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Jetlag optimism

I was indeed optimistic yesterday when I thought I was over my post-Japan jet lag already. After falling asleep at 9pm on the night of arrival back in London (over 24 hours since waking up in Tokyo!), I slept for a solid 9 hours and woke up yesterday morning, refreshed and ready for action.

Or “ironing”, as it turned out.

Just as I was getting cocky, I was hit with the “sleepy stick” at about 8pm last night and fell asleep at some point around 9pm. Sadly, I was wide awake and ready for action at 4:30am this morning.

While I predict my mind and body will be in rag order by about 6pm this evening, there is definitely one positive side effect of all this: I’ve just spent the last hour clearing out my work email inbox, which was slightly chock-a-block after two weeks of holidays.

Even better news: there were precisely four emails about of 250 that required me to do anything. Everything else had been addressed while I was away. Delegation in action!

So now I’m ready for the week ahead with a clear inbox. Always a good way to begin a Monday – especially one where I’ve basically forgotten how to work after relaxing for two weeks.

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Post-holiday blues

We flew back from Tokyo yesterday and I’m really feeling it today. Not the jetlag – I managed to stay awake until a reasonable time last night, then slept right through to 6am. So I’m feeling pretty awake and ‘switched on’.

No. It’s more of a psychological post-holiday come down.

I’m missing Japan…big time.

But rather than dwell on this, I’m going through our holiday snaps and enjoying the memories. Feeding the monkeys in Kyoto…wandering through Dotonbori in Osaka…super-fantastic sushi in Tokyo. Fantastic.

In some ways, it was a really quick holiday, but in other ways I feel we’ve been away from home for *ages*. I’ll admit it was great to sleep in my own bed last night. And to wake up in a room I recognised!

Most of today was spent dealing with unpacking, laundry and tidying up. Looking at the various momentous picked up along the way – and the various gifts for our nieces and nephews. (I never knew so much Hello Kitty merchandise actually existed!). Generally getting back into the swing of things. Back to work tomorrow, which will no doubt be a shock to the system.

So, thank you Japan – thank you patient, polite and understanding people of Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo. I’ll definitely be back!

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Lots of Apple loveliness

Let’s get this out of the way first. Despite being in an extremely unhepful (relatively speaking) timezone, I stayed awake to watch this week’s Apple keynote launch of their new goodies.

So, being in Tokyo right now, this meant I had to wait up until 2am local time and then watch two hours of badly streamed Apple news, all on a small iPad Mini screen and a less than excellent hotel wifi connection.

Actually, the difficult bit wasn’t staying awake until kick-off, despite a full-on day here. It wasn’t staying awake during the event itself. It was actually getting to sleep once the keynote was over and a serious bout of “new Apple gadget” excitement was buzzing around in my brain.

Sad, I know.

So. To business… Will I or won’t I be getting a new iPhone?

Yep, I’ll be getting a new iPhone. I don’t think there’ll be any surprise at that. Between the models available, I’m almost positive I’ll go for the iPhone 6 Plus, with 128 GB of memory. I love the idea of a bigger screen and the promised better battery. I also like the way the bigger model includes some iPad-type interface design when turned to landscape orientation.

I’ve already sold my iPhone 5s online, to a well-known trade-in site, and am happy with the cash offered for it. I’ll be ordering my new phone at midnight Cupertino time Friday, which is helpfully 4pm here in Tokyo. No big hassle there!

(Incidentally, I’m not looking to upgrade with Vodafone – I haven’t got my handset from the mobile carrier in years, as I don’t want to be tied to a locked down version of the nadset. Plus, sim-only monthly plans are very, very good deals. Finally, resale value is higher if the handset isn’t “locked”.)

I’m very glad Apple didn’t announce the launch of the Apple Watch for next week as well, though. I’d be broke! I’m almost certaily going to get one, for various reasons. But with a 2015 launch, I can start to save up now. I’m looking forward to learning more about what the watch can and can’t do over the coming months.

In the interim, I used a very favourable exchange rate and lower prices here in Tokyo to get myself a new iPad Air. All tech loveliness aside, I saved myself a small fortune and received the best ever customer service.

The team in the Apple Store in Shibuya were *amazing* and couldn’t have been more helpful.

Including their excellent recommendation for a Tonkatsu restaurant around the corner.

We went and it was fantastic – thanks guys!

