We woke up on this day to a few tweets and texts asking if we were alright as there had been a 7 point something aftershock in Tokyo. Not only did we not feel it (though at one point Luke rolled over in bed & I thought it was an earthquake) but that day we were moving even further away from Sendai as we were off to Miyajima Island.

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Not before scooting around the covered shopping streets of Kyoto and buying an AMAZING vintage 70’s silk kimono for £35. Japanese people generally consider 2nd hand things ‘vulgar’ (though I’m sure lots of younger generation Japanese people probably don’t). The mega bonus of this is that things like kimonos – which are often made for specific special events and sometimes never worn again, you can pick up in a 2nd hand store for a tiny fraction of what it would’ve cost originally. This one that I bought (and I spent a long time deciding which one to buy) is just so beautiful. It has a geometric line pattern, with a hidden pattern of butterflies that you can only see when the light shines on them in a certain way. The lining has an ombre dye at the edges and I think the entire thing is hand-stitched. It’s a proper work of art. And I got it for £30 and the Obi for £5. I know I’m not wearing it properly in the photo but I just wanted you to get an idea of it.


Luke bought a bunch of chopsticks that look like colouring pencils and he was as pleased with that purchase as I was with my kimono. The markets of Japan are really a lot of fun. I like how they mix up food with clothes, electronics and everything. And there’s no haggling, praise be. I am too British for all that.

So, after that we headed to the station to catch another bullet train, this time all the way to Hiroshima.


2 hours to travel 237 miles.

For lunch we picked up a bento box from the station. The Japanese equivalent of a baguette from Upper Crust or a Boots Meal Deal. It was quite excellent really. I would like to eat it right now.

Another train and a ferry to the island (all included on the JR Pass) got us to the port on Miyajima where it was raining more than it had done at any other time during the trip. It became apparent that I would have to call the ryokan we were staying in and get them to come pick us up. It’s a service they offer to all their guests, but if it had been a clear day I think we might’ve tried to walk it. With the rain hammering down there was no way we’d make it there in any decent state so I steeled myself to use the phone in the port. The numbers of all the hotels were handily on the board next to the phone. I prepared myself for my first phone conversation in Japanese. It went like this:

“konichiwa! watashi Nadia des”


“hai, hai!”

Then she said something which I assumed was about sending the car, and I said please and thank you about four times.

Amazingly, thanks to the incredible ability of humans to communicate even without really making sense, the little car arrived to take us and our luggage to Momiji-so ryokan in the heart of the national park. The roads are tiny & very windy & the driver didn’t care who knew it. Thankfully it was only a 5 minute drive otherwise I may have spewed my boxed lunch all over a national heritage site.

Staying here was our greatest expense of the whole trip. It cost something like £300 for one night, which included a traditional dinner & breakfast. The price is so high because there are very few places to stay on the island. It gets a lot of daytrippers, but to actually stay overnight you have a very limited choice and obviously this keeps prices up. There are some cheaper options, some friends of mine stayed last year in a place they said was about £90pppn but I can’t remember the details.

This ryokan is the real deal for a traditional Japanese inn experience. It is located in the actual park, has only 6 rooms & is run by a teeny old woman who is by turns totally adorable and completely terrifying.


As soon as we arrived they carried our luggage to our room and she served us some frothy matcha tea and one of the local cakes in the shape of a maple leaf at the little table and chairs overlooking a river in the forest. It was so lovely. There was a koi pond on the other side of the room and you could hear the water running into it. It was almost like the most deluxe camping you could do. All the beauty of nature, all the comforts of being inside.


Dinner was to be served at 6pm so we had a couple of hours and we decided to have a stroll around the park.

They gave us some umbrellas & looked delighted the whole time that we were there. Even in the sopping rain, the island is pure lovely.


We walked through the park & saw a tree that looked like a nudey lady – what a bonus. We also came across the ropeway which was practically deserted, but that didn’t stop us having some photo based fun.


DSCN0361 We got back to the ryokan. The room had a small bathroom including a bath that was like a barrel. There was also a ‘family bathroom’ which had a big bath, sento style. We had a lovely bath in the ‘family bathroom’ which for some reason amuses me. Then we changed into the yukata provided and made our way to the dining room for dinner.

