Tokyo trip – shopping

Day two of our Tokyo trip was always going to involve shopping.

We headed out to kappabashi, also known as kitchen town. We have been there several times, so this visit was going to be about buying specific things.  When we got out of the train station G realised there was a Book-Off nearby.  Book-Off is a second hand book chain. They also sell second hand games and consoles and CDs and DVDs. So we headed there. I got a couple of craft books and some games for my Japanese 3ds, G got some Playstation games (PS 4 I think).

Then we headed to kitchen town.  G wanted a knife, I wanted a new coffee filter thing and we had a couple of things to buy for others. Once these were bought we headed to the train station to go to Asakusa. Usually we would just walk through the backstreets, because it is quite close, but one of the things we had to pick up was an iron teapot. The preferred one (after text message and photos) was at the beginning of the street. So we caught the train one stop.  I wanted to go to a museum in Asakusa called Amuse Museum, which turned out to be not far from where we would have been if we walked there, but was a good 10 minute walk from the station.

 It’s an interesting museum, with the ticket desk at the back of a shop, and the museum in the floors above.  Some of it is studios of artists. The main exhibit was an exhibit of old clothes from northern Japan, collected over many years and very patched.  The style of patching is called Boro, or sometimes it is called sashiko (sashiko refers the technique). Rural Japan, particularly in the north, did not have fabric to spare.  Clothes were made warmer by quilting layers, holes were patched with more layers. It’s hard to find these clothes anymore- they tended to be worn into scraps, which were then patched onto other clothes.  Once fabric and clothes became easier to obtain, they were often thrown away.  The man who collected these has preserved something very valuable from the everyday person. 

This is detail of one of the pieces.

This is single stitch embroidery on a more formal piece. It’s amazing decoration achieved with very simple materials.

What I found interesting about this- I first read about this type of reusing in Liza Dalby’s book on kimono. She commented that it was hard to find examples, for the reasons I noted above. Sashiko as a more decorative, ornamental craft has become popular in Japan and in the west- one of the things I do buy here are sashiko patterns that are less traditional as the ons in Australia are all more traditional It has become separated from its original purpose, a merely decorative craft, like a lot of other crafts, the original need no longer exists. Boro- the patchwork held together with running stitch, has been gaining popularity in Australia (and I suspect elsewhere as well), driven partially by some Japanese artists.  I know that at the last few craft fairs I have been to there were Boro classes and exhibitions.  By contrast, I have seen no modern Boro kits in Japan so far. This trip has also been the first time I have seen Boro pieces at flea markets.  There were examples at both of the markets we have been to.  I don’t know if this is because the markets were in Tokyo and surrounds, whereas mostly we have been to ones in Kyoto and Osaka, areas where fabric was more available. Anyway, the exhibition was interesting.

The museum also has a collection of ukiyoe prints, and a roof terrace bar (not open when we visited). We were able to go on the roof and take pictures.

View of Sensoji temple from the roof of Amuse Museum.

Once done with the museum we had a late lunch and headed for Kichijoji.  This is a pleasant suburb of Tokyo – less bustling than the centre of the city.  I had been there before but wanted to show G.  We did quite a bit of shopping.  

The original plan had been to go to a baseball game, but we were too tired, so we just took some nice French cheese from the kichijoji shops and went back to the hotel.

On Wednesday morning we headed to Akihabara to buy a new battery charger for our camera.  I had come down with a cold, so we headed back to the hotel, and I spent most of the day sleeping. G was tasked with finding medicine and going to the grocery store!

Late in the afternoon we went to Tokyo station and went to Character street there- it’s a shopping street full of shops selling various character goods including Ghibli characters and the Moomins. Shopping happened.

We had pre booked evening tickets at Disneysea, and it was an easy trip from Tokyo.

A little bit contradictory- a meditation on the great lengths people had to go to for simple resources, and then a lot of very consumerist shopping.


