Tag Archives: Asia

Puzzling Tokyo in the Sakura season

Even just a few days in Tokyo were enough to be dazzled

the 3 reasons why Tokyo is an easy city break destination and a quick wedding etiquette guide!

  • For the outstanding service: ease of transport, wifi freely accessible, clean and easily accessible convenience….The city seems designed for working busy people, it’s expensive but convenient.
  •  it’s exotic, or at least different for Westerners. As high-tech’ and developed as Japan can be, it’s still surprising and gives you that exciting feeling of adventure – even if it just means asking your way and manage to take the tube in that big underground jungle of theirs.
Tokyo loo flush
When going to the loo is an adventure!!!

 

  • it’s varied, and visually beautiful. Each neighbourhood is different, from the neon lit busiest in the world cross road of Shibuya, to the refreshing quiet of temples and the maze of narrow streets in the old neighbourhoods of Yanaka. There’s culture, fun and crazy things for all.

When to go?

April is probably the single best period to head of to Japan, we caught the beginning of the Sakura, and more than just a beautiful tourist attraction it really marks the change of season; it’s a time of renewal and Tokyoites visibly appreciate it. I loved how Ueno park was so busy with workers organising picnics after work.

Catching the coming of age ceremony in the winter (2nd Monday of January), and maybe coupling it with a trip to the mountain would probably be my next choice.

Avoid going in June / July as you would hit the rainy season.

And as Tokyo is not exactly cheap nor next door, a simple city short break doesn’t really make sense. I really wish I’d had more time to go to the Mt Fuji, to Kyoto, to the mountains…

The reason why I skipped quite a bit of the main tourist attractions is that we were mainly there to attend our friends’ wedding. Other friends who could stay longer and had time to tick more of the “to-do” boxes and voted the the sumo fighting as their main highlight…I guess I’ll just have to go back!

Japanese weddings

If you thought getting married, anywhere in the world, was a complicated matter – let alone finding the right partner in the first place – then try Japan. The hair-splitting etiquette steps this game by a few extra notches! The beautiful and emotional ceremony that ensues makes it all worth it though.

a few fun facts that seriously surprised us Europeans…

– I’m a guest, what present do I bring? fresh money, i.e. brand-new, crisp, unused bank notes in a nice envelope that you will hand out to the hostess when signing the register.

japanese wedding

– When is the wedding happening? on a lucky day of course. How is the lucky day determined I still haven’t fully grasped it but it seems to be a full time job description…

– I’m a non-Japanese guest, what do I wear?  locals and relatives will wear the traditional kimono but really most just wear classy European-style outfits.

– Am I going to share a table with the old aunties? unlikely, as the seating plan is a rather serious affair:

The bride and groom’s respective bosses should be seated at a prime table opposite the couple and be in charge of the opening speech…not the best man or the parents!? Or at least not in the first place: following the opening speech, everyone gets the opportunity to say a kind word.

The seating plan then continues in layers, the friends first and finally the family, placed in a sort of umbrella literally and figuratively stepping back and overlooking their (grown-up) little ones starting their new life from the distance…which is surprising at first, however, the more I think about it, the more I think this is a healthy approach to family relationship.

Sake casks – “Kagami-biraki” or Breaking-open the sake cask. In an utterly ethnocentric way, I compared this to the European cake-cutting tradition (yes, shame on me). The couple breaks open the lid of the Sake barrel and cheers with their guests, a way to bring good fortune and fertility we were told. And we got the most thoughtful tie-me-down present: our own name-engraved sake cups, in Japanese characters of course. Isn’t that the coolest Hikidemono ?

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To Read and Watch before you go

*1Q84 by  Haruki Murakami is the book I got recommended most and it was certainly a fair piece of advise! I had thus far postponed the reading of the best-seller by laziness and other petty excuses but didn’t regret plunging into the 3 volume heavy story.Japanese writer Murakami attends ceremony in Jerusalem

Not only Murakami hooks you in like no other Japanese author, but also it’s fantastic to travel in the city via the 2 main characters. A fan even created the corresponding map!! Thanks

*Lost in Translation

bill murray lost in translation 1536x960 wallpaper_www.wallpaperno.com_55

*Tokyobling’s Blog 
a well made journalistic blog I still keep reading since I came back, always full of very interesting, detailed and almost daily cultural snippets

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Burma – recipe for a great night out in Yangon?

Burma has been hitting the headlines in the last few months as it starts opening up to the world –  for the traveller who passes by for a couple of weeks like me though, it is pretty clear that there is still a long way to go before it becomes a more “normal” country, with more freedom and more prosperity for everyone, not just the few at the top.

That being said, in addition to the real treasures this country has to offer and that are very well documented in various guides, Burma, or more precisely its former capital Yangon is also, surprisingly, a place where you can party!

We are far from places like Thailand or HK but that is precisely what makes the place pretty fun! Here is the recipe for a great night out in Yangon:

The first ingredient is to find yourself a local friend – if you are lucky enough the person seating next to you in the plane can turn out to be a cool Burmese chap who 1) makes your life much easier when you land at 6am and that you need to go to the black market to change your USD into Kyats  / find a cab 2) knows where to go out! This ingredient is not compulsory but it clearly spices up your night!

The second ingredient is a yummy diner: best is to go simple and just eat in on the many eateries where for USD5-10 you’ll have a real feast! Burmese food is influenced by the neighbouring countries so Chinese, Thai and Indian/Bangladesh are among the standards fares but Burma also has some yummy and flavourful dishes to offer for the curious minds. If you are brave enough you can also try out the local spirits such as Grand Royal Whisky. If you care about your stomach, stick to beer though…

The third ingredient is the club. Not so easy to find, especially since the place we went does not have a name. That is where the local friend comes really handy! If you don’t have one ,it seems like you will simply have to tell the taxi driver to go to the 9th floor night club, and hopefully he should take you to an entertainment complex with several clubs. In the lobby of the building there are several elevators, take the one on the right as the one on the left takes you to another club. Our guide literally called the elevator by manually opening the doors and shouting something – the elevator comes down and then take you to the9th floor.

Photo Dec 11, 1 28 08 AM

The last ingredient is some Burmese disco / rock / R&B; Still a burgeoning scene but some potential!

if you are a girl, one of the great benefits of partying there is that the security guys will make sure no one comes too close to you! Not sure if it was because we were the only white people in the club or it is a standard procedure.