Then! She struck! As we walked into the dining room the woman who runs the place ran up to me and began to undo my yukata. I was thinking “oh my god, I’ve really offended her in some way and now she is punishing me by exposing me naked to all the diners”. With her tiny hands she rapidly undid my belt (I had nothing on underneath, and was genuinely terrified she’d flash my bits to everyone), swapped the direction of my yukata (i.e. moved right over left to left over right) and skillfully tied me back up without showing even a hint of nipple. She then did the same to Luke, and hilariously had a struggle doing up his belt (because he’s a big bigger than your average Japanese guy and the belt was short). She managed it eventually and sat us down at our table.

Earlier, when she’d served us our welcome tea, she had asked ‘you eat everything?” (i.e. were we veggie or allergic), we said yes and she replied, “I make meal. Small, small, small. Verrrrrry healthy.”


Well. It was small, small, small. But it was more like, small, small, small, small, small, small, small, small, small. Which in the end makes for big. This was easily one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life.

Everything she served had amazing flavours and textures. The set up was similar to the meal we had in Hakone but each dish was just so much better.


And she was like a real granny and made us eat everything on each dish, even what looked like flower  garnishes were all part of the meal.

One of the dishes was what she called “Hiroshima beef” and it was SO GOOD that I am making a weird guttural noise just remembering it.


As the website says “Grand mather in our hotel makes dinner wholeheartedly. You will be surely satisfied.” (sic). 

We were surely satisfied. It was an incredible meal.

When we got back to our room, fit to bursting with small, small, small, very healthy, we found the staff had made up our futon beds for us. They were big and soft with lovely big duvets on top. We fell asleep with the sound of the water running into the koi pond.


On our second day in Kyoto began with a breakfast

breakfastin the cafe next to the hostel, bacon and cheese on toast. Pretty good. Pretty cheap.

We had an action packed day planned. We headed south to the Fushimi-Inari Shrine which is somewhere you have to visit if you go to Kyoto. It’s a beautiful shrine famous for the miles of torii gates that weave in, out and around the shrine buildings. It feels like a magical place, especially when the sunlight slices through each gate and the surrounding trees. Here are a bunch of photos: IMG_1931 IMG_1949 IMG_1947DSCN0201 DSCN0233

DSCN0234DSCN0192   The photos give you an idea what it’s like but really you have to go there and walk through the paths. There are so many shrines in this complex, tiny ones and the major central ones. There are handy vending machines throughout, so you won’t get thirsty. You could play an incredible, potentially unending, game of hide and seek here.

After wandering around for hours we looked for a Zen garden that my friend in Tokyo had insisted we visit. She had visited it with her dad a week before while they were evacuated from Tokyo. She said that you pay a small entrance fee (I think about Y300), take off your shoes and walk around a building with 4 stone gardens surrounding it. She said when they went, they took their shoes off and it started snowing and it was magical.

Well, after I nearly broke into some private property thinking it was the entrance, we eventually found the place. It was the Tofukuji temple.


It was a beautiful sunny day so if it started snowing when we were in there I would be suspicious that they had a snow machine. We paid for our tickets, left our shoes in the shoe shelf and walked in. No snow. What a rip off. Still, it was properly Zen. There were one or two businessy looking people who had brought a packed lunch and were sitting looking out over the gardens, silently eating. The gardens were designed in the 1930’s and have remained the same ever since. It was one of the quietest, calmest places I’ve been. DSCN0265IMG_1953

We then headed north to Arashiyama Park.


It’s a beautiful area of Kyoto with a mountain you can pay to go up where there are loads of monkeys. It costs about Y500 and there are monkeys all over the mountain and signs everywhere that say things like “DO NOT STARE AT THE MONKEYS IN THE EYE” which makes the hike up to the top quite terrifying. At the top of the mountain there’s a shed/cage where the humans go inside, buy monkey snacks and you can feed them through the mesh. It is excellent.


Luke has never been this happy, before or since


you can see him pitying me inside my cage

Though the bigger monkeys push the smaller ones out of the way, so I deliberately made an effort to get the snacks to the little monkeys and a bigger one looked at me with such an astonished look, like HOW DARE I, that it makes me laugh to remember it. DSCN0304

The view at the top is pretty spectacular, you can look over all of Kyoto. An added bonus is the monkeys playing with the telescopes, looking like monkey tourists.

Back at the base of the mountain is a wealth of prettiness.