Friday in Tokyo- shopping and baseball

So, Friday on our Tokyo trip was going to be shopping.  G and M headed off to Akihabara, and I went to Nippori, aka fabric town.  I noticed when I got off the train that there seemed to be a lot of shopping ladies heading the same direction, more than we have seen on previous visits.  I had a plan.  There is one Main Street with the shops, with a few scattered on side streets. There is a map showing where shops are.  I was going to do one side of the street, then come back on the other. Super logical.  I would also try to go to the side street shops, as we don’t often visit them.  It started well, and I was being quite disciplined.  Mostly notions, trimmings and useful pieces, rather than fabric.

While I was walking along, I spotted a huuuuge queue outside Tomato.  Tomato is a well known fabric shop, having several buildings in the area, the queue was outside the main one.

But I ignored it, tomato was in my plans for later.  I was doing well, then I ventured into a cute shop with embroidered ribbon trims and cute kits.  I bought something, then the shop lady asked me if I had been to Tomato.  No, but planning to. She whipped out a flyer, Tomato was celebrating its 30th birthday by taking 30%off everything.

So, I walked the rest of the street, was making good time and thinking about my plans for after Nippori, when I made my fatal mistake.  I went into tomato.  I didn’t go to the first floor, I went up, to the floor with Japanese fabrics.  I chose a couple, plus some off cut bundles and joined the queue.  Each floor had a separate queue, for the cutting, then another (much shorter) queue for paying.  The queue snaked the length of the floor and snaked back.  It was very slow moving and people in the queue it grabbing new bolts as they went.  The people in front of me had a cart with 4 bolts of fabric when I joined, as I moved, the three (each a separate customer) added at least 12 bolts, to much discussion of how cute it was.  Then one, as we approached the cutting table changed her mind and swapped about half of them out for new ones.  But they were not the worst.  The worst was that one of the three cutters was occupied for about 40 minutes cutting fabric for one woman and her son (who kept bringing new bolts), so the queue was super slow.  And then bonus!  She finished just as I was having fabric cut, so not only did she extend my cutting wait, the adding up of her fabric delayed my paying queue too.  She spent over $400, even with the discount!  Basically I spent an hour in the queue and was starving when I finished.  So I left Nippori, and headed to Ueno, where I had a very nice lunch set at a place that seemed to be all about fresh and local produce.  I had a tuna Katsu, which was a tuna steak schnitzel, with salad and rice. Yum

I then headed off to the other side of Tokyo, to a more suburban area, for some more crafty shopping.  I went there last time we were in Tokyo, two years ago, but I didn’t see much. So it was raining when I got there, pretty heavily.  I avoided the rain and went into the shop development next to the station.  It had a craft shop I hadn’t visited, as well as some other nice shops.  I bought what I wanted, looked around and was heading down when there was a crash of thunder and all the lights went out.  The escalator I was on stopped.  People screamed.  I walked down, and then the lights came on, but the escalators didn’t start.

It was bucketing down outside, with lightning around.  

But I wanted to go to some other stores so I went back through the station and to another department store.  All under cover.  That department store also had the escalators off, so I climbed up the stairs. I had been there before and there were two stores I wanted to visit and a third that was interesting.  None of them was where I remembered.  I re consulted my craft guide.  Definitely the right floor. So I went down to information and asked about one shop.  It had moved outside.  She gave me directions (which I completely got wrong). And it had stopped raining so I went looking. I found another one, but not the one I wanted.  And then I used google maps and it worked! This is unusual for me in japan.  So I got the store I wanted, and bought a few things.

I was still disappointed about the other store, but I headed back to the department store for a restorative afternoon tea. At a cafe called afternoon tea. It was lovely, and then, as I was leaving, I noticed that the shop on the other side of the walkway was the one I was looking for! Yay!

