Friday, October 22, 2010


Everyone needs to visit Tokyo once in their lives. After a 12 hour flight, landing at 9.30am is never a great plan when you are jumping forward eight hours but somehow the amazing sights, sounds and not least the FABULOUS food kept us out until 1am the following morning.

Norma, Lisa and Virginia hit the shops at the first opportunity as soon as we checked into the hotel and we trailed along in their wake, watching the fashionistas walk into a store and know within about two minutes whether there was anything worth following up for next year's collections.

After about five stores, Sarah and I needed a bit more than fashion to keep us going so we peeled off to head for Harajuku, Tokyo's version of Camden/Carnaby Street, with boys dressed in cargo shorts, leggings and boots (sounds so wrong yet it works but only if you're diehard trendy, under 25 and Japanese so don't try this at home.)
We finished off at a restaurant called Ninja where you go through a London Dungeon type underground cave system to sit in your own private locked booth, cross legged on the floor for the most fantastic sushi, sashimi and miso black cod...E&O eat your heart out.

One of the highlights of the trip was Kyoto. The bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto takes 2 hrs 20 and was just phenomenal, it hurtles along at such speed you can almost feel the G force. Clean, spacious, with reclining seats and spectacular views. We decided the perfect way to see the city was by bike so we hired some by the station and headed off in the direction of the shrines and temples, east of the city hugging the mountains. The traditional Japanese architecture is evident, with elaborate overhung carved rooves on the tea houses and winding steep narrow streets. Best spot was two gay Brits who were made up as geishas for the day and rode around in a carriage, as well as a real geisha, still a fairly unusual sight during the day. It really was a feast for the senses.

We wound our way into the city after all the culture and parked our bikes at the front of a colourful shopping mall. I noticed what looked like parking tickets on all the other parked bikes and a friendly warden came over and started pointing at the tickets and shaking his head with a big smile. We came to the conclusion that he was telling us all the bikes had been issued parking tickets already so we were probably safe so we merrily took our chances and left them there. As we were wandering through the shops, it occurred to me that the last time I was on a day trip with the Smiths, Norma and I were towed away in Ventimiglia to the tune of €400! Tony and Sarah were chilled but I suddenly had a panic attack about the bikes being towed and we legged it back to find that every other bike had been clamped! Ours were the only three left untouched...oh happy days.

We ate the best sushi at the station, simple, fresh and cheap. I'd move to Japan for that alone. I noticed that much as Tokyo is probably one of the world's most crowded cities, everyone respects personal space. At the crossings, people stand well away from each other, no-one jostles or pushes forward and flu-style surgical masks are worn by commuters and cyclists on a daily basis. Even at 11pm the metro was full of commuters still making their way home from memorable sight was a girl on the metro dressed entirely in pink; tutu, legwarmers, Mary Janes, and even pink ear muffs like a real life Barbie. Some of the fashion is bizarre but it is without doubt the most daring fashion forward place I've ever been to, which explains why the Swedish buying team from H&M were also staying at our hotel, on the lookout for fresh ideas.

So, if you are planning a trip to Japan anytime soon, top tips are:

* Shibuya district for an Oxford Street style bustle, amazing shops and mental fashion. Parco is definitely worth a look.

* Womb - concealed down a backstreet, you'd never find this place unless you know where to look but it's worth the hunt as it's one of the best clubs I've ever been to, with brilliant music, a mainly Japanese clientele and a very late licence.

* Adam and Eve onsen, in Ropponghi. A traditional bath house, with hot springs, plunge ppols and steam rooms, the masseuses are no-nonsense and clad in black bras and knickers, and cover you with oil and slap you around on the beds like you've never been slapped before, all the while chatting away to each other. They use crushed cucumbers for the facial and then shampoo and condition your hair before dousing you with moisturising milk. You leave feeling like you are floating on air. Women have to be naked, men need to wear shorts (Tony got a bit confused on this one, hence much hilarity from us. Luckily he was in the boys room next door.)

* The bullet train - just amazing.

* Ebisu and Meguro by the canal, great for vintage stores, cafes and bars.

* The Prada building in Aoyama, built like a beehive it is floor after floor of design heaven but be warned, twice the price of London.