Oct 15

Japan Day 11: Kyoto

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

A day in Kyoto. Despite the many, many temples and shrines, World Heritage Sites and Cultural Treasures, the main part of Kyoto is basically ugly, like most cities in Japan it appears. Any charm has been destroyed as buildings are built and rebuilt, modern, flat, grey. Electricity lines snake down streets, not underground but in the air like mad knitting. There’s no space between houses, no gardens, the buildings in the city built tight next to each other, the same pattern repeated as you move to the outskirts. Now and again you get an old building that has survived, but most seems to be as new as possible.

To get any idea of what it may have been once, you need to get to the outskirts. We went to Arashiyama this morning and houses in their own plots, tidy, organised gardens, single stories are what you find there. Totally different to anything we have seen so far, in the cities or from the train. We went to visit Tenryu-Ji, a temple that was established in 1339.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

All the buildings are modern (ish) but the gardens date back to the 14th century, designed to work with the background mountains, called ‘shakkei’ or ‘borrowed-landscape’. This is the first real sculptured gardens we have seen so far. We sat and contemplated the view for a while.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

Next, a walk along the edge of the mountain, through the famous bamboo grove. Gorgeous towering bamboo trees reach up to the sky and you walk through the green-tinged light.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

Back into the village, a quick meal of noodles from a roadside stall and then train and bus to the complete opposite side of the city, the other mountains.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

Here we visited Kitomizu-dera, another ancient temple, established in 798 but with most buildings dated from 1633. If the morning was about contemplation of nature, this was definitely the interactive temple. We climbed up and up, through the graveyards before hitting the forecourt, full of people, especially schoolparties.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

Into the main hall, with a verandah jutting over the hillside supported by huge pillars and a view over the city.
You could go down under a building, into the pitch dark, following a guideline to the magic stone, figuratively entering the womb of a female budhisvatta. At the heart, there’s a stone that you can turn either way and make a wish. I’m guessing there’s some pretty slick ball bearings under the stone to allow it to do that!

Up to the main interactive section, a shrine or action for everyone. You could rub the statue for luck. You could write your sorrows on paper and dissolve them away, wish a curse on your enemies.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

Or you could walk the 18m between the two love stones with your eyes closed. Make it and hit the second stone, you would find true love.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

You could also be terrified by the love messenger bunny, in bronze or red-eyed furry glory.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto
Japan Day 11: Koyoto

The final activity was to reach out and catch the water from the spring, wash and drink it and make a wish. This place is all about the wishes.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

We headed back to change as tonight we were off out to treat ourselves. As we’re in Japan, we have to try Kobe beef and the Itoh Dining by Nobu seemed to be a good place. The 7 courses that followed were definitely worth it! (and we finally saw a real geisha on our way to the restaurant)

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

Most people we’ve seen so far seem to obey the walk/don’t walk signs, they wait, even if a small road and no-one is heading your way. They often have a count down so you can tell how long you have to wait. When they do turn green, they start making a noise and I have no idea what defines the noise they make, as it does not seem to be connected with the type of sign. There are two main noises. One goes cuckoo, cuckoo. The other goes pew, pew-pew. Today I heard a third, going cuc-cuckoo.

Tomorrow we head out of the city for a visit to Nara, the previous capital.

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr

Day 10 post: Kyoto : Day 9 post – Race day at Suzuka : Day 8 post – Sill at Suzuka : Day 7 Post – Suzuka : Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya : Day 5 Post – Hakone : Day 4 Post – Tokyo : Day 3 post – Tokyo : Day 2 post – Tokyo : Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 14

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

A new city! Today we travelled from Nagoya to Kyoto, to continue with out sightseeing touristy part of the trip. We boarded the Shinkansen for the 40min trip. We had intended to forward the luggage, but it turns out, that it takes 24 hrs, so we took them with us. Somehow, despite not really buying a lot, both suitcases seem to have got a LOT heavier!

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Luggage left at hotel, we headed out into town. First of all, we wandered along the row of Nishiki market. It’s like Borough Market, except mainly fish!

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

I thought about it, but in the end wasn’t tempted by the octopus on a stick.

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Then across the river through Gion, taking a look at Shimbashi, one of the really old style streets. Some lovely old houses along streets that looked pretty quiet.

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

We headed on to Chion-in, a temple at the base of the mountain. It’s an active temple, the centre of Pure Land Buddha teaching. Plenty of different buildings, trails through the forest, burial grounds. They have a 47t bell up a hill. How did they get it there?!

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

The main building is currently being restored, with a completely new building been put around it. It’s going to take until 2019 to finish it.You can walk through the different buildings and shrines, some of which are connected together with ‘nightingale’ floors, that creak and squeal like the sound of birds when you walk across them. In the main working area, we watched people line up for private services, where they sat and preyed whilst the monk/priest sang and banged a variety of percussion.

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Back down the hill, through the park. It’s a national holiday today so it was pretty busy. Then to Yatsuka-Jinja, regarded as the guardian shrine of Gion. very colourful buildings and a place where we encountered lots of kimono wearing women,

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Somewhere, there’s a service that dresses them up for the day, and they then wander round for the photo opportunities.

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Finally the main bit of the Gion district, first in daylight and then returning after dark Old wooden buildings, lots of tourists, quaint streets, but not that much else to see.

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Dinner this evening was sushi, at a lovely place called Hisagi Sushi. Well, sushi for me, definitely not one of Sofia’s favourite foods.

On the favourite subject of toilets, our hotel this time has a remote control, so you don’t have to turn sideways to activate the various spraying elements. The basic Japanese squat toilet requires too much flexibility to be comfortable but I’m don’t prefer the ones that you’d need an electrician to fix if it went wrong! And it may just be me, but having a toilet that plugs in, even if it does give you a warm seat, just feels odd!

