Like every good emo girl growing up in a rural town, I’ve always been deeply inspired by Japanese culture. Pretty much since I accidently watched Spirited Away, since I learned what Wabi Sabi meant, since my first Gameboy and the first time I ate Chirashi, since Rei Kawakubo’s omnipresence set my lifelong sartorial palette. As a teen I basically decided that being half chinese made me like kinda close to being half as badass as a Japanese Harajuku girl. I’ve lusted for Japan from afar, forever.
Japan, and Tokyo specifically, embodies that perfect intersection of minimalism, modesty, craft and debaucherous, sticky excess. Top all that with a cat shaped savoury snack, and I’m in. So when my partner Roo and I decided to go to Japan for our 12 year anniversary this year, I packed all my enthusiasm, my instax and a selection of Pleats Please for the pilgrimage.
And obviously, it was more than I could’ve possibly dreamed of. And I believe part of what made it so epic was that I didn’t try and over plan it. I didn’t overbook, obsessively plan each insta shot, each purchase, or meal. Because Tokyo is the kinda place that sort of happens to you vs being somewhere you can attempt to control with a checklist. Beyond a few google map pins dictating essential ramen eats, we really went with the flow, and it was better for it.
The most brutal jet lag of my entire life surely contributed to our dream like haze, chilled vibe. Day one we woke up to blanket white snow fall, magical and fucking cold. Our airbnb was nestled down a cute little lane off Cat Street (cool hipster shopping area, think matcha, think streetwear, you got it, ok cool). We started our day at 4am, walking around the empty, vending machine lined, snow coated streets. One of my favourite things about this area (Shibuya) is that, in one glance you can see a little old woman sweeping her front door step with a handmade brush, and then just next door there’s randomly a shiny architecturally astounding PRADA store, casually. It’s such a jarring and perfect cultural and time period mishmash.
We watched Tokyo wake up, from school girls in perfectly pressed uniforms and ribbon topped ankle socks to equally starched zombie businessmen. After finally navigating the world’s most complex subway system (that shit will break you) we spent the day learning about ‘Slow Living’ at an Airbnb experience on the outskirts of the city. We took part in a traditional matcha tea ceremony, sat on tatami mats and learned about zen mindfulness from the most kind hearted local couple (Jun and Souei). They taught us how to make a traditional lunch (I chiselled my rice into the shape of a golden fan obvs). I learned how to make miso paste, dashi broth and we ate it with steamed tofu and pickles. Seeing the inside of their home, how they lived, ate and their generous spirits was the perfect way to start the trip. This was one of the only things we did book in advance, as it’s super in demand, and I know why, it’s every millenial’s crack…untainted authenticity.
We then shopped around Daikanyama where I died and went to minimal tailored sartorial heaven. We sat in Daikanyama Tsutaya drinking plum tea, eating mochi and looking at art books. We ended the day at a vending machine ramen place, that was so life altering we went back a further 3 times over the 10 days. That broth will stay with me forever. You know you’re in safe hands when the vending machine order asks how firm you’d like your ramen noodle. I went for medium bite FYI.
Over the week, we spent far too many hours playing in the photobooth stores off Shibuya Crossing, an equally shocking amount of time in Tokyo Hands (I’m not even gonna attempt to summarise what this store is, just go and thank me later) and ate the crunchiest breaded katsu pork at Maisen. I also got the most precise and yet to be defeated haircut of my life to date (I mean obviously, it’s Japan) at @heavens_hair so I was all fresh for our evening of Omakase sushi with the master Yasuda. This Bourdain approved place only seats 6 people, and basically omakase means the chef decides what to give you whilst describing his process and telling stories. Highlights were scallop, sea urchin, oyster and fatty tuna. And sake from his hometown!
Another benefit of jet lag, we got to the Tsujki fish market promptly at dawn in perfect time for the hardcore breakfast club. Raw sea urchin anyone? And after eating our way around the largest fish market in the world, we headed to the most inspiring market in the world, Dover Street Ginza, to pray at the altar of Rei Kawakubo and purchase some CDG tailoring.
We topped the week off with our last night staying at the Park Hyatt Tokyo (Yes, I did pretend to be Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation whilst listening to jazz in the rooftop bar). I spent the rest of the night sat in my fluffy bathrobe eating an equally fluffy apple mouse patisserie watching Japanese reality tv. If that’s not living your best life I don’t know what is. I highly recco booking a basic airbnb for your trip and then splurging to stay in this iconic hotel, I loved that we saw so many sides of the city, because it truly is so different, every corner you turn down reveals a strange new crevice of wonder and surprise.
From chic matcha bar with hanging dried flowers and impeccably dressed fashion kids, to hedgehog cafes in Harujuku (careful, they bite) and street stalls selling octopus balls. From slick minimalist designer cocktail bars to Piss Alley brisket flash fried by a chef over a gas flame smoking a fag.
I left Tokyo changed, my hair smelled of grilled pork for a good week after we left and while we were there we decided to get engaged. We designed our rings at the amazing Shihara studio, and had vending machine ramen to celebrate. Obviously.