Tuesday 28 March 2017

PHOTO DIARY: Tokyo, Japan, October 2016 Part 1

Turns out I took sod all photos in Tokyo. When I'm on holiday I get too wrapped up enjoying myself and completely forget about my camera. I want to take more photos when I'm away but I find it difficult to balance enjoying myself and the holiday, while also taking time to capture decent snaps. 

I absolutely loved Tokyo, it was a dream come true. The city was everything I wanted it to be, and so much more.

Before we arrived in Japan's capital city I was worried I'd not love it. I was worried it would be too big, too busy, too much. In all honesty, Tokyo is too big. There is so much to see that the five days we spent there were not nearly enough to do everything I wanted to. I knew the city would be vast so I made a rather detailed plan of the neighbourhoods we would visit and key attractions we wanted to see. But I was still overwhelmed by it's size. I had to reassess the itinerary after our first day which led to many attractions (mainly museums) being cut. However, I saw everything I really wanted to and I know Steve and I will return again so the size issue wasn't really a huge deal.

Unlike London, Tokyo doesn't have a compact centre. Instead you'll find key attractions across the many different neighbourhoods. And each neighbourhoods is sprawling and huge. Imagine Covent Garden; Leicester Square; Piccadilly Circus; Oxford Street; and Soho - that's the size of one neighbourhood (there's 147 in total but not all of them are worth visiting, phew). If you love sight seeing I really recommend spending a solid week in Tokyo, at the very least. However, I think five days was the perfect balance for seeing the city and leaving time for other destinations on our three week trip around Japan.

Day 1:

We arrived in Tokyo on a Saturday afternoon, a few hours later than scheduled thanks to a huge balls up courtesy of BA. We avoided jet lag by sleeping most of the journey thanks to a combination of alcohol and sleeping pills (not a recommended combination but most definitely required after our morning nightmare). We were originally meant to land in Haneda which is only 30 minutes from the city centre but instead we landed in Narita, a 90 minute journey away, thanks BA!

Our Airbnb wasn't ready so we dumped our bags in the lockers at Shibuya Station and headed over to Meji Shrine. I thought it would be best to spend our first day slowly adjusting to Tokyo life. This meant not venturing too far from our apartment in Shibuya and visiting some less hectic sights. Meji Shrine was the perfect place to start. The temple is a serene oasis in the midst of a bustling city. It's found in Yoyogi Park, a beautiful forest-like area that makes you feel at peace with nature. Sure, the temple is a busy spot but the crowd had an almost zen like energy to it. Everyone was respectful and keen not to get in anyone's way. We watched Shinto rituals and families praying, it was beautiful and the perfect introduction to the Japanese psyche.

We made our way through the park, eyeing up the autumn colours that were ever so slightly starting to emerge in the trees. Exiting the park into Harajuku was the burst of energy I was looking forward to experiencing in Tokyo but explorations of the famous Takeshita-dori were to be saved until the following morning. We made it back to Shibuya Station, picked up our bags, navigated the busy streets and found our apartment a stone throw away from that famous pedestrian crossing.

Our apartment was fine, far from special, but at £50 a night in the heart of Shibuya I don't think we could have found a better deal. Space is at a premium in Tokyo and we definitely had more room than any hotel (and for a fraction of the price). If you're happy to avoid luxury but still want a comfortable place to rest your head, in a stellar location, then do check it out.

After a quick freshen up and unpack it was time to head out for the night. The ONLY bad thing about visiting Japan in October is that it's dark by 5pm. We spent the evening in nearby Roppongi to check out the art scene and modern Japanese architecture. By the time we arrived at the National Art Centre to meet my friend Steph (who moved to Japan the previous year) it was already dark and we weren't able to appreciate the incredible, rounded glass structure of the building. But alas, that didn't matter. With all the neon lights in Tokyo it's not like it's ever that dark anyway.

The National Art Centre hosts temporary exhibitions and cultural events. Whilst there wasn't anything on that took our fancy, it was still nice to walk around the spectacular entrance hall. The gift shop is pretty impressive too.

Next stop was Tokyo Midtown, one of the newer skyscrapers in the area. I love the wood focused interior of Tokyo Midtown as it gives the huge a tower a calming, traditional vibe, even though it's a new structure. It also compliments all the designed shops you'll find here. There's a number of revered art galleries in the building including; Tokyo Midtown Design Hub; Suntory Art Museum; 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT; and FUJIFILM SQUARE but we didn't get a chance to visit any. If you're a huge fan of contemporary art you probably need to spend the best part of a day in Roppongi. Especially as there are lots of great shops and cafes about as well.

