What to Wear: Japan

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Striking a balance between stylish and conservative can make packing for Japan difficult. If you stick to these few rules, you’ll be well on your way to making a fashionable statement on your next journey to the land of the rising sun.

Keep your cleavage covered. Japanese women are very sensitive when it comes to showing off their décolletage. The rule of thumb is: if someone can see down your shirt when you bend over, it’s too low. Obviously, the trendier areas aren’t as conservative, but it’s always good to err on the side of caution.

Pack sensible and stylish shoes. You will be walking around a lot, and while five-inch heels will likely help you blend in, save your feet the pain during the day and invest in some fashionable sneakers. I went with a pair of Jimmy Choo sneakers. See how I wore them here. Not your style? A pair of converse will also do the trick. Not a sneaker fan? Just remember to keep the heel low, or even better, nonexistent.

Show some leg. While locals are likely to keep it conservative from the waist up, you will see women showcasing their gams. Short shorts and miniskirts are perfectly acceptable for just about any situation (outside of the office, of course).

Be a little adventurous. Have a cool piece of clothing that’s a bit too aggressive to wear back home? No problem. With the Harajuku mindset, anything goes in Japan. If you find yourself strutting through Ginza, don’t be afraid to oversize everything, wear crazy graphic prints, and pair heels with pajamas. Just remember, the best accessory is confidence. If you’re lucky, the hoard of fashion photographers who camp out on Omotesando might even photograph you.

Ditch the kimono. While it might be fun to dress up for an hour or two, leave the traditional looks to the professionals. Aside from the fact that walking around in flip-flops with socks on is obnoxiously hard, kimonos are tight and uncomfortable. Ladies, just think about the effort to go to the bathroom…

Check the weather. Summers in Japan can be unbearably hot, and winter temps are known to fall below zero. The last thing you want is a suitcase full of sweaters when you should have packed shorts. If you’re going during Spring or Fall, include light layers. Traveling during the rainy season (May – July)? Be sure to pack an umbrella and some jellies.

If you’re going to pack just one thing… make sure it’s an LBD like the Alexander Wang one above. Plans change, opportunities arise, and as it is in the states, a little black dress is always appropriate in Japan.

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Final Hours in Tokyo

My last night in Tokyo, I stayed at the Conrad Hotel, a contemporary building set in the heart of Tokyo. This skyscraper, with its panoramic skyline views, more than lived up to its press. I enjoyed and confidently recommend afternoon tea in the stylish TwentyEight on the 28th floor of the Conrad. In addition to serving up breathtaking views they offer a tempting selection of scones, sandwiches and desserts.

 

Although the hotel’s features and amenities are outstanding, for me, the Conrad’s proximity to the Tsukiji Fish Market was the real seal-the-deal. Lodging within walking distance of this famous tuna auction was a ‘must’ for me.

The Tsukiji Market was one of my ‘must-sees’ for my trip to Japan. The best sushi chefs from around the city come to the world’s largest fish market to pick out their cuts for the day.

Call me crazy, but I planned to join other spectators and queue up at 2:30 in the morning for a chance to watch the best sushi chefs in the city choose their cuts of the day. Competition for admittance is robust as the market is open to visitors for a mere hour and a half each day—5:00 am to 6:15 am.

Before bidding begins, visitors are given a neon-yellow vest to wear and are directed to a small observation area; it’s from there I would spend my allotment of 25 minutes viewing this lively auction. The camaraderie, the competition, the smells—this is the Japan I came to see! It was all wonderfully engaging and I’d bet my tuna sandwich, the buyers and sellers found us as entertaining as we found them.

    

At the end of my 25 minutes, I was escorted from the auction and cautioned to watch for workers zipping around the market on carts. These guys don’t stop for anyone!

There’s no better way to cap the market experience than to indulge in, you guessed it, delicious, fresh sushi. Sushi Dai is by far the most popular place in the market, but Daiwa-Zushi is a great second option. Expect to pay upwards of 700 yen—roughly, $7 (US) per piece of fish, but trust me when I say, it’s worth every last yen.

