Busy busy Sunday 

It’s gonna be even busier towards Christmas, I sighed as I squeezed myself into a crowded tube carriage at Euston. Generally, I avoided Oxford Street and its vicinity in weekend like the plague. However, my routine had altered significantly ever since Bella joined our family. And having to travel to the area during the busiest (and probably most unpleasant) time had become one of those changes I had to contend with.

Just before noon at Regent Street…

Shoppers were already milling around in front of the stores and waiting for the doors to open. The largest crowd-puller seemed to be the recently re-opened Apple Store as they were to launch a new MacBook that afternoon. There were two prominent queues already established from both directions, north and south. Apple do know how to make money, don’t they?

The reason why I had to visit the extra busy west end on Sunday was because I had to have a monthly maintenance of hair and nail done at the salon off Regent Street. As Bella the Puppy couldn’t be left on her own for too long, I needed Hubbie to be at home and babysitting Bella, therefore, the trip had to be done during weekend.

Since the worry about Bella was out of the way, maybe I could run a few errands, that was what I was thinking as my fingers flicked through the pages of the magazine resting on my knee. I wanted to try on a new pair of jeans and a Nars lipstick at Liberty. No matter how sophisticated and detailed web browsers and smartphone apps may become, nothing can surpass visiting the real shops, can’t it?

Eventually, I emerged from the salon around three o’clock with shorter hair and my nails spick and span. Chilly air smacked my cheeks as I made my way towards Regent Street, and I stopped at the junction. Gee, am I really going through this? The crowd on the street were decidedly larger than the last time I saw them a few hours ago. All the plans I made at the salon were soon elbowed out of my head as I started to imagine how it would be like, like having to wait in a queue for a changing room, being frustrated by the lack of attention from busy shop assistants and enduring a tube journey even busier than a weekday’s rush hour, etc… Oh, I can’t be arsed! So, I headed home empty-handed.

When I got home, Hubbie was watching a football match on TV, and Bella was having a nap. ‘Was she a good girl?’ ‘Yup, she was.’ He answered half-heartedly as his gaze was firmly fixed to the TV. I scratched Bella’s plump tummy and felt glad that I was home. Oh well, I will have to shop locally and online until Christmas and Boxing Day Sale are over…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Tokyo To London…

After hopping off from the bus at the north wing, Narita Terminal 1, I scurried to a hand-over counter of Yamato Logistics in order to pick up my suitcase and complete checking in…

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I love Narita Airport, especially their departure lobby, because it’s airy and orderly…

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A vast expanse of the lobby definitely has a calming influence when one is stressed or anxious before boarding.

Colourful vertical tail fins against a cloudless sky of Chiba…

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Another brownie points Narita earns is a selection of shops which portrays the scene of contemporary Japan.
While Heathrow only offers bog standards fast food chains and high street stores before passport control, Narita provides yet more ample opportunities to indulge last-minute craving for retail therapy Japanese style.

How about treating yourself to a bag by Porter aka Yoshida Kaban (吉田カバン)…

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Or how about ogling at Akihabara shop if you couldn’t get enough of AKB48 or anime figures at the Mecca of Otaku…

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This souvenir shop stocked more conventional gifts…

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This shop was dedicated for Japanese style beauty products…

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A Japanese beauty trend of the past two decades is “whitening”. Japanese women are doe-hard crazy about protecting their skins from ultraviolet rays and they go to extraordinary lengths to avoid sunshine. Some years ago, I encountered a woman with a gigantic sun visor. The visor was shielding her face completely and the appearance reminded me Darth Vader! Unfortunately (or fortunately) I moved to the UK before this whitening craze captivated Japan and never experienced a skin brightening beauty regime and therefore my face is covered with freckles which has started to resemble constellations nowadays. Oh well, what should I do?

Anyone for green tea?…

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Ito-en is a well-known Japanese green tea brand. The shop was stocked up with not only their tea in various forms (loose leaf tea, tea bags and powdered tea) but also boxes of beautifully wrapped up cakes, paper fans and dainty knick-knacks.

This shop wasn’t typically Japanese…

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They collect products from less developed parts of the world and introduce them to a Japanese audience. I found the shop location very fitting because their colourful offerings would be sure to inspire the Japanese to travel more.

How about getting a pre-flight massage while you watch planes taking off at the observation deck?…

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A row of massage chairs were found on Level 2. 100 yen for 10 minutes of massage. Are you tempted?

