Monday, 26 January 2015

Japan Journals: Tokyo

Good Day Everyone, 

Today’s post is going to be a looong one as I bring you the last of my Japan Journals so you may want to grab a cup of tea/coffee before continuing ;o). If you'd like to refresh your memory then you can read about the previous Japan Journal here.
We left Kyoto late Wednesday morning and caught the bullet train to Tokyo, the last stop of our trip. The journey was just under three hours and along the way we manage to get a good glimpse of Mount Fuji from the train :o)
The snow capped peak of Mount Fuji in the distance

Upon arriving in Tokyo we got a taxi to our hotel.We stayed at the Mitsui Garden Hotel Ginza Premiere, in Ginza which is a great shopping area of Tokyo…think Oxford Street London. After not being overly impressed with the Mitsui Garden Hotel Kyoto Shijo, I was a little apprehensive as we were staying four nights at this one. I was hoping that the word 'Premier' was actually going to mean something ;o) I needn’t have worried, it did. This particular Mitsui Garden hotel looked like it had been recently renovated. The room was very small but not as small as the one in Kyoto, plus it had a huge window to let in plenty of day light. Again there wasn’t much room to open our suitcases but we managed.
The smallest double bed we've ever slept in

As with the previous hotels, robes were provided as well as toiletries and tea/coffee making facilities. It is worth noting that the complimentary teas provided in our room were always green and other herbal teas. There was no English breakfast tea. My hubby bought a little box of English tea bags in Osaka which then travelled with us lol. 
The bathroom was small but clean and modern. We had a separate shower and bath tub. It was a Japanese style tub which means it was pretty small. I loved the Shiseido toiletries that were provided. However, I soon realised that the same words can mean very different things here in Japan. Following my shower I opened one of the complimentary Shiseido sachets that was labelled lotion expecting it to be a skin lotion (moisturiser) but what came out of the sachet was more like water! After a bit of Googling I soon realised that in Japan, lotion is what we refer to as a (facial) toner in the West. I have since gained a fair bit of insight into Japanese toiletries and skincare and realised that it's actually quite different.
The bath tub was enclosed within the shower/wet area
The hotel lobby is on the 16th floor of the building and with floor to ceiling windows it offered great views over Tokyo. We could even see Tokyo Bay from one of the windows and Tokyo Tower from another.
Tokyo Tower in the distance

A very thin and not so cheesy pizza

We had a quick pizza at the Karin bar in the hotel for lunch before heading out again. Now, I'm not a pizza person.. I know I know it sounds crazy, because who doesn't love pizza? That will be me! It is probably one of my least favourite foods but it was a staple on our trip to Japan as hubby and I are not sushi eaters nor big on meat or cooked fish. Luckily for me, most of the pizzas had a thin/crispy base which I prefer over deep pan and they weren't overly cheesy :o) The tomato sauce used on the pizzas was probably the most flavoursome tomato sauce I've ever tasted. Tomatoes taste great in Japan!

Later that day we used our JR Pass for the last time (it was only valid for 7 days) as we headed to Shibuya to meet a friend who lives in Tokyo, for dinner. Shibuya is known for its nightlife, neon lights, huge billboards and shopping. It is home to the pedestrian crossing made famous by the movie, Lost in Translation. The traffic lights turn red at the same time across lanes from every direction, and so pedestrians come pouring out onto the road from all around.

None of our hotel stays included breakfast and so on Thursday morning we headed out to explore the surrounding area, whilst simultaneously on the hunt for somewhere to have breakfast. We came across an American restaurant called Bubby’s at a nearby mall. Bubby’s do plenty of vegetarian options (which is what we prefer to eat) and has become a place that we regularly frequent since moving to Yokohama. The breakfast menu included a variety of pancakes, french toast, poached eggs and even nachos, as well as bagels and some meaty options.
Whilst having breakfast the weather had turned from a cloudy grey sky to a downpour of rain and we could tell it wasn’t going to relent anytime soon. We ended up having to buy an umbrella from a convenience store just so that we could do the 15min walk back to our hotel without getting completely drenched. We had intended on doing a day trip to see Mount Fuji but sadly the weather forecast was rain and cloudy for the remainder of our stay. All the online reviews and feedback from the Mount Fuji tour was that we needed to go on a clear day otherwise we wouldn’t see it properly. So that was a bit of a disappointment :o(.