A Mountain of Orange

The Fushimi Inari shrine is one of the most photographed shrines in all of Japan. By looking at my photos below, it’s easy to see why. As someone who enjoys photography, it can be difficult to put the camera down and appreciate the view. Often times I find myself seeing shrines or monuments only through my lens. After hiking about half way up the mountain, and realizing that fact, I just sat for a while overlooking Kyoto. Since starting my travels, this was one of my most peaceful moments, and a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the city below.

I chose to hike up at the end of the day. As the sun went down, the bugs started to come out, and only then did I realize some bug repellant may have been a good idea. But a few mosquitos were a small price to pay for less crowds and a front row seat to the sunset over the city.

    

fushimi inari shrine

A pleasant little surprise was the amount of kittens running around different parts of the shrine. Some of them were a bit skittish, but these two hairballs below hung out for a while; guarding their portion of the shrine.

    

The last portion of the hike was my favorite. The sun slipped beneath the city and it lit up the shrine perfectly. Make sure to follow the path to the best of your ability to the bottom. I ended up getting slightly lost and walking through a small neighborhood, but finding the train station turned out to be quite easy, and I was well on my way back to the center of the city.

fushimi inari shrine

fushimi inari shrine

After getting back into the center of Kyoto, I lingered at Kyoto Station for a quick bite to eat. Upon exiting, you have prime viewing of Kyoto Tower, which is best seen at night – especially with some green tea uiro.

kyoto tower

Tonight, I journeyed back to Tokyo for one final night, and then it is off to Seoul tomorrow!

The Heart of Kyoto

Today was predicted to be hot, so I stuck with light, airy fabrics and some of my favorite accessories from Pinkyotto. I’m loving their new Fall designs, so definitely check out their new collection!

pinkyotto

travel style

pinkyottotravel style

travel style

First stop: Kiyomizu-Dera—the temple of clear water—a Buddhist temple located halfway up Otowa Mountain in eastern Kyoto. I traveled by City Bus to Gojozaka; from Gojozaka, I hiked fifteen-minutes uphill (rethinking the shoes) to reach the temple grounds. Near the cemetery, I chose the road less traveled to enter the grounds, and at the end of the tour, the main path to exit, picking up a snack before heading out for my last stop. I enjoyed the many important cultural properties of Kiyomizu-Dera including a three-storied pagoda, bell tower and my favorite, the Kaizan-do Hall.

kiyomizu temple
Deva Gate at the entrance of the temple.
kiyomizu templeBell Tower
kiyomizu templeKaizan-do Hall

kyoto

kiyomizu temple    kiyomizu temple

kyoto

Leaving Kiyomizu-Dera, I glanced to my right and caught a glimpse of the ancient Yasaka Pagoda, welcome evidence that history is around every corner in Kyoto. Surrounded by modern architecture and neon signs, I was discouraged when I first arrived, but as I began to explore, I was pleased to see Kyoto’s rich history begin to unfold.

yasaka pagoda

The Shinto Yasaka Shrine, located in the Gion district of Kyoto, is my final stop for the day. Yasaka is one of the more popular shrines in the city welcoming visitors and locals alike offering its traditions, vistas and peace. The chiming of bells carries on the breeze and marks the moment pilgrim and faithful pay their respects as they make an offering (saisen) to the kami.

yaska shrineThe lanterns over the stage are the names of those who sponsor the festival every New Year.

kyoto

shinto shrine    shinto shrine

I will spend the night in Kyoto and then it’s back to the Conrad Hotel and my final night in Tokyo before I head for Seoul.

Clever in Kyoto

Today I boarded the Shinkansen super-express high-speed railway, traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto. It saddened me to leave Shinjuku and my genial host, Oto-san, but I was eager to continue my exploration of Japan.

Oto-san on the balcony in his Shinjuku apartment

While I will miss breakfast in Oto-san’s kitchen—with its view of Tokyo’s skyline—I’m looking forward to my stay at the Hotel Nikko Princess. Located in the heart of Kyoto, the Nikko Princess is convenient to restaurants as well as business and shopping centers. The concierge set me up with a great tour and his suggestions on where to find the best ramen, sobu, and tempura in the city, were spot on.

My afternoon is quickly disappearing and I’m hungry so I head for Nishiki Market to check out what remains of the day’s fare. Nishiki Market is a narrow, five-block shopping street lined by more than one hundred shops and restaurants. Known as ‘Kyoto’s Kitchen’, it’s foodie paradise and the logical place to satisfy my need for lunch. Exotic specialties beautifully displayed, I finally made my selections and feasted on eel, candied kumquats and octopus.

