Tuesday, May 26, 2009

{ whirlwind Japan trip day 2 }

DAY 2: A choice of tours had been arranged for day 2 of our trip. As I was a very last minute ring-in to replace a colleague, I had to do the tour he selected which was a day trip to Mt Fuji-Hakone. I don't mind organised tours but I tend to prefer half day ones as the full day ones can be pretty exhausting.

This one started at 8am and we didn't return until about 7.15pm so certainly a full day.

In the bus first off and a couple of hours on the road to the visitors centre for a quick stop and then on to Station 5 which I think is the highest you can drive to.

The best time to see Mt Fuji is in the winter as most of the rest of the year it's covered in cloud - or being shy as our guide said. Here's the view we had:

Mmmm...I promise the top of the mountain is there somewhere! We had a little bit of snow where we got off for a quick wander around the gift shops and some snacks to warm us up:

Back in the bus and down the mountain for lunch:

Back in the bus and off to the lake, through another gift shop and onto a boat for a very quick 15 min cruise up to another area. Past some more gift shops (yes, a theme appearing here) and up into a gondola thing up another mountain (not Mt Fuji). Unfortunately not the best day for this type of mountaintop viewing:

A quick turnaround and back down the mountain where we luckily had another 30 mins or so to wander the gift shops - hooray!

Back in the bus and onto a nearby town to catch the Shinkansen train (bullet train, but the local one, not the SUPER fast one - although that did zoom through the station while we were there and it was incredibly FAST!).

A super quick change of clothes and off to another hotel for site inspection and hosted dinner. We had planned on hitting karaoke after dinner but were all too tired from the day.

Phew - exhausted!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

{ whirlwind Japan trip day 1 }

DAY 1: Departed Sydney 0820 Friday and landed Tokyo Friday evening at 1700 local time. A great flight with JAL and lucky enough to be in Premium Economy. Not a cabin they sell from Australia, but rather one they keep for high status Frequent Flyers etc.

Our hotel was the ANA Intercontinental Tokyo in Aksaka. A fairly quiet area after the business day but a wonderful hotel with good sized rooms (not that common in Japan). After a quick freshen up, hotel staff showed us through a couple of suites and the top of the line room as well - man that's how the other half live and my only chance of ever seeing rooms like these are on trips like this!

After the site inspection the hotel staff hosted the most AMAZING dinner. I can't believe it but I left my camera in my room so unfortunately no photos to show but I did take a souvenir copy of the menu:

Zensai (assorted appetizer)
Suimono (clear soup)
Beef shabushaba hot pot (beef, pot herb mustard, enoki mushroom, rice cake)
Yakizakana Igrilled silver cod)
Tempura (prawn, white fish, three kinds of vegetable)
Gohan (mixed tempura topped on rice, miso soup, Japanese pickles)
Green tea icecream

I'm not a very adventurous eater day to day, but when I'm given an opportunity to taste such unusual and amazing looking food I give it a good go! The hot pot was sensational. Super finely shaved meat that you barely touch through the boiling water in front of you to cook - yum!

I REALLY wish I had photos to share!

Due to none, here's another fantastic ad in the subway:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

{ eeeek }

I haven't even finished blogging about my March trip to Japan but I just found out I'm flying back to Tokyo on Friday!! It's a super short trip, will be leaving there on Monday night but I just couldn't pass up the opportunity.

Now I have to work out what I "need" to buy! Any suggestions?!!

So unexpected.

{ things I love about Japan #7.2 }


My hotel was in Shinjuku and very conveniently located between the hotel and the train station was the wonderful Okadaya. This is a great store for linen and cotton fabrics. They also stocked Echino. Okadaya has a number of floors (maybe 4?) but the more everyday fabrics on the upper levels weren’t of the ‘crafty’ nature I was after.

In front of the fabric store is another Okadaya and this one is about 5 or 6 floors high full of all different crafts - bag making, beads, buttons, embroidery, wool, etc. The top floor has a great collection of books and magazines. I remember spending the last hours of my previous trip pouring over the books here.

Through my research, I’d come to hear of Tomato and by all accounts this is a biggie! I suspect I picked the worst time to go - Saturday morning - as it was packed and took away from the enjoyment a bit for me unfortunately. I’ve read this store only takes cash so I came prepared in that regard.

One of the challenges/enjoyments of different cultures is working out the basics, like how do I buy this? I can help you here - at Tomato you have to pay on each floor and you queue first to have your fabric cut and then proceed to another queue for the cashier!

Tomato is about 5 floors high and every one of those floors is packed with fabric! Come prepared - I suggest trying a weekday, perhaps that would be quieter, and take snacks and water as you’ll probably be there ages!

