A Real Page Turner: Tokyo’s Book and Bed Hotel

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Capsule hotels are a very Japanese thing. Originally designed as a cheap bed for the drunken salary man who’s missed the last train home, these ‘stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ beds are now becoming a staple part of a tourist trip to Tokyo. The traditional capsule hotels are essentially rows and rows of beds built into a vast wall- a bit like a bed in a morgue, but less cold and with super fast Wi-Fi. The beds will normally be large enough to sit up in, and will often have a TV, personal air-con and ventilation system, and a night-light. If you don’t suffer from claustrophobia then this is a great place to rest your head for the night. Enter Tokyo’s up and coming capsule hotel: The Book and Bed.

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Coming out of the elevator on the seventh floor, you are greeted with this reception hatch

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Cosy bed nook

A slightly less traditional capsule hotel is the Book and Bed hotel in Tokyo. It’s essentially a fusion between a capsule hotel and a library. Behind an entire wall of books (both Japanese and English) are cosy beds complete with an outlet and night-light, so you can take a book to bed with you. There is also a separate bed space, away from the slightly noisier bookshelf area. The beds here are narrower and less cute, but cheaper and quieter. Surrounding the bookshelves are comfy sofas and large windows so you can look out from the seventh floor onto the glittering skyscrapers of Ikebukuro. There’s even a tea station so you can settle down with a cuppa while you read.

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This isn’t the kind of place that you come back to a 3am and pass out. It’s designed as a place to escape the rush, to retreat. You will want to spend the night in. It’s Japanese functionality meets hipster cool. If you love everything cosy and trendy, then you’ll love this place. As they say at the Book and Bed: ‘have a book night!’

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The Book and Bed is located on the 7th floor of the Lumiere Building, just a 30 second walk from exit C8 of Ikebukuro station. To reserve a bed, visit their website.

Japan’s Must-Try Foods and Restaurants

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Visiting Japan without sampling their cuisine would be like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. And, speaking of France, Japan has actually overtaken them in number of Michelin-Starred establishments- so that just proves how amazing their cuisine is! We have compiled a list of the best food we tried and the most interesting restaurants we visited. So, in no particular order…

 

Sushi at Tsukiji Market

In the west, when we think of Japanese food, we think sushi. Perhaps this is because it seems to encompass Japanese life and culture in itself; simple yet artful, masterful and full of ritual. Probably one of the best places to eat sushi is at Tsukiji market in Tokyo. The market draws in tourists who watch at 3am as monster tunas, fresh from the ocean, are auctioned to different restaurants. Needless to say, the sushi restaurants next to the market provided the most delicious sushi we ate in Japan. A testament to the freshness of their fish, and also the popularity of the sushi in Tsukiji, is that past 3pm most restaurants have completely run out- so make sure you make it for lunchtime, or even breakfast!

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Moomin Café

If you weren’t aware, The Moomins are fictional characters from children’s books by Finnish writer and illustrator Tove Jansson. They are cute, whimsical and quirky, so it is hardly surprising that Japan goes mad for them. If you too go mad for the adorable trolls, prepare to be impressed. The Moomin Café and Bakery, situated in the Bunkyo area next to the Tokyo Dome, has a variety of Moomin themed food and gifts. BUT the best thing is, that you actually get to sit with a Moomin character while you eat! The characters ‘rotate’ tables, choosing who they want to sit with- so who knows which one you’ll meet!

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Shave Ice in Kyoto 

So, throughout our time in Japan, people kept telling us to try shave ice, and we were really confused what all the fuss was about. It’s just a load of ice with syrup on it, how good can it be?! Turns out, very good. Like, so good. Like, our new favourite desert good. Although most places in Japan serve shave ice, Kyoto is renowned for it. We stumbled into a small restaurant near the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove -mainly to escape the stifling humidity- and ordered our first shave ice. It was exactly what we needed. The ice shavings are so fine that they melt as soon as they touch your tongue, the brown sugar syrup is deliciously sweet and the bean paste adds natural earthy flavours. All in all, it is one of the most refreshing and tasty desserts we have ever eaten. 10/10 would eat again.

