Tokyo Travels Part 3

In my final post on Tokyo (for now! as I am sure I will be back to Tokyo again and will be happy to share my tips with you) you can read about the following:

Where else to shop… ladies and gentlemen it is bargain hunting time

My best find during this visit…

For the couples and the romantic hearts out there…

Happy reading! I hope you will find something that interest and inspire you, and you will take up some of my recommendations the next time you are in Tokyo.

…and Dear Park Authority, if you read this entry I hope you will find the beauty of my story. Dear Reader, by the end of this post, the above will all make sense!

Where else to shop… ladies and gentlemen it is bargain hunting time

I covered the basics of Shibuya and mentioned Seria, Uniqlo and GÜ already in my first entry, though I will go on about Uniqlo a bit more here. Promise, solely for your benefit. Even if the brand is available in your country make sure that you check out the flagship store in Ginza. It is the largest in the world and has 12 floors, so guaranteed you will find something either for yourself or as a present. Bear in mind that this shop gets quite busy especially with the Chinese tourists who come on coaches for shopping trips. This area is is considered the Ginza shopping district, so can easily spend a day or two here shop hopping and bargain hunting.

Just remember that Uniqlo and some of the bigger stores also do a VAT exclusion for tourists. The Uniqlo offer is valid for any purchase over ¥5000, but you must have your passport with you, as they staple the receipt in there. Then all you need to do is to hand that slip in at a desk, just before you proceed to immigration at the airport. Ok, the VAT is not that much maybe around 8%, but if you are considering purchasing a few items then it all adds up.

Where to go for the Ginza shopping day out and for the largest Uniqlo in the world just head to Ginza’s main street Chuo Dori

Or cut and paste this into your Google map: Japan, 〒104-0061 東京都中央区銀座 ギンザコマツ 6−9−5 ギンザコマツ東館 1F-12F

Sunshine City – this is one of the department stores I visit every time I am in Tokyo, and is located in Ikebukuro. I used to get off at the main subway station at Ikebukuro, and fight my way through the crazy amount of people both under and over ground, but I must be getting subway savvy, or just got lucky this time (either way it works me). I was taking the Ginza line and noticed that the Y10 station aka Higashi Ikebukuro (just one station before Ikebukuro) had some signposts for Sunshine City. So off I jumped the metro and followed the signs. I was in the mall in less than 5 minutes, no big crowd, no hassle, just pure satisfaction! I think I nailed it, just as good as a local!

Now, I will tell you how on earth I ended up in this mall the first time, as it was not down to coincidence, but careful research and map reading. Believe me, you would probably not find this mall by luck! It is rather a mission in itself!

If you read my previous post on Tokyo, you might have gathered that in the family we have a thing going on for Studio Ghibli, and I really wanted to get some authentic souvenirs for Antoine. However, I read that the Ghibli museum was quite far out of the city, so was very happy when I came across a shop that was specialising in Studio Ghibli items. Since the first trip, we got a few more gismos, but still my favourite are these chopsticks. But even if you don’t buy anything, the shop worth a visit, not to mention, you can get a picture taken with Totoro waiting at the bust stop. Always fun 🙂     ( I know you probably wonder what the hell… )

You can find all Studio Ghibli characters here and the shop also sell Moomins gadgets

Our favourite chopsticks. I own the pair with Jiji, aka the black cat from Kiki’s delivery service.

The mall itself is not that known to tourists, or at least I have not seen a lot of them here, so you will mainly come across locals, which is also reflected in some of the fashion and items that are on offer. My favourite area though is the market hall within the mall, which is located at the far end on the lower level. I found some real gems in this area, though not every time I get lucky. The brand is called archives and is a tiny boutique within the market hall as you enter. Not everything is great here, but I found the best tulle skirt (yes the ballerina type tutus) here. I started off with a navy blue and I liked them so much that since I bought a khaki green and an off white during the follow up visits. So basically, I bought the skirt in every colour that it has been ever made in! I get so many compliments and the skirts are really nicely done, you have two layers of soft tulle and finally an underskirt that is not 20 cm shorter than your actual skirt!

Even if you are not a girlie girl, you will love these tulle ballerina skirts. I wear my navy blue with a navy blue top and a black leopard ankle boots, just to rock it up a bit, or wear the khaki one with my gold top for a more dress up look.

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Who said only little girls get to wear tutu skirts?