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Japanese air travel

Our flight between Osaka and Tokyo yesterday afternoon highlighted one more difference between the UK and Japan…

Japan Airlines staff managed to board our plane with all of its *260 passengers* in just 15 minutes with no missing passengers, no arguments over who is sitting where and no passengers attempting to insert luggage the size of a VW Beetle into the overhead compartments.

People filed into the plane quickly and quietly, took their assigned seats and sat back awaiting take-off. I was dumbfounded, as I’m used to the European style of noisy and confused boarding, which frequently delays flights.

I can only attribute this difference to two things: the professinalism and skill of the cabin crew (they seem like they actually *give* a damn) and the fact that Japanese air travellers read instructions on their bording passes and just do what they’re told.

There was no queue-jumping and nobody racing for their flight.

Japan: how do you do this?! How can we learn from you?!

Yours,
A frustrated frequent-flyer.

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Security and Manners

Something that really hit home this afternoon at Osaka Airport was the Japanese attitude to security. We both realised over the last few days that we’ve hardly seen any police on the streets in either Kyoto or Osaka.

Further, people tend to leave their belongings lying around in public, apparently without fear they’ll be stolen. In coffee shops, customers will leave bags, laptops or even mobile phones on the table they want to secure, while they go off to order their drinks.

At first, I thought they were mad. But then I realised that I’ve just lived in the UK too long. In London, anything not nailed down will be picked up and walked away with by some oik.

Leave a bag alone in London for two minutes and it becomes a “suspicious package”. Here, it’s someone saying “I want this seat”.

Yes, there’s been tons more terrorism in the UK than in Japan. But what I love about attitudes here is the simple trust people have in their fellow citizens.

Airport security here at Osaka was swift, efficient and friendly. No loud shouting at passengers, some real assistance from the security staff and a feeling that you were engaging in something worthwhile but also easy. Everyone involved was unfailingly polite.

I’ve also realised that I’m getting comfortable with this way of being. I plugged in my iPhone to charge while I went off to get a drink a few minutes ago. I’m slightly worried that London is going to be a bit of a rude shock to the system when we get home next weekend.

Still. I have a week in Tokyo ahead of me to enjoy life here before that.

And I realise that the couple of weeks I’ve spent in Japan don’t make me a sociological expert on life here. But I like what I’ve seen and it puts life in London into perspective.

Not always for the better.

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Onsen fun

Yesterday, I spent three hours naked with about 100 Japanese men, lolling about in hot water. No, this isn’t the beginning of some tabloid exposee on my private life. I spent the afternoon at an onsen, in Osaka.

Actually, it was more like a super-onsen and not in the least traditional. More like a hyper-onsen. Spread over 6 floors, with an attached hotel and restaurants, it was an onsen for people who prefer their spas big. All that said, I really enjoyed it.

Spaworld like most onsens, has gender-segregated facilities. Unlike most onsens, it alternates them by month, as they contain different pools, saunas etc. So yesterday, it being September, I could only access the ‘Asian’ section. This was fine with me, as I wasn’t that interested in experiencing recreations of an Ancient Greek sweatbox.

If you’ve not visited one before, here’s what you need to know: onsens are traditionally hot springs where you can soak and ease away tensions of the day or address ongoing medical issues. Nowadays, they are accompanied by all sorts of modern spa facilities such as steam rooms, massages, facials and the rest.

An addition, fairly important note: Being gender-segregated, all business is conducted sans clothing. Naked. In the buff. You get me?

In my research on the onsen experience, I read all kinds of reviews that included the writers being completely and utterly freaked out by the need for nudity. There was a correlation between this and their US nationality, you won’t be surprised to learn. Most Europeans (the Brits being an exception here) didn’t blink an eye at the requirement to get nekkid and dive in.

So if you can get your head around the nudity and just focus on the relaxation, you’ll have a ball.

On my last visit to Tokyo, I enjoyed a half-day in another modern onsen and was amazed at how relaxed and generally chilled out it left me feeling. I honestly walked out on a high, feeling like there wasn’t a single bone in my body. I was the human equivalent of a very relaxed jelly-fish.

So I was keen to repeat the experience here in Osaka.

I was also amazed that it only took me 10 minutes to completely comfortable with the lack of clothing. I’m not a prude, nor am I an exhibitionist, but the idea of an entire afternoon naked with only strangers for company didn’t exactly thrill me.

I shouldn’t have worried.

As a European visitor, you spend so much time trying to figure out the various rules and trying not to break them that your naked flesh is soon the last thing on your mind. You get a locker for your shoes (and an accomapnying key), a locker for your clothes (and replacement ‘pyjamas’ to wear when in public areas),  cleaning kit (including razor, soap etc) and towels.

