I’ve mostly been busying myself with seeing how many gin and tonics I can drink in a night and odd-balling around Edinburgh trying to find a reliable source of income. I did, however, manage to arrange a holiday to Japan and Thailand with two of my good friends that was an amazing experience all round. Except Thailand, that was shite.
I was mildly tipsy off the champagne swilled mince pies and decided to call Jonny on Christmas day to arrange a holiday with my copious amounts of airmiles. A couple of hours later and I’d forked over £375 and a lot of airmiles to ship us over first class to Tokyo. A bargain by all accounts and I thoroughly recommend people hoard some form of airmiles even if you aren’t a frequent traveller. Contact me by all the normal means for tips on the best credit cards or just go to Head for Points where they do a good job of outlining the most of it for us Brits.
Oh look, a tree in season!
The Imperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo were stunning and there was almost no one there.
Another friend, lets call him Jamie, as that’s his name, decided to join us. For those of you that know Jonny, the trip was almost a given to be full of culinary delights and moaning about the lack of English spoken.
We started off in Tokyo and arrived at a rather unsavoury 9:35am. After negotiating our way onto a bus for a meagre £16 each, we eventually got to the hotel ready to embrace the city. After a 4 hour nap. The first night we concentrated on adjusting to the relevant time-zone. The important thing when doing this is to drink as much as possible to ensure the longest nights sleep possible. A thorough tour of Roppongi, including a stop at a lovely piano bar, a frightful place called Geronimos where heroes of the night get a plaque of their name on the wall if they manage to neck 15 unique shots (we decided this wouldn’t be a fruitful challenge), and a brief encounter with a non-local lad trying to entice us into later night entertainment, resulted in a solid 7am wake up after almost a full four hours sleep and ready to crack on with all things Japan.
We liked this place because a Japanese guy sang Piano Man
We are not on this wall
The world famous Tsukiji fish market, which we showed up to drunk at 6am and went straight into the no-entry area. Worth it.
After a bit of day-time strolling, we went to our first restaurant of the trip, A511. So called because it is a steak restaurant, and when you’re in Japan you have Kobe steak. Kobe steak is graded from one to five on quality, and zero to twelve on marbling. So 512 would be the “best” you could get. Which they served, and we had. It was very very good but more on steak later as we did have better. I had the Japanese style menu which was a bit of a convoluted mashup of ways to reduce the quality of the steak at hand.
Just the steak will be fine, thanks.
We headed to the Studio Ghibli museum which I was pretty excited about, but predictably J&J had never heard of. It was somewhat disappointing other than the giant Totoro outside, and was very much directed towards the younger audience. There were some really cool animation things in the first room we went in, but the rest was all about kids jumping on a life-size Catbus structure. We did do the recommended stop off in Inokashira park where myself and Jamie peddled round on somewhat inefficient swans while Jonny tested the ice cream vending machines and inspected the opposite zoo for potential mates.
What a riot
Pictured: Not my neighbour
Top of the Park Hyatt, Tokyo. No Scarlett, sadly.
Our first major sushi experience came from Sushi Mizutani. He is the protégé of the a-lot-more-famous Jiro. Jiro was a) fully booked and seemingly impossible to get into, b) had considerably worse reviews from a number of sources, and c) was said to be about double the price (although we certainly didn’t find that to be the case). The sushi was nothing short of amazing, and the company fantastic too. We were a bit nervous at first, and Jonny voiced his opinion on the lack of menu and not knowing what on Earth we were being served. It was ok though, as the chap (who turned out to be the head of Japan for a large IB) across the counter spoke perfect English and did a lot of translation for us. You know a nights going well when the otherwise t-total Jonny saw off the Japanese Whiskey the gentleman kindly bought for us, and myself and Jamie retired to Hooters for a quiet gin or ten.
The man-giant himself, Mizutani. He wouldn’t let us take snaps of the delicious food he was producing, the wee bugger.
