Friday, 24 April 2015

Sakura Railway








It’s funny how things can turn around in a week. Last Friday my Nana was unwell in hospital, now she’s on the mend and almost ready to come home! Last Friday the hole in my bathroom wall had still not been fixed (after 10 weeks and two no-show plasterers), now it’s all patched up! Last Friday the sun was shining, and now it’s overcast… Oh well, two out of three ain’t bad!

In light of my good mood today, I thought I’d share these happy photos we took in Kyoto – the Texan and I were trying to work out where The Philosopher’s Walk began and ended (without success, we abandoned the idea eventually), and while bickering along the way, we stumbled across a disused railway track lined with the fluffiest sakura. It was heaving with people attempting to snap a pretty photo of their kids or significant other, surrounded by clouds of pink flowers, including lots of brides in their gorgeous wedding dresses. We may not have found The Philosopher’s Walk, but we did chance upon something really special – and it stopped our bickering, too! Japan was full of surprises like this – one minute you’d be walking along a seemingly unremarkable city street, the next you’d be wandering into a beautifully idyllic temple, or garden, or an alleyway lined with old ryokans and ochaya. What a place! 

What I'm wearing  |  Top: Urban Outfitters  |  Jeans: Topshop  |  Plimsolls: Lacoste  |  Sunglasses: Marc by Marc Jacobs  |  Bag: Longchamp  |  Jacket: Zara

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Shopping Guide to Japan





This post comes with a serious health warning: a shopping trip in Japan will destroy in one fell swoop any grown up attempts to save money or to budget. Shake away any guilt about the impending spend, and before you decide what to pack, make sure to leave at least 50% of your suitcase empty, ready for all the treasures you’re going to fill it with – I lost my mind so completely that I ended up buying an entirely new suitcase to house my freshly-acquired wares. Hopefully by the time you reach the end of this shopping guide, you’ll understand why I got so carried away…



Ceramics

I compiled a shopping list on the plane to Tokyo and top of the list was “lots of ceramics” – I knew I wanted a collection of pretty rice bowls, and, boy, Japan certainly didn’t disappoint! Practically every street corner had a fancy little dish that I couldn’t bear to leave behind. The prices really varied, and it wasn’t clear to an amateur ceramic purchaser like me (!) why that was the case. Some of the prettiest hand-painted bowls were dirt cheap (just one or two quid each), while other seemingly average, plainer pieces cost more than fiver. Perhaps it just depended on the neighbourhood we were in, or the materials, I don’t know. 

You’ll also find lots of cute little soy sauce dishes (great for putting your coins or jewellery in before bed, if you’re not very often partial to dumplings or sushi) and tiny ceramic thingamabobs to rest your chopsticks on – my favourite were the two little faces I found in Hakone!




In Kyoto, we stumbled across a pottery workshop, where you could make your own rice bowl or dish or whatever you fancied on the potter’s wheel, and they would post it to you after it had been glazed and fired – it was so much fun! The Texan made a sake bowl (it’s the burgundy glazed bowl in the background above) and I made a little flower vase (which was wobbly-looking on purpose, I’ll have you know! It’s the green vase in the photo above). I was sceptical about whether we’d ever actually receive our efforts in the post, but you can trust the Japanese to do things properly – it arrived at our flat in London exactly a week later. I enjoyed the workshop so much that I’ve now signed up to a pottery class, starting on Thursday (but more on that later).

To complement my collection of ceramic bowls and bits and bobs, I couldn’t resist picking up some carved wooden spoons – these also vary quite a bit in price, but I found a stall in Maruyama Park in Kyoto selling a whole range of different styles for just £1-£2 a piece, so you can get lucky if you keep looking. I love how smooth they are and they smell gorgeous – I might never actually use them, but just admire them instead!



Local crafts and hariko

Be careful not to spend all your pennies at once! Not only are the Japanese a dab hand at ceramics, they’re also masters of all things crafty. I’m obsessed with folk art, and everywhere I go I keep an eye out for a rare treasure to add to my folk art collection – which is pretty modest in size because there’s not a lot of it out there. Well, it was modest, until I went to Japan! Japan is bursting at the seams with hand made objects and curiosities – I was overwhelmed by how talented and aesthetically attuned Japan’s craftsmen (and women) are. I’ve often lamented the fact that crafts and artisanship aren’t really encouraged in the UK – aged 18 and leaving school to go out into the big bad world, you’re liable to be pushed into a Law degree or a Medicine degree; anything else isn’t considered worth pursuing, particularly when it comes to the arts. Aged 18, I might have been minded to think the same. But now I am a lawyer, I can see how pursuing a craft and doing it well is something that should be celebrated, as it seems to me is the case in Japan.