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Animal Cafés in Tokyo

Japan is known for its cute and quirky take on everything, including the humble café. And what could be more cute than slurping a mug of matcha tea with a snoozing kitty on your lap? The correct answer is: nothing. So if you fancy cuddling an animal whilst getting your caffeine fix, Tokyo is the place. They have everything from bunny cafés, cat cafés and even hedgehog cafés!

Read more about our trip to some of Tokyo’s animal cafés here.

 Takoyaki in Osaka

 If you make it to Osaka make sure you try takoyaki- my favourite Japanese dish! Although you can find it throughout Japan, Osaka is credited as the birthplace of these little balls of heaven. Takoyaki consists of creamy octopus surrounded by fried batter, served with sweet sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce) and mayonnaise. Go to Dotonbori for the best takoyaki in Osaka and gaze at the vendors’ lightning fast frying skills; gigantic octopus adorn the buildings, and there are queues of people waiting to get their hands on this, the mother of all street food.

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Crêpes in Harajuku

Don’t you hate it when you’re craving a crêpe, but you also fancy vanilla cheesecake? Well Japan -the masters of ingenuity and efficiency- have solved your problem: wrap a slice of cheesecake in a crêpe and drizzle it with chocolate sauce. Needless to say, if you’re craving sugar, head to Harajuku. Stall after stall of sweet, syrupy, chocolaty, sugary goodness will keep you buzzing for hours.

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Find out more about our trip to Harajuku here.

Kobe Beef

A regular steak can cost upwards of £70, but if your budget can stretch to it, try Kobe beef. Failing that, try ‘wagyu’ beef, which can be cheaper. Wagyu is the generic term for Japanese cows which produce high quality, marbled, tender cuts of meat. In other words, Kobe beef is an example of wagyu meat specifically raised in Kobe. It has gained renown worldwide, and this demand has raised the price of Kobe beef substantially. Wagyu meat from other areas of Japan are therefore more likely to be cheaper, but still very good. We actually tried Kobe beef whilst on a cooking class in Kyoto, which was a much more affordable way of trying it. It was potentially the most delicious meat we’ve ever tasted- it literally melted in the mouth. *drooling*

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If this list doesn’t whet your appetite, nothing will. So if you love food, head to Japan and eat and eat and eat- it will be the best decision you ever make!

 

Top 5 Animal Experiences in Japan

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Japanese culture is very animal-centric; from the animal shrines in temples, to the kitsch and cute animae characters plastered on every billboard in Tokyo. It is hardly surprising therefore that Japan is awash with animal experiences to be had: cafes, zoos and even just wild animals roaming the streets!

However, Japan isn’t exactly famous for its animal welfare laws, and we certainly saw some pretty distasteful things in Tokyo’s pet shops. With this in mind, it is important to do some research before attending any animal experience, or you may run the risk of funding something that, in many other countries, would probably be shut down.

And so, here is our definitive ranking of all the animal experiences we took part in:

  1. Harry’s Hedgehog Café (Roppongi Tokyo)

Cons:

The reason this came in fifth is for the fact that, despite hedgehogs being nocturnal, the café is open throughout the day, meaning that the spike balls get petted and played with when they should be asleep. However, the staff do seem mindful to this and will prevent you from petting any hedgehogs that they feel need to rest.

Once inside, the staff teach you how to hold the hedgehogs and you also have the chance to buy some mealworms (¥500/£3.50), which you can feed them with a pair of tweezers.

The hedgehogs are pretty adorable, and it certainly is fun holding them whilst enjoying a cup of tea. The space is quite small and the number of customers is limited, so be sure to reserve your place in advance, as there can often be a queue out the door. The café is open until 2100, so perhaps go as late as possible to prevent disturbing the little prickle monsters.

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  1. Zao Fox Village (Sendai)

Cons:

The main problem we had with this place was the seemingly unnecessary number of foxes they had. It was almost as though they were breeding them for the sake of the attraction, rather than having the best interests of the foxes at heart. Admittedly however, the foxes did seem well looked after and happy.