This time unfortunately the shop did not have anything exciting, but this will not prevent me from returning and checking the stock next time I am in Tokyo. And to my luck I stumbled across archives’ outlet store, where I managed to get some shopping done. Read along if you are interested.

Another shop that is also worth checking out and is in the market hall area is the retro girl. I got this top there for ¥1800 in May, well before the off shoulder craze hit the stores. Anyhow, the pattern and style is classic, so I am sure I will use it for a good few years.

What else is in Sunshine City… You have a 3 coins store, where everything is ¥300, and right next to it there is a shop with cute home decoration items. The variety of ladies accessories is also endless here, and they are normally a great bargain. The place is also great for getting everything you may need for a Halloween or fancy dress party. Although I am talking about the actual clothes and accessories and not the cheap mock off that you can order online or find in fancy dress shops. The price and the selection could not be compared to what you would find back at home, not to mention that your outfit would be unique. Once, I was planning to dress up as a Harajuku girl for Halloween, believe me finding the right things for it in Dubai, was not easy or cheap, and was very much cursing myself why I was not thinking of this idea whilst I was in Japan!!!

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So you could end up rocking an outfit similar to this stylish Japanese tiny teen. Be brave, I am with you!

Two more things about this place…

Make sure you wonder around the stage area in the middle of the mall. They seem to have always something on. This time I came across a traditional drum show, which I really enjoyed.

Secondly… Have you ever had a bubble tea or any variation of it? Well, if you are in Asia, it is a must, and this cute little Moomins bubble teashop makes a great selection. I opted for the strawberry milk version! Happy slurping! Now you feel like blending in, right?

 

Where to go for Sunshine City: 3 Chome-1 Higashiikebukuro, 豊島区 Tokyo 170-0013, Japan . And don’t forget my tip on getting off at Higashi Ikebukuro. Believe me, it will make your life so much easier. Once you are done with Sunshine City, check out Tokyu Hands that is next to the mall. It is a bit hard to explain what to expect from this department store, lets just say you can buy everything here from hobby and craft materials to travel gadgets and magic trick accessories. So chances of you finding what you need ( and don’t need ) is very very high!

OIOI – at Ueno. This department store would be my other recommendation for shopping. It is one of my new discoveries and I was very happy with myself. Go there if you are interested in more grown up and sophisticated fashion, and also for shoes!!! My big problem with Japanese shoes has always been that they seemed to be catering either for the youngsters made out of PVC with rocket high platforms, or the grandmothers with comfortable and ugly design. I always felt a bit sad that I could not get any nice and unique design combined with leather material. But good news, this store finally understands my needs! Not saying it is cheap, but for once my eyes could have a feast on the display.

This department store is also the home of the archives outlet. Sorry ladies, can’t remember which floor it was on, but at least you have an excuse to check out the whole place. I ended up with this peach beauty for a ¥1900 and even though this skirt is lacking the same drama effect compared to my others due to the fact that it has only one layer of tulle, the colour compensates for a lot.

 

I left the best shopping find last, hopefully that was not a mistake, and you are still reading the article.

So here it goes, the best bargain I’ve found in the city.Tokyo City Flea Market – apart from my picnics I am also a practicing enthusiast when it comes to flea markets. I think I just love a good old bargain hunt and the market experience. Unfortunately some vendors have a ‘special’ price for the tourists so please be sceptical about that; still, you can find some good buys.

First I was a bit disappointed as I missed out on a good few markets as they are either organised on the first or last weekend of each month, and of course I ended up being in Tokyo on the middle two. C’est la vie, and I just did some more research, then persistence just payed off. So this beauty is held every Saturday and Sunday. Apparently it is only cancelled in case of rain. It opens at 9am and even though the official closing hour is 3pm, I found that lot of the vendors were gone by 2pm. On Saturday I had a nice stroll around the market bought a pre-loved gorgeous silk kimono, which I just love, especially the colours, and if you know how much a kimono cost new in a shop, you will love the prices here.

 

I was hesitating about a leather bag, but at the end I left it. Had some street foods they sold at the market and headed back to the city for some strolling around.

Of course the following day I still had the leather bag on my mind, and when I popped into Zara and saw all the fake leather bags for ridiculous amount, I knew I had a new mission of returning and finding that leather bag! I think it was good job that I was all by myself as I raced through the whole town, being the market at the opposite end of the city to where I had just experienced this moment of enlightenment, as I could have appeared slightly obsessive to anyone experiencing these moments with me. But as they say, need is a must!