A wide river populated with traditional boats you can get boat tours in, cherry blossoms everywhere – it looks like a postcard. We strolled around this lovely area but as it was dusk things were closing up. There’s a lot to see here that we didn’t have time to, like bamboo groves, a preserved street of houses from the Meiji period, fishing trips and, as with everywhere in Japan, approximately a metric fuckton of temples.











We were pretty tired so when we got back to central Kyoto we got dinner from a supermarket which included these weird things which were 100% texture 0% taste. IMG_1985



Philosophers Walking

We left Nara and headed to Kyoto. 

Kyoto Station is huge and futuristic, and it took us a bit of figuring out to find our way to the correct subway to get to our hostel.

I’d booked us into this place before the earthquake but due to it being cherry blossom season it was so busy I had to book us two different rooms for each night we were staying in Kyoto. After the earthquake loads of rooms became available & I could change our reservation so we had one private double room for both nights. A small reward for not cancelling our trip. The staff were very friendly, the lobby was very cool, our room was tiny but very clean & perfectly adequate.

If you only stay in these type of hostels you can travel around Japan really cheaply & safely. Most work out at around £15-20 a night per person which is pretty much what you’d pay in Western Europe but you can be pretty sure the Japanese hostels will always be clean & neat (never a guarantee in Europe or elsewhere, probably). Quite a few of these Japanese hostels have different branches across the country and offer free night offers on a loyalty scheme so you can save again.

We dumped our stuff & decided to try to catch some Kyoto culture before sundown. Free wifi helped us figure out what bus to get where. The bus has a ticket machine onboard that you buy from & we went all the way to the Silver Pavillion. By the time we got there the temple was closed so we didn’t get to see it but I had cleverly chosen this temple so we could walk the Philosopher’s Path from it.

This is a 2km canal-side path which is saturated with cherry blossom. It was so pretty I can’t even begin to tell you. I’ll just show you photos.

here is a woman taking a picture of her dog enjoying the cherry blossom

my normal clothes sometimes look like I’m cosplaying


 We decided to walk all the way back to our hostel & had a wonderful stroll through Kyoto along the canals as the sun set.

The hostel is near Gion which is known as the Geisha district. There’s a lot to do in this area. Loads of bars, restaurants, and shops. We wandered through a covered shopping street nearby and saw an Okonomiyaki restaurant called Mr Young Men so we went there for dinner.

This was my first experience of okonomiyaki & I bloody loved it. It was huge. I had a set meal which included miso and some onigiri (which was far too much food for me) for about £6. As an extra treat each okonomiyaki dish had names like Mr. Modern Man and Mr American. It was a really local seeming place. Dim & a bit grubby. Very authentic feeling. I’d definitely recommend it. Cheap, tasty & huge.

 There’s a pretty good okonomiyaki place in London where they cook it on teppans at your table but it’s so expensive! It’s called Abeno & is a good bet if you want to try okonomiyaki authentically but while paying twice what you would in Japan.

Nara?! Yes ra.

After our awkward night with the Canadian (it was an 8 bunk room, but just us and her in it), we spent the morning in Nara.

So far, Japan had really succeeded in putting a show on for us, weather wise, and today was no different. Clear blue skies and gentle spring sunshine. Tidy.

Nara is a delightful place, proper old school Japan. Loads of old wooden houses, a beautiful park full of deer who wander around hoping you’ll buy some deer treats from the deer treat sellers. It also boasts the home of the world’s largest indoor buddha. So, big buddhas were definitively checked off the list of things to see in Japan. BIG BUDDHAS. DONE.

The sakura was really blossoming in Nara and you can see why the Japanese go nuts over it. It’s so lovely. I never felt sexy towards a blossom before. We walked around the big park, saw a wedding happening (amazing kimonos) and got cosy with deer. We said “oh, deer” A LOT. We are so funny.

There are also some very tall pagodas in Nara which are difficult to capture well in a photograph. We had a lovely morning walking around Nara, I’ll let the photos do all the work for this post.

there’s no zoom on my camera, I was actually this close to this nonchalant deer.

this creepy looking dude was supposedly good luck if you rubbed him then rubbed a bit of your body you were having trouble with.

even in black and white the cherry blossom is beautiful


him indoors

deer waiting for the deer treats selling person

typical Nara street

Mounting Fuji.