By this stage it was well into the evening and it suddenly dawned on us that we hadn't eaten anything since landing. It was time to head to dinner and our first experience of authentic Japanese cuisine. We stopped at Tsurutontan, a popular udon restaurant that has a huge selection of noodles from traditional to modern. I had a standard hot udon and hot broth with mixed tempura and a poached egg. The food was wonderful and even though I wasn't totally sure what to do with all the seasoning the meal was still delicious.

Our final tourist attraction of the day was Roppongi Hills, the first skyscraper in the area that helped turn this neighbourhood into it's own micro city. Here you will find the renowned Mori Art Museum, which was unfortunately closed by the time we got there. However, we were able to visit Tokyo City View which is the observation deck at the top of the building that's open super late. Of all the skyscrapers we went up on this trip (there was a lot), Tokyo City View was by far my favourite. Not only was the view spectacular at night (I'd love to go back during the day) thanks to the floor to ceiling curved windows with next to no obstructions, but there weren't many people present unlike the other towers we visited. We spent ages walking around, checking out the vast twinkling lights of Tokyo. You can see the famous, orange Eiffel Tower-esque Tokyo Tower in the distance.

Jet lag was most definitely creeping up on us by this stage but I was determined to persevere with one more stop. You'll find Japan's only BrewDog in Roppongi and whilst it might sound like an odd choice to visit considering London is full of these craft beer pubs I was keen to see what a Japanese version would look like, especially as I've grown quite fond of Asian beer. We ordered a tasting tray of local beers which were a bit hit and miss. However, I'm glad we bothered to check out the bar as it meant we got to try a bunch of drinks we might not have been able to otherwise.

Back to Shibuya for a quick walk around the area to check out the lights and then to the apartment for a night of uninterrupted sleep and hazy dreams about finally being in Japan.

Day 2:

Our first full day in Tokyo was an exciting one for me as it meant seeing my baby sister Helen for the first time in 10 months. She had been based in Bali for the best part of the year and flew over to Japan to spend 10 days with us, along with our cousin Holly. Our group of now five met bright and early in Harajuku to have a morning of fun. Sunday mornings on Takeashita-dori aren't too manic. Some of the shops don't open until nearly midday which meant we got to discover the area without the hoards of teenagers. Similar to Camden, but far more kawaii, Harajuku brings out your inner child. Had I visited 15 years ago I would have been way more obsessed with all the cheap tat on sale but I still enjoyed spotting all my favourite Japanese characters. We wandered into countless shops getting wrapped up in Japanese teenage-girl culture. We spent far too long in Kiddyland, spending far too much money. Think Hamley's meets Japan. But I loved it and at the grand old age of 30, novelty merchandise is still not lost on me.

I was excited to visit Maisen, a famous tonkatsu restaurant in Harajuku, for lunch. The second I tasted my deep fried pork cutlet I was in love. The meat was succulent with a coating of panko breadcrumbs that melted in your mouth with each bite. The curry sauce was perfect and the sushi style rice was just right. This meal was like no katsu curry I have ever experienced and to this day it stands out as one of the best things I ate on that trip. Unfortunately this has meant that katsu curry has not tasted the same since.

Helen and Holly spent the rest of the afternoon in Harajuku while Steve, Steph and myself went off in search of Tokyo's historic past. We caught the metro to Tokyo Station, the city's premier train depot. I wanted to visit the Pokemon store on Character Street and pick up a Pikachu train conductor plushie (#noregrets). The station is huge, we got so incredibly lost I thought we would never see the outside world again. Thank goodness this was the only time we had to stop here. We eventually found Character Street, a row of shops dedicated to characters like Pokemon, Hello Kitty, and Rilakkuma. The Pokemon shop was rammed but I made my purchases at lightening speed so we could leave the cavernous dungeon of the Tokyo Station basement.

Outside into the sunshine at last! We walked through Tokyo International Forum, an art centre and architectural marvel. The glass building soars high above the sunken lobby creating a vast, airy space. We walked through the connecting courtyard which gives you a fantastic oversight into the building and a real sense of just how 'big' everything in Tokyo is. I don't think I had ever experienced buildings of such a huge scale before this trip. It was fantastic.

The grounds of the Imperial Palace are situated right in the heart of the city. Huge skyscrapers line the park but the area is so vast it doesn't take more than a few minutes of walking towards the palace walls to make you feel cut off from the busy metropolis. The only way to visit the Imperial Palace is by tour, something I didn't want to do due to time constraints. Instead we walked around the moat, stopping at the Edo-era Fushimi-yagura watchtower for a photo op and eventually making our way inside the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace which are free to visit. The gardens are a beautiful and tranquil oasis, shaded by bonsai tress with plenty of lovely water features. Our first visit to a traditional Japanese garden was only a hint at the wonders waiting for us later in our trip.