Crowning the east entrance of Nishiki Market, the Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine welcomes both visitor and the faithful. Here resides the god of the brain dedicated to wisdom, knowledge and business acumen. As I understand it, the lanterns bearing the names of market shopkeepers are tangible petitions for good fortune and success.

Hunger satisfied, energy restored, I met up with the Gion Night Walk in Kitaza. The casual (just show up—reservations not needed) night walk tours Kyoto’s most traditional district where the culture of Kagai, the world of maiko and geiko (better known as geisha) are still very much alive and well. Mary, our tour guide, was knowledgeable and entertaining, her historical commentary adding depth to our experience. We watched a geiko walk into a prominent teahouse, but she was too quick for me to snag a photo. Mary said there are far fewer geikos than one might imagine and it is quite rare to see one.

    

Luckily, I did get to see two young girls walking out of a okiya, which is a boarding house for maikos. They weren’t in full make-up, which leads me to believe they were ‘maiko-in-training’.

View from Shijo bridge.

Leaving the Gion tour, I’m ready for a late dinner at Shunsai Tempura Arima and my favorite Japanese meal so far—the Ume set course. Arima, the itame, artfully prepared each dish himself and served it with a description of the ingredients and preparation, which I found charming and helpful. Arima’s has seating for sixteen, creating an intimate atmosphere and a long wait or missed opportunity without a reservation.

 

Arima gives me the ‘thumbs-up’ after attempting to learn some Japanese cuisine jargon.

Tomorrow I’m off to the shrines!

 

Game, Set, Match

Earlier this week, I made friends with Emmanuel, a tennis chair umpire who is calling matches in Tokyo’s Toray Pan Pacific Open. Emmanual asked if I was interested in tickets for the tournament (Are you kidding me? YES!!!), and handed over tickets for the sweetest seats I’ve ever been comped. Because of travel conflicts, I missed opening day. So before I leave Tokyo later today, I wanted to swing by and catch at least some of the first round matches. I watched the competition between Japan’s own, Kurumi Nara, and the Ukranian, Elina Svitolina. It was a heartbreaking loss for Nara; I would have liked to see her win the first round in her home country.

    

I also watched Venus Williams and Mona Barthel ‘racket’ it out as once more, Venus dominated the court.

About those tickets… I sat with athletes spectating, their coaches, and other guests. As a sports enthusiast, it’s interesting to me watch how athletes and coaches observe their competition. The reactions of parents and guests of players also gave me an interesting insight into the performance of other players, which I might otherwise have missed.

Leaving Ariake Colosseum and the Toray Pan Pacific Open, I returned to the city by way of the Yurukamome Line, from which you can take some of the best panoramic snapshots of the city. I recommend taking the Yurukamome Line around ‘the loop’, a forty-five minute round trip just for the scenery. From Rainbow Bridge, the comfortable ride offers up beautiful views of the bay and city.

Later today, I’m hopping on the bullet train and heading south to the cultural center of Japan, Kyoto. Kyoto is old Japan at its finest with quiet temples, beautiful gardens and home to the geisha; it also serves up some of the best traditional cuisine in the country. Can’t wait to report back!

Pop of Plaid

It hardly feels like I have been in Japan for four days! Tokyo is so big I feel like I adventure into a new city every day. On the to-do list today, was to see Tokyo Station, the Imperial Palace and Shibuya crossing. This morning I started my day at a pretty leisurely pace. There were a lot of ‘stop and smell the tempura’ moments as I moseyed my way to Shinjuku station, rocking my plaid Rugby shirt around my waist. It was on the warmer side of things, so I wore my trusty jean shorts, and because of all of the walking planned for the day, I opted for my sneakers as opposed to my usual sandals.

I snagged this ring from my mother’s jewelry box years ago and decided to string it up on a gold chain.
The other necklace is a sovereign gold coin (1925), gifted to me by my dad for my college graduation.

