Sunday, September 23, 2007

A bit of culture...

Well we're back in rainy Glasgow, and I think I'm sufficiently recovered from jetlag enough to be able to operate a PC, string a sentence together and complete my Japan blogging. Just in case you thought we'd spent our entire time playing in yarn shops, arcades and eating - a bit of culture was also had.

These pics are from the Meiji shrine and surrounding Yoyogi Park. The top pic is a big pond full of koi karp, terrapins and massive dragonflies. We had our lunch there - it was very peaceful and relaxing. The above picture was the dwarfing entrance to the shrine. We walked around the gardens and had lunch but we never visited the shrine itself. [It was a Saturday so fairly busy and really humid hot, so we were looking for a bit of peace from the crowds.]

This was me walking in the park - I used my umbrella to shade myself from the sun, but on this occasion it was up despite being in the shade ... due to the massive spiders that lurked.

This was just at the entrance to the park, where all the funky Harajuku kids hung out [you can see me in the right of the picture imploring the boy to hurry as I was wilting under the heat - I have no idea how these kids managed under all their outfits] It was weird really - all these kids were decked out in their cool clothes in a corner while tourists surrounded them taking films and photos.

Back inside the shrine area - barrels of sake donated to the shrine, and below - one of the lights along the way.

The above and below pictures were of Osaka castle [at the top of a hill in the park - extreme heat!] On the walk through the park to get to the castle we saw something of a trademark of Japanese parks - blue homeless tents everywhere in the trees [we assume - it wasn't like there was a sign, but it was pretty obvious] - very neat, with proper toilets and showers built in the centre of the blue tents.

The boy took up the '300 Yen to dress up like a samurai' on the 3rd floor - gathered quite a crowd of smiling [or laughing - who knows] Japanese tourists.

It wasn't really a castle so much as a 'castle shell' with an air-conditioned inside all done up like a museum - I really really appreciated it though, and bought a Hello Kitty at Osaka Castle face cloth from the gift shop. Doused in water, the face cloth was a huge relief in the heat, and so I joined the ranks of Japanese walking around with wet clothes dabbing their faces - great idea!

The above pic and two below were back in Tokyo - Asakusa, where we visited the Senso-ji, a Buddhist temple. This was a total tourist place - even the connecting Ueno station had an English sign stating the cost to Asakusa [they must have got fed up of tourists queuing up to ask] but still totally amazing.

The five storey pagoda is supposed to hold some of the ashes of Buddha. We went into the shrine itself and hung respectfully at the back watching people purchase bits of paper from drawers and either tie them to specially-made rungs or take them away with them. We were a bit unsure of what was going on really, but there were people clearly coming for spirituality in the midst of all the tourists and gift shops.

Afterwards we went for some yummy tempura lunch around the corner, and found the paper shop just outside the entrance - bought some stunning woodblock prints and Japanese paper.

Above: the boy had heard that there was a gojira [Godzilla] statue somewhere around Ginza so off we traipsed to look for it. I have to say: a anti-climax indeed...

And below: a samurai sword shop at Asakusa - the boy got this great picture while I was in buying a Hello Kitty Senjo-ji face cloth [my Osaka one needed a wash by this point]

On our final day we were just walking around Shibuya getting some last minute gifts and all the main streets were closed for some kind of festival. Lots of men clad in traditional clothes - drummers [amazing - you could feel it in your heart- and they were so so fast!], and people carrying golden shrine-type things about. We still have no idea what was going on, but it was definately a big deal whatever it was.

The picture above was the drummers - you can barely see the one on the left he's going so fast.

... and finally - we stored all our photos on flickr [click here] if you want to see more :)

We had an amazing time in Japan - I can't believe that I was worried. It's not always an easy holiday what with the weather and language barriers - but it's an fantastic place, and we'll be going back without a doubt.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Yuzawaya and all Kawaii'd out

I made it to Yuzawaya in Kichijoji - wow! I mean wow! It was AMAZING! Unfortunately I had to be fairly restrained as I've reached my suitcase limits and am probably going to have to pay excess... There was a group of women knitting too. The yarn went on for about 15 aisles -loads of different brands and types. I bought some love variegated 'Scottish Heather' all purples and greens, and some variegated autumn colours from the same brand. I also got some organic cotton in quiet subtle shades. A few sets of needles in Japanese sizes so I have in-betweenies for those gauge crisis', and also some cherry ribbon and handle parts. I could have stayed in there all day, and spent millions...

The boy didn't seem to realise just how big it was - even though we left at breakfast and I had planned dinner in Kichijoji.

We also made it to the infamous Kiddyland in Harajuku - another wow! Probably 6 floors I think.

I think I'm all Kawaii'd out now :)

... and I finally managed to suss the UFO grabbers and win one or two ...

Oh well - we have to pack now so I guess the next coupla posts will have to wait until I get back - it's been utterly amazing here! Brilliant - well worth it!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Just back from a few days in Osaka. We went by bullet train [Shinkansen] and it only took 3 hours from Tokyo to Osaka. [About 300 miles I think - it slows down for station but otherwise I think we were going about 130 miles an hour]. It was a great experience. The staff leave carriages backwards, bowing to the carriage before the doors close - how nice is that?

