Saturday, 31 July 2010
We got locked up last night, quite literally! We were invited to dine at the "fine" restaurant that is The Lock Up with Chris and Becky and their 14 year old son Edmund and his friend Jack. It is situated in the basement of a building in Shibuya and you have to pass through some dark passages where screaming skeletons jump out at you, to a holding area where a "prison guard" takes you to your table. I have to say, she seemed to have lost her skirt along the way! Anyway, I think Edmund and Jack thought they'd gone to heaven as she decided they needed to be handcuffed and led to their cell! We all followed and were taken down dark, cave-like tunnels to our room where the prison gates were slid shut and we were trapped for the evening. We had an array of cocktails to choose from with names such as "Frankenstein" and "Electric Shock". I chose one where you had to syringe a fluorescent red drink from a massive syringe into a laboratory beaker. Halfway through the night we got a visit from Jason's (Chainsaw Massacre) slightly-less-scarey cousin and a bunch of zombies, and then we went home!
Wednesday, 28 July 2010
I got back from Stitch and Bitch last night and the walls of our darkened apartment were ablaze with light. It turned out to be the extreme lights of a movie being filmed in the park next to where we live. I'd been aware throughout the day of film trucks scattered around on the street outside, and I guess this is what they were doing. It was very atmospheric in the steamy evening haze and I sat on the balcony for a while watching it all going on.
Monday, 26 July 2010
Before we headed off to the Shinkansen and to start our journey home, we spent a bit of time taking in the futuristic feel of Kyoto station - such a contrast to the beautiful, traditional buildings we had seen over the past two days. The roof soars into the air and a series of escalators takes you high up on to the roof where you can look down over the city and take it all in. We will definitely be heading back soon!
On sunday, we did the Golden Temple (Kikaju-ji) and then got the bus to the Silver Temple (Ginkaku-ji). The silver temple never actually got its intended silver coating, but both were stunning and I especially loved the gardens of both. The silver temple had a lot of the raked gravel which is very typically Japanese and was very dramatic against the luscious greenery of the surrounding gardens. After this, we did the Philosopher's Walk, which follows a tree-lined canal. It was beautifully serene and so lovely to do after dealing with the crowds of the temples.
I couldn't resist putting these pictures up of some of the food we sampled. They definitely like to put food on sticks here and kebab-like things don't seem so strange (see deliciously naughty beef skewers, bottom left), but when cucumbers get put on sticks, it's a bit out of the ordinary. I'm sure it's very refreshing. We also embraced the fluorescent beauty of the shaved ice - very welcome in the heat of the midday sun....
After a good long sleep at the hotel, where we literally crashed out (and luckily missed a massive thunder storm) we headed out with hungry bellies to find some food. Earlier in the day, we had crossed the river and seen many restaurants flanking the water and overlooking it. This seemed like the perfect place to have dinner, but of course, everyone else did too, and most of the outdoor tables were fully booked. To get to these restaurants, you had to trot down a tiny alleyway. It was jam packed with restaurants and very atmospheric with the pavement still wet from the rain and lanterns lighting your way. The choice of food was endless, but we decided to duck into a little izakaya-style place and sit at the bar. This is always the best place as you can watch the entertainment of the chefs preparing the food - we love it! After filling our bellies with glorious pickings, we strolled down the many side streets of Gion, soaking up the atmosphere.
Everywhere we went in Kyoto, we would see these "bibbed" figures, which we guessed were gods. We're still not sure why they need to be bibbed, but we love it! I love the "family" of bibbed figures at the top left (which actually look more like potatoes than gods), even the cat has a bib, and the best of all was this army of figures (bottom right) at the Kiyomizu temple.
The walk that Susan gave us also took us through the Geisha district, which was lined with beautiful, discreet houses and inns and we were even lucky enough to see some geishas as well as some Japanese girls dressed up in their finest yukatas (cotton kimonos used in summer) out for an afternoon in Kyoto.
We made our first trip to Kyoto at the weekend. I'm ashamed to say it as we've been here almost a year now and have never made it there until now. Of course, we chose the hottest time to go and it was pretty unbearable at times, but Kyoto is a lovely city and there is so much to see and do. We got the Shinkansen (bullet train) there, which was a fun journey after a bit of argy bargy with the cost of it all - it's not cheap, but you do get there in half the time. We stayed in a nice hotel in the centre and after dropping our bags off, we headed to the famous Kiyomizu temple in the Higashi-dori district. My friend Susan had given us a fab walking tour to do and so we were able to follow that without much hassle. The temple was stunning and set in the hillside overlooking Kyoto, in beautiful grounds.
Monday, 19 July 2010
Today was a national holiday, and so we decided to head out of the city for a good old hike. Luckily, Chris was also up for it and very good at coming up with a plan of action. We met him at 7.45 outside our apartment and headed off to Shinjuku station for the 8.19 train to Oku-Tama, about an hour and 2o mins out of the city. It is best known as being the lake that supplies all of Tokyo's water. It has v steep, forest-covered hills around the lake and they are stunning - especially in the golden sunlight and bright blue sky that we had today. Because of the steepness, it is relatively quiet, only being tackled by serious walkers...and us. We walked up for two hours though pine tree-lined tracks, where we were kept cooler, and there was a beautiful smell of pine surrounding us all the way up. We stopped for lunch on a little ridge where we had a scrumptious spread of bread and cheese, washed down with a cup of coffee brewed on Chris' fab "stove", followed by marshmallows. It was a gorgeous day and we congratulated ourselves at the end with a can of beer and a paddle in the beautifully icy water of the Tamagawa river. Heaven!
