Tokyo City Guide by a Local

A_Local's_Guide_to_Tokyo

Our three day stay in Tokyo was short for such a big city but we had other places in Japan to explore such as Kyoto, Koyasan, and Osaka.  To get a little local taste of Tokyo in such a short time we enlisted the help of a Tokyo resident to give us a local’s guide to Tokyo the capital city of Japan via Tokyo Free Guide.  In a packed half day we visited districts off the beaten path such as Shimokitazawa, Nippori, and Yanaka.

Tokyo Free Guide connects tourists with local Tokyo guides who will provide a personalised city tour of Tokyo for half a day or a full day.  All the guides are volunteers and residents of Tokyo so you get a real flavour of Tokyo beyond the guidebooks.  The service is free, you only pay for any expenses such as meals, drinks, transport, and entrance fees during the tour for you and your guide.

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Before we left for Japan we requested a guide through the Tokyo Free Guide website.  Within a day or two we received an email from Michiko who was to be our guide.  As well as confirming dates and times, more importantly she asked us what we would be interested in seeing and doing during our local tour of Tokyo.

We listed our interests of food and culture and stated that we didn’t really want her to show us the big sights or  museums as we could find and visit those easily, we wanted to see a more local version of Tokyo.  Quite an open brief and not an easy one in hindsight, but our local guide more than delivered.

Tsukiji Fish Market

As we are foodies Michiko took us to Tsukiji Fish Market first.  Nobody was prepared to wake up at 5am for the tuna auctions so visiting at 11am was fine.  Although many stalls were winding down it was a great insight into the working market.  The size of the tuna and the variety of seafood is stunning.

We proceeded to explore the outer Tsukiji market where there are many stalls selling bonito, fruit, tea as well as some sushi restaurants with some obviously excellent ingredients and long customer queues.  It was great having a local especially for a chef and a foodie, Michiko was able to point out ingredients not so familiar to us growing up in the west and what to look out for trying to buy the best.

Conversations we had along the way made the trip so much more interesting and enlightening, and we learnt much more about Japanese food and culture than merely walking through the market by ourselves.  Little things like how salt and sugar are the main seasoning ingredients of Japanese food, or how Japanese people don’t normally have matching crockery like the west but select the colour and pattern of plates based on the dish that is being served.  We also learnt how revered strawberries are in Japan and how many people debate where the best strawberries come from.

Shibuya Crossing and Hachiko

Next we headed to Shibuya to catch a train to the artsy area of Shimokitazawa.  Of course we had to stop and marvel at the famously busy Shibuya Crossing and the surrounding streets and signs.

Also Michiko pointed out the statue of Hachiko, a dog renouned for his loyalty.  During the 1920s Hachiko an Akita breed would greet his owner Professor Ueno at Shibuya station every day.  Unfortunately the professor died, but for over nine years Hachiko still went to Shibuya station everyday at the same time to greet his owner.

Hachiko_Statue

Hachiko became a national sensation in the 1930s and on April 8 every year many dog owners gather at Shibuya station to commemorate Hachiko and his devotion.  His story has also made it to Hollywood in a movie starring Richard Gere, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale.

We entered Shibuya Station but we weren’t leaving yet, Michiko pointed out an enormous and beautiful artwork inside the station concourse.

The Myth of Tomorrow is a 30m long mural by Taro Okamoto that was lost for years in Mexico.  The vibrant colours surrounding a skeletal figure depict the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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Shimokitazawa

We caught a local train west to the arty area of Shimokitazawa.  The first thing that hits you about this small town is the small narrow roads that barely fit a car single file, which is a welcome contrast to the busy centre of Tokyo.  Shimokitazawa is popular with young adults and creatives and might be considered a little bit hipster, or at least bohemian.

Independent cafes, boutiques, bars and second had shops line the Shimokitazawa streets and lanes and you’ll find plenty of small theatres, in fact it’s the “Off Broadway” of Tokyo.  On a sunny day Shimokitazawa is a great place to stroll around and see creative, alternative and youth cultures.

Throughout the year they have many festivals such as the Tengu-matsuri Festival in January/February, Shimokitazawa Theatre Festival in February, and the lively Mikoshi-matsuri Festival (portable shrine festival) in early September.

Traditional_Japanese_Lunch_YakitoriEven if you’re not out shopping this is the place to go to experience a piece of Tokyo that is not so generic.  We didn’t have a hipster lunch though and opted for something more traditional.