Japanese department stores are not the same as western ones- each area is essentially its own shop- you cannot take an item from one area and pay in another.  Sometimes they have their own bags, sometimes they will use the larger department store logo bag (and the logoed bags are very important) 

Then I ended back to Shibuya to meet G and M and we went to the baseball.  Summer school vacation had started by this point, and the stadium we went to is quite small, so we were a little concerned about the availability of seats.  We went to a Yakult Swallows game at their home stain of Meiji Jingu.  It’s an old stadium.  We buy tickets for the outfield (cheap seats) where the fan club is.  It was packed, full of families with little kids.  Baseball is different in Japan- the fan clubs have a little band that plays on trumpets, there are specific fan routines (with the swallows it is umbrellas) and the beer girls with kegs On their back.

There were also cheerleaders, and around the sixth inning, a fireworks display!  The mascot came out with a mat and they were the family watching fireworks on the grass. The swallows won, and there were at least three home run hits into the stands.

I highly recommend a baseball game to anyone visiting Japan, but check out the various teams- ticket prices vary.  We were able to walk up and buy tickets on the day for under $20 each.  By contrast, there is a company that buys tickets for tourists and delivers them to hotels with a service charge of $60.  More than we paid for our tickets, although it may depend on where you want to sit and what teams.


kraft shopping in kyoto- needles

I meant to do one big post, but have not yet been organised enough.  One issue is my pictures- I overloaded the cloud, so they were taken off my devices and put in our main computer.  And I don’t have regular access, because I don’t have a computer at the moment, so I need to boot my husband off his.  Which is not convenient.  So a bit of a lack of pics.

Anyway, one thing to know about japan is that addresses are not sequential.  I have never understood the numbering, but it is not the same as western numbering.  So 2 might be next to 25.  And street names are often not posted.  So most business in Japan have little maps on the back of their business cards and on their websites.  You learn to navigate by landmarks and other shops. And Google maps is less reliable than usual (I spend a lot of time cursing them).

So. Needles in Kyoto! From a 360 +year old company.  Misuyabari needles.  I found out about them from this blog post.

The writer has quite good directions, and has managed to include a Google map link, so can recommend that. My directions are going to be different, and a little bit fluffy.  Teramachi-dori is a covered shopping arcade, which is not uncommon in Japan.  It runs between Shijo-dori and Sanjo-dori (well almost to Sanjo- dori), with the busiest and most interesting stuff at the Shijo-dori end.  Shijo-dori is one of the main roads in Kyoto, and if you go to Gion you will probably go to the Shijo-dork station, or ride a bus along there.  There are a few major department stores along there as well. So, most people will start at that end. The needle shop is all the way at the other end.  So you walk the length of teramachi, at one point it does a little bit of a dog leg, but keep going in the same direction.  Eventually it will hit a crossways street , and form a t junction.  Just before that point there is a little branch off, like a y.  But both branches end on the same t junction street.  At this point you turn right onto the t junction street.  It’s going to be on your left side.  I don’t know how far it is, but on the right side there was a hardware/knife/scissors shop.  It’s further than that.  The sign for the needle shop is a little hidden (because the shop is hidden), but there is a sign for a palm reading place and it is there, through a tiny passage.  You pop out into the courtyard garden and in the corner there is a tiny shop. (The linked blog post above has a good description and pretty pictures- we were there in winter, not so pretty)

Their closing day is Thursday. I know this, because we tried to go on a Thursday. 

I bought some needles 

A tiny travel sewing kit

The top comes off 

Inside a tiny pincushion, some snips, needles and three thread bobbins 

I also got some pins and a pincushion.  It was not very expensive- when I think about how much I pay for needles and equipment here they were cheaper.

There are a number of craft shops along  teramachi- keep your eyes open.  One of the two Nomura tailor (fabric and notions) shops is on teramachi. There is also a bead shop and a number of stationery shops.

The misuyabari logo.


When we came back after the Thursday attempt we came from a different direction. We took the subway to Karasumaoike station and walked through the back streets towards teramachi.  We did this because in theory we had the shop pinned in Google maps.  We did, but the directions were not awesome.  Anyway, we found a number of craft and handmade shops.  Many shops may be on higher levels of the building, not just on the street level.  Look at the information(pictures in front of the building).

