to yokohama and back

You know how every city has a certain feel to it? If I were to describe Yokohama, I would definitely say that it feels like Sydney in a lot of ways. For one, despite being just a thirty minute train ride from the heart of Tokyo, there were way less people than compared to the capital. It also had a lot less tall buildings and more greenery lining the streets, with even a huge port to rival my beloved Sydney Harbour. Anyway, since my friend lives in Yokohama, I was lucky enough to explore the place from a local's perspective for the day!





Our first stop of the day was Yokohama Chinatown, which is apparently the largest of its kind in Asia! While I've been to my fair share of Chinatowns, what stuck out to me was how bustling this one was. It definitely felt more tourist-orientated, with plenty of things to see and do wherever you look. There was also plenty to eat, with street stalls selling everything from bubble tea to pork buns the size of my face. I'm not sure how authentic it all was, but I really loved the atmosphere of the place!





Of course, I couldn't leave without taking a snap of Chinatown's famous gates! There are actually quite a few of these scattered around the area, and they all mark the various entrances to the district.





Afterwards we walked to the international passenger terminal, where you'll find a pretty good view of the harbour. I have to say though, walking on the dock was quite an experience in itself! It really felt like we were on a giant space ship, for lack of a better description.





Strolling around Red Brick Warehouse, which is a historical building that houses a lot of shops, food outlets as well as event venues. Unfortunately I didn't have time to do some proper shopping, but it was fun to poke around all the quirky stores inside!





My first time eating potato wedges in months at a little izakaya. Oh how I missed them... This particular place my friends and I visited specialised in seafood and wine, which I really enjoyed. To be honest, I never really drank much before coming to Japan. However, I really like the fact that good food is also a huge part of the drinking culture here, which could either be a good or bad thing!

Anyway, that was my day in Yokohama before hopping on the last bus home. My only regret is that I didn't get to see the harbour lit up at night, but I know I'll definitely be back to see it on my second visit. Until next time!
Posted by : Mani

booth net cafe & capsule

Like so many things here in Japan, capsule hotels were created for the sake of convenience. Despite the 'work hard play hard' mentality here, you might be surprised to learn that most trains actually only run until midnight! As you can imagine, this can leave you in quite the predicament if you end up stranded in the city. Thus the capsule hotel was born, where businessmen could crash after a night of drinking and be fresh for work again the next morning. But of course, today anyone from locals to tourists are able to use these unique hotels.



Anyway, I've been fascinated by capsule hotels for the longest time. I'm not exactly sure where the appeal lies in sleeping in what's essentially a little coffin, but it's always seemed so fun to me! The place I stayed at is called Booth in Shinjuku, and is actually both a manga cafe and capsule hotel in one. Reception's open 24 hours a day, so I was able to check in at midnight with no problems.

     



Ordinarily capsule hotels are specified as being for men only, but this one actually has a section strictly for females. The area requires an electronic pass to enter, so it's very secure. The capsule itself comes with a power outlet, alarm clock and a light with adjustable settings. While the door was just a mesh screen, I was pretty lucky that my neighbours were quiet and I managed to sleep like a baby!

     

Since I checked in pretty late, I didn't have much time to take advantage of the unlimited drinks and ice cream available. However, you can pay to use the amenities and computer booths for a certain period of time without staying the night. Definitely something you might want to consider if you have a few hours to kill in Tokyo!



The common area where you can use the PCs and read manga to your heart's content. The format is pretty much like any manga cafe you can find here in Japan, except with a way more pleasant atmosphere. If you've seen the fluorescent lighting and dankness of a regular manga cafe here, you'd definitely know what I mean.



Anyway, that's one more thing I can tick off the bucket list! The stay was a tad expensive (especially considering showers cost extra) but I'd totally do it again. The only catch is that it's best to stay for one night, since they require you to check out when they clean out the capsules each day. Also, booking in advance is a must! Kinda sucks considering the whole point of a capsule is to be a last minute accommodation, but I guess that can't be helped considering how popular they've gotten lately.
Posted by : Mani

a day in asakusa

One of my favourite things about Japan is how traditional and modern culture seem to coexist so easily. Even in the heart of Tokyo with all its flashing lights and crazy traffic, it's not unusual to stumble across the odd temple or traditional Japanese garden. In fact, one of the most popular areas for a taste of traditional Japan is Asakusa, home to Sensoji Temple and Nakamise Dori. Despite the fact that it was a Friday when I visited, the place was packed to the brim. I can't even imagine what the weekends must be like!





On this particular day I was visiting Tokyo to catch up with friends, some of whom I hadn't seen since they studied abroad back in Sydney! Anyway, we decided to find out our fortunes because why not? If you're unlucky, you're actually meant to tie it to one of the many posts around the temple. I got to keep my fortune since it was a good one though. Lucky me!



      

This water fountain outside the temple is actually intended for cleansing yourself before you enter. I'm pretty sure there's a proper method of doing it, but don't worry if you don't get it right. I'm pretty sure Japanese people themselves even get it wrong from time to time!





Taking a break in the shaded area, where there are actually pipes spraying out cool mist. If you ever visit Asakusa in the summertime, be prepared! The heat is killer, especially since there seems to be concrete everywhere you go.