Don’t want to create suspension for too long, so let’s just say I found THE BAG, even though the vendor was at a different spot on Sunday, plus bought three more! Among which I had a vintage Nina Ricci handbag and a Loui Gioune cute little doctors bag. Well, they are pre loved and the Loui Gioune may not have years in left in it, but as long as it is holding together I will cherish every moment with it and wear it proudly. Oh, and did I mention that I paid ¥200 each, minus my leather satchel bag, that was a ¥1000.

So ladies, I think we can conclude that listening to our intuition pays off, literally, on this occasion. The bags from left to right, the vintage Nina Ricci, the Loui Gioune and super soft leather satchel that I had to go back for.

After my Sunday market visit I am now also a proud owner of this very heavy and quite unpractical to carry, but regardless, beautiful glass plate. Sold and bought for ¥100 at the moment of everyone packing up! I think in technical terms, this is what you might literally call a closing deal! And apart from Antoine having nearly a heart attack for having to carry this heavy beauty all over the airport, it is now a nice central piece in our kitchen.

Overall I think it was lucky that I returned on Sunday as there were much more vendors compared to Saturday, and I think I managed to bag some great bargains. But I let you be the judge of that. Antoine also got some souvenirs, a grey summer scarf and a vintage Apollo lighter from the 1960’ s that turned out to have a tiny fault as the gas valve leaks, but we (I am) not giving up on it yet, and will try to get it fixed.

The lighter and the famous glass plate; let the picture not fool you about the size of our 4kgs plate!

How to get there: From Hamamatsucho station take the monorail towards Haneda airport and get off at Oi Keibajo Mae, though be careful as the rapid trains may not stop at this station. Once you are out of the station turn left and carry on walking until you walk past the Oi Racecourse on your left. Then you should arrive in a couple of minutes.

Watch out for this sign, and just to prove that it wasn’t only me obsessed with the bags!

My best find during this visit must be a hidden oasis in this big city; the Hibuya park. I love to visit parks during city breaks, especially to rest my aching legs in between doing an average 10km walks every day, soak in a bit of sunshine and watch the world go by.

Hibuya is actually the best park I came across in Tokyo. It is hidden among the office buildings in the area, and as tourists normally opt for the Imperial Palace next door, Hibuya Park does rarely get discovered and enjoyed. However, it is a popular site with the local people especially during lunch hours from the nearby offices, so expect bench sharing between the hours of 12pm and 2pm. The park is well maintained and has a number of different areas you can enjoy. On day 1 I only strolled around the water fountain section and spent a good few hours enjoying my strawberry milk and writing a nice letter to Antoine for our anniversary by using the traditional Japanese pen, and no I did not get  funny looks, or at least I did not notice! The same day I also discovered the Western style rose garden, and a tiny little pub where you can enjoy a cold Asahi close to the exit on the Imperial Palace side.

The second time I’ve visited the park that week, I also found the corner lake with the turtles and raised sidewalk with benches overlooking the park. This became really my favourite spot. Once Antoine arrived, I also introduced him to this place, where we enjoyed a nice al fresco lunch from Lawson with a small bottle of champagne to compensate for the slightly stale bread we had to put up with.

What I also found out that on the outdoor stage next to the fountain area the Tokyo Police Orchestra was giving a free concert between the hours of 12pm- 1pm on a Wednesday. I was planning to go back the following week to see if this was a regular event, but missed out on it. So if you are there, please go and check and let me know if it is definitely a weekly programme. The stage is quite big and I expect that there is a lot of good programmes organised here for free.Enjoy the cultural experience and the blending in with the locals!

The best spot in the park together with the heart shape cut out on the tree trunk that only noticeable from a certain angle.

For the couples and the romantic hearts out there…

My last item is going to be on a rather personal and sloppy topic, though I feel the need to tell you this, if I had already shared so much about Tokyo. Let me explain… I was in Tokyo in May 2015 with Antoine, and we spent the day separately. Not sure what Antoine was doing, I was probably doing some shop hopping. Either way, I fully support the idea of some ‘me time’ even on our holidays together. Plus it is also nice to return home aka to the hotel room in a different country and knowing that someone is waiting for you. Well, this time, Antoine just did that, but with a huge pot of beautiful blue hydrangea. It is really my favourite flower and was very surprised to see a live plant on the bedside table in the hotel room as I entered. Although the issue of what we were going to do with the plant arose quickly, as we could not take live plants to our next destination.