Another glorious spring morning in Japan, though quite crisp as we were up in the mountains. A buffet Japanese breakfast provided by the hotel started our day off with a  ‘what? what is that? oh, wow, that is sour.’ And the eating of some things I’ve never had for breakfast before. One thing they did here and the one other place we had a kaiseki dinner is to garnish rice with tiny dried fish instead of salt. Which can be at bit much at breakfast to see a load of tiny pairs of eyes on your rice.

Nadia does Abbey Road in Japan

Anyway. We sent our luggage off with a special service that takes it to the station for you (for a small fee) and leaves you to explore the mountainous region without wheeling a suitcase about. Then we started walking until we got to a sort of visitor centre. There is a staggering amount of stuff to see & do in Hakone but we only had the day as we had to get to Nara in the evening. If you have more time why not check out the open air museums? I definitely would’ve gone if we had more time. As it was, we decided (mostly from looking at a scale model in the visitor centre) to get the cable car over the top of the mountain and come down the opposite side on another rope way and make our way to Odawara station from there. If you do stay longer in Hakone it is worth considering getting a Hakone Free Pass which gives you free travel and entry to lots of stuff.

The ropeway leaves from the side of a big lake where tourist trips are made on PIRATE SHIPS. Not real pirate ships, just tourist boat trips on a boat made to look like a pirate ship. Oh, you Japanese. There were also some pedalos and we found a weird graveyard of swan pedalos that made for an excellent hipster photograph. 

Because tourist numbers were so down there was no queue and we had an entire cable car to ourselves. What larks. The views are pretty amazing, particularly as the higher up you go, the more you can see of Mt Fuji. Let me tell you, Mt Fuji looks exactly like all the drawings of it ever drawn or put on any Japanese art that’s ever been made. It’s almost a parody of itself.

Halfway up we got out and looked at some geysers. As the photograph may indicate, it was quite smelly. I hilariously kept saying ‘oh, Japan! You’ve really let one off!’ You can imagine what a treat it is to go on holiday with me.

In the steaming geysers they cook eggs. The sulphur, I think, makes the shells go black and you can buy 5 black eggs for 500Y (about £4 at the time). They say each black egg you eat adds 5 years to your life. I had 2 and Luke ate 3. You can only buy them in bags of 5. They taste just like normal boiled eggs.

There’s a big Hello Kitty eating a black egg. Me and Hello Kitty are BFFs.

We got back in the cable car and over the top of the mountain and decided to come down using the funicular train which runs about once every thirty years. That is a slight exaggeration, but we did wait a long time for the next one. Thank goodness for vending machines – where ever you go can instantly become a cafe.

We rode the funicular train, which took about 10 mins to reach the bottom, after having waited over an hour for it. Then got on a mountain train which was the slowest ever train I’ve ever been on, and I live in a Southeastern Trains area. In the mountain train’s defence – it is meant to go that slowly.

We picked our bags up in Odawara station and zoomed on the bullet train to Kyoto before getting a local train to Nara where we were staying in a 100yr old guest house. I’m sure under normal circumstances, this would’ve been fine but it turned out to be quite weird. There was only one other person staying there and she was sharing a dorm with us. She was a Russian but was convinced she was Canadian. I mean, I’m sure she is Canadian but she had a mega Russian accent. When she said ‘I’m Canadian’ we said ‘oh? really?’ and she said ‘I have a slight Russian accent’ and we thought ‘you sound like you could be in Pussy Riot’ (which isn’t really true because I didn’t know who Pussy Riot were in April 2011 but it’s a reference I’d like to make now in October 2012, the point remains she had a very strong Russian accent which she was in denial about).

We had an awkward time sitting around with her and the owner of the guesthouse who spoke only a bit of English, we went to a nearby supermarket to buy some dinner, and went to bed to avoid the awkward situation. The bunks (like most in hostels and guesthouses in Japan) were very clean, had curtains around each one, its own reading lamp and a plug socket.

Staying in Nara was the only mistake of my itinerary. It is beautiful and lovely, certainly worth a visit, but if I did the trip again I would stay an extra night in Kyoto and visit Nara as a day trip as it’s only 40 minutes away on a local train.

On Monday the 4th April 2011 I began my day with a very long conversation with Ralph in the downstairs toilet. I chose the downstairs because I hoped no one would notice me chucking up the 87 glasses of umeshu I drank the night before. KD’s lovely mother noticed and was very sweet and caring of me, trying to give me tablets and food as I attempted to explain that I must’ve ate something that didn’t agree with me.