One of the places we found was one that was on my list already- Avril.

An awesome knitting shop.  In the same building (it’s on the third floor) is a button shop and a Tintin shop.  The streets around were filled with great little shops.  Walking from that street towards the river will take you to teramachi. 

Leave a comment if you have questions, or have found other shops. 

Kyoto day three

Day three in Kyoto (December 27).  This was planned to be around Kiyomizudera and the Higashiyama area.

Kiyomizudera is a big temple complex, around a spring of holy water.  It’s up the side of a hill, and I have a very specific route relating to visiting it.

So we caught the bus out there, and got off at the appropriate stop.  Because it is near the top of a hill and the streets are morrow, buses don’t actually get that close.  You have to walk up a steep hill. Some pictures from the walk.

An apartment building, a bit more decorative than usual.

This gives an idea of the steepness of the hill.

Old shop with kids stuff outside. Backyards are not a thing in old Japanese houses.

The area is known for its ceramics.

There were a lot of souvenir shops on this road, and there were even more on the road we went down the hill on.

The temple itself was quite busy, it was a Saturday and the end of the year.  There were a lot of couples in kimonos, which was interesting.  When I lived here it was rare to see men in kimono, and it would usually be in summer, where they wore yukata. It was also not so common to see younger women in kimono- yukata were common, and you would see kimono for the celebration of 20, or at New Years, but there were quite a few.  Kimono are expensive- a proper one, with all the accoutrements will cost into the thousands.  By contrast, Uniqlo sold a yukata set (yukata, obi and hand bag) for about $50 when I was here and you could buy a higher end one for about $100-$150.  Yukata are cotton, they are summer only, and onsens.  Proper kimono are silk, and need more accessories.

But we also saw a lot of ads for kimono rental and I suspect that is why we saw so many in kimono in Kyoto- rented as a couple for the day.

Kiyomizudera is a lovely temple, but part of it is undergoing reconstruction, and was covered in scaffolding and tarps. So I don’t have pictures of the bits I like.  There are a number of different shrines around the temple grounds, including one to help you find love!  There is also a place where you can drink the no longer holy water.  The temple was founded for its access to its holy water, but at some point in the 20th century the government decided that declaring water to be holy was not to be done, so it is no longer holy.

Anyway, there is a spot where it falls over a ledge, and you can stick long handled cups out to drink it.  We have one this in the past, and even bought the special plastic cups to commemorate (rather than use the shared metal ones). G was looking forward to new cups, but it was not to be.  As we were coming down the steps we notified the line for the water was no longer as organised, and then we noticed no cup selling stall! No idea why.  So the theme of this holiday “not quite what we were expecting” is well established.

So we have some pictures from the temple and grounds.  And a comment on selfie sticks.  Sure they sound silly, but there were so many people using them in japan- not to take a selfie of their new makeup or to pull duck face, but to capture a picture with a friend.  Ten years ago, where I lived here, it was very common for strangers to ask you to take a photo, or to be able to easily grab a person to take a photo of you and your party. Not so much anymore- selfie sticks have replaced interaction.

The view out

Fire is a serious risk for Japanese buildings. Preparation ahoy!


Continue reading “Kyoto day three”

kyoto shrine visit

Today we did the new year shrine visit in Kyoto.  Yes, it was January 2, but the crowds at the main shrines in Kyoto can make the ones we saw in Osaka seem small.  So we wait a day and then go.  Still a bit of a festive atmosphere, but less crowded.

We caught a fairly early train from Osaka, and it was a special rapid, so only half an hour.  We arrived before 9, a fact I only know because we saw the queues of people waiting to go into the sales (there is a department store and a couple of shopping malls attached to the station).  After grabbing a coffee we headed up to the shrine.

One of the excitements of the day was realising just how much it had snowed the night before!  We only got a light dusting in Osaka, but Kyoto received quite a bit!  This was evident from the train heading in, roofs covered, snow on the fields and generally around.  It was cold, but not excessively so.

