Sketching, Spending Time at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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I love going to The Met but never in a large amount of unstructured time. It’s because I’ve finally been back in New York City long enough that I find a particular joy in repeat patterns of my own city life and in also knowing my limits with any cultural activity.

Almost three years back and I want to be an old lady, shuffling past everyone to see exactly what I want and nothing more. I want to complain about tourists under my breath while also being a tourist for a Sunday. I want to be too tired to see too many galleries, asking for lunch and an afternoon cup of coffee by the time I’ve gone up and down the main stairs twice. I want friends to tug me along to what they want to see until we can see no more, knowing that my hunger will triumph when you reach those immense front steps, warm or cold air hitting at once.

The hot dog stands out front are my forever friends. Once, drawing one of them, they came over to look at my notebook.

 

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It’s all about knowing my mood while there. It’s about finding favorite galleries and repeating them I move on.

I love finding the Chinese Court most times, even if I’m really looking for the bathroom. If you know your way around The Met, I commend you. I’m perpetually lost inside. On the way, though, I like to stop to take in those immense Buddhas, considering with respect the simple question: how did they get these in here?

The stark arts of the Northern Renaissance will always have a sway. I’ll stare at Netherlandish portraits over and over, both because they’re funnily giving you a side glance with shaming eyes and because they’re just so viscerally real. They look like real people, like the people on the streets, I always think, except in lots of black and white cloaks which is actually not that wholly different from New Yorker’s black wardrobe today.  

Portrait of Madame X  by Sargent is a favorite. Maybe it’s my New England yankee in me. I remember going into Boston to see Sargent’s work, both my artist mother and grandmother admiring his work. Perhaps a proto-feminist narrative lurking behind that falling dress, that scandalous barren shoulder, keeps me looking.

Another favorite is in the captivating Islamic galleries. The repeat patterns of the Iranian prayer niche, a mosaic of stunning color from 755, is arresting. It’s also a moment place to stop and consider how such scared, ancient items make their way into a museum in New York City, and what cultural exchange could (should?) look like under other circumstances.

I walked right past Woody Allen and Sun Yi back in December, right smack dab in front of the museum. I think might be the most New York  moment I’ve experienced yet. Goodbye its over for me, I’ll never have another Met moment like this. But I’ll keep coming back. I’ve got rooms to find before I die.

 

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Dumplings of Sunset Park, Brooklyn

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Sunset Park is about a twenty minute bus ride from my apartment, a ride that jostles through Bangladeshi, Orthodox Jewish, Chinese, and Mexican enclaves of the borough,  You’ll pass halal butchers with live birds, kosher bakeries packed on a Sunday afternoon, dim sum joints and dumpling houses easy to miss if you’re not looking, tacos stands and mango sliced on street corners with hot sauce. It’s a microcosm for all the recent immigrant patterns changing and shifting the food landscape of Brooklyn.

Sunset Park is home to Brooklyn’s Chinatown, too. There are two other Chinatowns in New York City of course, the oldest and most well-known Manhattan enclave as well as the currently expanding Queens’ community in Flushing. Brooklyn’s Chinatown formed in the 1980s with a mix of Cantonese speaking immigrants and more recent Mandarin speakers. It too shares new growth in common with its Queen’s sibling.

Walking 8th avenue in Sunset Park centers you on the main thoroughfare of Brooklyn’s Chinatown from where you can observe busy cafes, banquet halls, video stores, fishmongers, and grocers where (if you’re like me) you can stop to look at prickly durian fruits hanging from awnings with both reverence and trepidation. And of course, you’ll pass by many nondescript dumpling restaurants beckoning you to eat more than you’d expected was humanly possible.

I’m not an expert when it comes to Chinese food and Chinatowns–full disclosure–but after reading Edible Brooklyn Dumpling Tour of Sunset Park I thought I’d use dumplings as my guide to eat and draw a day’s worth of Sunset Park.

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The first stop was Great Taste Dumpling which is supposed to have some of the best and cheapest dumplings in Brooklyn. The inside was sparse and barebones but every seat was taken when we arrived, a testament to how good the owner’s 4-for-a-dollar dumplings are. We ordered boiled pork and chive dumplings and sesame pancakes stuffed with pork with several pours of the vinegar soy sauce poured into reused sriracha bottles to make everything that perfect bite of savory and salty. The owner of Great Taste is friendly and fast.  I found an article about the dumpling house’s purveyor from Open City quite poignant, speaking to the pleasure but obscured hard work behind the food immigrants sell,

Next, we kept our hungry stomaches going by settling down at Kei Feng Fu Dumpling. Similar to Great Taste, this dumpling house was minimal but packed. While we were there a church group ordered around a hundred dumplings which the small staff didn’t even blinked at. We opted to try pan-fried pork dumplings and another sesame pancake,. These dumplings were  of the  cheap 4-for-a-dollar and delicious variety as well.