Favourite sign of the day – all about Beautification Enforcement areas.

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

And on the favourite subject of toilets, our hotel this time has a remote control, so you don’t have to turn sideways to activate the various spraying elements. The basic Japanese squat toilet requires too much flexibility to be comfortable but I’m don’t prefer the ones that you’d need an electrician to fix if it went wrong! And it may just be me, but having a toilet that plugs in, even if it does give you a warm seat, just feels odd!

Now our feet and legs are tired. Time to retire before hitting more sights tomorrow.

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr

Day 9 post – Race day at Suzuka : Day 8 post – Sill at Suzuka : Day 7 Post – Suzuka : Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya : Day 5 Post – Hakone : Day 4 Post – Tokyo : Day 3 post – Tokyo : Day 2 post – Tokyo : Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 13

Japan Day 9: Race Day at Suzuka

Japan Day 9: Race day at Suzuka

Today was the day of the Japanese Grand Prix. The 15th race of the season. A race where Vettel could win the championship. My second GP of the year. And the reason why Sofia and I are in Japan.

But this isn’t a race report. These blog posts are more about my travels in Japan. So there’s not that much to say today!

We caught the morning train to the circuit and decided to follow the locals in their traditions. Not camping out in car parks though!

Japan Day 9: Race day at Suzuka

We found ourselves a spot under the grandstand, spread out our mat and camped out there, waiting for the race.

Japan Day 9: Race Day at Suzuka

The fans come prepared, with ground mats and masking tape. The mats are taped down and that is their space. It’s respected, no one intrudes or steps on it and people snooze, eat, chat or read. There is a similar respect at Silverstone, when it comes to race watching positions, but in Suzuka, this is about pre-race waiting.

Japan Day 9: Race Day at Suzuka

I decided on a hamburger for lunch. I assume the owners of the van knew what they meant by their slogan, but not 100% sure!

Japan Day 9: Race day at Suzuka

Other people had pizza. And ate it using chopsticks!

Japan Day 9: Race day at Suzuka

The race was brilliant! At the circuit, you can only see a certain amount and without commentary it is very hard to follow. But in this case, Twitter filled in the gaps and we were able to keep track of what was going on. Vettel won the race, but not the championship. Guess he’ll take it in India.

My souvenir was the Bernie puppet, only available in Japan. There’s a Jenson one too!

Japan Day 9: race day at Suzuka

Still absolutely in love with the train system. Amazed that they only let people with seat reservations onto reserved trains, no filling up the aisles. Makes for a calm journey.

We had to double check it was still Sunday – it seemed to be the busiest day on the transport and shopping mall so far. Japan does do Monday to Friday work weeks??

I’m not sure why, but all the red wine I have had has been served chilled. Sake, coffee, tea, chocolate, they offer you hot or cold. Red wine, no choice, it’s chilled!

Tomorrow, we head for Kyoto.

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr

Day 8 post: Sill at Suzuka : Day 7 Post – Suzuka : Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya : Day 5 Post – Hakone : Day 4 Post – Tokyo : Day 3 post – Tokyo : Day 2 post – Tokyo : Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 12

Japan Day 8: Still at Suzuka

Japan Day 8: Still at Suzuka

Another day at the races. Today was qualifying. We got there for 10ish, plenty of time to wander around and watch weird audience games, people watch and then take in final practice.

Japan Day 8: Still at Suzuka

We met up with Hiro, whom I had met last February in Barcelona for F1 testing. He’d managed to go to 4 GPs, was now at the Japan one and would be heading to Brazil. A man very economical with his holidays!
Lunch was Japanese curry from one of the many, many stalls dotted around the track.

Japan Day 8: Still at Suzuka

Qualifying was fun – especially the last session. Webber pipping Vettel to pole was well liked in our bit of the stadium.

We were amazed at how clean and tidy the race track was as we were leaving. Very, if any, rubbish was left around. Everything was binned. Very different to many others that we’ve been to.

Japan Day 8: Still at Suzuka

Heading out of the circuit, we weren’t too sure how the booked trains would work. How would you get onto the platform for your train. We needn’t have worried, it was all organised. If you had an unreserved ticket, you lined up and they called you to the platform ready for trains to arrive – just enough people to fit into each train. If you were on a specific booked train, you lined up ready for that, in carriage order. When it was time for your train, each carriage was called up and placed exactly at the right spot to get on the train. No crowding, no pushing, impeccably organised. Brilliant. (The train was 8 mins late though, first one we’ve seen late!)

Japan Day 8: Still at Suzuka

Back in Nagoya, you could see it was obviously a shopping day. They had music playing along the streets again. Just loud enough so you couldn’t hear the bikes behind you. They don’t ride bikes on the streets, all the action is on the pavement. I’m surprised there are not more collisions, but it seems to work, just about.

Tomorrow is race day!

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr

Day 7 Post – Suzuka
Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya
Day 5 Post – Hakone
Day 4 Post – Tokyo
Day 3 post – Tokyo
Day 2 post – Tokyo
Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 11

Japan Day 7: Suzuka

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

So today was the day, the start of the event we have built our holiday around, the Japanese Grand Prix. At the start of the week, rain was predicted, but the day dawned sunny and bright and stayed that way. it was 29C at the track and the only use of umbrellas was for shade.

There are special trains put on from Nagoya to Suzuka, about an hour away. We found the platform and waited as it filled with more and more fans. Inside Japan had sorted out all the seat booking for us, making the journey a little easier than squeezing into the unreserved carriages.

At the station, just follow the fans.