After several hours of just chilling in our room and the hotel lobby, we were starting to get cabin fever. So we braved the rain with an umbrella each as we made our way to Omotesando to the one store that I had my heart set on visiting, Hakuhodo. Hakuhodo sell handmade makeup brushes that are highly regarded by makeup artists around the word. Since getting into makeup a couple of years ago, I really wanted to invest in some top quality makeup brushes, and you can't really beat Japanese craftsmanship.   

Staff at our hotel told us how to get to the nearest subway station and once there, I kid you not when I say it took us over an hour, in the pouring rain, to find this store when it was in fact no more than 10mins away from the subway station! Being an actual store, rather than a concession stand like in Osaka, we had imagined that it would be inside some large shopping mall as we were in a shopping area, but after walking up and down the same street three times we were starting to lose hope. We asked several passerbys and despite having the address in Japanese, not even the Japanese people we asked for help could find it, and they really tried. With our feet soaking wet, damp jeans clinging to our legs and my hair looking like I’d stuck my finger in an electric socket (rain does that to my hair) I told my hubby that I couldn’t take any more! We would have to come back another day. He, not wanting to be defeated by makeup brushes, refused to give up. We were walking down the same street for the fifth and final time when through my transparent umbrella a bright bit of orange on a pillar caught my eye. I'd recognise that shade of orange anywhere! We had found it…hallelujah! The store was on the third floor in some non-descript office building, set back from the road. Had I blinked at that moment then I would have missed the tiny bit of orange on the pillar, and we’d have walked straight past the building.

As the elevator doors opened into the store, all the rain, the wet feet and frizzy hair were forgotten, I was like a kid in a candy shop. My hubby, sensing that I may be some time, left me there as he went to a coffee shop in the building next door. I cannot put into words how happy I was, right there, in that moment. There was shelf after shelf, after shelf, of these beautiful hand crafted makeup brushes, which by the way, are cheaper than MAC makeup brushes and of a much higher quality. For fear of boring you, I’m going to leave it here on the Hakuhodo front. I may go into more detail in a future blog post or video, but needless to say I left the store a very happy girl…along with a Hakuhodo loyalty card ;o).

Walking back to the subway station, we stopped off at a couple of malls to do a bit more shopping and soon realised that it was late afternoon and we’d not eaten since breakfast. I didn’t need to eat… I had Hakuhodo to keep me satisfied but this wasn’t a sentiment shared by my hubby ;o) Whilst in a mall we came across a rather nice looking restaurant called Franzuya. It had comfy chairs and more importantly provided shelter from the rain outside. We had a lovely meal of bruschetta, pizza and mushroom risotto. The restaurant had a beautiful terrace with great views that we sadly couldn’t take advantage off due to the rain, but it’s definitely a place I would go back to in the summer. After the meal, we headed back to our hotel to get out of our soggy clothes and relax for the remainder of the evening.

Food at Franzuya
The next day I woke up in more pain than usual. Traipsing around in the cold rain the day before had taken a toll on my arthritic joints. I knew that if I didn't take it easy that day and rest my joints, I would risk getting worse and ruining the rest of our trip. So we took it easy on Friday and just stayed in the local area of Ginza. Plus the sky was quite grey with a little drizzle. Whilst I rested at the hotel with my hot water bottle (seriously I think I must have the world's most well traveled hot water bottle. I take her, yes her, everywhere with me), hubby went to explore the shops on the main shopping street in Ginza. I ventured out of the hotel around lunchtime and met hubby at the Uniqlo store. This store was spread over 11 floors! There was a whole floor dedicated to just T-Shirts! I picked up a few bits for my younger brother and hubby stocked up on a few staples as the prices were lower here than back in Singapore. We then came across an Italian and had, yes you guessed it, pizza for lunch. I then went back to the hotel to rest so that I would be well enough to go out in the evening whilst hubby shopped.

