Japan – the land of the rising sun, cherry blossoms, samurai and the iconic Mount Fuji. However Japan is more than history and geography; it is a flagship of modernity and resilience, putting its imprint on humanity’s direction and future. No, this is not a rush statement – dreams are dreamt around the world, but they first become reality in Japan… Did you know Japan is the first country to introduce hotels and restaurants exclusively served by robots i.e. the Henn-na Hotel in Sasebo, the world’s first ever hotel to be fully staffed by robots, which opened near Nagasaki in 2015?! Enough said – you must visit!
This is my first blog in the public domain and for the next weeks I have chosen to share with you in weekly blogs, the experiences I’ve had in Japan during my travel around the country in Dec 2016 – Feb 2017. Once you reach Japan, the multitude of possibilities in terms of travel, activities, food and sightseeing will certainly overwhelm you. So I’ll try to share my travel experiences in chapters, to help you decide some of the best things to do and see while in Japan.
TOKYO – Chapter 1 (GINZA and MARUNOUCHI districts)
Tokyo is an amazing mélange of modern and traditional, although the traditional is not so obvious at first sight. The first striking thing when you arrive is the travel from the Narita International Airport along the Tokyo Bay and Odaiba. The famous Rainbow Bridge is located here and depending on the mode of transport you choose from the airport (I recommend the limousine bus being straightforward and easy – the train lines and the metro can be confusing at first sight and on your journey to and from the Tokyo airports you have to change the trains more than once for different areas of Tokyo – the limousine bus has direct lines to most areas), you may cross this or not. Irrespective, the views are spectacular, especially if you enjoy modern architecture.
My stay in Tokyo has been split in two five days periods and in between these, I have travelled around the country. In Tokyo, I have made a point of choosing to stay in a range of hotels in different areas, to ensure I experience the vibes and the specific of each of the Tokyo neighbourhoods. Japan is known for its hospitality and Tokyo is highly regarded in this respect. It is certainly imperative to experience at least one night stay in one of the best hotels of Tokyo: Aman Tokyo, The Peninsula Tokyo or Palace Hotel Tokyo. I promise you it’s worth it!
GINZA and MARUNOUCHI district
While in Ginza, I stayed at the Peninsula Tokyo. Fabulous hotel with great spa! Ginza is one of the most vibrant and best shopping districts I have ever been to and if you want the perfect urban escape this is where you should go. In Ginza not only you will find the best and biggest departments stores of Japan (i.e. Mitsukoshi, Isetan and Matsuya) but also all things that are at the very heart of the Japan pop manga culture. I will not go into details about the magnitude and the diversity of the shopping options – all big designers from Paris, New York, Milan have flagship stores here. You should visit and see for yourself.
The food takes centre stage in Japan and beside the fabulous cuisine (ranging from sushi and sashimi to tonkatsu and ramen and from okonomiyaki to teppanyaki), there is an entire industry of confectionery which is unlike anywhere in the world – it is truly unique because of the taste, the texture and the innovation that goes into it.
In Ginza you find some of this uniqueness in the like of the specialized stores: something you should not miss is the first street facing KitKat store that has opened in Ginza on 2 February 2017. I hear you ask: ‘KitKat store?! We have Kit Kat everywhere!’ Well, not exactly – not like Japan! Here you’ll find some of the most amazing Kit Kat flavours you have ever tried which are exclusive to Japan and at the heart of an amazing confectionery culture! Flavours from apple, forest fruits, cinnamon and rum raisin to the more sophisticated wasabi, sake, green tea, toasted tea, purple sweet potato, all burst into your mouth leaving you wonder how a Kit Kat can do that?!
And to maintain their reputation as innovators of taste, two weeks ago, Nestle Japan have released at the inauguration of their ninth store (Kit Kat Chocolatory – specialty stores offering exclusive Kit Kat flavours) in Ginza, the first range of limited edition specialty Kit Kat sushi – deliciously flavoured sweets which are shaped to look like seafood. Don’t get confused though: the red ‘tuna’ bar is in fact made of raspberry, the ‘egg’ Kit Kat roll tastes of pumpkin, and the ‘uni’ Kit Kat is made with flavours of mascarpone and melon. The sushi rice itself is white chocolate covered puffed rice. Must try!
Then you should visit the Ginza Cozy Corner’s raw cake shop in Ginza 1chome and taste their seasonal limited cherry sweets which are on sale from 15 February 2017 until 6 April 2017. And if you don’t make it to Tokyo before April 2017, try Ginza Cozy Corner anyway – it is guaranteed you’ll find new flavours and limited edition confectionery tasting delicious all year round. All this comes with a warning: watch out your sugar levels – it’s easy to overdo it… Japan is known to be on the increase in the number of adults with diabetes – about 7.6 percent of adults between the ages of 20 and 79 are diabetic and it is estimated that Japan may have more than 3 million undiagnosed cases.