So Antoine suggested that he would plant it. He walked forever, but finally found a great spot in the middle of Tokyo. He used a spoon and dag a new home to our plant. And this is how we ended up with a little part of us living now in Tokyo.

I was actually shocked to see how busy the spot was that Antoine had found! Even to take picture with our plant I feel sometimes embarrassed about, and Antoine was kneeling there and digging with a spoon probably for hours! So really, all my respect goes to him. He may not get an A for practicality, but for being a romantic soul, definitely. Every time we return to Tokyo, we visit our plant. We were glad to see that it survived the winter, and the park attendants did not remove it either. In fact it has turned into a big and happy plant by now, as Antoine says, it represents our love!

I am not saying that you should all plant things on your holiday; I am purely sharing our story with you and how new traditions, even if fairly unconventional ones may develop, in the name of love and travelling.

2015 and then in 2016. The beautiful blue has turned into beautiful lilac due to the soil composition.

 

-THE END-

 

So what is next you may rightly ask? Well, I have more on Japan, but before you cry out loud, let me just say that only a couple of short entries on Osaka and Kyoto. After that, I am planning Thailand and Bali, and the rest is surprise for now, but luckily my travel schedule is looking busy! So plenty of exciting destinations are coming up not to mention a birthday special. Hence I hope to see you back here!

Tokyo travels Part 1

Whilst writing this post I decided to publish the Tokyo entry in two, maybe three posts, as it turned out, I had so much to share with you. So in your best interest, and so you don’t already get overwhelmed by reading my first entry (would be a real shame for both of us), here comes my Tokyo recommendation in smaller chunks:

In Part 1 you can read about:

Where to stay…

What to do; the usual spots but with a twist, which you will not find by reading traditional tourist books and websites

Early summer special; what not to miss if you are in Japan at end of May to mid-June

Yet to come in the following Tokyo posts:

Where to eat…

A bit of culture… aka where to hang out when you feel like being a kid and when you don’t mind acting like an adult (the second part will also work for sweeping ladies off their feet)

Where else to shop… ladies and gentlemen it is bargain hunting time

My best find during this visit…

For the couples and the romantic hearts out there…

 

So, Part 1 here we go!

I never really felt a thing about Asia, and knew a very little about Japan. Then two years ago I thought I would visit Hong Kong for my birthday and do a joint trip either combined with China or Japan. Apparently Antoine always had a thing about Japan and persuaded me to visit Japan instead of China. He was planning to tag along and what can I say, I gave in… Since then I also turned into an enthusiast; had my first sake and explored the so many great and crazy things that Japan has to offer. This must have been my seventh trip and I hope there will be many more.

From Dubai, it was still a bit far, but from Hong Kong, it is only 4 hours, so give me a middle seat on the plane any time, I am on my way!

Where to stay:

Ask Antoine and he will tell you that I am a creature of habits, but so is he, actually, aren’t we all? So, in Tokyo, I stay in the Mitsui Garden Shiodome Italia Gai every time I visit. The rooms are probably the standard sized Tokyo hotel rooms, so don’t expect a mansion, but the rates are good, the place is clean and has a Japanese bath on the top floor (sorry I haven’t tried that one yet, too busy with exploring the city). Plus, I love the location. It is very convenient for Haneda airport, you can get there in less than 20 minutes on the monorail without changing lines, which can be a lifesaver if you are with big bags not to mention it will only cost you ¥490 and of course you can use your Suica card! Oh, and the monorail station is actually in the airport terminal, not bad, right?

Plus this area has great metro and train connections as has two stations 5 minutes walk away from the hotel (Hamamatsucho and Daimon stations); so you are linked with the JR Yamanote and Keihin-Tohoku lines and the Tokyo Metro Asakusa and Oedo lines.

I also love the narrow quiet streets and the mostly residential area with some great places to eat and drink out. There are also plenty of 7/11’s, Lawsons’ and coffee shops around to help you out in the mornings or late at night. Although Antoine would be slightly more knowledgeable on the nearby coffee shops as he is normally on breakfast duties. Also, on your doorsteps and walking distance from the hotel are the Hamarikyu Gardens, the Tsukiji fish market, the Ginza shopping area and the World Trade Centre Building, which has a great observatory. So thanks Daniela for recommending me this hotel 2 years ago, I think I must have become one of their best returning customers.