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

The circuit was easy to find and really, really busy – although it’ll be busier on race day. There were loads of stalls for merchandise and food,making it really fan friendly. (although I’m not sure what this is!)

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

One immediate thing struck us – the cigarette advertising, It’s not allowed in Europe, but here, it’s everywhere. A big stand and sponsoring the smoking areas. Oh yes, the strange control of smoking means you can only smoke in designated areas – including specific indoor rooms. Not wandering around outside.

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

They also had a Ferris Wheel, free if you were at the race. A quick whirl gave some great views of the track!

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

There were plenty of fans making signs for drivers at the first ever craft corner we had seen at a race!

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

Some more behaviour differences was this one of staking out a section around the circuit, taping the mat down. Most were under stands, so protection from sun or rain. The mats were left there, I’m guessing ready for the next day

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

And for some reason, a woman in a brides dress carrying a bouquet was driven round the circuit. No idea why!

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

We have brilliant seats – at T1/T2, prefect for the race.

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

As Friday you’re allowed to wander around, we also did that, to see the rest of the track. Well, Sofia did. I had a last minute chance for a Paddock Club ticket from Marussia and watched practice 2 from there :-)

The trip home was just as easy, the queue was orderly and organised and we managed to be positioned so we got right on the train into a seat!

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

Finally this evening, we met up with a friend, who had found a tiny little restuarant for Okonomikaki and fried noodles. Absolutely delicious.

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And that was today! Except for my sign of the day. A pointer for a Lat Rine

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

Oct 10

Japan Day 6: Hakone and travel

Sleeping on a futon to the sound of a waterfall is definitely an experience. A good night sleep. The breakfast this morning was also an experience, very, very different and will no alternatives. Grilled fish, salad, pickles, chicken/okra, miso soup, rice and a soft boiled egg. I had a go at everything – and finished most. Except the soft boiled egg. I really don’t like those.

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Today, the sun was out so we tried again to get up the mountains. First of all we consigned our bags to the baggage movers again, sending them on to the station. Then back on the train up the mountains, then the cliff hugging cable car and, finally, the ropeway, the dangling cablecar. Up and up and up we went, to a summit of 1144m.

Japan Day 6: Hakone

Over the first crest was a surprise – a smoking volcano, with vents pouring out sulphur and a reek.

Japan Day 6: Hakone

Then down, down further, straining for a glimpse of Mount Fuji but it was not to be. The clouds had gathered, the rain was threatening and there was nothing to be seen.

Japan Day 6: Hakone

The last stop was on Lake Ashi, 720, above sea level, formed 3000 years ago when the volcano blew and left a caldera that filled. Now it’s a tourist haunt and our Hakone Travel Pass took us on to the cruise ship that wound it’s way to the end of the lake and back. We treated ourselves to the upgrade to first class, so we had the front deck to ourselves, unlike the crowding behind!

Japan Day 6: Hakone

Japan Day 6: Hakone

One lake cruise later and it was back up the cable car, over the mountain, down the mountain, back on the cable car, back on the train to the station at the bottom of the hills to collect our bags, another train back to Odawara and then jump on the Shinkansen to head further west to Nagoya, our home for the next few nights. And magically, our bags we’d sent on their way on Tuesday were sitting here ready for us.

This was today’s favourite sign – in the one western toilet in a block

Japan Day 6: Hakone

No Japanese food for us tonight, it was time for steak! A quick wander round the block then back to chill. It’s an early start tomorrow as we head for the F1.

Oct 09

Japan Day 5: Hakone

Japan Day 4: Hakone

So today we said goodbye to Tokyo and escaped to the wilds of Hakone, a mountainous region to the south-west of the capital. First up, we said goodbye to our suitcases, sending them by the luggage transport system direct to Nagoya.

The we boarded a series of trains. First the underground line. Then the local train line. Then, at Tokyo station, we got on one of the famous Bullet trains, the Shinkansen. A very mean and pointy looking train! But very comfortable. Just over 30 minutes later we arrived at Odawara, to board a train into the mountains, then one further train, running on a single track system, with passing only at stations.

Japan Day 4: Hakone

Each of the latter two were older than the previous.
It deposited us in a place called Tonosawa, a small village at the start of the Hakone region. Here we’re staying in a traditional ryoken, Ichinoyu Honkan, established in 1630. That’s older than most countries!

Japan Day 4: Hakone

Too early to check on, we headed on further up the hill, by the old train, then a mountain cable car from Gora. The intention was to take the dangling cable car (which they call the ropeway) and head over and down to the lake, passing a volcano and with a possible glimpse of Mount Fuji in the distance. But it was not to be, wind and rain and grounded the cable car and we were stuck this side of the mountain. Well, we could have taken a bus, but decided, not today!

Japan Day 4: Hakone

Back down we went, in the pouring rain, to find a lovely little cafe in Gora, called Studio Cafe Shima. A shout out to them for being lovely, with brilliant wifi and a nice line in train cakes!

Japan Day 4: Hakone

More travelling down the mountain to the ryokan, to find out bags in the room, a view over the waterfall, the water heater on for tea and the outdoor bath filled with hot spring water, ready for a soak. Brilliant. We LOVE IT!

Japan Day 4: Hakone

Divide and conquer again. Sofia used the room bath, I went to the private bathing room. (not ready to try the public rooms!).

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Then it was to the hotel restaurant for the included dinner. There’s little other choice in the village. No matter, this was a multi-course feast. Tofu, tuna, boil your own meat in broth, dumplings, salad, pickled veg, rice, miso soup. Then crisp pear sorbet. Loved it!

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And I did dress for dinner! Then time to roll out the futon time to relax before we head for the busy days of the F1 ahead.

