I’ve just realised that I didn’t write up our last days in Japan. This post is as much to capture what remains in my memory almost two years later rather than my thinking that anyone would be interested in our holiday.
It was with a very heavy heart that we returned to Tokyo.
Friends of ours suggested that we would be desperate to come home after two weeks. Well, after three works we were desperate.
Desperate to stay longer. Desperate to visit other islands. Desperate to visit other parts of the islands we had spent time on. Desperate to try other bits of Japanese cuisine we had missed. Desperate for more beautiful temples, for kimonos, ceramics, jazz and vinyl, selvedge denim, things of beauty…..
We knew that we were incredibly privileged to spend as long in Japan as we did. We were also very lucky via an accident of the calendar to arrive in the midst of sakura season, although the premium on accommodation costs meant that the Amex card took a bit of a bashing.
So how did we fill our last two days in Japan?
Having wound our way through the countryside and picked up the Shinkansen in Okayama, we got back to Tokyo and the Hilton late at night. It was an early start the following day for our trip to Tokyo Disneyland. Having suffered snow, sleet and rain during our time here, we blessed with gorgeous blue skies for our day with Mickey and co.
This day out was a long time coming. When my daughter was almost four, we had a holiday in the States and took her to Disneyland in Florida. Now aside from her age now meaning that it is all a bit foggy, the poor mite came down with chicken pox whilst we were there and those few days in the hot Orlando sun were more miserable than they should have been. Since then, we’ve been promising a return trip to Disney, albeit we didn’t necessarily think that the Japanese version was where we would end up next.
I understand the cynicism connected with Disney and all its commercial protectionism. I can’t escape the fact though that it formed a significant part of my early childhood, going to the cinema in Sedgley and Wolverhampton to see Dumbo, The Jungle Book and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. So humour me a little whilst I cast aside the more negative and evil aspects of Walt’s empire.
Opened in 1983, the park follows the generic layout of the other parks around the world – similar worlds, similar rides, similar characters. The day was mostly spent wandering the park, taking on some of the rides and comparing and contrasting with the Americal experience.
Let’s start with food. Back in the USA ten years ago, it was a typical beige theme park fare – nuggets, burger, hot dogs. You know the score. Tokyo was different though. We plumped for a delicious veggie curry that was on a par with anything that we’d enjoyed in Japan.
Ride wise, we plumped for Big Thunder Mountain and Dumbo the Flying Elephant, the latter being a trip down memory lane as it was one ride in particular that my daughter remembered from Orlando. Tiny flying elephants, we’d outgrown it but it was still worth the queue for the memories it triggered.
The queue for Space Mountain was eventful. I was tapped on the arm by a park employee and asked to leave the queue whilst being reassured that my daughter was safe whilst staying in where she was. I was taken to the holding area for the space pods for the ride. They gently explained to me that as a tall bloke (6’4″ in old money), they were concerned that I wouldn’t fit in the capsule and I was in danger of wasting my time. By bringing my knees up to my chin, I could just about squeeze in. Thanking them for their thoughtfulness, I rejoined my daughter in the queue and we enjoyed the ride.
The other significant observation was the way that the (mostly Japanese) public interacted with the park and in particular the parades. Well in advance of the parade starting, people started staking their claim to a place in a very well ordered and defined manner.
Once these lines were established, the visitors then started removing their favourite Disney characters from their bags and placing them on the ground, facing the parade so as to watch it with them. It was cute but it did reinforce some of the pieces that I’d been reading about the difficulties that the younger Japanese generations have maturing.
We eventually headed back into the centre of Tokyo and went for a gorgeous and unchallenging bowl of ramen back at our new favourite haunt Ippudo in Shinjuku.
Our final day in Tokyo was spent in Shibuya and Shinjuku enjoying some last minute shopping.
First we headed down to Face Records, a specialist jazz shop near the Shibuya crossing. Stocking mostly vinyl, it was a fascinating way to spend an hour. I left with an armful of vintage Japanese jazz, with some assistance from the staff.
The girls took refuge in the next door And People cafe, a beautiful cafe like something out of a hipster Enid Blyton novel. Winding its way through several floors of the building adjacent to Face Records, it was a lovely stop off point before heading back to Shinjuku.
We were aware that a combination of clothes, vinyl and cooking utensils wouldn’t fit into our existing suitcases. As is often the way on our city breaks, we were left with a final day trek to a cheap luggage shop (and bizarrely we always find that the bags, holdalls and rucksacks that we buy in these emergency situations gets used more and lasts longer than our more carefully considered luggage purchases).
So we headed to Bic and boy, did we have fun. We thought we were stepping into an electrical superstore, a kind of Japanese version of what Dixon’s was twenty years ago. We were wrong. It was an Aladdin’s cave of all sorts of gear, much of it the kind of incredibly well engineered Japanese versions of things that in the UK you would now need to order online (such as an incredible array of flasks).
So what did we pick up?
- A selection of said flasks which have since proven to be the best things for keeping hot things hot and cold things cold that we’ve ever bought
- Some Nanoblock toys (a kind of miniaturised Lego)
- Polaroid films (much cheaper than the UK)
- Eyelash curlers
- A new suitcase
It really was a fun couple of hours, the kind of casual browsing that has been largely banished from the British high street.
For our final night in Tokyo, we decided to go large. As a fan of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, there was only one venue – the Park Hyatt. We blagged a last-minute table up at the New York Grill, high on the 52nd floor. This is the setting for much of the movie, the place where Bill Murray retired to after frustrating days filming his Suntory adverts and Scarlett Johannson whiled away the hours as her young photographer husband was off shooting the young and the beautiful.
One of my friends had recommended it as a “must do”. It was an arm and a half a leg in terms of pricing. If I’m completely honest, two years on and we are a little bit cloudy about what we ate. The collective opinion was that it was either wagyu or Kobe beef and it was bloomin’ lovely.
After spending as much money as we did, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was a little bit of a waste if we are struggling to remember the food. The food though is only part of the experience. The excellent service and stunning views added to the enjoyment. What it did do though was finish the holiday on a high. We’d done high-end Japanese dining at our ryokan stay near Fuji and were after some good old fashioned luxury.
Two years on and how do we feel about the holiday? Well, we’re planning on going back to the Tokyo Olympics next year. If we’re fortunate then it won’t have been the holiday of a lifetime. As it stands, it was the holiday of a lifetime.