The rain poured down the next day and it was pretty miserable all round. Fortunately I had the foresight to book tickets to Disneyland that day, so we could enjoy thorough misery surrounded by Toy Story characters. Jonny had a pretty good vision of how the day was going to go once we tried to queue for the first ride and left pretty sharpish. Jamie and I were more stubborn, and regrettably only managed to go on two rides all day. Despite the rain, and it being a Tuesday, the park was RAMMED with kids and every single queue was over two hours. The two rides we went on were shit.
Lets all watch a parade of people dressed as Disney characters in the rain for 15 minutes.
A Teppenyaki place called Hama. A huge mis-communication in the order resulted in us doubling the size of both of our order and the bill.
Our first non-sushi non-steak Japanese fine dining experience came at the hands of Koju. This is a three michelin starred restaurant and similar to Mizutani’s was a sit-at-the-counter affair. I thought the food was great, the others not so much, some of the courses were certainly questionable to the Western palette. The chef/owner was a very nice chap though, as well as what I presume was the manager. They answered all our questions about their big knife selection, the chef posed for photos and showed us around the pretty small kitchen, and the manager came out for a drink with us (where I was shocked to learn that he was a) straight b) married c) over 40) to the frankly amazing High Five cocktail bar. One website lists it as number nine in the world, which was unsurprising. It was on the top floor of what seemed like an apartment building, much like a lot of the restaurants and bars. It’s a small building and we met three Yanks who were on some sort of work pissup for AutoCAD. You describe what you like to the bartender (who’s name is escaping me) and he makes you a drink. And it’s always really good.
And this is for fish, and this is for fish, and this is for fish…
This was some X-games thing with some famous Yank. I don’t know how to use my camera.
We headed over to Kobe, because no fine food tour of Japan would feel complete without at least checking out the city. Despite having three times the population of Manchester, by comparison to Tokyo, Kobe felt small. We were booked in for restaurant Aragawa and there was obviously some miscommunication between them and the hotel (who had made our reservation on our behalf) because they weren’t expecting us. Frankly, we thought we were in the wrong place as the décor is pretty awful. The owner must have realised our concerns because he brought out the Michelin guide to show that we were good to go. It became more apparent when the food came out. I had smoked salmon to start which was incredible in itself. But my word, when I ate the steak that came out of this restaurant… Well, look at it.
Could have ordered three. Didn’t. Full of regret.
Next on the tour was Osaka to watch Sumo Wrestling. There was one street we walked down in Osaka that was really cool, loads of giant fish awnings, and tons of people. The sumo was fun, I got some prop bets in with Jonny to ensure a losing trip. It was surprising that it definitely wasn’t a contest of the biggest guy winning, and also surprising to see a Russian guy in full sumo gear. We went to a supposedly nice restaurant (Taian) but it’s not worth writing about.
But can it do it on a rainy day in Stoke
Christ, not in public mate.
Kyoto was the final stop. We went to Kinkaku-ji “Golden” temple, Kiyomizu-dera temple, saw a bunch of geishas and even more kimonos. Maybe it was the trip to the Zen garden, but I found Kyoto super chilled. We had a great night out in a club called WORLD Kyoto where the strict no-dancing law in Japan isn’t upheld to the highest standards (although one enthusiastic Westerner did get called out by the bouncer for having too much fun). The final restaurant we went to was Nakamura. It’s a traditional Japanese tea-house setting (basically a private room) and I thought the food was fantastic. It was a bit less social in that there are no other people around, so I made vague attempts to chat up the lass serving us who claimed to “not be on Facebook”. C’est la vie.
This guy seems to have life pretty figured out.
Some really old (but renovated) structure. And me.
You made this? I made this.
No one would take the freeroll of running across the perfectly raked gravel, much to the non-amusement of the nearby Yanks.
UK Health and Safety would have a field day with the fire regulations here.
They’re everywhere in Kyoto
Presumably checking my Twitter feed.
Then we went to Thailand and sat by the pool for a week. Highlight was seeing my old pal and runner up to David Gorr, James Keys and his offspring.
The post “Konichiwa” was first posted on Rupert Elder’s Blog.