Archive for March, 2012

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

Good Vending!

On April Fool’s Day 2011 we woke from our hangovers to a glorious day in Tokyo.

Breakfast in the garden

Parks, pandas and plastic foods were on the menu for us April fools.

After breakfast in our host’s beautiful Japanese garden, we headed to Ueno Park. Ueno Park is a large park in the North-East of Tokyo. It has four museums, some temples, a few shrines and a zoo in it. Preeeeeetty busy.

It’s also a sakura hotspot. We were still a bit early for the cherry blossom, most of the trees were just budding, but there were a few spectacular early bloomers. We’d originally planned our holiday at this time because of the cherry blossom usually hitting in the 1st week of April. We are super sakura chasers.

early blossoming sakura in Ueno

Ueno Zoo had re-opened the day we went there, so there was a bit of hubbub going on there as people were happy to see the pandas back in action. Japan LOVES pandas. A lot of the area near Ueno park is littered with panda imagery.

One of the temples in Ueno park had a long avenue of food stalls, apparently an old tradition dating back to times when temple-goers would eat on their way back from their visit. An exciting collection of unidentifiable things on sticks, most for around 100Y (just under £1). At this point we were still a bit shy and didn’t have the confidence to buy any of the things.

Instead, we availed ourselves of the shy-person’s gift – the vending machine order system.

A quick note on vending machines.

arrogant vending machine

They are EVERYWHERE. Honestly, they pop up more frequently than every 100metres, sometimes three in a row, offering slightly different selections of drinks with names like “Calpis” and “Pocari Sweat”. They are amazing – they sell drinks (hot and cold), beer and cigarettes. Many Japanese use their mobile phones to pay for things in vending machines using some sort of chip technology. They can also use their phones as their Pasmo (Oyster card equivalent). They just hold their phone against some bit and the payment comes direct from a digitally set up account. It is brilliant. That’s also how they can ensure vending machines that sell booze/fags, do so only to adults.


It’s very tough to get thirsty in Japan. Vending machines pop up in shrines, temples and even on mountains. Convenience is a key element of Japanese life.  I wish we could have them in this country, but people would vandalise or rob them. Remember when we used to have chocolate vending machines in tube stations? God, I love vending machines.This particular vending process is slightly different.

The machine has a button
for each thing on the menu. You choose what you want, press the button, put the money in and the machine gives you a ticket. You then hand that ticket over to the person on the counter who  makes your order up fresh. I had a matcha ice cream and Luke had a banana and chocolate crepe.

I wish I'd taken this in colour because the octopus was an almost neon pillar box red.

Not far from Ueno Park is Ameyoko Market. This market sold black market American goods during the war and is now still the best place to get specialist foreign imports, especially American candy. It sells everything for good, negotiable prices – the opposite of the Ginza department stores. Clothes, accessories, seafood, candy, electronics – it has a bit of a Delboy vibe.

After our stroll through Ameyoko market we decided to walk to Asakusa, one of the most famous temples in Tokyo, which I’ll tell you all about in the next post – this one is already so full of photos.

the amount of dried squid I saw made my brain twitch at the idea of how much squid is still left in the sea

Luke enjoying a hot can of Rainbow Boss coffee.