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One last thing, just to confirm, we have spent the day avoiding touching doubtful things!

Japan Day 4: Hakone

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr
Day 4 post: Tokyo still
Day 3 post – Tokyo
Day 2 post – Tokyo
Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 08

Japan Day 4: Tokyo still

Japan Day 4: Tokyo

Our last full day in Tokyo. As I said yesterday, we were planning a split strategy. Sofia went off to the zoo to see pandas and then to an out of town theme park to see Hello Kitty! I carried on in town. First up, the Tokyo National Museum, to look at the history of Japanese art and artifacts. An interesting overview, with some great quirky things, such as the terracotta grave statues which I wasn’t allowed to photograph. Or one of the very early editions of The Tale of Genji, the ‘first novel’. (by early, think it was 13th century)

Japan Day 4: Tokyo

By the way, cute. The Japanese appear to love cute. Everywhere has cute mascots etc. Here’s the museum ones.

Japan Day 4: Tokyo/

Then back down to Ginza, where I treated myself to sushimi. Not worth trying this with Sofia, as sushi and sushimi definitely not on her list. Again, I saw how pretty cheap Tokyo food can be, paying 1700Y for lunchtime fixed meal, of sushimi (prawn, tuna, salmon and other stuff), miso soup, rice, pickled vegetables, something with noodles and savory egg custard.

Japan Day 4: Tokyo

Then a wander round the Imperial East Gardens, the only part of the palace grounds you’re allowed to access. One of the challenges I’ve found is trying to understand the history of the place, as the signage, although much of it in English, does not seem to explain what things were or how they realte. this was true in both the museum and in the gardens. It wasn’t until nearly the end of the walk that I worked out that there used to be a HUGE palace in that area.

Japan Day 4: Tokyo

And I also saw my first Japanese style toilet. I’d read about them, but not seen them, until now. Thankfully for me, the bathrooms also had the western style ones too!

Japan Day 4: Tokyo

Back to the hotel, for relaxing, doing some washing and organising our luggage forwarding. We’re off into the mountains tomorrow and packing light. The luggage is going directly to Nagoya.

For dinner, we again stuck to local, heading up to the alleys around the Shenzi temple. After being refused service in one small restaurant (we think they were closing, it could just be they did not want to deal with English) we found somewhere that served up the Japanese omelette style of food, which I had with the deep fried pork cutlettes. Very tasty!

And that’s it for Tokyo. We’re here at the end of the holiday for one further night, but only limited sightseeing.

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr

Day 3 post – Tokyo
Day 2 post – Tokyo
Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 07

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan, Day 3. Today was a day built on changes. The original plan was to visit a bunch of museums, all around Ueno Park. The problem was that neither of us had properly read the guidebooks and failed to realise that they all close on a Monday!

We first of all wondered through the Ueno Park, visiting some of the multiple temples that are present in the area.
Benton-do is built on an island in a pond, a pond completely filled with Lotuses. (if you know me, you’d know that I was disappointed that these weren’t the car variety). This temple is dedicated to the goddess of the arts, wisdom, the sea and the protection of children.

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

It’s a temple with the same plan as all the others. Purify yourself with washing, wave the insense smoke at yourself, ring the gong, pick your fortune. The fortunes are apparently multi-lingual, so Sofia decided to take a chance – and ended up with good luck all round. To ensure this happens, she followed the plan and tied it to the washing lines.

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

Next stop was Kiyomizu Kannon-Do. This appears to be one of the real old ones, never rebuilt, inlike many of the others. It’s dedicated to women wishing to conceive, who would leave a doll here, a doll that would be ritually burnt every 22nd September. No photos were allowed of the temple, but it did have the best purifying dragon-statued fountain.

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

Plus this brilliant circular tree, looking over Benton-do.

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

Also, why do they tie bibs onto statues? They can’t be that messy eaters!

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

We finally wandered far enough to see the museums. And to realise they were closed. so a quick replan needed! It’s a good job we had our walking shoes on, we decided to hit another road passing through different neighbourhoods.

First up was Kagurazaka, what was formerly the geisha quarter and is now a brilliant set of small streets, with lots of restaurants and interesting shops. We managed to pick a lovely Tempura restaurant for a quick lunch (and cheap! so far, we’ve not being paying too much)

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

We made a stop at the Yasukuni Shrine which had a completely different atmosphere to others we have seen, a lot more serious.

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

Then we headed into the centre of town, crossing over 2 of the 3 moats that surrounded the Imperial Palace. The final moat is not crossed on a Monday, I’ll have to come back tomorrow.

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

oh..we also saw a turtle!

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

Then down towards Tokyo station and then Ginza, the major shopping street (think Oxford St crossed with Bond Street). Sofia was most impressed with the 6 storey Uni Qlo store (we did not pop in to shop).

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

After a LOT of walking, time to head for dinner. The guidebook pointed us towards a restaurant that was listed as French-style yakitori. Unfortunately, it no longer seemed to be there, having changed to being pure French. Never mind, it was pretty busy for a tucked down an alley restaurant, so we just went French…and it was great!

Heading back, you can tell it was a working day. The streets were definitely full of ‘salarymen’ either head down charging for home, or wandering slightly worse for wear after a few after work drinks. A change from the last couple of evenings.

Questions still to be answered – why are so many people wearing face masks. Are they worried about catching something? Or is it the polite thing to do if you have a cold? I definitely think the latter could be applied in London.

Secondly, every time we pass certain supermarkets, there are a row of men reading the magazines, just standing there. It seems to be accepted. Are they reading comics? Manga? Porn? A combination?

And that was today, day 3. Tomorrow is our last day in Tokyo and we are planning a split strategy. Museums for me, Hello Kitty for Sofia!