Sitting at a traditional Japanese dining table (kotatsu) can be quite a strain for people not used to it, men may cross their legs and sit on the floor but women traditionally need to sit on the floor with their knees bent and sitting on their heels.  Luckily this restaurant had a modern kotatsu with a big hole beneath the table for your feet to hang down.

Nippori Textile Town

Leaving we Shimokitazawa got the train back to Shinjyuku, the busiest station in Tokyo and hopped on the Tokyo Metro to Nippori.  Nippori Textile Town is know for, well… fabrics.

We wondered past many little boutiques with beautiful fabrics. from traditional to cute to modern.  It must be a fashion designer’s or clothing maker’s dream to be here, and there are many clothing shops and fun accessory shops that show off exactly what you can do with these fine fabrics.

Yanaka District

Walking south through Nippori we arrived at Yanaka, yet another area that is a lovely contrast to the hustle and bustle of central Tokyo.  Yanaka is slightly elevated and the air feels cleaner and you have great views of the city.  You’ll probably be distracted by the views of Yanaka itself though.

Yanaka is filled with traditional old houses and has many temples.  They say Yanaka has a “shitamachi” atmosphere, an old town vibe from a couple of decades ago, and it does.  Everything is more peaceful and life seems slower here where people can enjoy the moment.

There are a few local shops and the residential houses are immaculately looked after with pretty plants and tree decorating their fronts.  There’s a large cemetery and quite a few temples but there is a feeling of contentment in Yanaka.

We visited a few art galleries displaying work by local artists who no doubt find it much easier to express themselves in Yanaka.  SCAI The Bath House shows avant garde contemporary art, you’ll also find Allan West’s Art Sanctuary – an American artist specialising in Nihonga (traditional Japanese painting).

A local Tokyo guide much more than pure sightseeing

We took a short walk to Ueno and our fun filled half day with Michiko was over.  Normally we don’t find tours to have much value, but this personal tour of Tokyo by a local guide was the complete opposite.

Not only did Michiko lead us to places off the main tourist trail but the enlightening little tidbits she shared throughout the day meant we learnt and felt so much more of Tokyo than just pure sightseers.

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Highly recommended if you’re a first time visitor to Tokyo, go visit the Tokyo Free Guide website to organise your personalised tour.

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Drinking in Golden Gai, Shinjuku, Tokyo- Tiny Bars, Big Fun

Golden Gai is in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo known for its nightlife and brilliant little bars to drink in.

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Surrounded by skyscrapers and bright lights, Golden Gai (Golden District) is a small area of alleyways packed full of tiny bars in little old buildings.  This place has character and you’ll find yourself wondering around the intriguing area for a while before even stepping into a bar for a drink.

Drinking in Golden Gai – Over 200 Bars!

Apparently there are around 200 bars in this tiny area of Tokyo.  This sounds like a lot and it is, but that’s because most of the bars can seat about 6-10 people.  The bohemian personality of the area means that it attracts artists and Japanese celebrities.

Golden_Gai_Overhead

Apparently some bars only serve regulars or you have to be introduced by a regular.  Some bars require some level of Japanese communication as these bars are all about socialising.  Some also have a cover charge but we were lucky enough not to be charged at any of the places we went.

We drank at three different bars during our Golden Gai night of fun and had no trouble getting in and experienced friendly service and sociable fellow drinkers.

Tiny Themed Bars

Each bar has it’s own theme in terms of decor and music, and many serve snacks as well so there really is something for everyone.

Some bars in Golden Gai have English menus too which can be a good way to start your evening in Golden Gai, but confidence increases as the night and alcohol levels progress and you’ll find yourself being drawn to the bars that are less catered for tourists.

We only visited three bars on our night out, we have no idea what they were called but…

Golden Gai Bar 1:

We walked upstairs to a tiny bar with six seats decorated in a very kitch fashion.  The small size really hits you at first, it’s amazing what can be done in such a tiny space and the atmosphere that can fill the room.

What at first was a novelty became normal and in fact made us wonder why there aren’t more bars like these around the world.

The bar person helped us to decide on drinks, and she even gave everyone some free snacks between drinks.  We got talking to a group of locals having a little party for someone leaving their company – opposite to general stereotypes about Japanese people being shy, it seems that they love to converse and share with tourists whenever they have the opportunity (or at least the people we met in Golden Gai).

Golden Gai Bar 2:

More like a traditional English pub but on a small scale, this bar actually had a few floors, each floor seating about 10 people, so probably one of the larger bars in Golden Gai.