A gigantic column clad with coloured glass tiles stands in the middle of the lobby…

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The decoration was elaborately executed and beautiful. It could have been even better if the column wasn’t surrounded by all those gadgets such as automated check-in terminals or fire-extinguishers…

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A view from the departure gate…

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Feeling a sense of relief as well as sadness, I slumped in one of the chairs overlooking the gate…

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I felt those three weeks with my mum in Japan flew past too quickly but also knew that I would never find it long enough no matter how lengthy my stay maybe.

A flurry of activities were going on around the boarding gate. Ground staffs were busy trying to allocate passengers who were not yet accounted for.

Eventually, all the passengers seemed to have turned up and so had our captain…

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A view from my window…

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We flew over frozen plains of Russia but the ground was covered with low hovering clouds.

A familiar scene greeted me when the plane touched down at Heathrow…

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A lead-grey sky tinged with pale blue spread above the wet runways.
Hello, my home. I am back.
With a sigh of relief, I grabbed my bag and joined a queue towards the exit…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Hikarie @ Shibuya

When questioned ‘What attracts you to Tokyo?’, the majority, locals and tourists alike, would answer ‘Shopping!’
Yes, the city has lots of shopping centres, however, it comes with the difference.
One biggest distinction is their structure…

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The latest shopping outlet “Shibuya Hikarie” at Shibuya.
Their shop floors are stuck up virtually instead of being laid out in a sprawling ground like conventional shopping centres outside Tokyo. Reflecting the city’s nickname “the vertical city”, Tokyo is densely built and any available land for a new development in Central Tokyo is like gold dust. In fact, during the height of the property boom in the 80’s, people joked as if a mere manhole-cover size land could cost as much as $100k. I have no way to authenticate the truth in this urban legend but by looking at how the city has grown, the myth may be less than just a bluff…

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After leaving Shin-Ōkubo, mum and I headed to the next destination on our shopping list, aforementioned Shibuya Hikarie (渋谷ヒカリエ).

Hikarie opened its door to the public on the 26th April 2012. The premises includes a department store, offices, a theatre, restaurants and cafés.
While mainstream shopping complexes outside the city are equipped with equally sumptuous car-parking facilities, the inner-city shopping outlets, such as Hikarie or Tokyo Midtown, they don’t expect their shoppers & visitors to arrive by cars but by public transport. Hikarie stands on where there used to be Tokyu Bunka Kaikan (東急文化会館) – Tokyu Cultural Hall, which was adjacent to Shibuya Station. Shibuya is one of the most important transport hubs of Tokyo – the connections are available between JR Yamanote Line, Keio Inokashira Line, Tokyu Tōyoko Line, Tokyu Denen-toshi Line, Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Hanzōmon Line and Fuku-toshin Line.

We alighted at JR Shibuya Station and proceeded towards Hikarie, following a dog-legged
raised corridor amongst the afternoon crowds. Through the glazing along the bridge between the station’s east exit and the entrance of Hikarie, hazy sunshine was flooding in…

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The bridge was spanned over Meiji-Dōri. I felt relieved to find the scenery being vaguely familiar to me. The overlapping expressways were unchanged since I was here more than two decades ago and so was the amount of the Tokyo traffics – always busy…

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Before entering ShinQs – a new outlet of Tokyu department store, we walked through this charming atrium with a large clock suspended in the air…

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Once inside ShinQs, we found ourselves surrounded by all sorts of lovely offerings.
This opticians, Lunettes du Jura, had amazing varieties of glasses…

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I was particularly taken by a pair of cateye frame in bubble gum pink. If I had more days left in Japan, I would definitely have bought a pair (a minimum waiting time was 1 week)…

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Mum bought a bright orange reading glasses and it looked great on her.

I loved Hikarie because the items on sale were well-chosen and affordable…

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Yayoi Kusama collection…

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Colourful jars and bottles to ornate any kitchen…

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The Japanese love the Conran Shop too…

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Mum and I thoroughly enjoyed our retail therapy at Hikarie.
I must admit that shopping experience in Tokyo is the best in the world. The merchandise on offer and the service which comes with it, they make shopping such a fun & joy. I wish if Tokyo were only 3 hours flight away from London, instead of 12 hours…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Gondo Now & Then…

While I was in sub-zero Nagano, I managed to fend off cold. Then back in unseasonably mild London, I’ve succumbed to the pesky germ! How could this happen?! Anyway, I am confined to bed right now and feeling rather betrayed…

Apart from a mass congregation during the New Year holidays in & around the Zenkō-ji compound,the street scene of Nagano in general was a rather sparsely populated one, I must say…

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The town was quiet and looked even deserted for the eyes which got used to see the sea of people in London 24/7.
An arcade called Gondo used to be brimful with shops and shoppers three decades ago…

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However, the shops and their clients ebbed away as the fringe of the city which used to be rice fields and apple orchards were developed and offered as new residential areas. For young families with children, the lure of being able to afford a house with a garden was irresistible and an exodus out of the city centre to the suburb followed as a result. This kind of demographic change was a death-blow to any traditional town centre and Gondo did not escape the repercussion.