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr

Day 2 post
Day 1 post

Oct 06

Japan Day 2: Tokyo continues

An early awakening, 6am, but nothing earlier than usual. So jetlag appears to not be hitting too hard today. First up, the hotel breakfast. Rice and meatballs and miso soup. Plus coffee and chocolate bread.

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Today was going to be a fairly light day. We caught the tube over to Shibuya to take a look round the shopping district there. One lesson learnt is that they stand on the wrong side of the escalators here, on the left hand side and you pass on the right. All very confusing.
It was easy to keep to the main shopping streets, they were the ones that were playing music from the loud speakers. Outside the main station was Shibuya Crossing, supposedly the model for the Oxford Circus crossing. Not sure what the fuss was about, it’s just a huge street crossing, but the Starbucks above it is great for people watching.

Tokyo Day 2, Shibuya to Rappongi

You have the girls in the typical costume of long socks and shorts (or short skirts). And men who would fit right in with the Shoreditch Hipsters.

Add a sprinkling of Western tourists, definitely a minority amongst the tourist population of Tokyo and the occasional women in traditional Japanese dress.

Tokyo Day 2, Shibuya to Rappongi

Shibuya shopping district is full-on on-trend stores, record shops and just loads of tiny boutiques. Plus the occasional multi-story amusement arcade, with grab-a-toy by the dozen along with photobooths of all descriptions.

Tokyo Day 2, Shibuya to Rappongi

Tokyo Day 2, Shibuya to Rappongi

We then started to wander over towards the Rappongi district, through more residential areas. Dotted throughout the streets are vending machines, such as this heavily sponsored set. Most are standalones though. And despite the theory that you can get almost anything from vending machines here, we’ve only seen ones for cigarettes and drinks.

Tokyo Day 2, Shibuya to Rappongi

Once at Rappongi we found our destination, a pub to watch the Formula 1 from Korea. However, instead of watching in the local language, by some technology miracle, we watched Sky tv. At least I think it was Sky…could have been a mild hallucination after I tried the snake venom drink :-)

Tokyo Day 2, Shibuya to Rappongi

Finally, heading back home, i got my first try of local food. A restaurant called Komagata Dojo, which has been there for over 6 generations in the same family. Dojo are small, eel-like river fish that are served in all sorts of way. The house specialty first cooks them in sake, then miso broth and then finally at the table, where they are heated over the table stove, with spices, sauce and loads of spring onions. Very, very good. We learnt the hard way that you don’t give tips here..as the waitress ran after us down the road to hand us back the 500Y coin and then was very surprised and very, very thankful we had left it for her. We’ll avoid that then! (She totally deserved it, was very very good and showed us all the things we needed to do to prepare the dish)

So that’s day 2. Another easy evening before we go mad and hit up a whole load of museums tomorrow.

Food at Komagota Dojo

For the full set of photos, See Japan Day 2 on Flickr

Sep 29

The London Marathon

You know, some things seem like a good idea at the time. Way back in April, before I’d ever run my first race, the ballot for the 2014 London Marathon opened and the proceeded to close pretty quickly. 125,000 people signed up for the possibility of 25,000 places in the London Marathon. I was one of those who signed up, more as a speculation than a certainty. I had no idea if I could run a 10k race, never mind over 4 times that distance. There was also no chance I’d get in, the web is full of mentions of people who did not at their 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc attempt. It’s not a straightforward 1 in 5 chance, they apply some assessment as well, so most chances are low. The ballot is one of 4 ways to get into the race. You need to be invited/be elite – that means they could be paying you for the entry, as these runners attract the media. You can be good for your age, getting a qualifying time at another marathon. Or you can go for a charity place, committing to raise at least £1800 (that seems to be the going rate) for the charity of choice.

You’re guessing the punchline already. I got in. With all the odds stacked against me, I got in. Which was a shock, to be sure. My sister, whom I entered as well, did not get in and she’s not sure whether to be upset or happy she didn’t – fitting in the training will be a problem. I’m the same. Happy and astounded one minute that I’m going to be running in one of the biggest events of the year; terrified and wondering what I have let myself in for.

However, I’ve paid my money, I’ve committed to setting off for the 26.2 miles on April 13th next year. I’ve committed to 6 months training to up my distance from a half to a full marathon through the cold winter and dark nights. The fitness journey continues.

Meanwhile, one consideration I need to make is if I’m going to raise money for a charity or not. So far, that’s not been done. I decided I needed to focus on running rather than money raising for the races I’ve done so far. But for the London Marathon, I’m considering my options – it is the biggest fund raising event in the world apparently. As you look through the websites of the charities, you see that there is a huge competition for fund raisers, with different packages on offer by the big charities. These usually consist of training support, a vest for the run, a pre-race pasta party of some kind and a post race feed and massage. this is why I assume that as well as committing to raising money, charity places often have to pay an admin fee to cover these extras. So do I raise money? And who do I choose? Questions to ponder.

Sep 11

Meeting the challenge

Way back in January, I took at look at my ambitions for 2013. One f them, in typical New Year fashion, as a physical change. I’d tried before, and failed, but hoped that by adding another dimension to my tracking would make a difference. And it absolutely did. Using the Fitbit, Myfitnesspal and a long term goal, this year has been one of physical change.

On 8th September 2013 I ran a half marathon in an official time of 2 hours, 16 minutes and 18 seconds. If you have known me at any time over the last 20 years, you know that me doing that is a minor miracle! I don’t run. I have never really run and even at my fittest, when I never ran.