After the palace we made it over to Ueno-kōen, a large park in the middle of the city that's popular for cherry blossom viewings in the spring. The park is also home to Tokyo's largest concentration of museums. There were so many I would loved to have visit; Tokyo National Museum; Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum; National Museum of Western Art but we didn't have time. Instead we walked through the busy park, enjoying the large green space, and stopping at Shinobazu-ike, a large pond covered in lotus flowers.

As the night crept in, it was time to head over to Sensō-ji, one of Tokyo's most famous Buddhist temples, where we met up with Holly and Helen again. I wish we could have visited during the day time, however come nightfall the vibrant red wood work and Japanese lanterns still make for an impressive sight. I think this is the only major temple in Tokyo that's open 24 hours a day so it's a good place to visit come the evening if you have a full agenda of daytime activities.

A scenic 30-minute walk brought us to Tokyo SkyTree, the tallest skyscraper in the city. This is a popular tourist destination and is priced so accordingly (¥¥¥). We didn't have to queue for long before we were bolted up to the observation deck in one of the super speedy elevators I was slowly getting used to. While the views are impressive (I can imagine they're incredible during the day) this was my least favourite observation tower in the city, purely due to the fact it's so busy. Unlike the Mori building with it's impressive floor to ceiling windows, this tower felt cramped. I'm glad we visited because heck I love a tall building but when I return to Tokyo it won't be on my revisit list.

You'll find a shopping mall at the base of Tokyo SkyTree. On our way out we stumbled across a Pokemon store so of course we had to visit. I told them it was my birthday (I was only a few hours off at this stage) and they gave me a bunch of free goodies. If I'd had my Nintendo DS and Pokemon game on me I could have received a special birthday Pokemon so that was a bit of a bummer. If you're keen to get some birthday goodies at one of these shops I'd advice you to carry some ID as the staff want proof of your date of birth.

Our final stop of the day is where I realised I'd made a bit of a faux pas in my planning. We made our way over to Akihabara, the geek culture district of Tokyo. The streets are filled with towers of neon lights, girls dressed as French maids, and hundreds of teenage boys wrapped up in the latest video game release. I had been really excited about visiting this neighbourhood but as soon as we emerged from the station we realised that late on a Sunday evening was probably not the best time to see the area in full flow as the streets felt somewhat empty. Despite the lacklustre welcome we enjoyed wandering around the arcades. We didn't end up playing anything as it was more Final Fantasy based than MarioKart and the Maid Cafe we stuck our heads into felt really weird so we passed up that as well. The train themed cafe (N3331) I was really keen to visit was closed but we found a tiny little eatery tucked away near the station that served really tasty rice bowls. It was our first experience of ordering a food ticket from a vending machine and the entire atmosphere couldn't have felt more authentically Japanese, it was a really great find. Dinner ended up being a super late affair and due to an early start the next morning we didn't waste much time in returning home for a few hours of sleep.

Day 3:

Our third day in the city coincided with my 30th birthday and what a day of fun I had planned. I am not a morning person, every day I struggle getting out of bed, even on holiday, so I was pretty amazed with myself that I managed to stick to my plan and get up 5:30 am. We wanted to visit the famous Tsukiji Market for a sushi breakfast before making our way over to DisneySea, hence the early start. Our morning journey was eerily quiet, the Shibuya Crossing was deserted and the morning rush on the trains hadn't started yet. However, that all changed when we arrived at the market.

The market opens in the early hours and even though we arrived at 6:30 am (in the rain) it was still swarming with people. The rain put a real dampener on our spirits as early morning topped with soaking wet clothes does not a positive attitude make, but we persevered. The sushi shack I wanted to visit was rammed so we looked around elsewhere for available space for five people. I have no idea what the place was called that we visited and I wouldn't particularly recommend it either as the sushi was extremely over priced. It tasted great but the prices were totally geared up for the tourist crowd. That being said, sushi breakfast was a fun experience (for me anyway, I'm not sure how everyone else felt about raw fish at 7 am). Next time I'm in Tokyo I'd love to visit the market again for a more stress free experience. On our way to DisneySea we picked up some raincoats that made us look like undertakers that will forever make me howl with laughter when I remember what a state we looked like when we wore them.