The only issue was that sometimes it's going so fast that when it passes through bridges, the passing bars can create a strobe-like effect which is a bit uncomfortable.

I saw cranes and Mount Fuji, and there was never more than 5 fields between more houses. Never-ending people the whole way.

I did chicken out when I realised that we had to be at Tokyo station [7-8 stops away from Shibuya] during Tokyo rush hour. We went down to the desk to ask for advice - who agreed that it would be an utter-cram fest on the train.

Tokyo taxis are notoriously expensive but I didn't care. The trains are so busy at rush hour that if you have a panic attack or faint no-one else will notice and you can't even move your arms. No thanks... The taxi was fun to do - the doors are operated by the driver so you don't touch them - and there's no tipping!

This was our Shinakansen - the Hikari Tokaido Superexpress. 14 carriages of high-speed delight.

Found these funky little posters all over the Osaka stations - there were more in the series but we only snapped this one. Look at the drivers placid happy little face ... then the stern order "Stay out of here!" below. I'm sure these are done by the artist that does the Miffy books, but there was no mention [maybe there was and it was in Japanese]

We visited the Osaka Aquarium after dumping bags at the hotel - we also picked up a gap-year Australian student who was doing around the world on his own *gulp* the confidence of youth! This was me next to the King-daddy of the spider-crab tank.

We missed the whale shark - it's not in the tank for 3 days out of the year, and we chose to go on one of those days *sigh* The tank it was in was full of tuna, schools of fish, etc. - it was truely amazing and I probably can't convey just how big the whale shark's tank was. It took up 3 floor levels in depth - and each time you went down a floor you could view it from a different angle.

This was one of the cute little signs posted around the aquarium - this was in the jungle section and means 'watch out for falling leaves'. I love how all the Japanese cute signs convey their messages - they always graphically illustrate the reason why you aren't allowed to do something, but then soften the blow with kawaii little characters. Like to mind your fingers in the closing lift doors - they have stickers of cute little crabs grabbing at fingers.

This was us outside the aquarium.

And the next day we went to Universal Studios - which was hot, hot, hot and lotsa fun! The Spiderman ride was immense - but I was too scared and ended up hiding under the boy's armpit! Ditto Back to Future ride. Made all the more scary by the fact they're in Japanese so I don't know what's going on, when monster's are coming and so on. I liked the ET ride though, and managed to get my way and go round Snoopy's kiddyland - nice and safe.

The highlight of my life! I met the actual Japanese Hello Kitty!!! She was lovely and held my hands and posed with me for this photo. I smiled for a long time :-)

Tomorrow - Yuzawaya in Kichijoji - prepare for immense yarn purchases!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

All things animal

Well we lived through the hurricane - there was one point where I woke up and the building had stopped creaking and was now literally screaming in anger at the hurricanes attempts to remove it from it's foundation, but I couldn't feel any swaying or anything so felt confident it was OK [for 'confident' read 'lay awake wide-eyed and ready to leap into the cupboard at the first sound of glass breaking, lest I be sucked from the room at this high altitude'] and eventually dropped off.

The boy woke up later to a noise that he described as 'firemen with jet hoses directly outside the window firing not water, but bird seed at the glass'... I am SO glad I didn't wake at this point, though I have no idea how I slept through it.

In the morning all was calm, and cooler. Although a lot of train lines were suspended.

We have so far been brave in our Japanese dining, and embarked upon revolving sushi bar, tempura and shabu-shabu restaurants.

The one you see pictured is Shabu-Shabu [we went to Mo-Mo in Shibuya - where they have english menus - yay!]. This is thin strips of beef and a bubbling pot of boiling water in the middle where you swirl the beef on chopsticks for less than a minute and it's done! Then you dip it into one of 2 sauces and yum!

Perfect for me - I know exactly what I'm eating! Can you picture such a restaurant in Glasgow ... boiling pan of water combined with all-you-can-drink beer? Imagine the queues at A&E...

It's all you can eat, so once you've finished your fill of beef slices then you chuck all the veggies in for a beefy vegetable soup - no waste - clever, no? It was great and we're definately going back!

The revolving sushi bar was great fun - the staff were so friendly. I was expecting revolving sushi, but instead there was plates with Japanese signs on them for what they were, written with Kanji and Kana so the boy and I couldn't read them. Puzzled faces = menu with pictures!

I hadn't realised but it seems to be the norm to include Wasabi [hot hot Japanese horseradish] through sushi here. I nearly fell through the table! Trying not to draw anymore attention to our big Western selves, I motioned the women over and replaced the word 'tomato' with the word 'wasabi' in my prepared Japanese phrase: Can I have this without ...' and all was fine again. I have also memorised the word for water!!

And yesterday at Sunshine City we went to a tempura restaurant [well chain - probably the McDs of Toyko]. Tempura is fish and vegetables fried in a light crispy batter with either rice or noodles. It's practically Scottish! [Actually brought over by the Portuguese]

Everytime we go towards a Japanese restaurant I'm so nervous - especially this one as it was full of Japanese men - everything in me wanted to run to KFC [I place I wouldn't frequent if you paid me in Glasgow, but it's familiar] but so far I've not lost my nerve. And everytime the food has been fantastic and the staff just lovely.

