Ohayo!

Mornin’!! Guess where I am?

I’m in Nagano, Japan! I arrived at my mum’s place 15 days ago and I have been keeping her company ever since.

Some of you may know that she had a knee replacement surgery in March and she is still recovering from it. The operation went very well and her knee is getting stronger day by day. However, discomforts, such as swelling and fatigue which are typical of post-surgery, are still there and she becomes anxious about it time to time.

‘Don’t worry, mum. What you are experiencing now is nothing unique after the surgeries like yours.’, I comfort her. I am an expert when it comes to recovering from an orthopaedics surgery because I broke my own elbow and hand in pretty messy manners on separate occasions in the past and went through laborious recovery processes.

Twice a day, mum performs a set of exercises, which was prescribed by her physiotherapist when she was discharged from the hospital. The exercises involve stretching and flexing the operated knee, using a Dyna Band and a physio ball. ‘The knee still doesn’t move like before.’, she laments as she demonstrates the routine. ‘I feel sorry for you but you mustn’t be discouraged, mum.’, I try to console her. I know how frustrating the healing process is because I went through it myself.

Now, I shall present a few Japanese sceneries I captured during my journey.

Hello, Japan! I’m home…

After picking up a mobile Wifi, I headed to Tokyo Station with my suitcase in tow via an airport monorail and JR Yamanote-line…

Looking over the station square at Shinbashi from the train…

Quintessential sceneries of Japanese bullet trains…

I realise that I am truly in Japan every time I see those futuristic trains coming and going…

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

Hakozaki to Narita

One January morning, I headed to the Narita Airport via T-CAT (Tokyo City Air Terminal) Limousine Bus service. My cab sped through virtually nonexistent Tokyo traffic and delivered me to the bus terminal building which stood right next to the entrance of Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway (首都高速). As my suitcase was already at the airport – thanks to a highly efficient & trustworthy Japanese courier service by Yamato Logistics, I was with just a handbag and a fold-all to tug along and therefore it allowed me to trot through the lobby and dive into the lift which conveyed me to the departure lounge, pronto.

The bus left the terminal on time, carrying a mixture of Japanese and non-Japanese passengers.
Good bye, Tokyo until the next time…

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Tokyo Skytree in the distance.
A newish landmark of Tokyo which opened its door to the public just over two years ago. I shall visit their observation deck with my mum one day, I thought. Then, I wondered if she manage to rendezvous with her friend safely. She arranged to meet her old school chum so my departure might not sadden her too acutely. Otherwise, how could I bear to imagine her being alone in the hotel room I just left?

Humongous apartment blocks sporting endless rows of balconies in a whitish hue were dotted along Wangan Expressway (首都高湾岸線), silently gleaming in the morning sun…

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A scene of everyday life built on a reclaimed ground over Tokyo Bay, being consisted of a school building with a huge sports ground…

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Or a chimney of refuse incinerating plant…

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A car carrier trailer laden with bland new cars overtook our bus. In the distance, another chimney, painted in red & white, belonged to a refuse incinerator could be seen…

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Multi-storied junctions at Minami Funabashi (南船橋)…

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Momentarily, the expressway ran side by side with Keiyō Way (京葉道路)…

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Time to time, the view from the bus was blocked by the fence made of noise-reducing boards…

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After a little shy of one hour journey, the bus had reached to the perimeter of the airport…

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I had a lovely time in Japan. However, all good things had to come to an end…

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The bus stopped at Terminal 1 first and half of the passengers disembarked…

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Ever courteous staffs bowed low as our driver manoeuvred to pull out, heading towards Terminal 2, my destination…

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The dry and cold air, typical of sunny wintry morning, slapped my cheeks as I stepped out from the warm cab and it helped me to snap out of contemplative mood. Oh well, no time to curl up with sentiment. I’ve got to get on with the task. So I went, with my right hand rummaging through the contents of the wallet, looking for a receipt for my suitcase…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Evening Sky @ Hacchobori

This morning, tiny round white flower petals were scattered all over the pavement as if to emulate the artwork by Yayoi Kusama.