Of course, having lunch is never a problem in Tokyo – especially in Ginza. If you travel on a budget, visiting the basement food halls (called depachika) of Isetan, Mitsukoshi and Matsuya is a good idea – the bento boxes offer a great variety of foods (seafood, meat or vegetarian), tastes and textures. They also have top floor restaurants where you can indulge for a sit down lunch in all varieties of Japanese food. And remember that the Asian cuisine is more based on texture and how food feels. You should try to sample most foods – the sampling is free and available in most shops and it gives you an idea about the abundance of aromas without having to buy everything.
Beside the department stores mentioned above, one of the ‘must visit’ shopping places is the Sanrio World store in Ginza – Sanrio is the Hello Kitty brand owner.
The wide appeal of Hello Kitty around the world is undisputable (for the past few years Sanrio has steadily made £5 billion per year in licensing retail sales, a big chunk of which is the Hello Kitty brand) and the marketing genius of Sanrio have made this pop icon, the cute little face that everybody wants to owe – whether aged 5 or 50. You have to see this first hand in the Ginza flagship store. The store has a wide range of products and I admit that my ‘weakness’ was a pricy sticker from one of the collections that Sanrio has under the luxury jewelry brand Swarovski. However, the items in store are diverse, with a wide range of prices for all pockets, so you can surely get a souvenir of your choice.
Another ‘must visit’ in Ginza is the world biggest Uniqlo flagship store. Spread on 12 floors, Uniqlo is an eye popping example of a fabulously successful Japanese brand that has achieved the perfect balance of technical, low key, functional, essential every day wear and purposeful design. This store is the ‘mother’ of all Uniqlo stores. Here, among all other products, Uniqlo displays a unique line that is singular to this Ginza store – I bought myself a clean, crisp line office wear dress from this line to remember my visit.
One other department store in Ginza that maybe deserves some attention is Tokyu Plaza. I think its main distinction from the other bigger and more famous department stores is the design of the clothing, home wear and stationery collections (7th floor in particular) on offer. The feel of the store is more in tune with Japan’s modern manga, almost futuristic, design ethos. I liked very much the decor and the store dressing throughout.
One of the best buys while in Japan is, of course, Issey Miyake – the most coveted Japanese fashion designer. He is known for his technology driven clothing designs, imagination and fabrics tech. Issey Miyake is certainly the 4 Fs: flawless, fresh, fun and forward thinking. Issey Miyake has few big brands – Issey Miyake, Pleats Please, Homme Plisse, HaaT, me Issey Miyake/ Cauliflower, 132 5. Issey Miyake, IN-EI (amazing home wear, beautifully outsourced from recyclable materials) and Bao Bao.
One of the best flagship Issey Miyake stores is in Marunouchi (two minute walk from the Tokyo Station) with clothes that fold like perfect origami, which once open and worn become the epitome of elegance and style. Check out the new neon and colour block shades of the Bao Bao collection bags and the astonishing new collaboration ROCK and WRAP collection of shoes that Issey Miyake has teamed up for with the Dutch from United Nude. The ROCK collection (which are currently on sale at farfetch.com) are the fabulous high fashion leather and wood platform shoes, design reminiscent of the traditional Japanese platform sandals collection and the WRAP collection are the most stylish pret-a-porter collection of the Spring-Summer 2017 in white, silver and black – with heels or flat.
Besides the street stores, Issey Miyake is a national icon and his brands are sold in all big department stores, including in Ginza. My secret crush is the Pleats Please range, which is the more affordable fashion by Miyake, without cutting on style and ingenuity – the SS 2017 collection comes in a variety of geometric prints, with backpacks and colour block tote bags (navy, green, white and reds). I promise to wear my buys and take photos to show you what I’ve purchased.
And if you are cash strapped, there is a high street label (Koibito Misaki at Fashion Village on the Suzuran Street in Ginza) that uses pleated fabrics really well in their clothing designs – you can buy this at a fraction of Miyake’s prices (but of course, it’s not Issey Miyake).
Well, I hope today you have read little something that inspired you and you enjoyed my little tips and guide through Ginza and Marunouchi shopping. I hope you will join me next week to explore the Shibuya and Harajuku districts in Tokyo.
Run fast, run strong, run free! Catch up next week! Ta!
The Running Blogger
The Peninsula Tokyo, 1-8-1 Yurakucho, Tokyo-to, 100-0006 (Tel: +813-6270 2888; tokyo.peninsula.com)
UNIQLO Ginza, 6 Chome-9-5 Ginza, 中央区 Tokyo-to, 104-0061, Japan
SANRIO World Ginza, Chuo-ku, Ginza 4−1 西銀座 Tokyo-to, 104-0061, Japan
Ginza Cozy Corner’s Ginza 1chome Main Shop, Chuo, 1-8-1 Ginza, Chuo-Ku, Tokyo Prefecture (Tel:+81 3-3567-5015)
Kit Kat Chocolatory Ginza store / キットカットショコラトリー銀座店, Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Ginza 3-7-2, 東京都中央区銀座 3-7-2 (Tel: +81-3-6228-6285)
Issey Miyake MARUNOUCHI, Yusen Bldg. 2-3-2 Marunouchi Chiyoda-ku Tokyo (Tel:+81-3-5221-9900, isseymiyake.com)
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