One notion of advice though, there is an on-going construction next to one of the hotel wings that will be on until November 2016 however, it is okay, they start at 7-8 am in the mornings and Sundays are off for the workers.

I also recommended this place to my friends, who loved the place. (and yes, they also stayed there whilst the construction was on.)

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Little streets around the hotel with plenty of traditional Japanese restaurants and bars to explore, be brave!

What to do in Tokyo:

I will not bore you with the usual things that you can find on Google in no time, though I will tell you those places where I always go back regardless how many times I am visiting Tokyo, and what I have newly discovered about them.

Asakusa area:

Senso-ji – I like the atmosphere of the place, minus the crowd that can be found there. Try to approach the area from the Matsugaya side, less touristy and you should come across a small market too. They sell good quality and good priced samue; the traditional work clothing of Japanese Zen Buddhist monks, which is a set of trousers and top made from linen or cotton. Your male friends and relatives might appreciate that more than a kimono as a present. I know Antoine did!

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Asakusa, Sensoji, large incense burner in front of the main hall of the temple

One thing I also discovered this time in this area, after a lot of research for a great anniversary present, is the Kappabashi kitchen town. It is amazing! A long street of kitchen supplies you would ever need and beyond! The selection of chopping boards, glasses and ceramics are beyond your imagination and those colours and shapes! Shame about the luggage allowance, I sighed, and looked away.

What I ended up buying was hopefully a great present for my personal French chef. A 63 layered Damascus blade Gyuto (210mm) and a Santoku (175mm). They are not only beautiful, but also comfortable to handle, even for people with larger hands, and cut everything through as if it was butter. See?

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After hours of research on knife types and blades it was a close call between some fine Powder steel and Damascus blade chef knives. Tamahagane Damascus won. Top knife is the Gyuto and bottom one is the popular Santoku shape.

The trick, as I read, was not to buy the knives on the high street. So true! There is a considerable difference in the prices. The two shops I have visited and considered to purchase from was Union Commerce and Tsubaya. They both have over a 1000 knives to select from, so do your research before you step in the shop. I ended up purchasing from Union Commerce at the end, and thank you to the shop owner for his patience and detailed information. If you are unsure what to get, the great thing is that the two shops are opposite to each other, so you can just go back and forth until you make your decision.

Oh, and I also bought these for a bit of fun! I love Christmas and gingerbread man on the Christmas tree, and since we now have two shelter dogs as part of our family (Biscuit and Coco(pops)) I thought they also deserve to be represented on the tree this year.

The funny thing is you can buy all shapes and sizes, not just animals. I was also considering a frog for my Frenchman and an octopus for me ( as apparently my grumpiness can resemble one) but had to draw a line somewhere. Although I bought an extra set for my friend who adores dogs and have a cocker spaniel and a rescued dog as well. She is yet to receive the little gift, but I am sure she will be touched, not to mention that I think I nailed a unique and personal gift for her.

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I went for a standard dog shape and a cocker spaniel. Can’t wait for Christmas to use them.

So, I am not even the cook in the house (with a Frenchman on the side it is probably not surprising), but I think I am in love with this area, and everyone will be, you can find everything here, even the plastic food samples that the Japanese are quite obsessed with, and consider it as a form of art. Happy kitchen equipment exploring and don’t forget to buy some small sake or teacups sets.

How to get there: (you can approach the area from three metro stations, Asakusa (Tokyo metro Asakusa and Ginza line), Tawaramachi (Ginza line) and Inaricho (Ginza line). If you are not the best navigator and not comfortable deciding which metro exit to take out of the twelve options that is on offer (people visiting and living in Asia, I am sure you can relate to this) then go for your safest bet and go for Inaricho, which has only one exit! Once you are on the day light cross the road and carry on straight, Kappabashi will be sign posted on your left after about 5 minutes walk, oh and on the way there is a very pretty papyrus shop, not cheap, but really beautiful. Worth just popping your head in the shop, even if you don’t buy anything. (sorry, probably worth mentioning that I was coming from Ginza, so if you are coming from Asakusa on the metro, you will be on the opposite side of the road, so bear that in mind).

And Asakusa continues – so much to see and do here, maybe I should have done a separate post just for this!

