get on board with it but occasionally throw out the odd evils by accident.

Japan has it right in so many ways. Every station has toilets, vending machines and sometimes even little shops to pick up some food. In theory, London could do with all that. In practice, those toilet seats would be nicked before you can say konnichi wa.

Another preconception; everybody wears those white surgical masks to prevent spreading/catching germs. Lots of people do, but also lots of people don’t. There you have it. Everyone DOES, however, own a transparent umbrella. Seriously there must have been some sort of sale at the ¥100 shop. It also makes finding YOUR umbrella in the stand outside shops/restaurants nigh on impossible.

The subway map isn’t too difficult to work out because station names are also written in “romaji” (standard alphabet) on some maps. However, once you’re outside..

It’s different to when I was in South America and could just translate words I wasn’t sure of on my phone. Now I have to figure out the pronunciation of the symbols, transcribe into romaji and THEN translate into English! Luckily I stayed up one night and learned Hiragana  – one of THREE alphabets, decidedly not the one with 40,000 characters. All of a sudden I went into the bathroom and could read things! Next stop: understanding.

I really recommend this website (click) if you fancy giving it a shot. It helps you remember each symbol pictorally by associating it with what it looks like. E.g. “の” = “no”, and it kinda looks like a “no” smoking sign. So now I can read some signs, albeit very s-l-o-w-l-y and like a child. Chris & I enrolled on a Japanese language course starting next Monday, so excited to work my way up to conversational level.

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We also moved in to our new apartment – it’s been a big week! All the rooms here have these awesome daylight-mimicking dimmer lights (so I can stay up and procrastinate for even MORE hours without feeling groggy – hurrah!). Everything is so diddy in this country. Our kettle is small and round, the bath is a sit-up one, even the shopping baskets at the supermarket next door look like it was bought for a child as part of a “lets play shops” set. I love it!

Another myth about Tokyo (to follow on from my last post) is that it’s immensely polluted. Considering it’s the most populous metropolitan city in the world, I’m pretty impressed with the (at least seemingly) clean air and blue skies. I know people are going to contradict that, but as this article (click) says, …”the picture many people have of Tokyo dates back to the ‘ 60s and early ‘ 70s when there was a rapidly growing industry and population, and cars with no emission controls. However, over the past 20 years, very strict auto and industrial emission controls have been phased in. A vast fortune has been spent on new subways and sewage-treatment scheme.” Also, it seems like every man and his dog owns a bicycle over here. I live in constant fear of getting mowed down by one on the pavement. (I’ve had a few hairy moments).

 

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 You stick the whole sardine on a mini table-top BBQ and eat it. ALL OF IT.

One of my favourite parts of travel is the foooooood. Japan definitely wins this one, 99% of the food I’ve tried is 100% delicious. Last night I went to an ‘izakaya’ with some old students who I taught in Oxford. It’s a great place to sign yourself up for the ‘nomehoudai’, which translates to “bottomless cup”. Basically, all you can drink for around ¥1000-¥2000 (5-10 pounds). You can order a full on meal here or do what most people do and share dishes, tapas style. If you just want to pick at something you can order one of many “*” dishes. These are things that go well with a beer, like wasabi edamame beans!

* Right okay so I wanted to impress everyone with this word for “beer snack food appetiser thing” but I’ve forgotten so have an asterisk instead.

Tipping is considered taboo here which is quite a relief as it takes the pressure off everyone involved I think. Just give a little bow of the head and a “gochiso sama!” should you feel so inclined.

 

wpid-2015-04-30-00.24.51.jpg.jpegOf course I have an izakaya membership card… 

Getting in to the restaurant itself can be an interesting experience. It took a few embarrassing pushes and shoves to open the door before realising the handle was actually some sort of button made of magic that activated the automatic sliding door. This can be extra interesting on the way out, after a few drinks, when you forget.

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The other day Chris and I ate at this small place where everyone sits on stools around a circular bar, and orders food via a machine with lots of buttons which then gets cooked in the kitchen at the back and brought to you. This strange contraption came with my meal. A frantic Facebook message to one of my students later and I discovered it’s a little pepper/sesame seed dispenser. God this place is wonderfully weird.

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If you’re thinking of making the move to J-land, keep reading this blog because I’ll throw out some tips as I go along; tips I wish I had in the beginning! For example, when you get to the airport you’ll need to register at the passport desk (not if you’re only coming for a holiday). They’ll issue you with a residence card which will magically have a colour version of the photo you used for your visa. Please learn from my mistake and choose a nice one where you don’t look like a sunburnt ginger lion.

Once you find a place to live you’ll need to visit a city ward office and change the address on your card. Go early to avoid queues. (Actually we went sodding early and still had to wait ages. Take a book.)

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They also gave us a huge pamphlet on how to correctly recycle our rubbish. Oh my gyoza they’re big on recycling over here. There’s me being perplexed.

 

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Yum.

Another tip is to bring some essentials with you in the way of pills, ointments, etc. Health care stuff. You CAN buy it here but unless you can read Japanese or have a friend who does, it can be a little difficult. Chris came down with a horrible cold and fever on the first few days, so I was super thankful to have my Mary Poppins bag of (legal) drugs.

 

That’s it from me for today! Here are another couple of videos of the past week:

 

 

 

 

Although it was frightening at first, I’m so glad I pushed through and am enjoying myself. Life is short, live live live!

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? ~Mary Oliver

EDIT: *********************

* Otsumami! (おつまみ) This is the elusive word I was looking for. It loosely translates to “snacks” which are casually eaten with alcohol – it’s a small dish not too dissimilar from the tapas-style dishes in Spain.

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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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