Archive for the ‘Life in Tokyo’ Category

How to have a great hanami


Spring is upon us and the sakuras (cherry blossoms) are going to explode everywhere very soon. The exciting thing about the sakura season is nobody really knows when it will happen till just a few days before it will actually happen. It seems this weekend will mark the start of gazing at pink flowers and the whole of Japan will be celebrating.

Hanami (means flower viewing) parties make any sober Japanese (or gaijin) come out of their shell. I think it’s the abundance of warm sunshine after a drab, cold winter and everyone wants to come out and play (plus a lot of booze is involved).

If you are a hanami newbie, you might need some pointers to thoroughly enjoy the season.

Reserve a spot early. Spread a ground sheet with your name and arrival time to “book” your spot. It’s a pain but somebody has to do it if you want an excellent spot in a popular park (eg. Yoyogi, Inokashira etc).

Further inside the park is better. While being near the station has its plus points, you may find it way too crowded to truly enjoy your hanami party. You don’t really want to be squashed right up with your neighbour’s guitar playing, loud drunken musings, and wild dancing. So, search for a place further central in the park where fewer people will be inclined to venture.

Bring warm togs. Don’t let the sun fool you — it may be warm at midday but once the sun starts fading in the late afternoon, it actually gets cold very quickly. A thick scarf and an extra jacket will do you just fine.

Don’t drink too much alcohol. Well, this would probably apply only to the ladies, and it’s not dished out with prissy intentions. See, there aren’t many toilets available in parks, and even if there are, each toilet hub would only have a few stalls and the never-ending queues of women lining up to wee is extremely daunting when you have a full (and drunken) bladder.

You don’t want to spend the majority of your hanami party queuing up for a loo or searching for a less crowded one. Advice: just drink less alcohol and pace the fluids; go to the toilet before you really have to as it will save you a lot of mental trauma.

Take along entertainment. A hanami party typically lasts the whole day, so conversation might dry up even for the chattiest of people. Some folks might bring along a book or magazine, or a portable CD player (or rather, these days, an iPod and portable speakers). Feel free to bring cards or a guitar. Just think about how you would like to enjoy the perfect picnic.

Give some thought to food. Conbini snacks serve some people well enough but it’s likely that the conbini closest to the park will be jam-packed with a huge crowd clamouring to get their food and drinks. Nab an awesome sakura-themed bento box from a department store, or make your own goodies. Salads and finger food work best, but you might want to consider a small hot pot if you are going to linger after dusk. Warm soup with delicious meat and veggies will help you party on, instead of running back home.

Be responsible for your trash. You’ve got to do something about the used disposable plates, utensils, and napkins, so remember to include gomi (rubbish) bags in your picnic basket.

Spots that rock during hanami:

Yoyogi Park
Aoyama cemetery
Chidorigafuchi (near the Yasukuni Shrine and Imperial Palace)
Sumida Park
Ueno Park
Inokashira Park

Photo: Altus

Tokyo etiquette: You just gotta make it to your last train

Tokyoites take their last train, or shu den, very seriously. Most folks who live in the suburbs just don’t flag cabs home, even if you live within the Yamamote line. I think the only people who do board the exorbitant taxis are those who only have a short distance to go or are just too drunk to care.

It’s not uncommon for Tokyoites to set a reminder on their keitai, or mobile phones, that it’s time to leave for the station.

In which case, it’s perfectly fine to down your drink, throw down your share of the bill, and take off with a hurried goodbye.

Once, I was having yakitori with a bunch of peeps at Piss Alley in Shinjuku and one hapless dude suddenly realized his last train was going to pull up at 11.27pm and it was 11.20pm. Man, did he beat the hell outta there. As he was grabbing his backpack, he apologized for not paying the bill and someone else shouted after him, “It’s okay, your treat next time!”

On another occasion, I was walking towards Shibuya station with some friends after dinner and one guy piped up, “Sorry, it’s my last train. See you!” and sprinted off. Or some folks just don’t join for “one last drink” because they just have to go. I also heard that if those who do miss their shu den may actually either a) try to find another bunch of friends who are staying out all night or b) call a parent or sibling who drives to come pick them up. The capsule hotel is truly the last resort.

But once you get on that train, you can simply relax.

Photo: Muelish

In pictures: Tokyo loves dogs

There’s a sweet side to uber-cool Tokyo — dog lovers take their devotion to their little pooches up to totally different level.

On a sobering note, the birth rate hovers at a very dismal rate in Japan and dogs are more favorable companions than children in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Here’s a staggering statistic: there are more cats and dogs in Japan than children under 15.

The latest trend in the dog-lovers’ circle is dog-dancing classes. Kawaii, desho? (Isn’t that cute?)

