As I write this latest blog post, I am sitting in Starbucks in Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan by population. I have gone and got myself a winner here – I’ve found probably the world’s best people watching spot and also surrounded by an amazing skyline. Now I can exercise my favourite hobby while armed with an array of different Starbies drinks too which you don’t find in the UK….Or at least I haven’t seen. I’d recommend grabbing yourself a chocolate orange mocha m m m, and taking some time out to chill and enjoy the views of the nearby Yokohama Landmark Tower.
If you want to go into this tower the views from it are stunning. It is the second tallest building in Japan and has some very speedy elevators, travelling at 12.5 m/s, and yes your ears do pop (if they haven’t already gone weird from the long flight!!). You can enjoy stunning views from the top of the tower and enjoy a drink as well – I believe there is a cover charge to go in the bar. Everything about the East is so different from the Western countries. Just a few things I have noticed are that nobody seems to eat on the go. I was unsure whether it’s custom not to, so I tested it by cracking open my family size pack of KP nuts (honey roast) on the escalator. Didn’t get any weird looks so I reckon I am safe. Until I fell over dropping my nuts (not a euphemism). I also noticed there are a HELL OF A LOT OF PUBLIC TOILETS. Anyone who has been to Japan will know that the toilets are AMAZING (either that or I’m just a weirdo). They offer a heated toilet seat, a front and back bum bidet and pure comfort. Amazing. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!! However, I soon found out on my walk around Yokohama that the public toilets don’t offer quite as much luxury – see photo….so don’t be expecting a warm bum from these!
Fran being Fran I had to locate some good snacks for my brief stop in Japan. Japanese cuisine is clearly very different from here in the UK. I noticed lots of fun looking snacks that if you want a western style treat with a twist then check out the grape fanta, green tea Kit Kats and Raspberry M&Ms.
Something else I suggest you to if in Japan is visit one of the numerous 100 Yen shops. People rinse these for being the pound land of Japan, but they are actually brillo. Where else can you buy foot pads that are ‘leg slimming’? Ha….. no but seriously there are some good things in these shops and it’s a total bargain. 100 Yen is about 56 pence. I recommend heading to the Collete Mare Shopping Centre on the 4th floor and it is called Daiso. It can be reached easily by getting the train to Sakuragicho and Minatomirai line stations. However I did laugh a lot because it’s 100 Yen plus Tax….I guess that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it!
So now I’ve got the food and 100 Yen shops out the way I can write a little more about the other things I did on my short stop in Japan. I have learnt a lot about Japanese culture – I learnt that Japanese people wear inside and outside shoes, so they will often ask for slippers. Also it is polite to present things with two hands, and in shops there are often little trays which you place money in when buying something, and likewise the cashier presents your change back to you in this tray. During my trip the local people I met were nothing but polite and smiley to me, and when the language barrier is so large, a smile goes a long way. I also started to realise how popular ‘Ramen’ or Cup Noodles are. So on my trip I thought I would pay tribute to this and visited the Cup Noodle Museum…
How to get there? If we take a central point of Yokohama to give directions from that will be easier. So….exit the Yokohama Landmark Tower and follow the moving walkway with the big wheel clock being on your left. Then head down the stairs and pass Nippon Maru Memorial Park, cross the Kishamichi Promenade and you will reach the ‘Shinko area’. This is where the Cup Noodles Museum is, just past Cosmoworld!
When I first got to the museum, I thought, brilliant, a bit of banter to ease the jet lag. I was the only Western person, surrounded by a lot of excited Japanese children (and adults), taking photos with the giant Cup Noodle pot. I enter with a headset so I could listen in English. I learnt that the first Cup Noodle invention was the Chicken Ramen by Momofuku Ando who founded Nissin Food Products. Ramen is a noodle soup, and it was first developed in 1958. Since then hundreds more products have been launched and the first room shows you all of these. Having wandered around the ‘Instant Noodles History Cube’ I was beginning to feel like I was in some sort of dream as I was surrounded by Ramen products. I learnt that even when Momofuku was 90 he was still inventing products, including the Cup noodle in 1971 and then Ramen that can be eaten in space in 2005. I think this is really cool!
I made my exit from the cube (Phillip Schofield eat your heart out) and moved on to the ‘Momofuku theatre’ where I was to learn more about the inventor who got all of us through our degrees #hungoverpotnoodle Noodles were rife on the black market following the war. Everybody wanted noodles so Momofuku Ando decided he would find a way to provide people with what they wanted. In a solitary shed he came up with the idea of noodles which are cooked in oil then dried, and re cooked by simply pouring hot water onto them. I have to admit, I did LOL when I walked into the next room of the museum to be greeted by a mock up of the shed, with a fake flame effect stove full of ‘visual effect’ cooking oil for the noodles.
