Sunday, April 05, 2015

A Holiday in Japan

Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo 2015It was dark when we were finally checked into our room on the 49th floor of the Ritz-Carton Tokyo.  The panoramic cityscape of twinkling lights outside our windows was dominated by Tokyo Tower which looked no less impressive than the Eiffel.  We had landed in Narita more than an hour back on a really cold evening.  Our Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong had been delayed by a few hours.  I wasn’t concerned at all.  Being on a vacation with the family seems to make my irritability and impatience disappear - qualities that show up in abundance when glitches happen during business travel!

I have long been fascinated by the Japanese people, from the days when I watched Samurai movies,  through the times when I was introduced to sushi and teppanyaki and more recently when I got more familiar with the rich world of manga and anime.  My young daughter shared this too.  We would have planned a vacation much earlier, but the fear of radioactive leaks from their doomed reactor kept us away for a while.

Cherry Blossoms, Tokyo 2015

Cherry Blossoms, Tokyo 2015

We were going to be in Tokyo and Kyoto for a week. While I have travelled to Tokyo twice before, they were business trips that did not give me much time to explore the city and the culture.

Ueno Park, Tokyo

Our timing turned out to especially good.  While it was still cold at times, the cherry blossom season was at its peak. We spent a day at Ueno Park and Shinjuku Gardens strolling around and marvelling at the sight of cherry blossom trees laden with delicate and ephemeral flowers that the locals call Sakura.

Tokyo Eat-out

Meiji Shrine Tokyo

Ueno Park was crowded with groups of youngsters, who had settled under the trees and were celebrating the seasonal floral treat with beer and a variety of street food.  The crowds had also come out to enjoy the warm bright sun that day.

We loved Shinjuku Garden more than the others.  This is probably the prettiest garden in all Tokyo. Time seems to slow down as you stroll through its winding pathways, the occasional tea-house, and pretty wooden bridges over shimmering ponds. Fifteen hundred cherry-blossom trees were in full bloom make the central gardens look particularly stunning at this of the year.  That day was cloudy with a cold wind and a slight drizzle, but it only added to the charm.

Shinjuku Gyoen

I took my family on a short tour of the tranquil grounds of Meiji Shrine and the tourist-laden Sensoji Temple. We took brief trips in the Roppongi area, Akihabari and Harajiku. The metro station was right underneath our building which was a boon and led to quick short trips to different parts of the city.  My daughter sought out Itoya, a store that specialises in a variety of art papers, pens and brushes - a haven for those artistically inclined.  She came back with a variety of traditional Japanese washi paper, cute stickers and calligraphy pens. If you didn’t know already, Japan is the mecca of all things cute or kawaii as they call it!

Harajuku Ice-cream crepe

Harajuku ice-cream crepe

Harajuku is another place I would recommend for a stroll in the evening. This shopping district is popular with the teens.  The girls window-shopped while I took in the sights.  We stopped briefly for an ice-cream crepe, a rather nice twist on an ice-cream experience:a freshly made crepe is rolled into a cone and filled with ice-cream of your choice.  Speaking of choice, you won’t see more choices of flavours than in Japan.  Ice-creams, shoes or even Kit Kat, they seem to have dozens of flavours that aren’t available any place else. KitKat is even available in green tea, baked potato and soy sauce flavours here!

Bento Box at the Ritz Tokyo

Tokyo Sushi

Breakfast at Ritz Tokyo

Food was delightful everywhere.  We got ourselves a bento box on one day, a sushi lunch near Tsukiji fish market on another, and a variety of ramen soups on the colder and rainy days.  Japan, as most foodies will know, is serious about food.  Everything we tried was great!  The breakfast at the Ritz was exceptional too.  The scrambled eggs and waffles they would make for us were among the best I have had.  Starbucks always came to the rescue when we craved for cappuccino.  Surprisingly, the prices at the Starbucks seemed to be even lower than the ones in India!

Next post in this series: Ramen, Soba, Udon and More

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