Upon entering the roofed arcade from Chuo-dori, there was a temple named Oujo-in…

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The temple was founded in the 9th century by Kūkai (空海), also known posthumously as Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師), the founder of the Shingon-shū (真言宗 True Word School).
In the 12th century, during a power struggle between the Taira and Minamoto clans in the late-Heian period of Japan known as Genpei War, Zenkō-ji was razed to the ground by fire. After two decades, Minamoto no Yoritomo (源 頼朝), the founder and the first shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate of Japan vowed to rebuild Zenkō-ji and its Hibutsu – the most important icon of temple, was temporarily moved to Oujo-in. A word “Gondo” means “a temporary shrine”. It explains why the place earned the name, Gondo (権堂).

The present Gondo arcade housed some shops, bars and eateries. The roofed promenade was dotted with a few clothing & accessories shops…

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A tree decorated as a Christmas tree in front of the building occupied by bars and restaurants…

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This stall was selling ornaments for the New Year…

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They were to be hung on the front doors as an invitation to gods to walk into each household and bring prosperity and luck to its receiver.

By the east end of Gondo arcade, there was Akiba-jinja shrine. And in front of it, there was a statue of Kioi-jishi (勢獅子)…

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This fierce looking mask was used for Lion Dance (獅子舞) which was to be performed during the New Year celebration.
It was a cold day and the snow clung to the base of the statue refused to melt away. Brrr…

From the arcade, there were narrow alleyways spreading out like small veins…

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On one of the alleyways, I noticed a tricoloured canopy standing out of the greyish hue of urban wintry scene…

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It was a small cake shop, Patisserie Aux Suga.
I fancied a break from cold with hot coffee & cake so opened a sliding door and walked in.
The dining area was empty and a soft tune of Simon & Garfunkel was filling the space…

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I ogled the showcase and after a long pondering, opted for a slice of Creme Marron – Chestnuts cake.
Ta-dah! It was my very first cake in Japan…

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However for the tongue which had been exposed to more sugary food in the UK, the cake was flavoured rather too delicately. Still, it was very well made…

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While a patisserie owner blew my coffee, he explained that the shop opened in the mid October last year therefore it was a new comer to Gondo…

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As I munched through the treat, a trickle of customers came and went with boxes of Mr.Suga’s creation. It was heartwarming to witness how local independent businesses like his were not only surviving but also thriving in the local community. Instead of running the path of boom & bust by relying on big money investor or franchises, they chose to nourish the ground they took roots in a more personal way. I sincerely hoped that their service would one day lure back people to Gondo and the place would be overflowing with laughter and excitement again. I must come back here every time I visit Nagano and I shall bring my mum with me next time, I thought…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

On The Sando Promenade

From Hondō (the Main Hall) to the south entrance of the Zenkō-ji temple complex, a 300 years old pavement stretches over the distance of 450m. Allegedly, this 8m wide promenade comprises 7777 paving stones even though I’ve never counted them.

After making sure the dog returned to the owner, I climbed down the steps of Sanmon Gate and headed south…

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Souvenir shops lined along the promenade, tempting passers-by with various offerings…

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At most of the shop fronts, merchandise was piled up high or clustered together in abundance…

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One shop displayed Chitose Ame – thin long boiled sweet customarily sold around the 15th November, celebrating children’s health growth…

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These cans & pouches were Shichimi Tougarashi – 7 spices flavoured chilli powder, one of Nagano’s well-known produces…

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Apples & bags of boiled sweet…

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Buddhist prayer beads in various materials and colours…

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Ceramic cups to adorn a domestic Buddhist altar…

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Toys for children on display.
Some were modern…

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And some were more old-fashioned…

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Bags in the barrels were Nozawana – pickled turnip green, a famous produce of Mozawa hot spring village, north-west of Nagano City…

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Piled up next to the bunch of umbrellas were boxes of Soba noodle, another well-reputed produce of Nagano…

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Some offered refreshments to tourists and locals alike. Soft ice cream in Matcha (green tea) flavour, steamed sweet or savoury buns, etc…

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Upon arriving at Niōmon Gate, I turned back to see Hondō once again…

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Then, turned towards downtown…

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Now, I must hurry to the supermarket before sunset…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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