At Shinjuku station, I had to activate my JR Pass by turning in my exchange order, which if you remember from one of my previous posts, I had to purchase in the States. Once I received my pass, I hopped on the Chuo Line, which is an express to Tokyo Station. Before even going outside, I decided to grab lunch at one of the restaurants, or better known as a shokudo, in the station. One thing that distinguishes a shokudo from another type of restaurant is that they display their food in a case outside of their restaurant. I ordered a ranchi setto (lunch set), which had sashimi, tempura, soup, eel and rice, steamed vegetables, and Japanese pickles, or tsukemono, which I have really grown to like in particular. The whole thing came out to 2,700 yen. Apparently, that is on the more expensive side, and you can get something similar for around 1,000 yen.

After lunch, I found my way outside. There are about 20 exits to the station, so be strategic in which one you pick. I chose the Marunouchi North exit as it is closest to the Imperial Palace. The station doesn’t look like anything you would expect to see in Japan. The brick walls and Western style is an interesting juxtaposition to the modern background. Some have rumored that it is supposed to be modeled after the main station in Amsterdam, but I’m pretty sure that’s just a rumor.

Before reaching the Imperial Palace, I stumbled upon the Wadakura Fountain Park, which was a nice reprieve from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo Station.

This little girl was so adorable. When she saw me taking pictures, she insisted on a photo shoot.

After some time in the water park I took the ten minute walk to the entrance of the Imperial Palace. There is no charge to get in, but remember to grab a token before you head in, which needs to be returned when you leave.

While the actual palace isn’t open to the public (it’s only open two days out of the year), the most popular places that people go to are the East Gardens, which is a collection of several different types of landscapes. Tourists and locals alike come here to escape the flurry of activity in the city, either to enjoy lunch or just hang out.

I decided this would be a perfect time to break out my book. Note: if you feel like coming here for a late lunch and to read, remember the park closes at 4:30pm. The last thing you want is to feel rushed in a place like this, so give yourself plenty of time.

For those wondering, I’m reading Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach.

After relaxing for a while, I hopped back on the Yamanote line to Shibuya Station. From there it’s a quick walk to Shibuya Crossing, which is famous for people constantly pouring across the street every day. All of the traffic lights turn red at once, so it is a bit of a free for all when the ‘walk’ signs light up.

Tomorrow, I am heading to the Toray Pan Pacific Open to watch some tennis, and then packing to get ready for my short trip down to Kyoto.

xoxo

Get the Look: Plaid Shirt, Rugby Ralph Lauren // Tee, H&M // Shorts, Hudson // Sneakers, Jimmy Choo // Blue Bag, 3.1 Phillip Lim // Red Bag, Marc by Marc Jacobs // Watch, Michael Kors // Sunglasses, Ray Ban // Necklaces, vintage

Romping Through Roppongi

It’s 2:30 am and a 5.3 magnitude earthquake slams Fukushima then rockets to Tokyo—and my bedroom—scaring the living crap out of me. My dream of waking to a glorious Japanese sunrise dissolves in chaos and bolting upright, I pray my Shinjuku apartment will not come crashing down around me. It’s my first earthquake and after a few breathless moments, I suspect I may, just possibly, have overreacted. Confirming with the Twitter world that it indeed is an earthquake, but not a serious threat, I manage to go back to sleep.

At dawn, as I did in Santa Barbara, I quickly assemble my camera and from the balcony, capture the sunrise. Looking through the viewfinder, I put thoughts of my shaky morning behind me, grateful for the beautiful day that lay ahead.

First breakfast—then Roppongi and the Tokyo Tower. Many expats call Roppongi home but it‘s also home to the Tokyo Tower and some of the best sushi in town; it’s also the least Japanese part of Tokyo. From Roppongi Station, it’s a fifteen-minute walk to Tokyo Tower. I notice the consulates along the way are heavily guarded, but the uniformed police politely offer a nod and a smile as I pass by. Admission to Tokyo Tower’s main observation deck with its sweeping vistas is 820 yen, $8 (US).

Lunch is at Fukuzushi, a trendy cafe situated in an alley off of Gaien-higashi-dor in the center of Roppongi. 2,600 yen, $25 (US) bought me a set nigiri lunch. Not too bad for the area. Capping my dining experience, I sat at the bar and enjoyed a pleasant conversation with the Itamae-san. Between my sub-par Japanese and his broken English, we managed just fine.

