Dec 22, 2013

Japandra minus Japan

Heading back to the US after almost six years in Tokyo. Our first stop when we arrived was an extended stay hotel where we spent the first 48 hours dead with food poisoning. We went out in style, though, with a comped stay at the Imperial Hotel after we handed over the apartment keys and 48 bonus hours to play tourist. We spent the last night singing at a time-warp snack bar with feisty old twin Mama-sans in sequined jackets. The place was full of thoughtful surprises and odd delights, with a befuddling mix of vintage holdovers and modern technology. It was also a little overwhelming and irritating at times. The bar, I mean. Of course.

Nov 25, 2013

Ome, oh my

Ome is one of my favorite little day trips out of Tokyo. While ten million people lined up to take pictures of the leaves at Takao this weekend, I had this place to myself.
Here are some more pictures.

Nov 18, 2013

Hi, gingko trees

I wrote a tiny bit about the gingko trees that haven't quite gone gold yet on Hi. It's kind of a neat site that maps moments. Check it out!

Nov 15, 2013

Japandra on Tokyo on CNN Travel

CNN Travel asked me to come up with a list of things to know before you go to Tokyo. The suggestion was that it fall somewhere between quirky and useful. That's me all over!
Enjoy. I tried to get in a few that don't make the usual lists.
PS They nixed my suggested headline for number 4, "One card to ride them all." What were they thinking?

Oct 24, 2013

No crying in bouldering!

Here's something I didn't mention in my SavvyTokyo story about rock climbing in Tokyo: I cried the last time I took a class. Considering the length of time I've been climbing, my progress is slow. Very slow. I'm still afraid of heights – I often come back down just because I'm uncomfortably far from the ground. The mechanics of climbing aren't obvious to me. So much of it is about shifting your center of mass a little bit or making subtle, coordinated adjustments. Sometimes I hit on the right combination and go "A-ha! That's it!" but I can rarely reproduce what it was that worked. I attended the free Ladies' Dojo at b-pump in Akihabara a few times with two friends. When I say we were the worst in the class, I am not being modest. Empirical evidence supports me on this. The teacher sets up a course by marking the rocks you're to use in the problem with holographic tape. Then, everyone takes a turn trying to go up the route. That day, nobody got it on the first go-round, but about half the people had reached the goal by the second turn. By the third, almost everyone had made it close to the top. Everyone except my friends and me. The wall kept pushing me off. Where other people seemed to be covered in velcro, I was climbing like the rocks were coated in oil. It was embarrassing. The teacher was supportive and gave me specific tips, but I couldn't get anywhere with it. I only felt worse when she chirped, "Okay, that's close! All you have to do is...." The final time I slipped off on an early move, I slunk back to my seat looking at the mat and felt my eyes stinging as much as the skin on my palms. I wiped at my eyes with the back of my hand to avoid smearing chalk dust in them. I hated that everyone else could do it and I couldn't. I hated that I'd been messing around with this sport off and on since college and had gained no appreciable skills. And of course I hated that I was upset about it. This was supposed to be fun!
Usually it is fun. That's why I keep going back. I went home after the class and ordered a climbing book on Amazon.

Oct 19, 2013

Gyoza: The only thing I'll line up for in Harajuku

This place has gyoza, with or without garlic in them, and not much else. It must be in every tourist guidebook from every country, because there's always a heavy international presence on line.
The gyoza are really good and cheap. The cucumber chunks are smothered in a super craveable sesame sauce and the bean sprouts have spicy ground meat (pork, probably?) on top. Draft beer and sake. Cheap and fast. A good counterpoint to all the pancake and popcorn places sprouting in the area like whipped cream smothered weeds.

Oct 10, 2013

Park Hyatt Spa

I think I've finally found my journalistic calling: the luxury spa beat. Why didn't I think of this sooner? I got a massage and afternoon tea package at the Park Hyatt right after we got back from LA the last time. I always find readjustment a little rocky on either side of the ocean, so this was good timing on a welcome assignment. My story about it is in Savvy Tokyo.
What's that? Not remotely journalism, you say? Labels, man. 
For what it's worth, when I'm on my own dime for a massage, I like Sonno. It's not nearly as fancy as a full-on spa, but it has private curtained rooms and good staff. They give you a cup of herbal tea when you're done, and there's almost always some kind of further 20% off offer you can find. You can choose how many minutes you want in 10-minute increments. The music is a little bit terrible. Trade-offs.

Oct 9, 2013

Do your best in Yatsugatake

Another bike race in the mountains, the Yatsugatake Granfondo.  Not for me, of course. I'm just along for the ride. The non-ride parts of the ride. Fresh air, nice food, onsen time. I've only been to Nagano a few times, but it's always gorgeous. We stayed at a faux-Swiss chalet hotel called Hut Walden. There was a Japanese copy of Thoreau's Walden in each room.
It's near a touristy little village of knick knack shops and cafes called Moeginomura. Everyone there seems very excited about their local music box museum - the hotel guy urged us several times at check-in to make sure to use our free passes to go, then asked again at breakfast if we'd gone yet (and then when we were planning to go). I always think music box collections sound lame, but these did turn out to be impressive. 
The town of Kiyosato was apparently a booming mountain resort during the bubble years, but it's mostly shuttered now. There are portraits - photos, drawings and bronze busts - of a legendary figure named Paul Rusch all over town. Everywhere. Hanging in the entrance hallway of the musicbox museum. Towering over a garden. Taped to some kind of donation box next to the cash register at the ice cream counter. He taught the people to make cheese and ice cream, and this seems to be the only thing that's still flourishing.) His stilted motto is also plastered on everything - "Do your best - it must be first class." It's written in neon at a beer-brewing restaurant. It's weird. And great.

Sep 10, 2013

Eat your heart out on the Tokyo subway

I mentioned before that this year's "kokoro" manners ads were hard to translate elegantly. It goes deeper than the words, now. How would you caption this?
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