I was researching shops to see where I can get some good bargains. I have to admit I like my bargain hunts. Of course I knew Daiso, a Japanese shop where everything is a set price of around ¥100 (plus tax) as we had it in Dubai as well, and I also came across the 3 coins shop before, which means everything is ¥300 (plus tax). But the new discovery was Seria. Again a ¥100 shop, aka everything costs ¥100 plus tax, and I just loved it. You can buy everything from ceramics, kitchen supplies to stationary and gardening gadgets. Ok, you will probably end up buying more things that you originally opted for, but there are a lot of cool things, and being in Japan mean you have a lot of gizmos that you didn’t know existed and are there to make your life more comfortable. This shop is also huge and not as crowded or tourist filled. Next door there is a shop where you can buy Studio Ghibli souvenirs.

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Japanese girls shopping for Studio Ghibli souvenirs

I also popped into the ¥300 shop, one floor down, on the sixth floor. They have a smaller selection and variety than Seria, but they seem to be big on the decorative items and some of the items were better quality than in Seria. I ended up buying us another picnic blanket there. I couldn’t find the cute French bulldog pattern that I had previously seen in the 3 coins shop in Sunshine city, but was happy with this design. They are so durable, and so light. We take our picnic blanket on all our trips, as you never know when you find the perfect spot to have a royal spread out in the nature. Oh, read my next Tokyo entry for finding the best picnic spot in Tokyo. Again, trialled and tested.

Another shop that I discovered in this department store, just by poor luck, again on the 6th floor, was a mini train and model shop. For those of you with the inner child in them or with a model enthusiast in the family, don’t forget to visit this shop. They seemed to have a great selection of everything that is needed for this hobby and by paying a small amount you can sit by the live mini rail and press some buttons (I guess some control buttons). I am not a keen mini rail enthusiast myself ( you can probably tell), but I know someone who is, haha, of course it is Antoine, so I couldn’t past this shop without taking a few pictures. He was impressed with the variety, and told me he needed the HQ version, not that I know what that means, but I added it to my list of gift ideas for the future. Oh yes, I have this list. Whenever I have an idea what he might like, or he actually says something he would like, I add it to this list. So when it comes Christmas or any other occasion, I don’t have a nervous breakdown what I should get for him. Do I sound like a geek or a well-organised grandma? Please, don’t answer!

 

I ended up with these from Seria; my second picnic blanket with a cute black and white design and some bags for the kitchen

 

Where to go: MISE EKIMISE Asakusa department store; Seria is on the 7th floor. In the department store there is a Uniqlo as well. Within the same building, on the 2nd floor, there is the train station, whilst in the basement you can find the Tokyo Metro, both the Asakusa and Ginza line. Super convenient.

Shibuya:

I always go back to Shibuya and of course stop by Shibuya 109 to check out the latest craze and fashion in Japan. Not sure, if I have ever bought anything in there, as it tends to be a bit too young for me, but I just love the atmosphere. By accident, I also discovered the best background for crazy selfies. On this occasion, I had the time, so went up to the top floor (8th floor) and there by the toilet I found this mural. Happy picture taking 🙂

 

There is also a Uniqlo behind Shibuya 109,in case you need to do some more shopping. In this area, what I also found last time was a cat café. It was a bit crazy, as there are strict rules to follow once you enter, and most of the cats were wearing a collar already, meaning that they had their daily petting already. Others, of course, were asleep, which meant again that we couldn’t touch them, but there are no regrets on my or Antoine’s side that we did it and invested a couple of thousand yen in the process. The owner is a strict lady, so watch out to follow all the rules, as otherwise you may end up getting into trouble. But the tea/coffee that is included in the price were nice, and seriously, if not in Japan, where else you are going to do such a crazy thing?! Maybe go in the morning, cats might be more active then, or at least they are not going to wear the collars yet.

 

From Shibuya 109, I normally stop by the huge Forever21 and there is a Zara nearby as well. It is then easy to walk towards Harajuku. I have a usual route, which has some funky shops that I always like to check out like niko and … TOKYO , where you can also grab a coffee and relax and a t-shirt shop with a huge collection of original designs for men, ladies and kids.

This time I also came across a shop called Wednesday Alice Tokyo and I wish I had gone inside. It looked very cool from the outside and just like in the Alice in Wonderland story, you had to go through a door that was much smaller and required you to bend down a bit. Apparently they sell quirky accessories and sweets, and probably no surprise to you if I say that the inside of the shop also follows the Alice in Wonderland theme. So there is already something on the ‘to do list’ for me, for the next time I am in Tokyo.