You’re expected to strip off and clean yourself like you’re about to perform open-heart surgery. This is taken very seriously – the last thing they want is for you to get into the hot spring bringing all your filth with you.

Wash first, soak later.

You do get a ‘modesty towel’, something most people I know would call a face-cloth. While some people do keep it firmly in front of their nether-regions, most pop it on their head or around their neck and just get on with things.

It’s also preferable to be quiet – though some of my fellow onsen enthusiasts ignored that rule yesterday. It’s supposed to be a place for relaxation and quiet contemplation. But yesterday’s facilities included a bar, so the beers naturally led to some raised voices.

“What about money?” I hear you ask, quite logically. Well, you’ll be pleased to learn that you don’t have to tuck 1,000 Yen between your butt cheeks for beverages. Instead, you get an electronic bracelet, which you can use to pay for food and services (massages, facials etc).

You can easily run up quite a bill, so keep a watch on what you spend.

Yesterday’s facilities included outdoor hot springs, which were definitely my favourite. There are few things as nice as sitting in 42C water outside while the sun shines down on your face.

A close second was the salt sauna. Here, you sit in a very, very hot sauna after covering your body (not face) with some mineral salts. I have to say, I’m not a believer in most alernative medicine, but this took the pain and swelling out of all my mosquito stings within minutes. And left me with skin soft as a baby’s bottom all over.

One downside to visiting these places in Japan as a European is that you’re invariably in the minority, racially. Meaning you definitely stand out in the crown. That means lots of pointing and talking about you. And your body.

This was mostly by the younger kids, while their embarassed dads tried to hush them up. Though one gang of older teens did blatantly talk about me (and my hairy chest – obvious from their hand movements) while I sat next to them in the sauna.

I soon got used to it and spent most of my time with my eyes shut.

Another minor downside is the tendency for these large onsense to have TVs in the sauna. I know! Massive big-screen TVs pumping out Japanese ganeshows. So it’s much more difficult to relax in there. But it’s still fun, trying to figure out what the hell is going on during the show.

All of that said, I’d heartily recommend visiting one of these places if you ever get the chance.
If I come into money some day, I’ll open one in London. Until then, I’ll just to have to use the sauna in my apartment building and mumble in Japanese to myself, to recreate the experience.

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Osaka observations

Three days into our time in Osaka, and I’ve noticed the following about life here:

Life moves at a much faster pace than in Kyoto. It’s a bigger, brasher city and has a real no-sensense feel about it. People are still incredibly friendly – this is Japan, after all – but it’s all go, all the time. I’m viewing it as a warm up for Tokyo tomorrow.

Cyclists can apparently do as they please. Seriously. For a country that seems to pride itself on following all kinds of complex rules, Osaka’s cyclists buck the trend and take their bikes wherever they like, whenever they like. “No cycling” signs are ignored, pedestrians are viewed as moving targets and the pavement is their playground. Be warned.

The zoo here is just sad and dilapidated. I’d give it a wide berth if you plan to visit Osaka. It’s what I imagine a zoo would like be in a Soviet republic in about 1960. The animals looked miserable and were kept in enclosures just too small to be humane. It was a definite downer and we left early…

People here have no problems with staring at you if you look different. And we, being white Europeans, definitely look different. It’s bad enough on the subway, where other passengers will look you up and down, but today I spent three hours in an onsen relaxing in various spas and pools and saunas. People were shameless in staring at me. It was a little unnerving. I don’t remember it being this way in Tokyo last year…

(Re. the onsen, I choose to take it as a compliment, since it’s a no-clothing environment. I assume they were just blown away by my buff physique. More on that in another post).

Our Osaka favourite has been Dotonbori. The neon, the Japanese hipsters, the food – it’s just a great night out. Despite all the staring and pointing. Our hotel is just one subway station away, so we’ve come here three evenings in a row and enjoyed somethig different each time.

If you ever visit from abroad, I can definitely recommend the Osaka “Amazing Pass. You can get one and two-day versions and it gets you free subway travel and entry into a host of top attractions.

Finally, I’m ashamed to admit that I’m now addicted to Starbucks’ Matcha Frappucino. I’m about 20 years too old to love a Starbucks drink this much. I’ll be bringing some matcha tea home with me to experiment with making my own in my Nutri-Bullet.

Onwards, to Tokyo!