The shrine we were headed to is the one in Gion, the Yasaka shrine.  

On the way there we managed to avoid much of the snowy sidewalks by using the underground passages, but we had to be street level to cross the river and to get up to the shrine. G had to learn how to walk on snow/slush/ice.  

A view of the entry to the shrine grounds. Still a lot of people!

Still a lot of people, and a lot of people like to wear kimono.

After wandering around the shrine we headed for my favourite Kyoto temple (yes, I have a favourite!) Kodai-ji.  It’s not a huge temple, what I like is the grounds, the manageable size, and the fact that one of the halls is usually given over to a display on various traditional handicrafts.  One time it was weaving, other time pottery.  Anyway, we didn’t go when we were staying in Kyoto, so I wanted to visit today. 

And I have almost no photos, as I took them all on the big camera (and we haven’t synced those yet.). All I have is one of me in the bamboo forest 

I also have one of the matcha and sweet we bought.  There’s a tea space where you can sit and contemplate the garden while sipping green tea.

After this we went to the tiny museum nearby- the ticket into the temple includes both the temple and the museum (and there is a different ticket which includes another temple which is a former residence with a lovely garden- highly recommend this too). The museum has pieces of lacquerware, and today it had a screen with popular sights of Kyoto in the Edo era.

 In the open area in front of the building with the museum there were some stone tables and someone had made this snow bunny

Then we headed back into town.  We went through some of the shops, accruing some lucky bags along the way.  The last step was going to a shopping centre near the station and buying a new suitcase, to help with some of the stuff we have accrued.  There is a model train shop there, one of its popular features is track rental- you bring in your trains and run them on the track layout they have set up.

Then we caught a train back to Osaka.  A lot of walking, but a nice day.

Added- more pics! It turns out my phone and iPad were hiding some!

The poster advertising my favourite temple!

The garden at Kodai-Ji 


back in Osaka

Trying something a bit different.  I seem to have fallen behind on my posts about the trip, so will blog for today, and then try to catch up on the days in between.

We returned to osaka last night, and are in a much less nice hotel than before.  Good thing, only for two nights!  Booking for New Year’s Eve has always been an issue. We are staying the Shin-Osaka area, so it isn’t as lively as the Osaka station area.

Anyway we are now well and truly into the annual shutdown for New Year that happens in Japan- Christmas is a fun custom from overseas, New Years is a serious family holiday.  Everyone goes home for the holidays (and the trains have reflected this), the family sits around at home and eats special traditional food only prepared at this time and children are given gifts of money.  A lot of tourist attractions and museums shut down, shops close banks (and their ATMS,) close.  Restaurants close.  It is much less so than when I lived here- back then if you hadn’t planned ahead and didn’t live in the city you could wind up not being able to get money out of the bank or subsisting on convenience store food. It’s like everywhere else, a creeping expectation that things will be open.

Some chain restaurants will stay open, as will convenience stores.  ATMs in convenience stores will stay open. Back when I lived here ATMs opened at 9 or 10 and closed at 9, except on Sunday’s when they shut at 7. And public holidays they stayed closed. The holiday will last until about the 4th or 5th.

Some stores will open on New Year’s Day for the sales, while a lot of the big ones will wait until the second.  The sales can be huge- Boxing Day/Black Friday etc.  and with the added fun of “lucky bags”. Grab bags of product that are sold,for a set amount but promise more in value.  The apple ones are traditionally very good and features items only available in the lucky bag.

So, seeing as so much is closed, what did we do?  We went to the Osaka Aquarium, along with many others.  It’s in an entertainment area- not far from the Universal Studios theme park, with a restaurant shopping complex next door and a huge Ferris wheel. It’s on the harbour, near the port.

We took the subway and got off at Osakako,  it was an easy walk from there.

Walking in the entrance, still outside, there were some Penguins, just hanging out.

The aquarium is organised by biome, with some multilevel tanks- so you see the otters at the surface, and then walk through the building and encounter the underwater part.  They post the feeding times, but there are no shows.  The dolphins do have toys though.