Ready #rttb Run to the Beat

But running is the easiest exercise to fit into the day. It’s also the easiest way to meet my step target that the Fitbit sets. So I started, In January, with a Couch to 5k programme, finding it hard to even run for a minute. If I was going to be doing this running, I set a goal, entering the Run to the Beat half marathon, that a friend from work had completed in 2012. My sister also entered – so now the challenge was on.

It’s 9 months later. I’ve tracked 3,464,503 steps on the Fitbit. I’ve tracked 419,289 calories eaten, 573,251 calories used. I’ve lost fifty pounds in weight. And I’ve ran a half-marathon in a not too bad time for my first ever race of that distance.

The targets have been met…now to keep it going! New challenges and goals to set, to keep me focused. have I mentioned I’ve entered the ballot for the London marathon?

Mar 21

2013 Week 10

2 Mar to 8th Mar

After the quiet of last week, this week was a little more exciting.

Reading

Doing

  • Went shopping! Yes, not that much of a strange activity for most, but for me to volunteer to go shopping with friends is very, very unusual. It was all to do with getting out and trying on some new sized clothes, as I appear to have lost about 2 dress sizes so far this year. (well, at least in some stores). Bought one top, but had a great time trying things on, then drinking fizzy stuff, which is the only sensible way to finish off a shopping trip
  • Work dinner at BAFTA, A chance for the senior team to get together and let our hair down a little, even if it was a Monday night. A lovely full service dinner was pulled together plus a few drinks. A few of us even ended up in the Ritz, some place I’ve always wanted to have a cocktail in, even given the slightly large price! I was sensible and went home relatively early, others were not so and ended up not very well the next day!

    Cocktails at the Ritz

The rest of the week was the usual round of work, a bit of gym, and that’s about it! I was saving myself up for the next few buys weeks I think.

Mar 20

2013 Week 9

Sat 23rd Feb – Fri 1 Mar

You’d think i could do this, wouldn’t you. One post a week, that’s all I need. But no, I end up doing other things over the weekend and then at work time and the one post gets left behind until major catch up sessions like this one! So what did I do way back at the end of Feb?

Reading

Not a lot. I have no saved links for this period, so it must have been quiet!

Doing

  • The weekend was spent washing, tidying and sorting things out after a week away. And sorting out all my photos to organise the F1 ones into teams. One of those non-exciting housework weekends.
  • The rest of the week was fairly quiet too. Well, except for being a person down in the team,, so we were covering that work. And I was finalising a slight re-organisation of the team. And I was reviewing the interview results from the previous week, where the first round interviews for my replacement person had been taking place. We decided who to invite back and set them a brief to respond to, concious that by doing so, we probably compromised their next weekend!
  • On the Friday, I went along to ‘An Evening with Joe Saward‘ who’s an F1 journalist. It was set up as a Q&A session where the audience just threw out questions and Joe answered and told stories based on his long experience with the sport. It was interesting how different the crowd was to the other regular F1 event I go to (#badgerbash, more on this later in the year) with the audience being primarily mature men with very few women. I think that’s a result of who the journalist is.

Well, that was a quiet week (outside of work!).

Feb 26

2013 Week 8

A quick follow up to catch up the weeks.

Reading

  • Fitbit talks about tracking and privacy. I’m using a Fitbit and I love it. Just wearing it makes me think about being more active, to climb the stairs instead of the escalator. As mentioned in the article, the ecosystem is great and I hope increased competition does not restrict this.
  • A comment on whether Silicon Valley really is a meritocracy or if that’s just the white male view. The concept of privilege is not going away, nor is the vastly different perceptions of it.
  • Moshi Monsters and why kids love them. Yep, building a new kids property is hard. Moshi pretty much nails it
  • Why Americans are WEIRD. A challenge to the accepted wisdom that people’s behaviours and perceptions are fundamentally the same, based on biology, so using western (and primarily US) people for studies would apply worldwide. this research shows that is not the case and Americans are often one of the most outlying of groups

Doing

  • HOLIDAY! yes my first holiday of the year. Now, most people would not call what I did as a holiday, but I enjoyed it. It was a trip to Barcelona to watch the F1 testing. So every day, travel up to the circuit and sit and watch cars go round for 7 hours. In the freezing cold and occasional rain. Then back to the city for tapas and red wine. A lovely week and one that is planned for next year too!

    2013 Barcelona F1 Testing Day 3

  • Forgot to add this for the last week entry, but I have completed a further 2 stages of the LOOP walk. Over the two weekends, I have travelled from Bexley to West Wickham Common. Three sections done, 21 to go!

    Walk the LOOP 3  -Petts Wood to West Wickham Common

Jan 03

2013: Change, Connect, Challenge

So yesterday, I took a look back on the mixed bag of 2012. But am I going to do something different in the upcoming year, or just let the world drift on as it is and see what happens. As you may guess from the title, the answer to that is no. 2013 HAS to be a year of difference, where work is put in and I don’t just enjoy what life brings.

I’ve decided to think about #themewords for the year. Many of the people I admire have been using this for a few years, whether it’s just the one like Tara Hunt or 3 words, like CC Chapman or Chris Brogan. Thinking of themes and words makes you contemplate the year, what you want to get out of it and clarify your mind. And writing them down, sharing them with the world, makes it more likely that you will follow them through (or so said the psychologist on BBC Breakfast this week :-) )

The words are straightforward, but what do they mean for me?

  • Change: Looking back over last year, there are many things that need to change. far easier to say, so my focus has been on methods to drive the change, through small, easily adopted methods. This is not the rip it all up and throw it away kind of changes I am looking at, but ways to take behaviours and techniques from areas of my life that work and apply them to others.
  • Connect: As I said yesterday, my default mode is hermit. I’d rather be home reading than out partying. But that means I am losing connections with family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. I need to bring that back together and maintain those connections, or reconnect where they have been lost.
  • Challenge: Or this can also be challenges! I need to change what I’m doing. I need to get others to challenge (positively) what I am doing. And I need challenges to motivate me to do things.