Photos: azure

Hello, this is my first entry.

Hello, guys. This is Masanori. Please read my bio if you are interested in more about me, but I have not finished writing it, anyway. As you know, this is my first entry for Metroblogging Tokyo. And I first want to thank you Sean and James for allowing me to participate MetroBlogging.

I thought about what I am going to write for the first entry. But, I was never be able to come up with a good subject matter to start with. So, I would like to share with you what I have been doing in Tokyo these days.

I used to live in New York City by October 2006. I had lived there for more than 6 years in New York before I came to Japan. When I was in New York, I went to college, spent some time in different parts of world after graduation, and did internship in Brooklyn before I came back.


cartoon of man sweating under hot sunI just got back to Tokyo from a month and a half in wintry Australia and blimey! The heat is overwhelming. It was 25+ degrees over night and like a Sauna out there again today. I don’t know whether to go drinking to cool down or just to stay off the sauce altogether. A hang-over is the last thing you need in this heat…
Luckily the Japan Times has some tips on how to avoid succumbing to heat exhaustion, 夏ばて- pronounced NATSUBATE.
They include Sleep, Exercise, Sobayu, eel, cold fish soup and no nastubating(!).

Martin has some more tips.

Thanks to Houston for the image.

Web camera live from Shibuya

Click here for a Web camera with live feed from Koen Dori in Shibuya. This street, Koen Dori, or “Park Avenue” is one of the main shopping streets in Tokyo.


(Screen shot taken tonight)

I (heart) Eco!


Koen Dori in Shibuya, the main street from the station to NHK, will continue to have eco events until June 10. Here is the NHK Kankyo website. The tema is 明日のエコではまにあわない (“Eco tomorrow will not be enough”) or a sense that we had better start doing something today, or it will be too late. And June 5 is Environment Day in Japan.

I had a great time at the Eco Life Fair last weekend and took some photos which I put on my regular blog, Kurashi News from Japan. Hope you enjoy seeing what is going on here in Tokyo and Japan. This event was sponsored by the Ministry of Environment and some large companies, so it wasn’t as wild and crazy as for example Earthday. Having said that, I also felt Japan is indeed taking a lead in the field of sustainable development and environmental protection.

Gasoline cost in Japan

I don’t own a car, so I usually don’t pay attention to the cost of gasoline. But with the intense debate about climate change this spring here in Japan, and the Iraq war not going very well at all, gasoline cost is a major issue that affects everyone. Also, there is the serious issue of “peak oil” – the fact that fossile fuels are getting less economical to pump up from oil fields around the world. Guys, we are running out of oil. A global decline in oil production will have serious social and economic implications…

Today, in Japan, gas costs about 130-140 yen per liter. That is around $4.50 a gallon. Compared to Northern Europe, that is a bit less: The Netherlands appears to have the highest cost due to taxes at $6.73 a gallon at the pump. The US average is $3.20 a gallon (Note that US taxes on gas have gone down from 32% to 14% since 2000 – who is paying for the war in Iraq?).

May Zen

After the Golden Week holidays, May comes along, and suddenly peple in Tokyo start feeling weary. There is a kind of existential dilemma, trying to live in the greatest concrete jungle in the world: consume, or get consumed. So you try to survive. You try to just get by. In May, you get wonderful thunderstorms: then the next day is sunny and lovely (and you would go to the beach if you were anywhere else on Earth). Today we had 23 degrees or so, that’s nice.

So, guys, keep on posting. Let’s tell people in other cities what it is like to live and work in Tokyo. It is special.

When I was in the zen temple, they told me to “cut, cut, cut”. It meant, do not have any attachments. Don’t be caught up by stuff. Cut all that, and see reality. Focus on your breathing. That is zen. I think that kind of experience is always with us, as we wake up, take a shower, eat our rice and miso soup (or muesli or cereals, it doesn’t matter), go to work on a crowded train.

“Cut, cut, cut”. Don’t be caught up in emotions about “how you feel” and how great it is or how terrible it is. Just do it. Go with the flow. Breathe…

Thai Festival this weekend

Hope everyone can make it to the Thai Festival this weekend, it is the 8th year this festival is held, with lots of food and drink and music.


Thailand and Japan are celebrating 120 years of diplomatic relations this year.

Location: Yoyogi Park (near NHK) in Tokyo

Website: Thai Festival in Japan

สถานเอกอัครราชทูต ณ กรุงโตเกียว กำหนดจัดงานเทศกาลไทย ครั้งที่ 8 ระหว่างวันที่ 12-13 พฤษภาคม 2550 ณ สวนสาธารณะโยโยงิ เขตชิบุยะ กรุงโตเกียว

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