The sky of Tokyo in early evening was not as dark as London’s due to the city being situated closer to the equator…

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Typical of urban scenery at Tokyo’s business district. As we stood in silence and waited for a traffic light to change, I observed how the Tokyo skyline rapidly dimmed and fused into graduations of grey. I was leaving Tokyo (& mum) the next day and felt sad and depressed. As always, the last day was the hardest emotionally. Both of us pretended as if it wasn’t a big deal and that was tough…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Eating Habit & Longevity

Wow, I am amazed by how my body, especially my leg muscles, has adjusted to this new & more rigorous fitness regime! In spite of the last practice being a lot harder than the previous ones, I felt much easier during the session and a lot less achy afterward. A prolonged stick-handling drill was a real killer for me. I could feel lactic acid building up in my arms. Still, the practice will definitely guarantee me to tone the upper arms and lift my butt by this summer. Therefore, I shall swear that I will attend it every week. Besides, seeing all the friendly faces at the ice rink is definitely worth a 45 minutes car drive across London…

Recent London seems to have stepped back into the mini-winter again. The sky has been overcast and swept by chilly wind. And it makes me crave for a bowl of steamy ramen noodle!
While mum & I were in Tokyo in last January, the city was grasped by a very cold weather system. It was exceptionally chilly by Tokyo’s standard and in spite of a hotel staff cranking up our room’s A/C to the maximum, we still felt not enough warmth.
‘Shouldn’t we line our stomach with something hot?’ So we grabbed our coats and paid a visit to a noodle bar in Hacchobori…

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Ta-dah, behold my Kimchi Miso ramen. It was certainly fiery and spicy as the colour of the broth suggested and helped me to feel toasty from the inside. The only minor complaint was the seasoning for being too salty? Since I hardly used any additional flavouring, especially salt, on my food usually when I was in the UK, I found some of the foods in Japan a little too salty for my liking.

The prefecture of Nagano, where my mum lives, is well-known for its residents’ longevity. The average life expectancy for both male and female, are well into their 80s. As a daughter, I am very glad that my mum lives in an environment where it encourages its residents to lead a healthy & long life. However, the majority of her generation, born between the 30s and 40s, went through the post war hardship which has resulted in their frugal attitude as well as discipline towards food and lifestyle…

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My mum’s Kenchinjiru (建長汁) – hearty vegetables soup with salmon roe on top – is one of my favourites. Diced Satoimo (里芋) – taro root, carrot, Daikon radish, Konjac, thinly sliced burdock (牛蒡gobo) & tofu were stirfried with sesami oil first, then shimmered in the pot with water and seasoned with soy sauce, mirin, sake and salt. Mum was extra careful not to season the soup too strongly so it was packed with “umami” from the vegetables alone.

While my 3 weeks holiday in Japan, I had a glimpse of modern Japanese eating habit. Comparing it with that of my mum’s generation’s, the younger Japanese’s diet seemed to be far more westernised and consisted of more commercially processed foods rather than home-cooking.
It is purely my private observation and therefore not a general consensus but the recession in which the Japanese are trapped since the early 90’s has changed the way they behave towards food. The immediacy of pleasure tasty foods provide has shifted the general public’s attention from what they own to what they eat. It’s almost like the drabness of recession fades or forgotten while one’s sensory system locks on a tasty morsel in the mouth – the solace sought in comfort eating. Whatever the reason the Japanese diners queue up for plates of towering pancakes or bowls of noodle large enough for 3 portions or tables for “eat as much as you can” style buffet, the eating habit as the rest of the world perceive to be the Japanese way of healthy lifestyle is changing.
While the materialistic obsession in the 80’s only hurt the individual’s bank balance, the present OTT comfort eating tendency will sure to develop to future general health problem. Already, a part of the Japanese children is reported to have diabetic conditions due to a diet heavy on carb and sugar. Comparing my mum’s generation who grew up with not enough food around, an environment in which the present younger generation exists is saturated with an insanely plentiful amount of tasty food. This reality makes me wonder how long the Japanese can flaunt their top place in a worldwide longevity table. Not only that, I am concerned that they will develop serious health problems in future if the present overindulgence continues.

Today’s lunch at my beloved Shoreditch Grind. A bowl of Feta & Falafel salad…

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The salad contained rocket, crumbly feta cheese, balls of falafel, red & yellow cherry tomatoes and pomegranate. The dressing was sweet with a hint of chilli. It was delicious.

And my flat white…

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Who can leave Shoreditch Grind without tasting their celebrated roast?

I feel much less tired now so try my best to update the blog more often and regularly…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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