My favourite purchase of all was these five little clay houses, which I found in a tiny shop in Kyoto. The little old shopkeeper told me that her and her friends made them! I absolutely adore their wonky chimneys and runny glazes.




Another happy discovery was hariko – unusual hand-painted papier maché animals and ornaments, which are, I guess, intended to be good luck charms. You can mostly find them at temples, but also in some independent shops. I even found a book about them! Does anyone know why the cat is being strangled by an octopus?! I first saw it in my book and then couldn’t believe my eyes when I actually found one on our last day in Tokyo – it is so odd that I just had to have it! I can’t find anything online about it, but wondered if it came from a folk tale or a myth of some kind?



Kimonos

There was no way I was leaving Japan without a kimono. I held out until the end of trip because (1) I hadn’t accidentally stumbled across the dream kimono, and (2) I didn’t want to lug it across Japan. However, on our first day in Tokyo, we wandered into an amazing treasure trove of vintage kimonos – a shop called Gallery Kawano – and I made the Texan take a photograph of the outside so that we didn’t forget where it was. But then I forgot all about it! Thankfully, I googled “vintage kimonos Tokyo” and instantly was taken back to Gallery Kawano, so I didn’t miss my opportunity on our last day in Japan to find the perfect one. The ladies at Gallery Kawano were so lovely – I think I tried on every kimono in the shop, it took me forever to decide! – and I came away with a beautiful kimono printed with chrysanthemums, as well as another floral beauty for my mum. I bought a silk sash rather than a thick obi because I want to be able to wear the kimono on warmer days as a dressing gown, but actually I think it’s beautiful enough to be hung on the wall.



You can also find second-hand kimonos and yukata in the various vintage shops in Harajuku (see below) - Kathryn recently scored a beautiful cherry blossom kimono from there.

Prices really vary – like the ceramics, some were really reasonably priced (from as low as £15) but others, which weren’t particularly striking even, ran easily into three figures. I’m not sure why. The kimonos I bought for me and my mum were about £50 each – I did, however, see some in Gallery Kawano that were a lot cheaper, and some that cost a lot more. 



Vintage and antiques

Oh boy, where do I even start? I thought about attempting a proper “Antiques and Vintage Guide to Japan”, but given that I was only there for two weeks, I felt that my guide would do it an injustice – there is just so much vintage, particularly in Tokyo, that I couldn’t possibly cover everything. I found the prices to be much the same as in London, but the selection was a bit different – with much more 1980s Americana and more patterns and bright colours, and much more on offer if you’re little person-sized. 

If you’ve only got a short amount of time in Tokyo, head to Harajuku (after a morning spent at Meiji Shrine) and wander the maze of streets – it seems that every other shop sells vintage! Both this and this guide are worth a perusal – my favourite shop by far was Chicago, so definitely worth a visit.

Kyoto had a smaller vintage scene – there were a handful of decent vintage stores on Teramachi-Dori, which is a covered shopping arcade with lots of boutique-sized shops; worth popping your head in, but not before having lunch at Katsukura (honestly, I couldn’t recommend this place more – AMAZING – makes my tummy rumble just writing this!).




In terms of antiques, most of the shops were high-end and therefore astronomically out of our price range. Interestingly, a good number of antiques stores stocked Western antiques, and for a much higher price-point than in London – for example, I saw exactly the same vintage jam jar which I keep in my bathroom and bought at a car boot for £3 on sale in Hakone for £25! 

Nevertheless, there are hidden treasures to be found. In Kyoto, we stumbled across a little antiques shop in Higashiyama where we found a bronze crab from around 1800 – he’s missing one and a half legs, so we picked him up for less than £15. On another occasion, we were travelling back to our ryokan in Hakone when the bus we were on passed through a place called Miyanoshita – the Texan’s eagle eye spotted a couple of antiques shops so we headed back there the next day and found the most incredible triptych of wood block prints from the late 1800s, of geisha “inspecting the chrysanthemums” (I’ll show you when I post the tour of our spare room). We spent the rest of the trip carefully transporting it from city to city…! The Texan’s favourite find was an old photo album which he literally dug out of a dusty old second-hand book shop in Tokyo; he also found another old album in a junk shop on Sanjo-Dori in Nara, as well as a 1960s Japanese alarm clock to add to the collection. So, while there’s no one area for modestly-priced antiques, there are shops dotted around which have a lot of fascinating and memorable objects on offer.