You are probably wondering why on Earth I am writing so much about noodles. However, this next stage of the museum does aim to make you realise that if you have an idea you can take it all the way. And if you are receptive to some deep thoughts (despite the inevitable jet lag), the shed, though hilarious, does aim to make you realise that you don’t need lots of tools and money to make something work. Six ideas are emphasised – we should aim to discover something new, find ideas in all sorts of places, nurture our ideas, look at it from every angle and don’t go with the status quo and never give up! How do they get the noodles in the cup? Yes I genuinely spent 10 minutes of my life trying to work this out. It seems like a silly question, but it’s not! You can’t put the noodles straight in the cup, because they don’t fit. So instead they have conveyors of the noodles in the shape of the pot, and the pot is placed over the top of the noodles, then flipped, so the noodles fit perfectly with room underneath for the hot water to drip to and to allow the noodles to cook. Having explored all of these parts of the museum you then have the option to go and make your own Ramen, and of course there is a gift shop for meeting all your (my) tat needs.
Cost: 2000 Yen deposit for the English audio guide which you get back at the end and entry fee of 500 yen which is around £2.70 So do I recommend a trip to the museum? YES! If you want to venture slightly further afield into Tokyo, then I would recommend Yoyogi Park which I have since learnt was where the opening ceremony was held for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and also the location of the first successful aircraft flight in Japan (cheers Wiki). Also try to visit Harajuku a district in Shibuya in Tokyo. Here is the popular Takeshita (don’t) Street – it is lined with clothes shops, and lots of independent shops with really cool stuff! It is definitely worth a visit. I will definitely be going back there to explore more when I next visit Japan. If you get a chance visit the Shibuya crossing – here the lights all go red at the same time and everybody walks across from all sides. It is often described as being like watching marbles roll. Quite random but a nice spot to visit and grab a Starbies (in the Tsutaya building on the North side of the crossing) for the perfect view of the crossing.
I decided to go and visit the Hasedera Temple “Great Kannon Kamakura Hasedera”. Here is the home of the Hase Kannon statute which is absolutely amazing! It’s 9 metres high. I learnt that Kannon who represents compassion, mercy and love has 11 heads which signifies that he/she listens to the wishes of all the people. I also learnt that although in English it translates as the Buddhist goddess of mercy, it is neither masculine nor feminine in strict terms, instead it is a Bodhisattva which was a future Buddha who will reach enlightenment.
So tell me more about the temple?
Legend has it that in 721 AD monk Shinin found a large tree with such a big trunk that he could carve two statutes of the 11 headed Kannon out of. So the statute carved from the bottom half of the trunk was enshrined in the Hasedera Temple, and the statute made from the upper half was put in the sea in the hope it would come back to save people. It is said to have washed up ashore with light rays coming from it, therefore this temple honours it.
One thing you must do if you visit here is go into the Benten-Kutsu caves! Here there is a statute of Benzaiten. She is the God of good fortune in general and the shrines for her are located near water as she is a sea goddess. Benzaiten reformed her husband who was a wicked dragon and so is often seen riding one. She is said to prevent earthquakes and is especially worshiped on islands.
How to get there?
From Sakuragicho get the number 4 track one stop to yokohama then change to track 9 and go approx 6 stops to Kamakura.
If you get confused the staff at the Sakuragicho station are lovely and will happily help direct you in the right way.
This cost me 780 yen return which is approximately £4.50.
Once at Kamakura, exit the station and turn left, then take a right at the end of the road with lots of lovely little shops including one of many sought after 100 yen stores! Here you can also find a hideen little gem – a shop that sells second hand designer goods including Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton- a girls dream!!
It is about a mile walk to the shrine so wear comfortable shoes and take some water as it can get quite humid! Just down from this temple is the big Buddha!
Cost? 300 Yen plus 20 Yen to go inside the Buddha Amida nyorai in kamakura started being constructed in 1252. It is 13.4m high, and weighs 121 tonnes
Something I would be keen to visit next time is the Yokohama English Garden – if anyone has been let me know. You can reach it by catching the Negishi line from Sakuragicho station to Yokohama station and then getting the Sotetsu line to the gardens. Until next time! x