This one had an English menu and seemed to have more non-locals, as such there was a little less atmosphere and people tended to chat amongst their own groups.  If this was the only bar we experienced in Golden Gai it certainly wouldn’t have reflected the real Golden Gai bars.

Golden Gai Bar 3:

This was a perfect end to our night out in Golden Gai.  We fancied a bit of music and heard some blasting out of this little bar.  We stepped into another small bar seating about eight people filled with Japanese conversation and laughter.  A DJ was at the end of the bar spinning some recognisable tunes on a retro turntable and the fun only escalated as the night went on.

Golden_Gai_Friends_1

The level of cheese in the music went up as well, we heard the theme song to Super Mario and then Barry Manilow came on and the whole bar started waving their arms.  Despite speaking no English at all a man sitting next to Sacha became her dance partner for the night.

It was a great couple of hours of innocent fun and we were made to feel so welcome.  That hospitality shown by the barman and the other drinkers (along with my level of intoxication) meant that I bought a round for the whole bar.  There was probably no bar more deserving than this brilliant little drinking den in Golden Gai.  Two bucketlist items checked in one day: (i) buying a round of drinks for a whole bar (ii) drinking in Golden Gai.

Drinking in Golden Gai – The Best Bar Crawl in the World?

Golden Gai might just be the best place in the world for a nice bar crawl.  No macho idiots getting aggressive, lots of bars each with their own theme, and brilliant people.

Drink from around 500 Yen isn’t too bad to experience something like Golden Gai, but be aware that smoking inside these bars is prevalent as it is in all bars throughout Japan.  If you find the right bar you’ll have an amazing time, and even if you don’t you can walk out and there’ll be many options for you to try.

It was sad to hear about the fire last month damaging five buildings in Golden Gai and we hope that it fully recovers soon.  It truly is a unique place, we thank the defenders of the area who have stopped the bulldozers and skyscrapers from replacing the old buildings that are so full of life and good times.

Golden Gai Resources:

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Turkish Delights In Istanbul: 10 Top Things To Do

Istanbul City Guide: Top Things To Do

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Istanbul has gone through a few hardships of late but it’s an amazing city to explore that is buzzing with culture and flavours making a visit to this beautiful capital city of Turkey most enjoyable.

Istanbul exists over Europe and Asia, divided by the Bosphorus strait and connected by two suspension bridges.

The European side of Istanbul is considered the old city because of its historical significance and you’ll find most of the famous tourist attractions here. The Asian side is more residential, with high street shopping, markets and nightlife.

Here are just 10 of the many top things to do in Istanbul: 

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5 Reasons Being a Digital Nomad Is Easier Than You Think

A big thanks to Steve and Sacha for publishing this article.  Their site is an inspiration for anyone wanting to leave their job for a life of freedom and travel, and they offer many great anecdotes and tips and tricks to help you on the way. After reading this, be sure to check out their post on the best websites for planning your trip.

Digital_Nomad_Woman

There seem to be endless articles cropping up recently about the realities of life as a digital nomad.  They address the raised stress levels, uncertainty and potential disasters of this sort of lifestyle, but they barely ever point out that, despite the challenges, it’s easily doable—no matter who you are.

Sure, there are some downfalls of life on the road, but every choice you make will always have its drawbacks. In reality, there are many reasons why choosing to quit your 9-5, pack up and travel the world, is much easier than you’d first imagine.

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European Dance Festivals 2016

We recently previewed some of the best festivals around the world in 2016.  There are just so many that here is another post previewing eight upcoming European dance festivals across 2016, including AVA Festival and Conference, Love Family Park, Eastern Electrics Festival, Sonus Festival, Dimensions Festival, Outlook Festival, Field Maneuvers and Bugged Out! in Dreamland. From one-day techno adventures to hip-hop on the Adriatic and everything in between

AVA FESTIVAL AND CONFERENCE (NI) | 4th June 2016

AVA_FestivalAVA (Audio Visual Arts) Festival and Conference is a first of it’s kind electronic music festival, a pioneering event breaking new ground by shining a light on emerging and established artists in Ireland.  After last year’s success, AVA will return on Saturday June 4th 2016, where they’ll takeover T13 Belfast, on the Titanic Docks for a day and night session.

Round two sees heavyweight RØDHÅD joining, the debut live show from Bicep, the return of Boiler Room, plus Mano Le Tough, Gerd Janson, Optimo, Phil Kieran, Timmy Stewart and more.  On top of this, AVA’s free conference will expand to help to educate and inspire. With tickets available now from just £22 with flights from the UK from just £40, AVA 2016 should not be missed.