Tokyo has two Disney parks, DisneyLand and DisneySea. DisneySea is more geared up for adults (no Magic Kingdom or characters walking around) and I did hesitate about spending a full day of holiday in a theme park especially as I'm not exactly a Disney fan. But you only turn 30 once and I wanted to make it as fun a day as possible. Everyone wore a Disney themed outfit because dressing up in Japan is not taken lightly.

I heard that the Disney parks in Japan are like nothing you have ever experienced in terms of crowds. The American theme parks pale in comparison. I wanted to make sure we arrived at 9 am when the gates open in hope of getting on as many rides as possible. There's a clever queue tracking website so you can judge what day is best to visit. Weekends are of course a no-go and Mondays and Fridays are pretty busy as well. But my birthday was a Monday which meant we had to hope for the best. With the park being in Halloween mode this also meant that there was to be more people than usual.

We didn't arrive until 9:30 am and by the time we got into the park it was clear that there were a lot of people already there. We rushed over to Toy Story Mania, the most popular ride in the park, and the one I really wanted to go on. Apparently it's even better than the American equivalent. Disney have these clever fast pass machines where you can collect a timed ticket for certain rides and return later without having to queue. We grabbed fast passes but they were for 7:30 pm and there was no way we wanted to stay in the park for that long so we grinned and bared the queue instead.

90 minutes of standing in the rain didn't do much for our spirits and my sister and cousin were almost considering going home after the ride. However, Toy Story Mania was well worth the wait and we exited the ride in a much better mood, which was helped greatly by an end to the rain and appearance of sun. Toy Story Mania is one of the most fun and ingenious rides I have ever been on so if you ever decide to go don't be put off by the queue.

I could write an entire post on DisneySea but I didn't take many photos (too many rides, too much fun, too much rain etc. etc.) so I'll do my best to summaries everything here. After Toy Story Mania we didn't have to queue too long for anything else. The rain definitely helped keep visitors at bay and the fact some of the bigger rides (Indiana Jones and Raging Spirits) have single rider queues, you can get on a ride within minutes. I really recommend this as both rides are incredibly fun but with very long regular queues.

I adored the Tower of Terror and it was hilarious to see all the Japanese regulars posing for the photo op while our group were practically dying from fear. 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea is really well done and the Journey to the Centre of the Earth roller coaster is brilliant even if the queue is a bit of a long one. We didn't bother with any of the Disney shows because I'm not interested in them but we did end up on kid friendly Sinbad's Storybook Voyage which was pretty amusing. Bear in mind that all the rides are in Japanese but fortunately most of he stories are simple enough to follow.

I didn't get a chance to ride the Electric Railway but Steve did whilst the rest of us were doing roller coasters. He said it was great fun as it gave a great views over the park.

Food is another big factor at DisneySea and unlike other theme parks there are loads of really tasty snacks to try. I did a lot of research to find out must eats and we had quite a lot of fun tracking down everything on the day. Because the park was in Halloween mode everything, including the food, was themed in an appropriate colour scheme.

We tackled the park in a clockwise manner so we started with the Shrimp Ukiwa Buns from Seaside Snacks which is found between Port Discovery and Cape Cod areas. These are steamed buns full of shrimp and pork and are super tasty. Nearby you will the Milky Way Café that sells Sea Salt Ice Cream Monaka which is basically a delicious ice cream sandwich. In the Arabian Coast area you will find Sultan’s Oasis, a cafe that sells Chandu Tails. Similar to the previous shrimp buns but filled with a delicious creamy chicken concoction.

DisneySea is big on popcorn with lots of different flavours scattered around the park. We tried a few different types but the curry flavour was definitely the best and surprisingly addictive. The park map helpfully tells you where you can find the different types.

In the Mysterious Island area you fill find a cafe that sells the infamous Gyoza Dogs which are essentially a huge steamed pork bun, similar to the others, but rolled into a long sausage shape. By this stage we were pretty sick of steamed buns so the Gyoza Dog was a bit lost on us. On our way out of the park I eventually found the bakery in the Mediterranean Harbour area that sells the Toy Story themed Green Alien Moochi. I'd been searching for these all day and was glad I managed to track them down as they were extremely tasty.

I loved DisneySea more than I thought I would and it was the perfect place to celebrate my birthday. I probably wouldn't go again, and I doubt I'd visit Tokyo's DisneyLand but if you're ever in the city and looking for a day of Disney related fun then I 100% recommend it. A lot of the rides (and food) are unique to DisneySea so even if you've been to other Disney parks there is still a ton of new stuff to try here.