KD left to go to work and we were left to pack up and catch a train to our next destination after reassuring KD’s mom that I was fine and that we didn’t need any laundry doing. (what a lovely woman, if only I could book her on to all my holidays)

Back to the bullet train for us. A train from Tokyo to Odawara, then an hour long journey on a small bus, winding up the wiggly mountain roads of Hakone until we got to our ryokan, Lodge Fujimien.

Before we left for Japan I had emailed Lodge Fujimien to express my sadness at the earthquake and its consequences and to check that they were OK and still welcoming visitors. I think because of this, and because numbers were down, they upgraded us to a bigger room! The room was amazing. Large tatami mat room with a separate toilet room (toilet slippers provided), a sort of pre-balcony indoor balcony, where you could sit in chairs and drink green tea using the tea set provided (hot water in the corridor) and look out towards the highlands of mid Japan, with Mount Fuji taking centre stage.

This was also when we started to use the camera (a Nikon Coolpix) that Luke bought in Akihabara, so photos from here are not just off my phone. What a thrill.

Lodge Fujimien is one of the best value onsen ryokans in Hakone. Your stay includes use of the onsen (of which I have no photos, bad luck pervs) and a traditional kaiseki dinner.

An onsen is a natural hot springs bath. They are usually large public baths that are gender separated. Some posher onsen ryokans have private onsen baths in guest rooms. At Lodge Fujimien they have a men’s bath and a women’s. My advice is to learn the kanji for men and women so you don’t wander into a room full of nudey men/women by mistake.

Once you’ve identified which room you’re meant to go in you stroll into an ante-room where you can take off your yukata (provided in the room), pop it in a basket, and then walk all-bits-out to the bath room. There are quite strict rules about using the onsen (and the same rules apply to sento). There are usually some hilarious posters explaining the rules of the onsen.

The basic ones are: 1. YOU MUST BE IN THE NIP!

2. You must sit on a little stool at the side and wash yourself before getting in the bath.

3. Don’t put anything else in the bath – you have a little towel which you can use to cover your bits and put on your head.

4. Get out and have another wash on a stool. Rinse thoroughly then get back in the bath.

After we enjoyed some hot springs bath time (there was a bit when I was the only person there and I sat at the huge window looking out at mount Fuji sitting in the hot water and cold air cooled my face, it was totally brilliant) it was time for dinner. Again, due to the earthquake hoo-ha, there were very few people in the restaurant. But the staff very pleasantly served us our kaiseki dinner. 

It was pretty amazing, but some of it was sort of disgusting but in a sort of delicious way. There’s A LOT of food. They serve the miso soup and rice last as a sort of filler upper if you’re not completely stuffed by the 18 dishes you’ve already eaten. I have attached the menu – this was not a menu from which you chose what you wanted, you got EVERYTHING on the menu.

Sunday in Tokyo.

The only place to go is Harajuku. This is a bit like the Camden of Tokyo. It’s where all the teens go and on Sunday it’s their cosplay day. Though when we were there, there were hardly any dressed up teens presumably due to earthquake/tsunami/radiation/worried parents.

toilet controls.

Before we got to Harajuku though, KD took us to Omotesando to look at the fancy shops, use a fancy toilet (let’s be honest, all toilets in Japan are fancy) and shop in the Official Japanese Souvenir Tat Shop where Luke bought a small plastic jug in the shape of a cat among other treats.

modelling the signature shorts and hat

Harajuku is excellent for fashions. Yes, fashions! I bought a pair of shorts there that have since become my signature shorts and I’m so scared about wearing them out that I’ve poured glue on the crotch. Also, I bought the greatest hat of all time, which looked especially good when I wore it to Wimbledon in 2011.

Harajuku was also where I went crazy for Japanese socks. I don’t mean tabi but a more modern Japanese obsession with inner shoe wear. I wonder if this adorable focus on socks is due to the fact that they spend so much time without shoes on. Anyway, I LOVE them. I bought all these in one day. And since I struggled to find anywhere to buy them in the UK, I started making my own versions which you can buy on Etsy.

After buying a load of cool stuff, we stopped off for some lunchtime ramen. I also had some steamed buns because steamed buns are delicious savoury clouds and I eat them whenever possible (and in this case the pair looked like boobies, so extra bonus fun).

