Monday, January 19, 2009

3 weeks and 2 days in Tokyo

Our little family (yes, our baby girl makes us a family now) have been adjusting back to Australia in the last week, but this week, my husband is away again in Hong Kong. So I have some time on my hands to blog.

Over the holidays:

We spent a good chunk of our month in Japan. Mainly in Tokyo, because both of us are very urban creatures who enjoy our high tech comforts and also we’re travelling with a baby. We’re (an investment banker and a project manager) really big on strategy: OK, so we had about 3 weeks plus- we will stay in a different area of Tokyo eachweek and really concentrate on getting to know that place inside out, as if we were a resident there. We’d already done the general tourist spots in Tokyo before, so now we’ll deepen our experience of Tokyo.

Our first and most expensive week was in Roppongi because we stayed at The Grand Hyatt in snooty arty farty Roppongi Hills.

The rooms in Grand Hyatt were perfect. Could spend hours in shower and bath watching TV. Those cooking shows for Japanese housewives really were cute. And the variety/gameshows! Pissed myself laughing....

And I loved the retractable bedside table- reminds me of another deisgner bed that’s on the market. One that comes with a sub-woofer under the bed. Woohoo. Gangsta. I could spend all day lounging around in here drinking roasted green tea and never go out.

Why did we stay in this particular Hyatt? Why not stay in Park Hyatt in Nishi-Shinjuku, where Lost In Translation was filmed? Welllll, it was booked up. Damn damn damn that we didn’t plan months ahead for this trip….

And the armchair in the room was just so comfortable check out the label- they’re designed by B&B Italia, mmm-kay? Serious furniture bling.

BUT Grand Hyatt really delivered on value. I loved everything about the hotel-especially the bar. We came here without a nanny, but we caved in and called the hotel babysitter service. Hubby and I headed to the hotel bar Maduro and listened to some jazz band with a sexy brazilian singer who sang in Portuguese and French.

Just like a scene out of Lost in Translation: Water feature at entrance. Flames dance on torches above the bar. Dramatic setting. Kirin beer (for him. Not me- still BFing baby). Suave bar staff. Ahh- too relaxed to take any photos. I sank into my Lost In Translation fantasy.

Urban oasis at Tokyo Midtown, Roppongi.

You know what? I felt really at home in Roppongi. I could live there, I swear. We found a great supermarket, Precce at Tokyo Midtown that we visited almost every day during our week here. We’d walk there mid morning, grab a bento from Precce and eat it at Hinokicho Park, next door to Suntory art museum. Other young mums with kids and prams, OLs are also there having lunch. The only one out of place over there is my husband…. the salarymen from Konami and preferred to lunch at the piazza/oasis area. Nevermind, we’re on holidays. At the "oasis", a glass roof over the atrium doubles as a water feature/ cooling system and baseball is shown on giant flat screens and a bose surround sound system.

Water feature at the urban oasis at Tokyo Midtown. It's also the glass skylight for the shopping atrium below. The sunlit atrium is cooled down and the glass house effect is thus eliminated.


A pic taken from where we were eating. Stairs lead up to Suntory art musuem.

In the Roppongi Hills area- we easily could find chemists/pharmacists or drugstores as they’re called here at all hours. We went out one evening to buy baby milk formula because Tokyo isn’t a place that has many BFing facilities for mums with babies, so this really came in handy.

I’m speechless. Our baby girl LOVES this sweet smelling formula milk- she sleeps through the night when I gave it to her! But she’s back on the boob 100% now that we’re home in Sydney.

Week 2: we stayed in yet another icon of Tokyo- Keio Plaza in Nishi-Shinjuku.

Quite retro- kinda 70’s. And the rooms all had a smoky cigarette smell- well, besides rice, the ciggy is a staple of the Japanese diet. Really. Let's be honest here.

This was the most hectic week of our visit. I don’t know- maybe because Keio Plaza is more of a business traveller’s hotel than a luxury hotel. There IS a sterile, alienating atmosphere within this 1440 room city within a city. I wouldn't have liked to stay in and lounge around AT ALL, yet I wasn't eager to go outside the hotel each day to face the pulsating chaos that IS Shinjuku. There! My Lost In Translation experience is complete!

Sure beats a McDonalds breakfast.