The village itself is annoyingly tricky to get to. If you want rely on public transportation alone (usually not a problem in Japan), be prepared to get up early and spend 5 hours at the fox village. It is in the middle of nowhere and only 2 buses a day run from Shiraishi station, one at 0800 and one at 1335. If you’re short on time however, consider paying for a taxi at least one-way.

The fox village is made up of three main areas: the hospital, (where they treat injured or sick foxes) the nursery, (where young cubs are placed in a fenced off area next to the main park, to allow them to integrate safely) and the main area (where foxes can roam around freely). These foxes -in all red, white and black varieties- really are beautiful. You can feed them from the feeding tower, and although you are not allowed to touch them as they roam their home, you can pay about ¥200 (£1.50) to have a cuddle with one of the cubs.

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  1. Deer in Nara and Miyajima

The only wild animals to make this list! The towns of Nara and Miyajima are not only famous for their beautiful temples and shrines, but also the wild deer that roam the streets like pedestrians. In Nara you can buy crackers called senbei to feed them, which they go absolutely mad for. Seriously, if they think you have some in your backpack they will not hesitate to follow you down the street. The deer have had this relationship with tourists for so long that they have actually learnt to bow for their food.

In Miyajima however, senbei is not typically sold to tourists. So, the deer are a bit more…desperate. We actually had to help a guy wrestle his rail pass from the jaws of a peckish deer. You have been warned!

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Choosing an ice cream in Nara

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The Miyajima deer like to photobomb…

  1. Cat Café (Nyafe Melange, Shibuya)

Cat cafes have taken the world by storm. You can now find them in London, Manchester and New York…but none of them will be as kitsch and cute as the original Japanese ones. There are plenty of cat cafes across Japan to choose from, and they can really vary in quality, so research is crucial!

We visited ‘Nyafe Melange’ in Shibuya. They have a range of time and price plans, the cheapest being ¥600 (£4) for 30mins. This large loft space is home to 23 cuddly friendly cats that can sit in the main room, or if they want some alone time, there is a separate human-free room for their use only. Overall, it’s exactly what a cat café should be- totally chilled. The cats may come and sit on your lap and play with you, or –because they’re cats- they may choose to ignore you completely. But that’s the risk you take.

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Living the dream…

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  1. Sahoro Bear Mountain (Shintoku, Hokkaido)

We really wanted to see some bears when we were in Hokkaido. We also really didn’t want a wild one to kill us. So, the only option was to see bears in captivity. Whilst travelling around Hokkaido, we had seen a lot of advertisements for bear parks, such as the Noboribetsu Bear Park, and we were confused why it didn’t appear in our Lonely Planet guide. Just Google image search it and you’ll see why. It’s essentially a small concrete pit with no vegetation or stimulation where at least a dozen bears (who are solitary animals) are crammed in together. They have learned to perform tricks for the food tourists throw at them. It looks pretty grim to say the least.

Bear Mountain (which does appear in the LP Japan guidebook) is a world away from this. 15 hectares of forest house 12 bears. Ponds are stocked with fish; there are trees, grass and plenty of stimulation. Tourists can walk along an elevated walkway, and gaze below at the bears going about their business, as if in the wild. The walkway (which is only 370m long, so takes up a very small amount of the bears’ space) then leads into a room with a glass wall which allows you to watch as the bears frolic in the water together. At the adult price of ¥1836 (£13), it is also half the amount of the terrible Noboribetsu Bear Park. If you can make it to the slightly remote location- we highly recommend it!

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And that’s a wrap! There are about a bazillion other animal experiences in Japan that we simply did not have time to try. Let me know what you think of our list, and if there are any other animal experiences you would recommend!

Things we never knew about Tokyo

Words by Jasper

Despite geeking out and reading nearly every article on the internet about Tokyo, there were still a few things that took us by surprise upon our arrival. Here are a few of our favourites.