If you carry on the same street you will get to the crossing of Meijijingu-Mae Tokyo metro station, a few more shops to check out here, including some vintage clothes stores on the corner of the main crossing. If you are interested in Harajuku and the Yoyogi Park including the Meiji Shrine, I would leave that for another day. There is so much to see and discover in that area.

Ueno:

Ueno is also an area where I normally go back to. I usually get off at Okachimachi station (Yamanote line) and start my journey in Uniqlo and GÜ ( two clothing stores where you can get some cotton and linen basics for good price for ladies/men and kids as well). So once I tackled these two shops I take the small roads parallel to the metro line and walk along the market. You can buy anything from sports shoes, cosmetics to food here. I think there are also a couple of Kebab shops on the way, in case you cannot handle any more raw fish. This time I opted for a Tempura chain, though I pointed at the wrong picture and ended with more fishy stuff than I bargained for. Would I go back? Probably not, but was worth trying it once, not to mention it was super cheap.

So once I get to the Ueno end I cross the road and go to the Ueno Park. There is the Tokyo Zoo, together with some museums in the park itself. Apparently, it is also one of the best spots to see the cherry blossoming, but I have to admit I have never made it that time of the year, even though this was probably my fifth visit to the place. Regardless, it is a nice area to walk around, see some of the shrines and some beautiful hydrangea. Or you can do what I did this time, just sit along the road on the curb, soak in some sunshine and watch the Japanese and some of the tourist enjoying their walks.

 

On my way back I opted for a route that I have never taken before and ended up at the Shinobazu pond. You can rent a boat here and enjoy the water lilies. Ok, I missed the full blossoming time, but can you imagine going there when the whole pond is covered with the beautiful green leaves and the pink flowers. Definitely worth a visit! So if you are in Tokyo any time between May to September, try this spot for a breath-taking view.

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Water lily field on Shinobazu pond

Best picnic spot:

I have this thing about doing a picnic pretty much on all our trips. It is great; you stop rushing around, take a break from the hours of walking, and enjoy some nice food and sunshine, of course, if you pick the right day. Although the issue with Japanese parks is that most of the time you are not allowed to sit on the grass, and a picnic on the bench, is not the same in my book. One place we found where you can sit and relax in the grass was the Imperial Palace, so if you plan to visit, pack some snacks and take something to sit on.

During this visit I also came across a nice and quiet spot by the riverbank. It was great, there were hardly any people around, so felt very relaxing and special with our little spread that we improvised from the 7/11 nearby the hotel, together with the indispensable Veuve Clicquot that Antoine got at the airport.

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Picnic is over, Antoine is ready to feed the fish

How to get there: From Hamamatsucho station take the monorail towards Haneda airport and get off at Oi Keibajo Mae, though be careful as the rapid trains may not stop at this station. Once you are out of the station turn right and cross the Katsushima bridge, and voilà, you got yourself a cute little picnic spot for the day. There are also areas for barbecuing and fishing, though I don’t assume you have packed your kit with you. Still, I enjoy watching people doing some fishing, and we have seen plenty of fish coming to the surface.

Oi Racecourse, is also visible from the platform, so if you are into horse racing, check out their schedule and come back for more.

What not to miss if you are in Japan early summer:

I was browsing about what to do in Tokyo and I came across the programme of watching the fireflies (hotaru) at night. I had no idea what they were, as it is not common in any of the countries I lived before. Then Antoine remembered me that we saw it in some of the Studio Ghibli, Japanese cartoons.

It was a truly unique experience, and it seems it was also an activity that was highly ranked by the locals, as there was so many people there. We actually opted to see the fireflies in the Sankeien garden in Yokohama. Yokohama is the second biggest city in Japan, and from the hotel we managed to get there in about 40 minutes on the JR Keihin-Tohoku/ Negishi Rapid Line. You can board the train at Hamamatsucho station. The park was lovely, and we ended up spending a good few hours walking around and even having dinner at the kiosk there. Sorry, no pictures of the actual fireflies, as you have to have very good cameras to show them, but please Google them: you will not be disappointed. It was a truly unique and magical experience. Apparently the arrival of the fireflies marks the beginning of the summer, so your best bet to see them is around end of May and beginning to mid June. (entry cost: ¥500 per person) Closest stations are Yamate and Negishi, approximately 40 minutes from Hamamatsucho station.

 

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The garden was so pretty with the lights at night, the photos really do not do justice to it

That is it for now, happy exploring! For more on Tokyo, please visit back in a week time.