      

From Asakusa we walked to Skytree, where there's a huge complex filled with shops and restaurants. Since we were in the mood for something sweet we decided to visit Gion Tsujiri, which is dedicated to matcha desserts! I got the soft serve in hojicha, otherwise known as roasted green tea. Compared to my friend's regular matcha it was a lot sweeter and subtler in flavour, which I really enjoyed.



We didn't actually go up to the top of Skytree, but this was the gorgeous view just outside the matcha shop. Anyway, after walking around Shibuya and catching up over drinks at an izakaya I actually crashed at a capsule hotel for the first time. The experience was super interesting to say the least, but that's a story I'll save for next time!
Posted by : Mani

things i can't get used to in japan

Even though my exchange is quickly approaching the six month mark (I know right, already?!) there are so many things that continually surprise me about Japan. If you've been following me for awhile, you might have read my other post about the weird and wonderful things I've noticed since arriving here. However, there are just some things I don't think I'll ever wrap my head around, even in a million years...



1. Students wearing seifuku, or school uniforms on the weekend. While it's unheard of in Australia, whenever Japanese students have school activities they wear their uniform no matter what day of the week it is. I have to admit, sometimes it's pretty disorientating whenever I see them out and about on a Saturday. Occasionally I'll even get confused about what day it is!

2. Earthquakes. I'd never experienced one before coming to Japan, but earthquakes are almost a fortnightly occurrence in my particular area. Even though they're pretty small and rarely last more than a few seconds, I still get a little shock whenever there are tremors. Most Japanese people are quite used to it though, and won't even bat an eyelid when it happens.

3. Mayonnaise on everythingIt's no secret that the Japanese love mayonnaise, whether it's on takoyaki, okonomiyaki, fried chicken... you get the idea. However, sometimes its placement really makes me scratch my head. I mean, corn and mayonnaise on pizza? Fries with ketchup and mayo and on the side? My friend even claims it tastes good with rice and soy sauce, which is just taking it too far!

4. Using twenty-four hour time. It's not a big thing, but I've definitely noticed that everyone here uses twenty-four hour time. Sometimes planning a simple meet up with friends can feel like I'm in the military!

5. Smoking indoors. Smoking isn't really looked down on here, so most restaurants will have a designated smoking section. With all the anti-smoking ads drilled into my head growing up, I don't think I'll ever get used to it. However, I have heard the Japanese government's considering banning smoking indoors here, which I definitely think is a step in the right direction.

For all the weird things about Japan I could go on about, they're not really significant in the grand scheme of things. There are a billion more aspects I love about the culture, and it's been so fun discovering something new everyday while I'm living here. Anyway, I'm a bit behind on my blog posts, but I do have a ton of photos to share from my recent trips to Tokyo. In the meantime, if you're interested you can check out my Instagram here for more frequent photo updates. Until next time!
Posted by : Mani

a trip to oarai

Let's be real here, Japan isn't exactly famous for its beaches. Even though I'm pretty spoilt being Australian and all, most people will agree that you have to fly to Okinawa to find a beach that can even compete on a global scale! Regardless, I guess I'm pretty lucky to live near the seaside at all since most of Japan is landlocked. In fact, it's so close that one day my friends and I spontaneously went to Oarai, a seaside town here in Ibaraki. Obviously it was nothing like home, but it felt so good to feel the ocean breeze and salty air in my lungs again.





After a session of sun baking on the beach, my friends and I stopped by a little fish market near the harbour. I had some seriously good chirashidon there, which is basically a seafood bowl filled with sashimi, rice and other goodies! The combination of salmon, tuna, pickled veggies and roe was super fresh and seriously to die for. Just the thought of it's making me salivate all over again...







We also paid a visit to Oarai Isosaki Shrine (大洗磯前神社) which actually turned out to be my favourite stop of the day. If you ask me most shinto shrines look fairly similar, but this one had plenty of greenery and a great view of the ocean. It was such a quiet afternoon when we visited too, and I truly felt at peace walking around the area.





If you walk down to the ocean, you'll also find the torii gates standing on a rock in the sea! Some gutsy people actually climbed to get closer to it, but I wasn't game enough to try it myself. Instead I was pretty content taking in the sound of the waves, which was really relaxing.





A really beautiful sky I spotted on the way home. Anyway, I definitely hope I get the chance to visit Oarai again soon! Apparently the view of the sunrise from the shrine is incredible, so fingers crossed it happens.
Posted by : Mani

mito komon matsuri

There's really nothing that can be compared to the energy of a Japanese matsuri, or summer festival. With the smell of food in the air, people milling around, and music coming from all different directions, it's a definitely a feast for the senses. For three days in August, my town has an event called Mito Komon Festival, which celebrates the feudal lord Tokugawa Mitsukuni. I actually don't know much when it comes to the history, but my friends decided to check out the festival and had an awesome time regardless!



     

Of course, no summer festival would complete without the appropriate street food. Shaved ice, or kakigoori, is a personal favourite of mine. You can get it in every flavour under the sun, and it's the perfect thing to combat the sweltering Japanese heat!





For the duration of the festival an entire street is put out of action, which I thought was awesome! You could actually walk between the various festival floats, which were super fun to watch. My friends and I spotted drummers, people playing traditional instruments and even the occasional performer on the street.







A free jazz concert we spotted on the way home. Anyway summer just ended here in Japan, which reminds me of how insanely late this post is. I have way too many photos to share from the past month though, so stay tuned if you're interested in what I've been up to lately! Hope you're having a great weekend!
Posted by : Mani