Change, Connect, Challenge. The theme and underlying philosophy for what I will do this year, across the focus aspects of my life. But what does that mean in some practical terms?

Physical

Measure, measure and measure again. I’m no stranger to the idea of the quantified self, but the reality has mainly been location check-ins rather than physical measurements. I’m very good at location check-ins, it is a habit that is now ingrained – my 569th check-in at the office this morning definitely proves that. Knowing what I am doing by measuring makes me think more about the actions and allows me to change things. if you don’t know, then there is little you can do to change. When I’ve tracked activities and calories in the past, it works to change things, but the practice stops and then the behaviours drift away. I know that measurement is a key driver for me to permanently changing exercise and eating habits… so to make the bigger changes, I’m going to be focusing on a smaller change of extending my tracking behaviour.

This starts with the purchase of a Fitbit (partly funded by the Christmas voucher I got from work) to track the everyday activity. Add to that Runkeeper (for runs and walks) plus MyFitnessPal (for food/calories) that is giving me enough tracking – and more importantly reminders to phone and email – to keep me focused.

It’s not quite enough though. I’ve switched gyms, so it is now about 2 minutes from work (instead of the 15mins it was before). But more importantly, I have a gym buddy who has also signed up and we will be encouraging each other. That is a big change and should work to keep things going and help change habits.

Relationships

This is all about driving the connections. Picking up the phone more – so simple things like putting in reminders if all I’m only connecting over social media!! Getting out and about more when there are things going on. And I’m trying internet dating; I’ve had mixed reports from colleagues about this, but I may as well give it a go.

Career

I’m in my 3rd year in this role, with the 4th one heading rapidly towards me. it’s time for a change I think. Not a massive change, but I’m looking to try a few new things this year and have been talking to the management about opportunities. I’m going to be actively looking for speaking opportunities as well, to get back into that and build up a wider reputation. I know I’m good at what I do, I will be looking for occasions to get external recognition for it.

This year, I’m also going to be a mentor. I’ve been informally doing this with a friend over the last few months and now will be adding a formal mentor relationship through a group company initiative. Through a ‘Women’s Leadership Network’, they’re bringing women together across the wider group of IPG companies to support us in our careers. This brings in challenge – part of mentoring is challenging your own expectations and assumptions as well as the mentee’s, so that will be fun.

Experiences

There’s no Olympics this year – so what am I going to do! I’m already working on this. I’m going to be visiting Japan for the F1 and I can’t go all the way there without doing other things as well. I’ve set myself the challenge of completing the London Outer Orbital Path (or LOOP). Another challenge is to visit all of Wren’s churches in London. There’ll be more, I’m sure.

2013 ahead

So that’s it. Again, no resolutions, but this time a different way of documenting my ambitions and about how I frame my thinking for the year. Change. Connect. Challenge. It’s all about that.

Jan 02

2012 Review

How was 2012 for you? For me, it was pretty good – although not so good for some of the people around me who faced their own set of hard challenges.

But taking a look back at what my ambitions for the year were, they were not as successful as they should have been. For some of them, I over achieved…but for others, didn’t really even scratch the surface. I’m not going to go through each point, but going to take a larger view, ready for this year’s ambitions – splitting up my aspects of life into Physical, Relationships, Career and Experiences.

Physical

This started to so well, with consistent training to get myself ready for the Sports Relief 3 Mile run. I gathered the sponsors and prepped the body and ran up and down the Mall for 3 miles. That’s probably the longest I have run since cross-country at school. But then, it stopped. No goal, no driver, so back to bad habits. The occasional gym session, the occasional long walk, but not consistent, so no sustained change made. It’s not as though I don’t know how it all works, just not got the motivation!

Relationships

Reflecting on this over the holidays, it was definitely a poor year. And not just on the dating front (dating, what’s that?). I let family and friend relationships wane at times without putting enough energy into them. Because I was too busy at times doing other things – see the experience section! Also because my default at times is to be hermit like.

Career

A holding year. Carried on as usual, although some team members changed in my direct team, the peer group stayed pretty much the same. On a wider front, there was an occasional TV or press appearance, but again, quiet and low-key.

Experiences

Lots and lots and lots. Mainly Olympics! Think I’ll do another post with a full review of the activities I did get up to this year. I did not get a volunteer role, despite being on the reserve list all the way to the Games but made up for it by buying lots of tickets for Olympics and Paralympics.

The 2012 Ambitions

This is what I said I was going to do over the past year. Some worked, other’s didn’t.

  1. Consistently do exercise. This needs to be built into my daily activity. I’ve reactivated my gym membership – a work benefit – and am getting support through Twitter. This used to be easy…now too many things get in the way.
  2. Do 6 planned walks over the year. There’s a great book about walks around London, with the Capital Ring also looking good. A few more of these to be added this year.
  3. Visit 5 new UK places. I’m running out of close Cathedrals, but still got Bath on the list to do.
  4. Do 5 new experiences. No idea what this will involve. Hopefully it will include volunteering at the Olympics. I’ve had my first interview, just waiting to hear if I get accepted.
  5. Blog more. I’m in my 6th year of blogging and I don’t do nearly enough!
Jan 15

Playing the tourist

I decided to take a day playing tourist around London yesterday, something I do often other places, but rarely around the town i live in. The day started with Westminster Abbey. At £16 entry, it’s not cheap and unlike StPauls there’s no right to re-entry across the year, it’s a one stop deal. It’s expensive and only going to be worth it if you like wondering churches a lot! However, if you take the plunge, I recommend paying the extra £3 for the guided tour. You get over 90 minutes with an expert and get to go in places the other tourists don’t, such as under the rood screen and, prbobaly most interesting, into the shrine area of St Edward the Confessor. My biggest disappointment was that we could not take pictures at all inside the Abbey. You can buy postcards, but that does not work if all my other cathedral collections are digital!