While we were waiting for the delicious food to arrive, we all cooed over our white watches we’d just all bought for 700Y each. We were a cool white watch gang. I wore mine until it stopped working in early 2012. Luke stopped wearing his fairly quickly because he couldn’t figure out how to stop it beeping at certain times. Also in the photo you can see a little skull ring I bought for 80Y and a spirit level ring that KD bought from the MOMA shop (where we also bought more cool stuff like a door stop that looked like a paint tube). It was a very buying stuff day. I regret nothing.

After that we strolled over to the Meiji Shrine which was beautiful and serene, only a moment away from the crazy bustle of Harajuku. We saw some trainee monks scuttle about in their white outfits. I should’ve told them where they could buy a matching watch. It was really lovely in the late afternoon.

As the light began to fade we headed to Shinjuku for an evening of maxi fun. KD refers to Shinjuku as ShinCUCKOO! because it’s totally bananas. It has Maid Cafes, but mostly seems to have weird date bars where you can hire a guy/girl who looks like they might be in a J-pop boy/girl band to hang out with you/tell you how beautiful you are/pretend to buy you drinks (you buy the drinks). There are huge signs outside the bars with photos of the boys/girls you can choose. It’s super weird, but because many young Japanese are socially quite shy, they like this explicit social transaction. 

Of course we all picked a guy and had the time of our lives. AGH! Can you imagine?! So awkward. British social awkwardness meets Japanese paid-for dating. Just the thought makes me feel shuddery.

We found a small bar where beers were cheapish (400Y) and the telly in the background was playing the cartoon that is set in the area where KD’s house is. The streets have the characters displayed from lamp posts. It felt like our Tokyo home was famous and on TV! We drank a lot of beer but there are lots of toilets in Japan, so that worked out fine. I loved the toilets so much that when we returned to the UK, each cold toilet seat was a painful reminder that we were no longer in Japan.

Our plan was to find somewhere for dinner and then see if we could fit in a bit of karaoke.

TOP TIP: learn to read Japanese! Obviously that is good advice if you are good at learning languages in a few minutes. the tip is actually: LOOK UP! each floor has a different business on it and they’ll advertise at each level, sometimes with a board outside on the street. KD found us a restaurant on the 5th floor of some building. The lift opened directly into the restaurant. We had to take our shoes off and walk across a raised floor and were seated at a table that’s hard to describe. They have the same set up at Edo in Crystal Palace, if you’ve ever been there. There were a few things on the table ready for us to eat as hors d’oeuvres. One of the things was a sea snail which was much tastier than I would’ve anticipated.  The restaurant (like many) had a sort of set meal deal, with an all-you-can-drink option, which we obviously opted for. We started off on some ‘sours’ which were basically alcopops. One of my favourite moments of the holiday happened here as Luke asked KD to order him a kiwi sour (having previously had a lemon sour) and she asked the server for a ‘remon sour’. Luke then said, ‘does remon mean kiwi, then?’ to which KD replied ‘oh, no, remon means lemon, you see it’s like lemon but the l is an r. Oh. I ordered you the wrong drink.’ Cue LOLs all round.

We ordered a nabe, similar to shabu shabu – a hot pot cooked at your table. And, despite many locals avoiding sashimi due to radiation worries, we ordered some and it was SO GOOD I don’t even care if it glowed.

A small thrill was going to the toilet in the restaurant as they gave you special toilet slippers and you had to walk over a fake small river.

So, we ate a lot and we drank many remon sours. Sozzled, we stepped back out onto the seedy streets of Shinjuku and looked for a karaoke fix.

don’t remember taking these photos

KD found a guy on the street promoting a particular place and haggled us a pretty good deal. We said we’d try it for an hour and then go home (as the next day we were leaving Tokyo for Hakone). When you do karaoke in Japan, you get a booth, some tambourines if you want, a fully hooked up karaoke system and all-you-can-drink with a telephone to ring the bar to get them to bring you more drinks whenever you want. Three hours after we’d said we’d go home we were paying for 4 hours of karaoke/drinking. I think our deal was about £13/hour/pp, which is relatively cheap, but a lot when totalled together at 3am for 3 people.

It was worth every penny. I drank a million gallons of plum wine and we sang all the songs. It was the greatest night of my life. Also, I now know how to say “3 plum wines, please”  in Japanese. 