Address book

Like London, Japan’s cities are best explored in discrete areas – our approach was to pick a district and wander around, and it certainly worked for us – we discovered lots of great shops that way. The below is not in any way meant to be comprehensive, but simply a reflection of what we saw during our time in Japan.




Tokyo

Harajuku and Takeshita-Dori – best for vintage clothes shops and cutesy independent boutiques. Keep your eyes peeled for the harajuku girls, and don’t forget to stop in Kiddyland – it’s a big toy store!

Omote-Sando and Cat Street – close-by to Harajuku, Omote-Sando is where Gallery Kawano is located, as well as lots of little independent shops. You’ll also find high-end boutiques at this end of town.

Roppongi, and the streets between it and Omote-Sando – here you’ll find lots of design and concept stores, as well as the Bond Street-type shops you see in London. My favourite was Sarasa Design Lab, which we found completely by accident.

Shibuya – this is the equivalent, I suppose, of Oxford Circus – it is absolutely insane (think Blade Runner, with its big screens and people everywhere) but definitely somewhere that has to be experienced. The best shops worth visiting are Tokyu Hands and Loft – I won’t say anymore, and will leave the surprise of discovering them to you!

Ginza – we didn’t spend long exploring Ginza, but it is worth stopping by Ito-ya, which is a super duper stationery shop.

Jiyugaoka – a little way from the centre of Tokyo, Jiyugaoka is a really pretty suburb with lots of little boutiques and independent shops. It’s where I found my dungarees!

You can find a really useful Tokyo shopping guide here.




Kyoto

Higashiyama – this area should be top of your Kyoto itinerary – it is a great place to experience traditional Kyoto, with its narrow lanes, wooden buildings and traditional shops. It was one of my favourite shopping areas (despite the crowds).

Teramachi-Dori – a covered shopping arcade with lots of boutique-sized shops, including vintage and antiques. 

You can find a really useful Kyoto shopping guide here.





Nara

Naramachi – most people (including us) head to Nara to visit the national park and to see the giant Buddha in Todaiji Temple. However, an unexpected and happy discovery was Naramachi, an old district of narrow streets lined with traditional houses and shops selling lots of crafts and ceramics. I had a banging headache that day, but this didn’t stop me enjoying what Naramachi had to offer – I only wish we had had more time to explore. You can see more here.




Tips

Bartering – I love a good haggle, but the Japanese will not respond well to aggressive bargaining techniques. When it came to antiques, we found that we could barter, but gently (and using a calculator to communicate!).

Cash – although most places take credit card, it will probably be better for your bank balance to take money out at a 7-11 ATM and pay with cash. Remember to place your cash on the little tray at the till, rather than hand it directly to the cashier. Japanese money is a bit like US dollars – it’s hard to tell the difference between a dollar and a 100 dollar bill – so check your change. The Japanese are too honest to short-change you, but twice I was given back more change than I was owed (thankfully for them I’m also honest). 

Check out blogs before you go – Time Out has its place in the world, but I found the best shops by relying on other blogger’s recommendations. Top of your list should, of course, be Take Courage (!), but it’s also worth checking out The Frugality and This Beautiful Day for their guides. 

Wander – as I mentioned before, Japan’s cities are best explored area-by-area, so make sure to wear your comfiest shoes and get wandering!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Three White Chairs






Words aren't flowing easily right now - if you follow me on Instagram, you will have seen that my poor Nana is unwell in hospital, but she's doing okay. The Texan and I had planned to post our "Take Courage Guide to Tokyo" this weekend, but we've barely had a second to ourselves, so here are a handful of photos that we took at the contemporary art gallery in Tokyo (which was seemingly miles away from anywhere, but totally worth the visit). My dress is a heart-stopping vintage find from Harajuku - one of the best things about shopping in Japan was that everything was little person-sized, which completely eliminated the frustration of finding an incredible vintage dress only to find it's half a metre too long and 12 inches too wide... This one was too good to wait to photograph until we landed back in London, so we took the opportunity on our last day in Japan to soak in the sunshine and take some snaps.

What I'm wearing  |  Dress: Vintage  |  Bag: Charles & Keith  |  Ankle boots: M&S  |  Sunglasses: Marc by Marc Jacobs

P.S. In the last photo my hand looks like I've been in a fight with a sumo wrestler, but I think it must be newspaper print!