So we went to Sunshine City yesterday [no yarn - it's an aquarium] in Ikebukero. I did however manage to squeeze in a visit to a Hello Kitty gift gate. It was cool although the seals and otters looked quite sad in their confined little spaces. There were some cool fish we'd never seen, and a whole lotta spider-crabs [see below]

And finally, some shots of the view from our hotel. When the woman opened the blinds I nearly fell on the floor - we're so high. Only the 26th floor as well. I remember being so excited that our hotel is the highest in the area - I didn't really think about it until we go here and we looking down ...

You can see Mount Fuji [on a clear day - we haven't had one yet], a stacking car park, a ferris wheel, a dog nursery [directly below where they all run about on the roof all day] and so so so mch more! I think we could just look out of this window everyday for a fortnight and constantly see new things.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Creature Comforts and knitty goodness

Home early this evening thanks to the hurricane - just lots of rain and a creaking hotel at the moment, but I think it's due to get worse later so we're staying in the hotel. I checked with the desk this morning before we went out: [as we can't understand the Japanese weather channel and the BBC hasn't been bothered to update the latest for 24 hours...]

"Today's weather" I said to the reception woman [by way of setting the subject before I embarked on broken Japanese/English with pantomime hands]. "Aah yes" she said, before I could begin; "it will be rain with hurricane in evening. Thank you." - not much more to be said really
I suppose!

Last night we were supposed to be going to the Shabu-Shabu restaurant that Bob and Charlotte go to in Lost in Translation. However the boy translated the words "put the translation book in your bag" to mean "throw the translation book on the bed" and so we ended up outside the restaurant for 5 minutes before decided that we weren't confident enough to try such specialist eating without a book to at least give the waiting staff some idea of what we wanted.

I was all for throwing in the towel and getting rice balls from the 7-11 on the 2nd floor of our hotel , but the boy convinced me to try again. We ended up at Hobgoblin - a British pub just round the corner. It was SO GOOD! In photos of Tokyo you can often see long vertical stripes of neon signs down buildings - these are usually advertising what is on each floor - so our pub was on level 3. It's quite strange - you go into what looks like an apartment close and get in the lift. Then the doors open on Level 3 and it's a british pub!

Also on my travels I found Japanese Corn Flakes - not bad! So breakfast is sorted.

A few shots of the Shibuya crossing just 2 mins walk from our hotel. Photos don't really cover how it is here - it's so busy, and there's a giant TV screen at every side so there's noise noise noise constantly competing for your attention, plus people standing shouting adverts for Karaoke bars on the streets, and cool-as-ice Japanese kids everywhere smoking and exuding 'I am so cool' attitude all over the pavements.

Every so often we walk past a place where the automatic doors slide open and there's all these middle-aged couples playing something in an arcade type environment that involves trays and trays of ball-bearings - it's overwhelming smoky, and there's a pumping techno beats - what's that all about?

This is all the information we can get from the weather channel - does this mean the hurricane gets bigger?!

This morning:
We embarked on our first train journey and went off to Shibuya this morning. The train was quite easy - there's an English tannoy on the train to tell you the next station, time of arrival, which side the doors will open on etc. So efficient! The problems only come with the approx 50 exits to every station ...

I managed to find Okadaya relatively easily, and oh, it was bliss! Spent quite a bit :) And forgot to mention - yesterday in Tokyu Hands they had this yarn that said "Shetland Yarn", then "Made in England" and had a British logo... I couldn't take a photo unfortunately because everyone is very uptight about any photos being taken - I even asked in Okadaya but she said no :( You'll just have to take my word for it that it was cool.

Here's all my goodies:

An amigurumi kit for making a frog and a double-ended crochet hook with a different size at each end.

Some Hello Kitty yarn - which is 100% Acrylic but I just couldn't resist!

Some more Tokyu Hands fun stuff - and a baby Pink Panther that I finally won at the UFO catchers! It may have been easier as it was a child's UFO Catcher [I assume as I had to kneel on the floor to use it] but I'm not fussy at this stage!

Enough of this lovely un-dyed 100% wool [which is so so soft] for a jumper. I even managed to ask the woman in Japanese for balls from the store room as there wasn't enough on the shelf.

When I say Japanese I do mean I said the number 12 then visually illustrated that there was only 9 on the shelf - I dont mean flawless fluent beautiful Japanese - but I got the point across :0)

And 6 balls of this merino wool - the shades are just sumptious - so delicate - I think it's going to be a scarf. I have my Jaywalkers with me but I'm just not feeling the love so I needed another project as I haven't knat for days.

And finally another amigurumi book with the cutest little animals, and a book demonstrating all the stitches that Japanese charts use in their patterns. I got these from Kinokuniya bookshop in Shinjuku [all the knitting books are on the 2nd floor [down one from the floor you come in at] and left from the escalators - they're in the middle of the 3 aisles coming from the wall]

Phew! Lotta writing - that's me for tonight. We're just back from a Sushi restaurant with the revolving bar - but more about that tomorrow.