I recently returned from Japan, and even though I feel embarrassingly unqualified to write any kind of advice on the experience, since I was a terrible person at visiting Japan (I missed out so many things! I spent way too much time in Loft! I got so lost! I ate deep fried fish paste (!!) from street vendors instead of having proper culinary experiences! I lost all my money! I visited a total of 0 museums! I slept in! I got drunk and cried in a Beatles themed bar! I forgot to eat sushi!) I still had an amazing time and loved the whole experience - tears and all. So maybe that makes me the most qualified of all??! Yes! Yes it does!
So here is a list of places/ things that caught my eye, for your reading pleasure. If you plan on visiting Japan read a million other actually helpful things and then maybe return to this list. Theres a 3% chance there may be something useful in it. And if you don't plan on it, here is a picture of a DOG WEARING A NECKERCHIEF IN THE SNOW, just to make this worthwhile.
Japan - My favourite things
Kichijoji is famous for being the home of the Studio Ghibli Museum, but even if you don't manage to get tickets well in advance, I reckon it's worth a visit. First of all, Inokashira Park has swan boats, let's just get that out of the way. Swan boats!
I don't know about you, but that's half a day gone taking photos of these majestic vessels ;)
Kichijoji also has some awesome craft and paper stores, and if that got you a little excited then you should really get your hands on the wonderfully useful Tokyo Craft Guide. It helped me find so many gems. Paper Message was a total highlight. There are beautiful illustrated paper goods, calendars, funny paper cut outs, wrapping paper and so much more. Paper heaven.
The world's cutest cafe is also in this suburb; think rustic wooden windows, twinkling lights, big leafy trees, a view of the swans cruising by and a hot cup of cocoa. All you need to know is it is in Inokashira park, it's adorable and you have to go there. You can also hear the beautiful cacophony of all the various musical pursuits that take place in the park. I was there on a Wednesday and already there was a violinist, a four person choir and an awesome dude playing toy ducks.
There's also a bunch of rad alleyways near the station, with bars and food places and shops.
Another blogger has written a guide to this area with some useful advice and proper pictures, have a look :)
Zen Foto Gallery/ Seiji Kurata
I managed to miss all the biggest galleries, mainly through laziness and spending most of my time in 100 Yen shops. But this is a winner for photography fans. The gallery is small but they have a fantastic collection of books which they have published/ republished. The exhibition at the time of my visit was of the work of Seiji Kurata.
From the Zen Foto website... "Exposing the habits and life of the people squirming through the amusement quarters, like gay cross-dressers or women working in brothels and their customers, to his intense strobe flash, this work discloses the desires of those who sink in the darkness of the city and has been highly assessed as cutting through a whole new territory of documentary photography."
His work is intense, eerie and fascinating, and depicts a side of Japan you wouldn't typically get to see (unless your holiday was veeeeeeeeery different from mine)
If yakuza and prostitutes aren't your cup of tea, they have some beautiful works published, go find your own favourite new Japanese photographer here.
Swamp Monster Bar, Shimokitazawa
This bar rules, in fact it's so great I can't remember if this is even it's name. Here's a photo anyways.
What you need to know: it's on the second floor, it's tiny, the bartender plays old soul records, there are books on film and art everywhere, and if you a lucky there will be drunken Japanese Bill Murray type at the bar singing along to the tunes. It's rustic as fuck and you will wish your local felt as much like a hug as entering this place does.
Shimokitazawa is awesome in general and another suburb you should add to list if you like vintage clothes, coffee and eating delicious things. The streets are cute and narrow. It's very likeable. Here's some pics:
Here's a handy guide to Shimokitazawa with the kind of useful stuff this blogger is personally far too lazy to provide. Though I will say Bear Pond Espresso is good. Very good.
Starbucks, Harujuku.... I can explain!!!
I'm mortified that the next thing on the list is Starbucks. I mean, really! But this awesome rooftop garden in Harujuku has such neat views that I swallowed my snobbish Melbourne ways and ordered a ventifrappemochawhatever they are called and savoured the cosiness of this little tree lined refuge in the sky. I mean look, so pretty!
Also in Harujuku is Design Festa, a big old building with a rotating roster of up-and-coming young artists spread over several buildings. Kind of hit and miss, but I did discover Kozue Yamamoto, whose delicate line drawings and poetic musings I really liked.
There was some other interesting work...
I needed a palate cleanser after all that chain-coffee action (/phalli) so found this cosy, twinkly delight:
It's next to Takeshita Dori so you can pop in after stocking up on the latest in gothic lolita chic. Someone named The Rainbowholic Me (can't get much more "Harujuku" than that) has written a wonderfully thorough"DIY Kuwaii Tour" guide to Harujuku and it's pretty cool, so if you like all things hello kitty/ fluro/ super KAWAII click here!
Okay, that's enough for instalment one. Hope you liked my rambling guide to all things... well a few things... Japan! More soon xx