Shabu Shabu

On Saturday night we went to Katie’s favourite restaurant. A shabu shabu restaurant in Sakura-shimachi. Shabu shabu is a great meal. It’s a sort of hot pot type thing where you cook everything yourself at your own table. The hob is built into the table because, as I mentioned earlier, most restaurants in Japan specialise in one type of cuisine, so this place is pretty confident that every customer who comes in will want shabu shabu at their table. Our pot was split in two and we had a clear broth and a creamy (I think rice-based) broth. You choose what you want in your shabu shabu (beef, pork, fish, veg etc) and you then have 90 minutes to eat as much of it as you can. A lot of places have time limited all-you-can-eat/drink deals. This is because Japanese people are not as horrifically greedy as us Westerners and don’t seem to take the all-you-can-consume offer as some demented challenge. I don’t know about you but I find it very hard to leave an all-you-can-eat buffet before the point where I feel physically ill because I’ve eaten way more than I could ever comfortably fit inside my digestive system. It’s a combination of greed and my overwhelming sense of good value. If I pay £11 for an all-you-can-eat buffet, I want to make sure I eat way more than £11 worth of food, even if it makes me really unwell. I CAN’T STOP THIS.

Anyway, we had 90 minutes. You get the broth bubbling then you add the veg that will take some time to cook or will improve the flavour of the broth (mushrooms, carrots etc). Then you get your thinly sliced meat (we chose beef)and you dip it into the broth for a few seconds to cook, swishing it around. FUN TRIVIA: The name ‘shabu shabu’ comes from the sound you make as you swish the meat in the broth. You then take out your cooked meat and dip in into one of the 2 amazing sauces you get with shabu shabu. One is a ponzu type sauce, sort of soy and citrusy and the other is made from ground sesame seeds and is like a sort of sesame paste. Either way, it is DAMNED DELICIOUS.

When you run out of meat you just shout “sumimasen!” and a waiter will come and replenish your stock. It’s an incredible system. When your 90 minutes is up you can choose either rice or noodles and they’ll bring them to you to soak up what is left of the broth and you end your meal eating noodles and vegetables in broth just in case you weren’t full.

I’m sorry to any vegetarians who read this. You can get a veg version, I think, but I can’t imagine it’s as exciting. But there are plenty of exciting vegetarian things to eat in Japan – worry not! A good idea when you go places is to ask for ‘monk’s food’ as they tend to not eat any meat.

We’ve found a place in London that does a reasonable shabu shabu. It’s here: Sensuru and when you call them they say “hello, Japanese restaurant”. The actual name of the place is a mystery. On one menu inside it has written Suru, Tsenuru, Sensuru and Tsuru in different places. Tsu knows. It’s £16pp and it’s not all you can eat, but it’s not a bad approximation.

Saturday! (2nd April 2011)

The weekend, hooray. This meant our beautiful host was free to entertain us all day so we set off from Tokyo, using our JR Passes, travelled about 30 miles away on a train and arrived in the lovely small town of Kamakura. Kamakura is a popular day trip for many visitors to Tokyo. It’s a seaside town full of shrines, temples and most impressively, the largest (outdoor) Buddha in the world.

Before paying the big man a visit, we stopped to have lunch in a kaiten sushi (conveyor-belt) sushi restaurant. At midday the place was buzzing. We stood in line and the man in front of us put our names down on the list – he didn’t work there, he was just being nice (standard Japanese behaviour). We didn’t have to wait long before getting seated at a booth. Everybody knows the Japanese love fish. (it’s well documented in this song) At a sushi place, you can really see why. It’s so fresh! So varied! So delicious! So affordable! We ate a lot. Luke ate a sea urchin, which he wasn’t fond of, but the baby squids were amazing.

we ate all these plates and it came to about £30 for all of it.

Luke not enjoying a sea urchin.

After we had gorged on raw fish (can you ever really gorge on something so healthy?) we set off on a little walk to see the big bronze buddha, Daibutsu(Dai? He’s probably Welsh).

He’s big! That’s for sure. It costs 200Y to get in (approx £1.50) to see him. And you can even go INSIDE him, where it is like a massive echoey jelly mould. He’s survived fires, earthquakes and tsunamis. What a hunk. We then went off to see some temples and shrines with lovely gardens and amazing views across the sea.

these are dedications, you pay for a thing and write a prayer on it. Many of them had "play for Japan" written on them. SO ADORABLE. (Ls and Rs are seemingly interchangeable to the Japanese. Luke was often called Ruku)

It’s a very peaceful place. I guess it’s Tokyo’s equivalent of Brighton in a way. A seaside town less than an hour away, perfect for getting away from the hubbub of the big city. I don’t think  Kamakura is particularly renowned for it’s vibrant gay scene though. But relax in the knowledge that Take Out is OK from Woof Curry.