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Food in Japan is not just about Sushi – Japanese Food Adventure

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A Guide to Food in Japan

Sushi is of course one of Japan’s most famous exports.  For lovers of fish, sushi is a beautiful way to enjoy the fresh delicate flavours that only seafood can provide. I love fish and I love sushi, but what if you don’t like fish or sushi?  Japanese food has something to offer everyone, pretty much all of which is tasty, some a bit weird, but you’ll be sure to enjoy an amazing adventure of food in Japan.

Japanese food is probably the most palatable of all Asian foods to the west.  Simple fresh flavours seasoned with salt and sugar to boost umami.  Japanese food is perhaps the Italian cuisine of the Far East in terms of highlighting the flavours of the natural ingredients rather than overpowering them with herbs and spices (although you’ll probably find a bottle of 7 flavour chilli powder – Shichimi containing chilli, sansho, orange peel, black sesame, white sesame, hemp, ginger, and nori) on most restaurant tables for those after a healthy spicy kick).

Japan is a wonderful place to have a food adventure and experience amazing tastes and flavours.  Here are some great food options to try in Japan other than sushi.

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Gerber Shard – An airline safe compact travel keychain multi-tool

The Gerber Shard is a brilliant multi-tool that is small and compact.  In fact it’s so small that it easily fits on your keychain without digging into your thighs when you’re walking around.  It’s about 3cm long, and only weighs 9g. It’s also coated in titanium nitride for corrosion resistance and it looks pretty cool too in a slick matte black.

The size is brilliant for travellers, but more importantly it’s airline safe meaning you can carry it across airport security and onto planes without any trouble.

It might be small, but it’s a proper multi-tool too with 7 of the most useful tools:

  1. Small Flat-head Driver
  2. Medium Flat-head Driver
  3. Philips Screwdriver
  4. Wire Stripper
  5. Lanyard hole
  6. Pry Bar
  7. Bottle Opener

Yep, the all important bottle opener for that beer that is begging to be opened.  Also a great way to be a hero when someone else doesn’t have one.

I don’t carry around a big bulk Swiss Army knife or wonder what those 20 other things are on my other multi-tool any more.  This little powerful and useful beauty is more than enough and a brilliant travel companion that doesn’t take up much space or weight.

Get it on Amazon for a super cheap price.

Liebster Award | What Way Today

Liebster_Award_What_Way_TodayThank you so much to Global Debauchery for nominating us for the Liebster Award after less than two months of launching our travel blog.  Also thank you to Travel Experia who nominated us for the Liebster Award shortly afterwards.

As is customary for the Liebster Award that celebrates up and coming blogs we have been asked 11 questions so that we can share a little bit more about ourselves.

We will also nominate some great new travel blogs that are doing a sterling job inspiring people to travel.  We’ll ask them 11 questions so they can share their personal views and experiences on the wonderful world of travel. 

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See Cherry Blossom Trees in Japan 2016

Cherry Blossom season in Japan is upon us for 2016.  Cities further towards the south such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka are already experiencing first blooms of the beautiful Sakura tree and it will be time to have fun at Hanami outdoor parties enjoying the views of the Cherry Blossom trees in Japan.

Magic of the Cherry Blossom Trees in Japan

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Whilst Cherry Blossoms live across the northern hemisphere including the USA and Europe, the Sakura is probably not as appreciated anywhere as much as in Japan.  Last year we were lucky enough to see our first Cherry Blossom tree right outside our hotel which was on the edge of the lovely Ueno Park in Tokyo. Seeing it at night for the first time under the lights only highlighted the natural and beautiful brightness of the Cherry Blossom.

During the day tonnes of people were taking selfies in front of the trees whether they were tourists or locals.  The Sakuras in Japan brought genuine joy and happiness to people everyday which you could see with the big wide smiles and eyes gazing at this beautiful example of nature.  No wonder the Sakura is the national flower of Japan.

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Best Travel Cooking TV Shows and Chefs | Food & Travel

Best_Travel_and_Cooking_TV_Shows

Travel and food go hand in hand.  There is no more accessible way to discover a country’s culture, history and environment than food.  We love travel and we love food.  I love food so much I jacked in my nicely paid job in digital marketing to become a chef (or try to become a chef) at a lovely London restaurant.  Maybe my dream job would be to be a chef travelling the world sampling the diverse flavours the world has to offer.  In the meantime I’m still enthralled by travel cooking TV shows where chefs and presenters immerse themselves into local culture and cuisine.  Here we round up our favourites and what we think are the best travel cooking TV shows.

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