Notes from Japan
As we may have mentioned, oh, a couple of times, we sneaked off to Japan recently – just us. No kids. No significant others. No responsibilities. Just two old friends, spending a lovely week in a favourite country –wandering, fabric shopping, eating, and exploring some of the little corners of Tokyo and Kyoto that weren’t covered in previous family travels. Needless to say, it was so fun. SO FUN. And because we’re still not ready to let go, we thought we’d post a few of Klarissa’s happy snaps and my ramblings about the places we loved.
Fog Linen was high on the wish list when we arrived in Tokyo and it didn’t disappoint. It’s such a cute shop with seriously tasteful linen clothing, homewares and the Japanese aprons of your dreams. Klarissa bought a lovely heavy denim-ish one, and also convinced the gorgeous shop assistant to pose for a photo – she seriously looked straight out of a Japanese sewing book.
One of our favourite Tokyo neighbourhoods this trip was Daikanyama. It’s very close to Shinjuku but quiet and leafy, with lots of sweet boutiques and some seriously upmarket shops to gawp at. A real highlight was the Mina Perhonen store, full of such beautiful dresses and tops in exquisitely embroidered fabrics. If you were on the hunt for an unconventional but gorgeous wedding dress this place would make your day. Cocca is also worth a visit, if only for the lovely, leafy shop façade. They have a small range of fabrics there, plus pretty textiles and gifts. Also in the ‘hood is the most amazing bookstore ever: Tsutaya Books. Worth a visit for the modern architecture alone. It’s intimidatingly cool, full of serious young Japanese hipsters, great art books and magazines for miles. Sadly no sewing pattern books, the best range we found was down the road a bit at Kinokuniya Shinjuku Main Store.
Tokyu Hands for enamel and kitchen ware. Loft for washi tapes. Muji for classic Japanese staples like striped tops, denim shirts and good undies. Mumokuteki in Kyoto for quirky clothes, curated vintage, straw hats, socks, ceramics and kitchen wares and a good vegetarian café. And 7-11 for cheap beer and decent gyoza, which they microwave for you – so thoughtful.
Let’s be honest – a huge focus of our trip was fabric. We’d been dreaming of days of non-stop fabric shopping, but ended up doing much less than expected. I’m not sure why, perhaps because we bought so much at every shop we entered we had to back off! In Tokyo, we didn’t really stray beyond Nippori Fabric Town – and really, with a whole street dedicated to fabric shops, there’s no need to look much further. The main attraction in Nippori is Tomato (I think there are five stores), and once we got inside the main Tomato store – five floors just packed with lovely things – we stayed ‘til closing time. Our other favourite from last time in Tokyo, Nagato, was still a winner, plus it has a couple of smaller shops directly behind which sell a pretty great selection of offcut knits and woollen woven fabrics.
Despite the many joys of Nippori, I’m gonna call it – Nomura Tailor in Kyoto is my favourite fabric shop. It’s still multi-storey but smaller than Tomato so feels less overwhelming. The fabric selection is just divine, the linens in particular are next-level, and we would have been happy just splashing around in the enormous offcut bins for days. Plus there’s a whole floor for notions and pattern books. The other great thing about Nomura Tailor is that both shops (the main one and smaller, craftier store) are in the centre of Kyoto, so it’s not a big trek. If you have a few days in town you can ponder your decisions a bit more, no panic purchases. Oh – and take your passport when you fabric shop, you can get a tax exemption.
Linnet is a tiny store with some of the most lovely linens ever, plus clothing and their own pattern books. It’s very expensive so we just browsed, but sometimes just looking is enough.
Shops in Japan have some unpredictable opening hours and sadly in Kyoto, I missed Walnut, a highly recommended wool store, because it’s shut on Sundays and Mondays. Wah. Next time….
Embarrassing confession: I’m not a big fan of Japanese food. I know, I know – it’s shameful. But try as I might (and god knows I’ve tried), I’ve never developed a taste for sushi or sashimi, I don’t like noodles much and wasabi just sucks. Luckily Klarissa was very accommodating and even agreed to lunch at a burger café one day. Such bogans.
Despite all of my limitations we found really good food, and the highlight of the trip was definitely the discovery of a couple of gyoza and champagne bars in Tokyo – Champagne and Gyoza Bar and Gyoza Bar Comme a Paris. Gyoza are my go-to in Japanese restaurants, I could eat fried dumplings for days, but I never would have thought to team them with champagne. Trust me when I tell you it’s a winning combination – a perfect match. If I could cook and had a clue about hospitality I’d open a similar bar in Melbourne, I think it would be packed 24/7. If anyone wants to give it a go, you have my blessing. I’ll be there at the opening.
Other yum places:
We stayed in Shimokitazawa in Tokyo, which is small scale and relaxed, with lots of vintage stores and good cafes. Our favourite is the aptly-named Kate café – their snacks are sensational I had the best iced coffee ever, plus there’s sweet little bits and pieces to buy.
We also had a delicious lunch at Tolo Bakery Café, a very cute restaurant that looks a little like a ski chalet and has a steady clientele of Japanese ladies-who-lunch lining up for a table. There’s a bakery downstairs that pumps out Totoro cream puffs and I’ve never felt more guilty than when I cut the head off one of my kids’ favourite film characters. Bad mother. At least it was a good cream puff.
In Kyoto, we had sensational udon noodles at Omen. I’ll never get the whole cold noodle thing, but the hot version was awesome. And we were lucky to have the most amazing home-cooked breakfasts on the planet at our guesthouse, Kyoto Art Hostel. It’s a sweet, fun little hostel but the shared bathrooms may not be for everyone… Well worth it for the traditional breakfast though!
Sparkling sake is a thing. Ask for it.
If there’s one big change we noticed in Japan in two years, it’s the coffee. Coffee culture seems to have taken a stronger hold and we didn’t have to resort to a Starbucks or vendor machine cold coffee once. It made such a difference to two grumpy in the morning Melbourne types. Caffeine highlights included Bear Pond Espresso – a tiny hole in the wall in Shimokitazawa with very weird opening hours and lots of rules and etiquette around taking photos (don’t), sitting for too long (don’t) and opening laptops (don’t) – all enforced by a couple of rather terrifying hipsters. But worth it for the coffee. Arabica in Kyoto is good also, plus a couple of others that we wandered past. I was recommended the Decaf Sucks app before I left, which helped locate decent coffee in every neighbourhood. Life saving.
Japanese women are so stylish – and so well groomed! I’m totally stumped that so many women can live in big, busy, hot cities yet always look totally uncrumpled, clean and fresh. We felt like vagabonds in comparison. Tell me your secret, ladies. I beg you.
Sayonara Japan, we love you.