During a Japanese buffet breakfast at Kagari, I could overhear a bunch of Malaysian (I don’t think Singaporeans talk like this, in my experience) engineers/project managers/developers in their ill-fitting polyester suits talking about a project and basically criticizing their Japanese consultant counterparts. As with many Malaysian mega projects since time inmemorial, there are always numerous foreign consultants- and you have to travel to meet them for “workshops” in Japan. Anyway, these Malaysians (chinese, from what I can hear) waxed lyrical about the utopian-ness of these projects and how far-sighted the planning was. (That’s why I don’t think they’re on about Singapore, y’all) We look like any other young family on holidays to anybody- but my husband and I have been there and seen it, we just rolled our eyes.

We also caved in again and called for a babysitter twice this week: first time was so that we could head to the hotel bar, Polestar at the 45th floor of Keio Plaza. Breathtaking view and friendly bar staff. Bottles are arranged at the transoms so that the view is not obscured. Seems to complement the verticality of the skyline in Nishi Shinjuku.

At Polestar, the bar is sunken- bartenders do all their mixing and blending a full metre below us- we can actually see the tops of their heads! They have to climb up a full metre to reach the platform where they serve drinks to us. Assuming this is so that patrons can enjoy uninterrupted views

Pretty darn dark and quite empty at Polestar on a weeknight. No drunk salarymen, but older couples enjoying drinks and cigars together.

The second time that the babysitter came around was for us to head over to Kabukicho and Ni-choume. Again, I didn’t take any pics. Looked to us like there were some places there that served great food at very reasonable prices. Walking in heels was killing my feet.

Where do you get nappies in Japan?

That question ever even entered my mind until now. We spent 2 days desperately asking each kombini (Lawson stores- why oh why do you not stock them?) for omutsu as our supply of Huggies dwindled down to 1. As anyone with a 4 month old baby knows, that could mean your situation could go down the shitter any second now.

We found a pharmacy in Ni-choume that had nappies, woohoo! So I carried a plastic bag of nappies through the gay district on our way home. It was a rainy Tuesday night, the place was rather tame. Male hosts were on the streets handing out brochures under an umbrella, approaching single women. I resigned myself to not seeing any BL(Boys Love) action. We stopped for a mos burger and headed back to the hotel. Gah. Whatever happened to DATES?

Week 3: Ginza. Not many hotel pics here, though. I was pretty much over the whole document-your-hotel-room thing by now.There are pockets of truly innovative architecture in Ginza.

We ended up at Muji at Matsuzakaya’s basement (at the annex to Higashi-Ginza station) three times that week because my husband felt like getting more khaki pants and shorts, in addition to a few great shirts. Not much shopping by the time the 3rd week came- so we revisited some tourist spots in Ginza like Hamarikyu-Teien during the week in Asakusa, Tsukiji and Akihabara.

The 300 year old tree- looks the same as it did a few years ago. It looks like a grand old lady, doesn't it?

The food in Duplex, Ginza is highly recommended! I think Japanese do steaks better than Americans do steaks. It's just more delicately handled here and it's not just about a huge hunk of meat, you know what I mean? Go to B1 to find out!

On the whole, we didn't try to fit as much into our time as possible. I think we had a longer time there, so there were the odd one or two days where we did nothing at all except go out to lunch at the park or go on a river bus just to sight see. It was a more relaxed holiday.

A bit of constructivist art at the banks of the Sumida River, Asakusa. Kandinsky on Sumida-gawa!

During the three weeks, I swung from thinking that Tokyo would be an awful place to bring up kids- but then I swung the other way when I saw that each female public toilet cubicle had a high-chair fitted on the wall for mums with babies- so that the mum can actually go to the toilet! And there were baby change rooms in Muji. And the mums who unlocked their Aprica prams as they came off the bus in Ginza with one hand while holding the baby with the other hand. I would never be able to do that with our Bugaboo. BUT when I saw the men walking back home/ to the train station in their suits at 11pm, I began to feel for the kids who see their Dads one or two days a week and for the mums who literally raise their kids as a single mum usually without the help of a maid while their husbands are at work. I feel badly for the men too, as the single bread-winner of the family, their loyalty to the company has to come before all else.....

Who would I be if I lived here? Would I be one of those housewives in a modern townhouse Shirogane/ Azabu? Would my husband be a workaholic executive or a lowly manager? (Not that he isn't a workaholic right now in Sydney) Would my kids attend international english schools? Interesting to escape into this world for nearly a month. That's what a holiday is for. To escape.