After we left the park we headed back to Shibuya for some karaoke. This might sound like a totally cliche thing to do in Japan but let me tell you this, the Japanese know how to put on an amazing experience. You book a private room (size depends on how big your group is) with most places offering an all you can drink price. It cost us around £15 an hour per person. The longer you stay the cheaper it is per hour. We initially booked ourselves in for an hour but ended up staying for three because we had so much fun. We had a huge variety of songs to choose from and the disco lights most definitely added to the experience. You use a special remote control to order drinks, using the number codes on the menu which are then brought to your room. The cocktails aren't great so it's best to stick to the wine and beer. Before long we were all howling and having the most fun singing everything from 80s glam rock to, dare I say it, Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber.

We finished the night with a trip to a 24 hour soba noodle joint called Sagatani. I had the signature noddles with sesame dipping sauce which were utterly delicious and best thing of all, it only cost around £2.

Stay tuned for the second part of my Tokyo round up which hopefully includes more photos.

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Thursday 2 March 2017

Where to have lunch in Farringdon Part 4

Another day and another blog post about where to eat in Farringdon. I said to Steve last week that as long as I'm working in London I hope I'm based in Farringdon as it really does have the best choice of lunch time delights. I have a list of places that I haven't been to yet, or that I've only been to once a long time ago and I'm starting to feel like I might actually visit them all. But I know that as soon as I make a comment like this something new and exciting pops up. I probably get to a new place once or twice a month (I try not to go too overboard with a non-homemade lunch) so it's a slow (but exciting) process. I wouldn't be surprised if I could make a total 10 lunch time guides so maybe that will be my end (of year) goal.

St. John, Smithfield

St. John is somewhere I have wanted to visit for as long as I've worked in Farringdon but somehow it dropped off my radar. My office is based north of Farringdon station (close to Exmouth Market) so I don't tend to make it down to Smithfield that often, which is probably why it took me so long to visit. The bar is an excellent spot for lunch at it serves reasonably priced lunch appropriate options. St. John is a pioneer in the nose-to-tail movement and there's a lot of meaty dishes on the menu. The plate of bone marrow is heavenly, if not a little indulgent, but it's the simple, and perfectly done Welsh rarebit and green salad that steal the deal for me. As well as the freshly made doughnuts. I'm still desperate to visit the proper restaurant but I think that'll have to wait for a dinner splurge.

Grind, Exmouth Market

Grind have recently opened a new restaurant in Exmouth Market and I was lucky enough to visit during the soft launch, twice. The menu is very European with a focus on healthy ingredients but the options are still exciting and satisfying. With a choice of small and large plates to choose from you can enjoy a small or big lunch, whatever takes your fancy. I personally think some items are a little over priced but I did very much enjoy the grilled octopus and cauliflower small plates. Grind is also a bit of an Instagram dream with it's pink and marble interiors.


I've not managed to visit Moro on Exmouth Market yet but I have paid a visit to their lunch time stall and if my lamb kebab is just a taste of what's on offer at the proper restaurant, I cannot wait to check it out. For £6 you can enjoy a huge flat bread wrap filled with tender and tasty lamb plus a huge pile of fresh, fragrant salad. This kebab was such a joy to eat that I cannot wait to order another one soon. 


Caravan on Exmouth Market is somewhere I've visited a few times over the years but always mean to visit more often thanks to the large, eclectic menu. I love the diversity of the dishes with many having middle eastern influences. There's a range of small and larger plates so you can really go for it if you so desire. The chorizo croquettes and Burmese chicken salad really stood out on my last visit but you can rest assured that everything is exceedingly tasty. It's definitely one of my favourite spots.


Panzo has been open on Exmouth Market for a few months and is serving up double-cooked, 26-hour rested dough pizzas. This technique creates a lighter dough, not too dissimilar from sourdough pizza bases like Franca Manco, but with less calories. I enjoyed a Triple P (pumpkin, pancetta, provola) on my visit and I'm looking forward to returning and trying more flavours.


I am always on the look out for an authentic tonkatsu since spending three weeks in Japan last year and Mugen, next to Farringdon Station, might just be one of the best around. The tiny Japanese cafe, with it's kawaii green and pink façade, dishes up all your Japanese classics but it's the pork katsu that has really won me over. Tender, crispy and smothered with that comforting curry sauce, I love it. The menu is reasonably priced and it's always busy come lunch time which must be testament to how great it is.

Check out my where to eat lunch in Farringdon part 1 guide.
Check out my where to eat lunch in Farringdon part 2 guide.
Check out my where to eat lunch in Farringdon part 3 guide.

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