Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Bonjour, Tokyo!

Hello, friends. I write this post from my hotel bed in Shinjuku prefecture, Tokyo. So much coolness has happened (and so many photos have been taken) in less than 48 hours, I figured I would write as much of it down now before I forget!

The voyage here: I flew in from Paris and had a fairly long layover in Shanghai. The flight was around 9 hours (the longest I've ever been on to date), but it wasn't that bad. Maybe I was so excited I didn't mind the long flight. I think the fairly good movie selection on the plane helped as well. Myself, along with a few other shameless americans under 30, set up a mini encampment on some benches in the airport and took turns taking naps. A 2-hour flight or so and I was in Tokyo. I took the limousine bus to Shinjuku station, and then made a quick 8 minute walk to my hotel.

On the way into Tokyo, in a sort of fatigued-induced moment of self-contemplation, I asked myself why I had come to Tokyo, out of all places, during my spring break. Days after booking, following a few grueling weeks of home-stretch (hopefully) winter in Paris, I asked myself why I'd decided to go to Tokyo, when I could have planned something involved lying prone on a beach somewhere.

There were a few reasons I could point to. One was that I was planning on going back in the fall when a really good friend from law school was doing a semester there, but our schedules never matched up. Another was that a friend I met through my internship this summer had recently moved there and was making Japan seem more awesome by the day via her instagram account (@clairesuni). I think it's also that there seems to be a really strong link between Tokyo and Paris, and I have noticed a lot of Japanese influence while living in the latter. I noticed, for example, while picking up some macarons at Pierre Hermé that the patisserie is featuring works by Paris-born, Tokyo-based artist Nicolas Buffe, whose art bears the hallmarks of Anime influence. In Charles de Gaulle, I saw an ad for Louis Vuitton as modeled by a character from Final Fantasy. Companies like Pierre Hermé and Louis Vuitton, veritable French institutions, seem to be embracing a Japanese aesthetic in a big way.

Ad above Shinjuku LV store

This trend isn't unprecedented. We all remember the adorable (and endlessly knocked off) Murakami LV bags from the early "oughts", or whatever we're calling them now. French and Japanese culture–specifically in relation to Paris and Tokyo, respectively–have always seemed to share a link in my mind. A certain pride in craftsmanship and history; a unique and rich culture and heritage. A respect for the preparation food, which has been taken to a high art. Having lived in Paris, and having a basic sense of Japanese culture, I can understand why Japanese tourists seem to flock to Paris.

The love seems to flow both ways. Japanese clothier Uniqlo recently featured a huge collaboration with Carine Roitfeld, a former head of French Vogue. Situated around my apartment in the Près, there are quite a few high-end Japanese eateries, patronized by well-heeled Parisians as well as visiting Japanese. I'm sure that French brands enjoy huge clientele bases in the wealthy and populous Japanese market, but I believe that the cultural appreciation goes beyond a mere pandering for customers. There is a certain affinity there that has resulted from cultures with similar values. A similar appreciation for beauty and tradition.

The ultimate in East meets West, celebrating beauty and tradition: Le Creuset cookware celebrating sakura (cherry blossom) season. As seen in a fancy Ginza department store.

Mariage Frères, a famous French tea company, offers a green tea with cherry blossoms flavor here in Tokyo

Even more so than the subliminal Japanese messaging I've been receiving in Paris, being the sister of one of the biggest fans of Japanese culture in the world most certainly played a role. My sister has shared countless Japan-related discoveries with me over the years, and in the prep for this trip, she has been a veritable fount of knowledge. It's as if I have my own travel agent. She has sent me great tips, including where to get cheap snacks and which festivals would be going on when I arrived in Japan. I definitely owe her a big arigato.

Anyway, let's just get into the pics! Will narrate via caption. :)

Sakura petal print on the Haneda Airport carpet

Japanese toilets are like a spa for your undercarriage. 

Kawaii all dayyy...Shinkjuku don't playyy...

Obligatory vending machine pic

Family Mart=Japanese convenience store delicacies. 

My body is 30% made up of riceballs by now. And koalas, b/c #nostalgia.

It's for my sister...mostly...

Finally got that metro ticket! Only required me wandering around like a lost puppy until a kind stranger helped me! 

Took this photo in the middle of falling backward during a train stop, but look at that joy...

Not sticking my tongue out at anyone in particular, just being generally immature. 

Waiting at the Palace Tokyo Hotel. #swanky

View from the hotel: Tokyo Imperial Palace to the right.

Ante-room to a banquet hall. 

Awesome banquet hall in the hotel.

I saw a TON of japanese-specific products. I learned in my marketing class back at USC that Japan, because of the wealth and sophistication of the market, is one of the few countries where companies are willing (or are forced) to make a variety of market-specific flavors and varieties. 

Mitsukoshi Ginza...like the Bon Marché of Tokyo

Goooorgeous banzai trees

Pretty pricey, though. This one is around $432 USD. 

Mitsukoshi had a little shrine garden on the roof terrace.  This Guardian Diety which was unearthed in the area in which Mitsukoshi was built. I thought this was a nice nod to the history of Ginza. 

Mimeguri Shrine dedicated to the God of the Mitsukoshi family

Umeboshi gelato. "Interesting", but glad I tried it. 

The people of Tokyo are anti-manspreading as well.

Legit Edo-era art in the Ginza station

Mochi ball with red bean paste filling. A little sweet for my taste, but glad I tried it. 

A giant furball with horns sticking out...something tells me that this won't be the window display for Hermès when I get back to Paris...

Intense HK store in Shinjuku connected to a Baskin Robbins, which actually makes sense when you think about it...

The Samurai Museum!

They take you on a guided tour and explain the construction of the armor, as well as the history of the samurai in Japan. 

The helmets matched the samurai's fighting style. This samurai was light on his feet like a butterfly.

Who is this fearsome warrior?

Hide yo kids, hide yo wife. 

Last stop of the night: Hanazono Shrine in Shinjuku

You write a message on the little wooden votive and the temple attendants pray on your behalf.

Cherry blossoms! My friend Hiroku was right, they're blooming early this year! So lucky :)

So far, loving Tokyo! Will try to update regularly, but also trying to enjoy my spring break, so cut a girl some slack ;)

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