Incongruous Birdsong

Tokyo may be the biggest and most densely populated urban sprawl in the world, but it’s citizens still get the pleasure of hearing cuckoos and sparrows while sat waiting for their train. How you ask? PA systems! Rather than the cliched beep we associate with pedestrian crossings, this is replaced by a noticeably more avian tone. Similarly, birdsong is periodically blasted onto a train platform from a tinny speaker in an effort to make the morning commute slightly more quaint. And it works.

The Food Paradox

In Japan, walking while eating is a big faux pas. However Tokyo is a city filled with street food and vending machines at every corner. So, there must be plenty of areas designated for eating right? No, no there isn’t. So much food, so little opportunity to eat it. People were actually perching on the edges of flower beds or kerbs. Seriously, Joseph Heller couldn’t write this stuff.

Urine Luck

Most people who know Jo, know that she can’t go more than 20 mins without needing to pee. They say in London you’re never more than 20ft away from a rat. We reckon the same is true for toilets in Tokyo, so our fears of navigating our way to the nearest toilet in Japanese were unnecessary. Let’s hope this is the case throughout Japan!

Easy Rider

One look at a Tokyo map can give you double vision. At first glance it looks like somebody grabbed a load of London Tube maps and tried to make a public transport découpage. With this in mind we wrote off our entire first day to navigating across Tokyo to our first hostel. It took us 90 minutes. Turns out the Tokyo metro is pretty much the same as taking the tube (if the tube was air conditioned and had TV screens for adverts).

 

Tokyo is a place full of surprises- we will probably need to add to this list before we leave!

Harajuku 😸😸

Harajuku is a district of Tokyo famed for it’s other-planet fashion, teen culture and all things ‘Kawaii’! It was for this reason we wanted to visit, and we weren’t disappointed. The cult fame of Tokyo’s trendiest district has led to it becoming not only the Mecca of Japanese teen fashionistas, but a must-see spot for tourists (guilty!). Takeshita-dōri (the main shopping street in the district) is VERY busy. The high tourist volume can make it feel disappointingly like any other street in Tokyo, as you try to spot the crazy outfits the tourist guides promised, but persevere; the shops themselves are truly in their own ‘Harajuku’ world, and when you do see these fashionistas you will not be able to take your eyes off them.

Here’s a run down of our short but sweet visit to Harajuku’s Takeshita-dōri, and the experiences we would recommend…

1. Have a crêpe

Perhaps a lesser known fact about Harajuku is that there are A LOT of crêpe stands. This is becoming more recognised on travel blogs, some even referencing them as one of Tokyo’s must-try experiences. They are served rolled up like an ice cream cone with a multitude of fillings jam-packed inside. We recommend banana, chocolate and cream!

2. Get lost in the madness

At points you can’t help but feel like you’re on another planet. Half way down the street we went into what looked like a pretty conservative department store to use the loo. Inside there was a political party canvassing. Were they handing out leaflets? No. Were they making an impassioned speech? No of course not, this is Japan we’re talking about. They had hired a cheesy J-Pop boy band to sing to a group of maybe 20 teenage girls, of course. If only the UK’s ‘Stronger Together’ campaign had hired One Direction, Britain would be in a very different place right now. *Sigh*

3. Fashion spotting

Contrary to what Gwen Stafani has told us in the past, Harajuku is not home to just one ‘Harajuku girl’; There is a rich and vibrant range of styles on Takeshita-dōri. From ‘Lolita’ (a modern take on Victorian dress), to ‘Cosplay’ (dressing as cartoon characters), to ‘Decora’ (dressing head-to-toe in plastic toys and accessories). Wander around for long enough and you will be sure to spot them all!

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4. Read the slogans

It seems that the Japanese like to wear clothes with English slogans on purely for their aesthetic quality…they don’t have to make any sense. If you find terrible English as funny as we do, we highly recommend you read through some of the t-shirts being sold, it is eye-wateringly hilarious.

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5. Go Shopping

Of course! Every other shop here seems to emit a pink glow into the street. Inside the shops are rammed full of merchandise (including these massive key rings); if something isn’t pink, it’s fluffy, glittery or covered in anime characters. Even the air smells sweet from the candy and crêpes. It is girl heaven…and Jasper didn’t mind it too much either.