Neil had to work yesterday morning so to make up for it, we planned a trip out to Yokohama in the afternoon. It is about 45 mins train ride from where we live and a pretty, chilled out place - a bit like going from Manhattan to Brooklyn, for anyone who understands that! We started by walking along the waterfront and soaking up the beautiful weather. It's been scorching and v humid, but there was a beautiful blue sky and it's just so lovely to have sun and heat. I love it! We ended up at the Red Brick Warehouse, an old warehouse that has been converted to shops and restaurants, where we had a fresh scrumptious lunch at Bill's (Aussie Bill Grainger's restaurant). I ordered a greek haloumi salad which was v tasty, if a tad small....
We then headed on to the wonders of Cosmo World, a world of roller coasters and fairground rides and I introduced Neil to his first roller coaster ride! He wasn't sick, which was good, but he did spend most of his time looking at his feet!
Sunday, 18 July 2010
We went to the British Embassy yesterday, as one does.... The St Andrews Society was having a BBQ there and we decided to go and eat much food, listen to some piping and dance the hot evening away to a fab ceiledh band. As usual, it was lots of fun and we came home feeling very merry....
Thursday, 15 July 2010
I couldn't resist taking a photo of all these bikes today. Cycling is very popular in Tokyo, but everyone cycles on the pavement and uses a cruising style, where they have mastered the art of weaving around the pedestrians. I'm too scared of taking someone out as I wobble past, so have steered clear of the cycling malarkey. I've heard of a few scarey incidents and definitely don't want to be responsible for knocking someone over - see attached photo of a sign we saw recently......
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
I went to my first pottery class today since getting back to Tokyo, and it was really lovely to be handling clay again - I missed it. Today we learnt to make a little square dish, which was harder than I expected. I also picked up a little white jug that I had glazed ages ago. Even though it's a tad wobbly, I think it's really sweet and am very chuffed with it. I'm just hoping it pours!
Sunday, 11 July 2010
The restaurant the we decided to go to last night was one we hadn't been to before. It is very close to a bakery we love to go to and we spied it last time we went for croissants. It is a tiny place, with 3 tables and then room at the bar for 6 people, but in true Japanese fashion, is beautifully styled and not cluttered at all. The owner is very friendly (and speaks very good English, which helps) and we think her husband does the cooking. The food was scrumptious and we had a wonderful choice of sashimi, tempura, tonkatsu (pork cutlets in breadcrumbs) and chicken wings, all washed down with a scrummy plum wine - heaven!
We decided to head out for dinner last night and walked to the restaurant a different way than normal, and it was great to "rediscover" our neighbourhood. It seemed to be coming alive as the weather cooled and people headed out for dinner/drinks etc. There are so many restaurants and bars in our area and each one is quietly bustling away behind closed doors. Sometimes you can get a glimpse in as you walk past and there is always lots of life going on inside.
We had a lovely day yesterday, mooching around the city and trying to keep cool. It was a blooming hot day and very humid, so everything had to be done somewhat slower than usual. As the evening approached, the weather started to cool down and it became a gloriously balmy evening. There is a plot of land near us that used to be a car park and is obviously going to be developed at some point. Until this is done, some "guerilla sunflower planters" have commandeered it and have planted hundreds of sunflowers there, whilst setting up a makeshift bar in one corner. We stopped off for a cold Kirin and admired the sunflower stalks. I'm looking forward to seeing them in full bloom, so watch this space...
Thursday, 8 July 2010
Apparently there are some elections coming up and you are definitely aware of something going on. Anyone who has seen "Lost in Translation" will probably know the scene where Bill Murray is walking down the street and is passed by a van loaded with loud hailers shouting things out, and there are lots of crazy ladies waving out the windows. Well, it's real and they are all over Tokyo. As well as driving around in their vans shouting, they stand on street corners with microphones. I saw some today and couldn't resist taking a photo. This man (to the right of the picture with a microphone) had some lovely ladies in orange t-shirts waving inanely to anyone passing by....
I went on my first crafty excursion today since getting back, led by my friend Helen. We met at the Nishi-Ogikubo area, a short train ride from Shinjuku and a quiet neighbourhood selling some gorgeous Japanese antiques among other things. We payed a visit to a lovely little fabric shop called Pindot, where I stocked up on a pile of fabrics to add to my growing collection, and then on to a kimono fabric shop which was heaven.
Monday, 5 July 2010
The honeymoon was also perfect. We decided to rent a villa in Grasse in the South of France for a week and then spent four nights in a beautiful auberge set in the hillside near Tourtour in Provence. It was a perfect combination and we relished the lounging by the pool, wandering around beautiful French villages and gorging on the endless supply of amazing food and wine. I think France will be a new passion for us!
Well, we are now back in Tokyo after an amazing few weeks. The wedding day was the best day of our lives and it was so special to celebrate it with friends and family who had come from near and far - Paula and George were the Aussie representatives; Roz, Colin and Ashley made it all the way from NY; and Neil's mum made the epic journey down from the Lake District. It was the most perfect day and thanks to everyone who helped us celebrate. You can view more photos by clicking here. Enjoy!