The sushi was divine. As this was my first official sushi in Japan, I had high expectations, and they were surpassed.  The unagi (eel) subtly flavored, the tako (octopus) delicately tender, the ebi (shrimp) the sweetest I have ever tasted but undeniably, the akami (lean tuna) was by far my favorite.

Dessert and tea were served in a separate part of the restaurant; dessert was something like ‘coffee-jello’ topped with a dab of chocolate sauce. I sat, tea in hand, and read for about an hour before heading back to Shinjuku and my first Friday night in Japan.

It’s off to Omotesando for cocktails at Den Aquaroom. then home. Here’s to sleeping earthquakes and peaceful dreams.

Konnichiwa Tokyo!

First stop on my tour around Asia: Tokyo! Moshi, moshi ah no ne. I honestly can’t think of a better way to start the next three months. Customs and immigrations in Tokyo was a breeze. You truly experience the friendliness of the Japanese people the minute you step off of the plane. One of the not so great things about Narita Airport though, is that it is quite far outside of Tokyo, so you need to either take a train to the center of the city, or split a cab with 2 or 3 people. I picked up a Suica N’ex card to go from the airport to central Tokyo. This is a great option (roughly $50 round trip), and you get a Suica card pre-loaded with 2,000 yen, which is the card used for their subway system. I had to transfer at Shinjuku station, which was quite hectic. Luckily, a very nice young man offered to escort me to the Oedo line, in exchange for practicing English with him, which led me to where I will be staying for the next four days. After arriving at my apartment, I was out the door less than an hour later for dinner with two guys who I had met on A Small World. We went to Two Rooms for dinner and drinks. I recommend the Kiwi Mojito to start your night off; super refreshing. To eat, I had the Tsukiji fresh carpaccio of the day and the veal chops, which were both delicious. After being up for 30 hours and having a few cocktails, I headed back to my apartment and slept like a baby.

When I woke up today, I headed straight to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. This is one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo where you get a 360 view of the city at the top. It definitely puts the size of Tokyo in perspective. This place is huge!

On the main floor of the TMG, there is a tourist center where you can pick up guides for different portions of the City in English. I picked up a few for Ginza, Roppongi, Shibuya and the Harajuku area. I have a feeling I’ll be back for some other areas in a few days. I decided today I would do Harajuku. The self-guided tour has your start at Omotesando station, which is just a quick ride from the TMG. Before trekking through the streets, I grabbed a quick lunch at Hiroba. Hiroba does a lunch buffet for 1,260 yen until 2:30. The organic Japanese buffet includes primarily vegetarian options, but they have meat options as well; descriptions are only in Japanese, but signs for each dish include cute drawings of fish, chickens, or pigs to help you figure out if animal ingredients were used. Everything was super yummy, and I recommend the little quiche squares that they have. So good!

After lunch, I strolled down Omotesando street and browsed in the shops. There is everything from Prada to Laforet, where I managed to pick up some fashionable souvenirs.

The corner of Omotesando and Meiji-dori

After having a taste of the modern, fashionable world in Tokyo, I decided to switch it up and take in some of the more traditional sites. Just a 5 minute walk from the shops is the entrance to the Meiji-jingu shrine. This particular shrine is a Shinto shrine, which is the ancient original religion in Japan. After walking through the gate it is about a 10 minute walk to the shrine through a nice park.

Before reaching the shrine, you encounter a few more gates and barrels of sake wrapped in straw. These sake barrels are offered every year to the enshrined deities to show respect.

Before entering the shrine it is customary to rinse your hands at the temizuya. One of the guides told me the very specific wash instructions: First wash your left hand, then your right hand. Then take a scoop of water and wash your mouth with your left hand. After your mouth has been washed, rinse your left hand again, and finally rinse the water dipper.

Once inside, it is frowned upon to take pictures of the area where all of the ceremonies are performed, but I managed to take a few shots of the surrounding architecture.

These are special votive tablets for personal prayers of gratitude toward the deities.
They are hung around a divine tree with your wishes written on one side and then they are offered at Mikesai.

That about wraps up day one. Tomorrow I’m going to be exploring Roppongi and Ginza! More to come, mata atode ne!

Get the look: Tank: Rag & Bone // Skirt: H&M // Bag: Marc by Marc Jacobs // Sunglesses: Chanel // Sandals: H&M