London in Jan

Next was lunch at Asia De Cuba, in the St Martin’s Hotel. It’s not somewhere I’d normally go, but they were cooking at A Taste of Christmas and pushing their fixed price lunch – very good food, lovely surroundings.

Coconut Explosion

The National Gallery was next, to spend some time in my favourite room. If I was only ever allowed to see one gallery room again, it would be this one, Room 34. It has Whistlejacket by Stubbs dominating and is full of masterpieces from Turner, Gainsborough and Constable. A wonderful place. I also went to stare at the Ambassadors for a while.

The Ambassadors

Then across to the Savoy hotel for a cocktail. It’s one of those things on my list of ‘you must do this’. Great cocktail, gorgeous surroundings, brilliant staff and obscene prices. I’ve done it, but won’t be rushing to do it again – unless i win lots on the lottery. Then I’d buy a glass of their cheapest champagne (£17) and their most expensive (£162) and and see if I can taste the difference!

Final event of the day was my first trip to the National Theatre, to see A Comedy of Errors with Lenny Henry. I loved this, an engaging production in a modern setting. Shakespeare can be difficult to follow (I’d read up on the plot before hand, just in case) but all the players really brought the story to life. I really need to go to the theatre more, given I live in a city which has loads of productions. This is the first show I’ve seen for years.

In summary, a brilliant – if expensive – tourist day. I need to plan more!

A Comedy of Errors

Jan 02

Past and Future 2012

Time to look back and look forward again. So how did I get on with my ambitions for the last year?

So here are the 2011 ambitions.

1. Lose 1 stone. Again, not a huge target, but it’s achievable with minimal changes. I’ve got the iphone apps all set up, with Shapeup for food tracking and Runmeter for walking/running tracking and I’m writing up my exercise plans.

  • It worked…for a while. The training was happening, the food was being tracked and then it all stopped. I got a cold and a chest infection and was not able to do anything much for nearly 2 months…then I never picked it up again. I need a support structure to keep the motivation going.

2. Do 6 planned walks over the year. Last year, I did 3 group walks, which I found a good way to get some exercise and meet new people and just get out and about!. So I’m going to double that number, through a few walking groups in the areas.

  • I just about managed this. Petworth, Kinver, Canterbury to Whitstable, Boston, Cheddar Gorge, Brean Down and Southampton. Not all of them were long, but they were out and about.

3. Visit 5 new UK places. Another repeat, but just carrying on with the theme of cathedrals. I’m thinking at least Canterbury, Bath and Chichester..we’ll see about the others.

  • I did more foreign cathedrals than UK ones, but I managed the new UK places. Canterbury, Whitstable, Southampton, Petworth and Chichester.

4. Do 5 new experiences. The first is getting set up, a driving experience at Silverstone. I’m looking at Burlesque dancing classes, cooking classes and a few others, but open to suggestions!

  • I did the driving experience, in fact I ended up with 3 different varieties of them this year. Single seater around Silverstone, driving Mercedes on skid pans and being a passenger in a dragster and race car in Abu Dhabi. I went to Goodwood Revival and spent an afternoon with VIP treatment in the Paddock Club at the German GP. I went to a pop festival and a classical conference; cycled along the Santa Monica beach in LA and had a cooking lesson. I went to 4 GPs, explored Prague and Istanbul. I camped – 3 times! A great year for doing things :-)

So how about 2012. What are my ambitions for this coming year. Well, first of all, I’m repeating last years. Why not, they make a good base for the year.

1. Consistently do exercise. This needs to be built into my daily activity. I’ve reactivated my gym membership – a work benefit – and am getting support through Twitter. This used to be easy…now too many things get in the way.

2. Do 6 planned walks over the year. There’s a great book about walks around London, with the Capital Ring also looking good. A few more of thise to be added this year.

3. Visit 5 new UK places. I’m running out of close Cathedrals, but still got Bath on the list to do.

4. Do 5 new experiences. No idea what this will involve. Hopefully it will include volunteering at the Olympics. I’ve had my first interview, just waiting to hear if I get accepeted.

5. Blog more. I’m in my 6th year of blogging and I don’t do nearly enough!

That’s all. I know it’s more of the same, but they work for me.

Jun 02

Motorsport at the Palace

I like F1, a fandom that has crept up on me over the last few years, but my experience of in-person car events has been limited to work related trips, the Paris Motor Show (which was far more shiney than any tech show) and a McLaren F1 test day at Silverstone (the benefit of working for a sponsor at the time).

However, this past weekend, there was an opportunity to change that, with Motorsport at the Palace, a sprint event being held for the first time in Crystal Palace for the first time in 10 years. It’s a timed event, run over a short course open to cars of all kinds, from a 107 year old Humber through to this year’s Tesla, an all electric car. The crowd in general skewed older than the average tech event I’d usually go to, but perhaps with a similar gender ratio. There were a lot more families though, many of them Dads passing on their passion. I had a great time, so looking forward to my next trip to something similar.

The Humber, built in 1903. Definitely a case of sitting ‘on’ the car.

Crystal Palace Sprint Racing

The Tesla, 2010. Many, many comments overhead in the crowd about this, mostly astonishment at its acceleration without any noise at all, except wheel spin.

Crystal Palace Sprint Racing