5 Weird Things You Can Buy in Tokyo

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We’ve been in Tokyo for about at week now, and our camera rolls are already jam-packed with photos, not only of our regular sightseeing trips, but also of some of the crazy things being sold in supermarkets, on stalls and even in sex shops. Here’s a run down our our favourite (so far)…

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1. Massive food key rings

We found these being sold on a stall in Harajuku, home of everything kitsch and cute. This picture doesn’t really do justice to the size of these, but, to give you an idea, the croissant is the size of an actual croissant. I genuinely can’t fathom why you would want a massive rubber baguette attached to your keys, but in Harajuku anything goes and, hey, it would be harder to lose them that’s for sure!

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2. Fake Eye Contacts

Also popular in Harajuku! Some young Japanese people like to wear these to make their irises appear larger, much like that of an anime character. It’s a pretty interesting and striking fashion choice; we certainly found ourselves doing double-takes when larger-than-life eyes glanced in our direction.

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3. This Giant Dried Squid

Kind of wished we bought this. Like, do you just eat it straight from the packet? No idea. More research is needed.

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4. A Prawn Travel Pillow

Don’t you hate it when you’re trying to get to sleep on a plane but your pillow doesn’t give you enough neck support? And, also, isn’t a prawn? We’ve all been there, but have no fear, Tokyo has the answers to all your seafood slumber sorrows!

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5. Cat Tail Butt Plug

Last but not least! We found this in a seven storey sex shop in Akihabara. The clientele were mostly giggly tourists and awkward looking locals. This was one of our favourite finds (there were many to choose from). I mean, we knew the Japanese like cats, but….this?!

Maid in Tokyo

‘Only in Japan!’ — We find ourselves saying this more and more as we explore Tokyo, but never has it been more relevant than when we were ushered into one of Akihabara’s Maid Cafes.
What is a maid cafe? I guess the closest western equivalent would be somewhere like Hooters; a place men (and in this case also tourists) go to ogle at women dressed in skimpy outfits…but that is where the comparison ends. As the name suggests, it’s a cafe where the waitresses are dressed as maids. But not the sexy fishnet-tights-wearing, bad-French-accent-adopting maids of western fantasies, no, these maids have an innocence about them which is quite difficult to describe. Basically, imagine a grown woman dressed in a child’s Hello Kitty costume, and speaking like they’ve inhaled a canister of helium, and you’ll sort of get the idea.

Cuteness is compulsory

 

After being ushered up a flight of stairs, we took our seats in a room decorated with clouds and next to a bunch of Japanese businessmen awkwardly drinking beer whilst wearing cat ears.

Bunny ears were placed on our heads and we were continuously invited to giggle and clap at everything our maid would say to us. Imagine if you were playing a game with a toddler. Kind of like that.

Jo is putting on a brave face because she wanted cat ears

Because of the popularity of maid cafes, both with tourists and local businessmen, you have to pay a ¥500 (£3.50) table charge for an hour. Although I would like to see how they get rid of you after your time is up. My guess is that they just tickle you until you leave.

We got an ice cream sundae, decorated to look like a cat, (of course) and were encouraged to put ‘magic’ on it, which consisted of making a heart shape with your hands and singing a little Japanese song. The cutesy-ness of it was never-ending.

Kawaii!!

If you can get over the weirdness of it all, a visit to a maid cafe is well worth it. It’s truly an experience you are unlikely to forget. But if you like your waitresses more on the sleezey side, maybe stick to hooters- these maids have class!

Tokyo: We Are Finally Here!

After an 11 hour flight (in which Jo knocked an entire cup of orange juice into her lap: standard),  a 3 hour lay-over in Hong Kong International Airport, and a 4 hour flight to Tokyo Haneda Airport (during which Jo knocked an entire cup of water into her lap, seriously), we are finally in Tokyo.

Now for some much needed sleep…..after trying every button on our hotel toilet.