Dear Diary…

so, after the shitshow of Covid (everyone says Corona here, as ‘v’ is a bit tricky for the Japanese), missed Olympics etc etc, I finally made it back. I’d hedged my bets and decided that Japan must have to resume visa-free travel for tourists by October, so booked flights for October 4th. Sadly the announcement finally got made on Sept 16th, and the date was… 11th October 😱.

Some rebooked flights later and…

October 12th/13th 2022:

Long but uneventful flight, with some detours to avoid tinpot dictators – Putin and KimJong.

Quarantine control checks very straightforward as I’d already registered my vaccination status on the MySOS app. Breezed through immigration, then thought my bag had been lost – until I realised it had gone past me 3 times unnoticed. Changed cases at the last minute while packing, haven’t used this one in years…

Tully’s for iced coffee, then monorail and Asakusa line to my hotel. Bags dropped, and on to February Cafe for cold brew, cheese toast, and a creme caramel topped with chestnut puree (a Mont Blanc) and a glacee chestnut – heaven! It’s been too long.

Evening: head for Shinjuku for dinner – Shinjuku station, west exit. Sanbangai St, home of Shinpachi Shokudo Shinjuku, syokudo and teishoku restaurant. Favourite set meal restaurant that James and I discovered on our first visit in 2015, set of grilled salted salmon, rice, miso soup, pickles and daikon. Looked through local BIC Camera and Yodobashi stores, new Google Pixel 8 just got released here… Temptation!

Then had a wander round the bar district of Golden Gai in Kabukicho. Dozens of tiny bars – most just 6 or 8 stools at the counter. Jetlag won, plus it was raining, so headed back to the hotel in Asakusa.

October 14th 2022:

Started the day with a visit to the Shibuya Sky observation deck – a stunning new office/shopping complex right next to the famous Shibuya Scramble crossing. It has an AstroTurf helipad 😁 and views all around.

As you look around from the centre, at 47 storeys high, all you can see is city… It has its green spots, and there’s Ocean in the distance, but no countryside.
And one of these days the earthquake proofing in all these high rises will get a proper workout… but life goes on.

At the bar, there’s a piano version of The Art Of Noise ‘Close to the Edit’ playing 😁 – my kind of vibe.

Lower floor shops are intense, the Japanese have such an incredible design aesthetic.

Hopped the train afterwards over the Rainbow Bridge to go and visit TeamLab Planets. I’m currently working my way through the whole of Peter Gabriel’s discography – current song ‘The Humdrum’ – ‘I ride tandem, with a random’ – mood.

On the way, passed by the large car park that was the site for the Sport Climbing events at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Alas, our visit was not to be… Site still watched over by the Unicorn Gundam.

TeamLab Planets was a wild ride. They describe it thus: “teamLab Planets is a museum where you walk through water, and a garden where you become one with the flowers. There are four massive exhibition spaces and two gardens.” It’s a real trip, you enter walking up a carpeted incline with a stream running over your bare feet, then first stop is a room with soft, deep flooring like the world’s biggest bean bag. It only gets stranger from there.

Hitachino Beer Lab in Akihabara for beer and sausages. Then a nightcap at Beer Komo (was Campion Ale), followed by a stroll bacl through Asakusa.

October 15th 2022:

Started early, Ginza line train heading out to a suburb called Setagaya. I’d seen lots of info and photos about this area from an Instagram account I follow, @LisaInJapan – amazing photographer. Headed first to Sangen-jaya Station, and up to the observation deck in Carrot Tower. Great views over the area, and you can see Mount Fuji on a clear day – sadly today not quite clear enough.

Local train ride to the other end of the Tokyu Setagaya line, looking out for the cute train with lucky cats all over it – spotteed it at Shimo-Takaido:

Started to walk back along the line towards Sangenjaya, through nice little Tokyo neighbourhoods with – what else – a community rice paddy:

Along the way I found a nice little shop to give me my first taste of a delicacy I hadn’t tried yet – tayaki! A batter poured into shaped irons and then sweetened red bean paste as a filling, delicious, or as the Japanese say ‘oishii’ 😋. Then on to my goal – Gotokuji temple.

From Tofugu: “I’m sure many of us out there are familiar with the beckoning cat that greets customers in front of Japanese restaurants and stores. Known as the maneki neko, or literally “the beckoning cat”, the small doll is believed to be a lucky charm that brings in customers and money into the shop.

While there are several legends about the origins of this cat charm, one of the widely known story regards Gotokuji as the place of origin. Legend holds that the maneki neko originated back in Edo period, when a feudal lord from Hikone (a city in present-day Shiga Prefecture) passed by a temple in Edo. There, he met a cat that beckoned him to come into the temple. The lord followed the cat and decided to stop by the temple; soon after, a thunderstorm came by. The lord, who took shelter at the temple, became thankful of the cat’s deed; eventually, he collected enough funds to rebuild and claim the temple as his family temple, which eventually became Gotokuji. As time went on, people began to offer maneki neko figurines to the temple as a sign of gratitude when their wishes came true.”

There are a LOT of manekineko here… 😺

Train back to Sangenjaya, and a quick Google Maps search for ‘craft beer’ brought up “Beer jyuku MARIBANA Sangenjaya”. Walked past it twice before deciding it was the right place and to go in – very low key frontage with – of course – Japanese signage. Glad I did – 12 taps of mostly Japanese craft beer, and some great sashimi and edamame. And some… other… stuff 👀

Met two locals who spoke great English, one works with US and UK companies in the automotive software field. Just came from an over 50s soccer march which they won! They thought I must live in Japan to be able to have found that bar… and when they heard about my trips they decided I must be half Japanese already. Also got complimented on my skill with hashi – chopsticks – always nice to hear.

Quick run back to Asakusa to freshen up, then met with a local for dinner. Yaeko guided me and another couple on a food tour of Osaka on my last visit. She’s now based in Tokyo, working for an all-female startup (most unusual here) focused on B2C sales of cosmetics and lingerie. She’s also starting to work in the food tour guiding again now that tourists are heading back – busy young lady!
Meat sushi (heaven) and assorted sake for the win. Sushi was at Ebisu Yokocho Nikuzushi, located inside Ebisu Yokocho – and complex of tiny food stalls/pubs. Very lively as you can see below!

Funky bar