Australian news site nine has launched a new travel website, called Elsewhere (nice name, right?). I’ll be contributing stories from Tokyo and Japan occasionally. First up: the best places in Tokyo to try Japanese-style sweets.
Seriously people, there has never been a better time to visit Japan, with the yen as low as it is. Some tips to stretch your money even further, in the Independent.
For this pocket-sized (well, purse-sized) guide, I cherry-picked all the absolute must-sees from the larger Tokyo city guide. The suggestions are arranged in neighborhood itineraries, which makes this a great guide for travelers who don’t have hours to put into planning what they see and do.
I co-authored this with the amazing, indefatigable Simon Richmond. This time I covered the western side of the city (Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Ebisu, and Korakuen), plus two neighborhoods on the east side: Ueno and Asakusa. I live on the west side, so it was really fun to spend weeks on the other side of the city, which I don’t get to so often (Tokyo is so big it’s an hour on the subway from one side to the other of what is still considered center city!).
The most exciting update to this book is the introduction of a new feature: mapped routes through “local” neighborhoods — the kind of places that don’t really have any sights but are fun places to hang out. Featured neighborhoods include: Shimo-Kitazawa, Daikanyama & Nakameguro, and Kagurazaka. Really, these are places you’d just want to wander, but we’ve highlighted favorite local cafes, shops, landmarks, etc.
It’s also chock-full of tips culled from all my family, friends and acquaintances in Tokyo — all of whom to which I am extremely grateful!
P. S. Just a few days after I saw a preview of the cover image, I was eating with some out of town friends at a random yakitori stall in Shinjuku’s Omoide-Yokocho. As I turned around to look out over the alley, I realized that the cover image was staring back at me. The photographer must have been standing at just about my exact spot.
904 pages! Bigger than the last edition. I updated the Tokyo chapter for this one. Included: a walking tour of the historic Yanaka district, a picture guide to the highlights inside the Tokyo National Museum, ramen tips from chef Ivan Orkin and unintuitive places to see cherry blossoms (like Aoyama Cemetery).
Lots of great trip planning info in the front of the book as well: If you haven’t picked up a Lonely Planet guide in a few years, you’d be surprised! Full color sample itineraries, country-wide overviews on skiing and hiking, and lots of tips for first-timers and repeat visitors.
This is a full-color greatest hits of Japan guide. Select excerpts from my most recent update of the Tokyo chapter in the full Japan guide appear here.
“Wagyu literally translates as ‘Japanese beef,’ but that translation doesn’t quite do it justice. It’s a word that calls to mind images of rural Japanese cows being fed beer and massaged daily, and richly marbled ruby-red steaks, shot through with fine ribbons of glistening white fat. . . . However, exactly how wagyu gets from the fattening farm to the table is more of a mystery.
“Tokyo’s municipal meat market — the last slaughterhouse in the city — hasn’t become the tourist pilgrimage site that the Tsukiji fish market has. In fact, most people, tourists and locals alike, wouldn’t even recognize the meat market if they saw it.”
Read the rest in the Japan Times.
The slaughtering of animals in Japan was traditionally carried out by the burakumin, a kind of “untouchables” class in feudal Japan. Many of their descendents still work in the industry and many still face discrimination. Mike Sunda has an excellent follow up story to mine that goes into more detail about this.
“In a city like Tokyo, there is something particularly decadent about a building that sprawls horizontally as the Hotel Okura does. It’s such a flagrant misuse of space, especially in the heart of downtown. And oh, how the Okura sprawls — its grounds cover an expanse more than three times the size of the city’s baseball stadium. It has its own post office, its own barbershop, a private art museum, a tea ceremony room, and a salon just for playing go, an ancient board game akin to chess.
“Opened in 1962 in the Toranomon business district, the Hotel Okura is a window into the luxuries of another time, when seats in coach had legroom and nobody had ever heard of molecular gastronomy. The genteel Orchid Room restaurant still serves things like lobster thermidor, brought to the table by tuxedoed waiters. Lobby attendants wear kimonos. But it couldn’t last forever; it’s a miracle it lasted as long as it did.”
Published in the Dec/Jan 2015 issue of DestinAsian Magazine.
The Okura lent me some awesome vintage photos for the article, which are worth a look!
A not too horrible (I hope) radio interview with ABC Australia about Tokyo’s “standing restaurant” dining trend.
“If woodblock prints are to be believed, the metropolis was once awash in greens and blues. Reedy riverbanks, grassy hillocks and marshes draped with willows all feature in One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, the 19th-century series of woodblock prints of the capital (then called Edo) by master artist Utagawa Hiroshige. Above all are the waterways, wide rivers and narrow canals colored a deep Prussian blue, crisscrossed by gently arching wooden bridges. Boats — cargo boats, piled high with barrels and steered by stooped men in sampans; pleasure boats, their blinds drawn on the courtesans and patrons within — make their way up and down these causeways. One hundred and fifty years ago, Tokyo, at least from the right angles, looked downright romantic. So the question is: What happened?”
Published in the Japan Times On Sunday Timeout section.