We ventured out early evening and went to a Turkish restaurant that we'd found online called, Konya, which was just a 10min walk from our hotel. It was so nice to have a break from pizza. By now, I was starting to miss the fresh fruit and vegetables that are abundantly available in Singapore but not so much in Japan. We enjoyed a lovely meze platter with some Turkish bread along with some cheese borek rolls, and there was even a salad on the menu, something that is not all that common in Japan. I cannot tell you how happy I was to have fresh vegetables. Hubby and I shared a main course of donner kebab that came with rice and some vegetables and salad. We finished our meal with some good old baklava. The presentation of the food was beautiful, something that we noticed at every place we ate at in Japan. We left the restaurant feel very satisfied. 
On Saturday, our last full day in Tokyo, the sun came out and my joints were feeling better. After a quick breakfast at Bubby's again, we headed out to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden to go and see the cherry blossoms one last time. Shinjuku Gyoen is one of Tokyo's largest and most popular parks. Historically the park was used by the Imperial Family for recreation and to entertain. However, the majority of the park was destroyed in World War II. It was eventually rebuilt and opened as a public park in 1949.
The park contains three gardens with the oldest being a traditional Japanese landscape garden. There is also a French garden and an English landscape garden. The park was incredibly busy with it being the weekend and sunny after two days of rain. We only managed to make our way around the Japanese garden before the weather turned again and we had to make our way back to the hotel.
The Japanese garden was breathtakingly beautiful. There was a large pond with Koi Carp fish that would swim to the surface and pop their little mouths open. The cherry blossom trees were a real feast for the eyes, ranging from white to various shades of pink including a bright intense cerise pink colour. The blossoms created a beautiful pink carpet on the ground as they were starting to fall from some of the trees.
The park was incredibly busy with many Japanese people celebrating the cherry blossom festival and the arrival of spring by having picnics with friends, family and work colleagues. The weather was quite cold but that didn't seem to stop people from sitting on the ground with their food and drink.

We ended our last night in Tokyo with a trip to the New York Bar & Grill at the Park Hyatt Hotel, again made famous by the movie, Lost in Translation. Being Saturday night the place was incredibly busy and so we were unable to get a table for dinner. Luckily though, there was a space for us to eat facing the open kitchen where we could watch the chefs at work. There wasn't much in the way of vegetarian options and so I ordered the salmon just so that hubby and I wouldn't be eating the exact same main course. The sides of mushrooms and mashed potatoes were delicious, and actually better than the main courses.

The restaurant offered the most amazing views of Tokyo at night from the 52nd floor, however, I would recommend not going on a Fri/Sat/Sun night simply because of how ridiculously busy it was... it kind of ruined the experience somewhat, which is why we didn't stop for dessert.
Our coach to the airport wasn't until the evening and so we spent Sunday doing some shopping and then relaxed at the hotel. On Sundays the main shopping street in Ginza is actually closed down to traffic and becomes a pedestrian only zone, including the road itself. It was quite strange walking in the middle of the road as we mooched along the shops. I couldn't imagine walking down the middle of the road on Oxford Street in London... could you?

I hope you enjoyed this blog post concluding our trip to Japan. It really was one of the best holidays we've ever had, albeit very tiring and a little cold for my liking ;o). Having said that, it was a dream come true for me to see the sakura (cherry blossoms). I guess the only outstanding thing from my Japan Journals is to share with you some of the things that we bought. I will try to do a blog post on that in the coming weeks.
I would highly recommend Japan to anybody. Having now experienced all the seasons by living here, I would say that the best time to come is during the cherry blossom season or autumn/fall when the leaves change colour. That is when you will see Japan in all it's natural glory. At those particular times of the year the Japanese gardens are breath takingly beautiful :o). It is a wonderful country and although the lack of English was a bit frustrating at times, the people are so friendly and helpful that you really needn't worry about the language. My only advice would be to research and plan your trip before arriving. I personally don't feel it is one of those destinations where you can take more of an ad hoc approach to exploring it, unless you have ample time and money ;o)

Love Sheen xxx
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