I also enjoyed a bottle of local cider, and tasted my first matcha ice-cream, making it a fully fledged trip to the Japanese seaside. 

We headed back to Tokyo as we had a special Saturday night meal planned, which I shall describe in my next post (oooh….the anticipation).

Happy Birthday, Fluffyman

After our trip through Ameyoko Market we decided to walk to Asakusa, home of Tokyo’s most famous temple. It houses a famously massive lantern. I can assure you, it’s a very big lantern.

On our way there we passed Kappabashi Street.

This is where restaurants buy all their non-food supplies from, including the incredible plastic food displays. The street is quite obviously marked out by a tower of balconies made to look like different coloured coffee cups on one side and an enormous chef’s head on top of the building on the opposite side of the street.

We approached Asakusa

– Tokyo’s ancient entertainment district – in soft spring sunshine. The road leading up to the main temple (Nakamise)  is lined with stalls selling a mixture of local tasty treats and souvenirs from chopsticks and mobile phone charms to kimonos and swords.

At the main temple we bought our fortunes.

This is a thing you can do at most temples. You put your 100Y coin in a slot/box (all unattended, Japanese people are so honest it make my heart sing) then you shake a box that has a lot of sticks in until one comes out of a little hole.

You then match the word/symbol on the stick, to one of the drawers and inside that drawer is your fortune.

My fortune was very good, Luke’s was only OK. If your fortune isn’t great then you can tie it up and let the wind blow away all the bad luck from it.

As we headed home to get changed for the evening we spotted the Golden Turd sparkling near the metro station.

It was our host’s dad’s birthday on April 1st. As Tokyo was still in crisis mode, many people were still out of the city – including most of his family and some friends. So we stepped in. We met Mr Fluffyman (that is what his Dutch name literally translates as) and some of his friends at a bar in Akasaka. (Asakusa and Akasaka all in one day is confusing, I tell thee).

At a fairly standard beer house, we stood around tall tables in a small area spilling our onto the pavements. We gave the birthday boy his gift and he hesitated to open it, having got used to Japanese custom which is to thankfully receive the gift and then open it in private. Being showy Europeans we all demanded  to see him open it and then joy unconfined danced on his face at seeing Wills & Kate in tea-towel form*.

pagoda and lanterns, standard fayre

The staff learned it was his birthday and came out one by one to wish him a happy birthday and do a little bow, one even came out with some small cakes for him. Super cute. We then set off to have CHINESE food for dinner. I know, right? In Tokyo and we have Chinese. It was the birthday boy’s choice and the old men were paying so we were just happy to be there. I was really bothered by the smoking in the restaurant. Now that I’ve gotten so used to the smoking ban here, going back to eating in a smoke-filled restaurant is pretty gross. It feels very backwards for such a forwards-seeming society.

We dashed off to try to find a good night view of Tokyo. We arrived at Roppongi Hills to try to get to the top of the Mori Tower. Sadly, we were too late, despite having got a taxi (which are MASSIVELY expensive), so just went and had a drink in a trendy bar in the tower.

After a pricey cocktail, we decided to head home, as we had a full day planned for Saturday, too late to catch the last trains we had another taxi.

A quick word on taxis – they are not cheap at all. But then, taxis in London are hardly affordable, especially when traversing the city. Do not touch the doors! The taxi driver opens the door for you, it pops open when they stop to pick you up. Luke was looked at with an hilarious level of disdain when he attempted to open the door of the cab. With most other things, you don’t tip cab drivers. They’ll take it as an offence to their driving skills. A sort of  ‘take this money so you do a better job next time’ thing.

One thing I forgot to mention about the Ebisu night was that before we went home we went to a late night ramen shop. Ramen shops are like kebab shops here, they stay open late and are really cheap. Unlike kebab shops, they are really healthy & filling. Our 2am ramen stop was almost certainly what stopped me having an horrific hangover on this day. I wish we had some late night noodle shops in London.

*he was mildly amused by the tea-towel