The Japanese ume-fruit is a kind of plum or apricot that is pickled with sea salt and eaten as a sour, salty snack, umeboshi. The first time I tried umeboshi was when I studied in Sweden and shared a dorm kitchen with a Japanese exchange student, Mari from Sapporo. One evening, she pulled out a little bag and offered me to try this very special snack, that she had brought with her from Japan.
Social distance does not have to turn into mental distance, so these days I make an extra effort to reach out to the people I care about. I just talked to my friend Rieko on Line about what life is like in Japan during the days of social distancing and self-quarantine:
Tokyo is extreme in many ways, but I particularly find the relation between the genders very different from anywhere else. At most business hotels (budget hotels), there is an illustrated call girls catalog the size of a phonebook placed on the bedside table, and in areas such as Shinjuku, Roppongi and Akasaka, there is a hostess club on every corner.
While K-beauty is rocking all over the world, J-beauty has quietly been doing business as usual, providing efficient products to the demanding, hard-to-impress Japanese market. Whereas K-beauty is often seen as very trend-driven, with a strong appeal to younger people, J-beauty is more about high quality and discreet luxury that speak to women in their 30s and 40s.
When I am in Japan, I can eat sushi for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and maybe have a bowl of ramen and some mochi for dessert, but I am quite certain that this is not what a typical Japanese diet looks like. So what do Japanese people eat? I asked my Japanese friend Rieko to tell me about what she would normally eat on a weekday:
Last time I was in Tokyo, I stayed at Akiba Bay Hotel, which is a new capsule hotel, just a short walk from Akihabara Station. You are not allowed to take photos inside the hotel, but the layout was similar to the capsule hotel I stayed at last year. Akiba Bay Hotel is women only, and everything was very pastel-colored and cute.
Kakigori, Japanese shaved ice, is one of the most refreshing treats you can get yourself in the summer. The “flakes” are much lighter than the shaved ice in Denmark, almost like a cup full of snow, and the fluffy texture makes it almost impossible to eat without a spoon.
Back in 2003 I visited Japan for the first time. I was there with Rikke, and in less than one week we managed to party hard in Tokyo, sleep through an earthquake and fly off to Sapporo to meet my friend Mari before heading back to Denmark again. This was my first hectic introduction to Japan, and it was love at first sight.
In a dynamic city like Tokyo, things change quickly, and what’s popular today is often forgotten tomorrow. Calbee is one of the exceptions, which has managed to stay relevant for decades, and the brand’s potato-based snacks never seem to go out of style.
Crepes have been all the rage for quite a while, but these days, the absolute must-eat in Tokyo is the super fluffy soufflé pancakes, and one of the places to get them is at Burn Side St Cafe. So even though it was raining and there was a long line outside, this was where I went, after I was done browsing the shops in Harajuku. I think I waited for almost an hour to get a table. Not sure about the exact waiting time, but it was long enough for me to consider leaving, because I hate waiting, even if it’s for pancakes.
Aoyama Flower Market is a chain of flower shops, and the original store nearby Omotesando station also hosts an in-house café. There’s no doubt that combining a cafe and a flower shop has been a brilliant idea, and Aoyama Flower Market Tea House is outrageously popular among both tourists and locals in Tokyo.
This morning, Poul and I jumped on the busy Yamanote line to Shibuya. Our plan was to visit the cat cafe Hapi Neko, but it was easier said than done, as Hapi Neko was tucked away on the 3rd floor in a building we couldn’t find, and all the signs were in Japanese.Just when we were about to give up, we finally saw a sign that had an image of a cat and some paw prints on it and knew, that we had finally come to the right place.
Purikura are the super-cute photo booths you’ll find in most gaming arcades throughout Tokyo. They come with advanced, beauty-enhancing functions, which will twist your facial features to fit the Japanese perception of beauty: Fair skin, big eyes and a tiny nose. Forgot to put on make-up? Didn’t wash your hair? Don’t worry, the purikura will take digitally care of that.
Being a solo traveler in Tokyo is easy. It’s a very safe city and there are lots of things you can do on your own. Through the week, I had been busy exploring the city, and after my ramen dinners, I usually just passed out in my capsule.
Are you a gadget freak? Then welcome to gadget freak paradise! The 8-storey Yodobashi flagship store right next to Akihabara station has everything you could ever dream of and beyond. Hello Kitty earphones, pastel colored smartphones and computer accessories so sweet they may cause cavities.
Tokyo is a great place for second-hand bargains, and Shinagawa Intercity Flea Market is one of my favorites. In addition to clothes you’ll also find all sorts of home décor, accessories and electronic goods. Come early (as in right when they open) for the best selection of goods. Later in the afternoon, most of the good stuff is gone.
Jumble Store is a Japanese second-hand chain with several branches spread throughout the city. Last season’s dresses and shirts from international designers occupies the shelves alongside one-of-a-kind items from smaller Japanese brands, and generally, the prices are very reasonable.
On the 52nd floor in the elegant Park Hyatt hotel, high above Tokyo’s bustling streets, is New York Bar. This is the place to sip Bellinis and listen to live jazz music while taking in beautiful views of the city. Don’t let the posh surroundings scare you off. Everyone is welcome as long as you dress for the occasion and you’re ready to pay the 2200JPY cover charge, which applies after 8pm (on Sundays after 7pm).
I don’t know how long Motown has been around, but it seems like forever! Located one stair up in an anonymous-looking building on the busy street Gaien-higashi-dōri, Motown 1 is one of the only places in Roppongi, which is always crowded in the weekends.
It would be a shame to visit Tokyo without visiting a karaoke bar, and Karaoke Kan is an obvious choice, if you are in Roppongi as the Roopongi branch is smack in the middle of the main street. You pay around 3000 JPY per person for an hour including drinks, which make Karaoke Kan a perfect place to start a night out in the party district Roppongi.
Craft beer bars can sometimes feel a bit like man-caves, but this is not the case for Goodbeer Faucets. The sleek interior combined with the location in the middle of trendy Shibuya means that it isn’t just beer aficionados, who make their way to this classy spot.
Ginza Lion is a chain of beer halls run by Sapporo Brewery, and one of the most popular branches is located in the heart of Ginza. Dating back to 1934, this branch is also the oldest beer hall in Japan, and since the opening, the beer hall has made sure that busy businessmen and other thirsty Japanese could enjoy a cold draft beer for lunch or after work.
T.Y. Harbor is a brewery and restaurant located right at the waterfront. The extensive international menu is full of tempting bites, and the restaurant is especially known for tasty, American-style burgers, which are supposed to be among the best in Tokyo. The brewery is located right next to the restaurants, and provides a good selection of in-house brews. I had the IPA and the Pale Ale and both of them were very tasty. If you aren’t a beer drinker, there’s also a few cocktails on the drink menu.
Numazuko is a kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi chain known for their particularly fresh and tasty seafood, and compared to the other kaiten sushi places I’ve been to, there’s no doubt that Numazuko is among the very best. There’s a steady stream of tempting sushi pieces on the belt at all times, but if you want something else than what’s rolling by, you just ask one of the chefs to make it for you.