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

Old & New @ Nagano

What a tempestuous weather looming over us right now. An image of stormy waves washing away railway tracks in Exeter area, shown repeatedly on various news channels since this morning, is so ghastly and depressing. Apart from those awe-inspiring spectacles, such as cliffs being pounded by humongous surf or banks awash with foaming sea water from all directions, there are people who are dog-tired of laying out sandbags and having to deal with the aftermath of flooding. I desperately hope the UK will be storm-free for the rest of the winter and it will give a respite to the long-suffering local people. Weather-wise, what an awful winter for so may of them so far.

My two years absence from Nagano brought me a few surprises. The emergence of new shops was one thing, the staying power of old shops was another. During my stroll, I was glad to find that the familiar shop fronts from my childhood were still gracing along the main street…

A fruit seller near the Niō-mon. The scale and appearance of the stall was virtually unchanged for decades…

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I imagine their right to trade within the Zenkō-ji compound must be hereditary and protected from any new commercial development. Otherwise, who could survive this long without not selling much like this…

This shop in Daimon area sold all sorts of Japanese knick-knacks. Ceramic pots, cups, pitchers, dishes & plates, porcelain figurines in all sizes, materials & shapes, tea towels, woven baskets, iron kettles, wallets, small luggage, handkerchiefs, etc…

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The shop would be a godsend for anyone who ran out of the idea for souvenirs home. They stocked a variety of cute Japanese things at reasonable prices.

The placard says “From proper-fat, semi-fat to semi-skinny, we provide for all sizes”…

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This clothing shop on Chuō-douri, I had never seen anyone in there. The items on sale were perpetually the same, targeting local old people who would clad in subdued tones of browns and murky greens. I guess they must own a shop plot for generations. How do they make enough profit to keep this shop stay opened, I have no idea.

This shop by the west entrance of Gondō was filled with toys for kids of all ages…

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Their shop window was covered with their merchandise. From Japanese anime figures to posters of nostalgic American silver screen stars, the items on offer were diverse. The shop reminded me an Otaku (おたく/オタク)’s bedroom.

When it came to traditional toyshops there were a couple of them near Gondō arcade.

This shop was specialised in Igo (囲碁).

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The game was invented in China more than 2500 years ago and has many enthusiasts, especially amongst retired Japanese men. Those wooden game tables were surprisingly pricy – costed between ¥65000 to ¥190000.

Now, I know what they are made from!
Their display showed what how the game chips were made…

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They were made from shells of giant clams. No wonder they were so expensive!

The next door was Japanese doll shop…

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About these attractive objects on display with hanging figures, I had no idea what they were for. I guess they were for babies? They may be meant to amuse them while they lie in cots?

There were also a few new addition to the vicinity of Zenkō-ji.

A monument for Nagano Olympic Game stood rather forlornly…

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The XVIII Winter Olympics which was held in Nagano 1998. What it brought was not only worldwide attention to this quiet city for two weeks but also an enormous change which ended up altering the way local people lived forever. By motorway and bullet trains, the distance between Tokyo and Nagano was significantly shortened physically and mentally. However, the process made Nagano more or less like one of Tokyo’s satellite cities and diluted the city’s identity.
In a few days time, Sochi 2014 will light their cauldron. I wonder what effect will Sochi bear as the result.

Another new business I noticed was Jinriki-sha (人力車) – a rickshaw operated by two persons…

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While one rickshaw driver pulled the cart, his partner pushed it from the rear. Since the streets around Zenkō-ji were all uphill and downhill, having two personnels would make the ride more comfortable and safer. A 40 minutes ride for ¥4500 doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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