Something I hadn’t seen elsewhere was the use of the same design but on different types of fabric. So you would buy the same design in normal cotton fabric, then on an upper level you’ll come across it in a laminated version (I guess you would use it for table cloths, bags, aprons, etc) and then on another rlevel it will be in the light weight fabric used for handy shopping bags that fold down small enough to sit at the bottom of you handbag for unexpected purchase (do you know the ones I mean?). Ingenious!

Tomato is in an area of Tokyo called Fabric Town and around are lots of other fabric stores but I didn’t get time for them this visit.

So to prices. I didn’t find much variation between stores or even between Tokyo and Kyoto. From this I think I did the right thing by just buying what I liked when I saw it and not running around trying find cheaper prices - too much stress, too time consuming and ultimately not worth it, in my opinion. Prices ranged from JPY380 per metre to JPY1365 for the fabrics I was buying which were cotton, or cotton/linen blends. The JPY1365 fabrics were the Echino and at the time that was approx AUD22 per metre (AUD1 = JPY62, unfortunately a bad time for the dollar against the Yen when we were there this trip).


OKADAYA, Shinjuku: Take the East exit of Shinjuku Station. As you exit you’ll see a massive TV screen on the Alta department store. Head to the left of this and then look down the first alley to your left and you’ll see the outside tables with discount fabrics. Head inside for more wonderful goodies!

TOMATO, Nippori: Take the Yamanote line to Nippori Station. From the platform follow the North Exit signs. At the gate you’ll then see signs for the East Exit, take this. Take the 3rd pedestrian crossing on your left and the street Nippori Chuo Dori will be on the left of the shop ahead of you. After about a block you’ll start to see banners for “’Fabric Town’ hanging from the light posts. Tomato is on the left hand side as you walk down this street.

Monday, May 11, 2009

{ things I love about Japan #7.1 }



I started my fabric buying in Kyoto in a shop called Nomura Tailor. I really only hit 1 store, well 2 outlets of the same store. Walking down a shopping mall area I saw from the corner of my eye some bolts of Echino fabric - I was so excited because this fabric was top of my list so I was so excited to come across it.

The shop was a treasure trove of fantastic fabrics. I had to send my husband away for an hour so I could wander without distraction. Luckily there were some nearby CD stores so I didn’t have to twist his arm.

That hour is a bit of a blur now, just images in my mind of carrying bolt after bolt to the counter and walking away with a bag full of fabric. As it was my first store, I didn’t know if I should buy up big because I wouldn’t find the same fabrics elsewhere or if I should look around to check if prices differed. As it was I went somewhere in between that first night.

Of course the next day as we were sightseeing my mind was back at the shop wondering if I should get some more fabrics or wait until Tokyo. Decisions, decisions.

That night I found the 2nd outlet while wandering so I felt my decision was made - I better check this shop out too and it would be remiss not to come away with a little bit of fabric, right? This shop was the larger of the two with an upstairs for haberdashery, books, etc.


NOMURA TAILOR, Kyoto: Shop 1. The Shin-kyogoku Shopping Arcade is 2 under cover streets running parallel to each other in the main shopping area of Kyoto. If you stand on Shijo dori, facing the entrances it’s on the arcade on your left. Walking up the arcade Nomura Tailor on your left hand side.

NOMURA TAILOR, Kyoto: Shop 2. Come back down the Shin-kyogoku Shopping Arcade back to Shijo dori and turn right at the end, this other outlet of Nomura Tailor will be on your right (on Shijo Dori).

Friday, May 1, 2009

{ things I love about Japan #7 }


Fabric - a new obsession for me. I’ve always loved fabric and coming from a ex-fashion teacher/now avid quilter-mother, there has always been fabric and sewing in my life. I did study fashion until the end of school but haven’t really made much since then. And ‘then’ is suddenly a long time - as the invite this year to my 20 year school reunion testifies, yikes!

Anyway, I digress….I’ve been looking, obsessing and fantasizing about lots of the beautiful fabrics I’ve seen lately but didn’t know what I would do with it so have held off buying.

When I came across a tutorial for making fabric covers for notebooks I knew I had finally found a way to justify buying some fabric!

I knew then this trip to Japan was going to have a heavy focus on fabric buying. I did quite a bit of online research before leaving and had a list of places to visit.

I came home with 34 metres of fabric! Jetstar was as enthusiastic about my purchases in Japan as I was so I ended up carry most of the fabric as carry-on to avoid excess baggage fees. I don’t like travelling with heaps of carry-ons but making the exception this time was totally worth it.

Coming up - posts on my fabric shopping expeditions in Kyoto and Tokyo, stay tuned!