River otters napping

I think the seal on land was doing a Pilates hover while the others swam around…

Blurry Dolphins 

The three story tank that had many types of fish. The path kept bringing us back at various levels.  

All of the other people!

They were cleaning the floor of the penguin tank


These are huge spider crabs.  HUGE. If they were next you they would reach knee high at least.

It is at about this point that my phone battery gave out.  If anyone has a solution to the iPhone 5 battery crashing ( the current iOS) I would be thrilled to know it.  I am having to carry a battery recharger and use it every day.

So the rest of the photos are on the camera.

After the aquarium we went to a family restaurant next door, the chain restaurant CoCos.  Not the curry one, the other one.  I used to spend a lot of time in CoCos when I lived here, avoiding my annoying roommate.  So a tiny memory moment.  Then we went back to Osaka station.  We went to Grand front osaka, which is a shiny new shopping centre.  And I found a branch of Hobby-re Hobby-ra.  This is one of my favourite craft chains in Japan and up till that moment the only branches I knew the locations for were in Tokyo and kyoto (we went there before we left) so that was nice, and dangerous for the wallet. For those searching, it’s in the same building and side as the Canterbury shop, but one or two floors higher. Sorry, wasn’t paying enough attention for precision.  Didn’t buy anything today.

We then came back to the hotel and dined on convenience store food (generally reasonable) and are now watching end of year variety shows (another tradition in Japan) 


Kyoto day 1

On Christmas Day we got up early (earlyish) and caught a train to Kyoto.  We caught a local train, it took about 45 minutes, so we were in Kyoto before 9. We chucked the overnight bag and umbrellas in a coin locker at the station and caught a bus to the flea market.

Note on travel in Japan. It’s very very unusual to see people with large suitcases or large bags on trains (other than those to the airport).  There is very little luggage capacity on any train, and a lot of people, especially around new year.  Most people send their suitcases on ahead, either through private delivery companies (similar to fed ex but much better) or even the post office.  You are charged on a per piece basis by size.  It cost us about $25 to send two suitcases from Osaka to Kyoto.  We took the, to the front desk of our hotel the day before we left (by midday for that hotel) and they were waiting for us the next day when we checked in). When you add in the cost of two lockers to store them ($6 each) plus the hassle of the train station- so many many stairs and no escalators in some parts, it is worth it.  

Picture from the bus ride (street scape).  I took a video but can’t find it.

Gas station 

At the flea market we wandered around, bought some spices and got some small  cups  of coffee. There were a lot of stalls. 


There were kimono stalls, but compared with the amounts and quality in Osaka, they weren’t great.

The iron monger stall. G got the kitchen knife he wanted.  We bought one here last time but the wooden handle didn’t like the dishwasher…

 It is held on the grounds of a temple, and there were people there for that too.

After a couple of hours we took a bus into the centre of town.  We were heading to a needle place I had heard of.  We found it, but it was shut!  But only for the day, Thursday’s are the day they close.

We had a Christmas lunch of ramen and fried rice (me) and fired chocked and fried rice (G). And since ramen is considered in Japan to be Chinese, we had Chinese for Christmas.

We wandered down the shopping arcades- Kyoto has two covered over pedestrian shopping arcades- not quite shopping malls, but a bit protected from the elements. We then turned onto the Nishiki market Street.

This is a street of mostly food shops.  The food is generally on show, and it is amazing

I got some yummy tofu mini donuts ( no pics because I scarfed them).  And then we headed back to the station and our hotel.  The hotel is near the station, but they also supply a free shuttle bus to and from the station, so we grabbed that.

On checkin, we discovered we had been upgraded.  They didn’t tell us that, but our room is bigger than expected, and our reservation info says a different floor. 

  Later we went back to the station, bought some more desserts from the department store there and looked at the Christmas decorations.  A nice Christmas Day!


And this below was the Christmas dec at our hotel.  Gone by Boxing Day!