To change up our the dumpling palate, we ended the crawl at He Yi Yiao Chi, which is hard to recognize as a restaurant with so many car ads plastered to it’s outside but don’t be fooled, it’s worth it. Inside, we ordered six pork ting buns for 3.00. Each bun was light and fluffy on the outside, with a dark savory pork filling inside. Six buns with hot sauce and vinegar soy sauce was more than enough to fill our savory cravings for the day.

Though we couldn’t leave without satisfying a sweet tooth so we stopped by a Chinese bakery to grab a slice of honeycomb cake, something I’ve never tried before but it had an irresistible but strange texture with a deep molasses sweetness.

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A First Time Trip to Kyoto

 

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kyoto_travel_guide_intro Setting Out for Kyoto

We traded the lights of Japan’s largest city to spend some time in the county’s old capital. With two weeks of travel planned in Japan, give or take a day on either side for the leg of the flight, making the Kansai region our second stop made the most efficient use of our time during a first trip to Japan. Looking back on our brief, wondrous trip,  I’m glad we didn’t overextend our ambitions for exploring more of the country. Kyoto was an easy next step but turned out to be a beautiful contrast to Tokyo.

The Shinkansen train ride was a special delight, a bucket list dream for me as a train fan. We stopped before the train departed to pick up a sushi bento box at a neighboring department store depichika, buying paper cups of coffee from the train car attendants while on the ride. As I had observed all over Japan, the train was a mix of a new, shiny future with touches that felt like near relics of the past. We reserved seats on the right side of the train to see Mt. Fuji on but the clouds had their way with obscuring our view.

Though it seemed like business travelers used the train route the most frequently by the number of suit-clad individuals we counted near us, there were many types of Japanese people on the train. The everyday faces highlighted the absolute ease of to travel around the island nation.The train hugs near to the coast too, situating just how most of the Japanese live near the water in dense networked cities. The train window framed the grey, green, and mountains on the horizon, a slice of Japanese life inbetween Tokyo and Kyoto.

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Staying

We arrived in Kyoto and hailed a cab outside Kyoto Station, the first and only one we used in Japan. We (believe it or not) mostly enjoy long walks while traveling. Not that the experience wasn’t first rate, though. The driver rushed to get our bags, wearing the well-known cab driver gloves, even stopping during the ride so he could call our host for us to figure out the exact directions since we could hardly communicate with him in English.

The little details made an everyday interaction–a cab idling outside a train station— feel just a bit deviated, emblematic of how I felt about a lot of Japanese culture: familiar but changed, ever so slightly. The cab driver drove us through tiny old city center streets to a restaurant where we would pick up our key for the apartment.

We rented another apartment with Airbnb for an easy, central stay. The apartment was a studio with futon style mats with a balcony, located in Gion. Gion is a nightlife district known for a beautiful street called Shimbashi Dori. It’s home to traditional teahouses and omakase restaurants, with picturesque walks amongst machiya townhouses never destroyed in the war.

Many people congregate near a bench on Shimbashi to catch a Geisha en route to an appointment in the early evening. The fascination with Geisha is a little strange for me—potentially wrought with cultural stereotypes I’d rather not engage in without more historical specificity–but we strangely enough ended up seeing a Geisha by chance one evening while strolling for dinner. It was a flash and then she was gone, a brief introduction to something I’m out of depths in.

Since Kyoto is more spread out than Tokyo and with fewer train lines, as well a region possessing what is likely 2,000 temples and shrines far and close to the city center, we picked a well-known neighborhood near the river figuring we could at the very least walk to what’s closest to us then strategically plan how to see farther sites. Though we didn’t rent them, biking around the city and along the river would have been a perfect late summer way to explore greater Kyoto.  We enjoyed walking the gridded and flat streets of central city, though, using train lines and buses when need be.

Upon settling in I could already sense that Kyoto had a very different tone than Tokyo.  The mountains in the mist, hovering around the city, greeted us on the apartment balcony like an emblem of their differences.

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IMG_701120150918_133429 20150918_121946_001 IMG_7128 IMG_7171 IMG_7185Our Kyoto Itinerary

Kyoto is the old capital of Japan. It is home to history, traditional Japanese architecture, and hundreds upon hundreds of Shinto and Buddhist temples and shrines to encounter.  I felt more of the environment and the people in the change from Tokyo’s cosmopolitanism to Kyoto’s historical sense. It’s appeared a slower, smaller city that reminded me more of Boston compared to New York City, with a similar collegial charm. Kyoto’s low buildings and traditional machiya immediately provided an architectural contrast with much of Tokyo’s grey mid century modernist facade.

Sites of religious practice were everywhere to say the least– from alleyway shrines to other-worldly Zen temples set in hillside hamlets. The Japanese also seemed more than comfortable with this seamless integration of their economic life blending into religious devotion: not only were foreigner’s respectfully mixing in sites of national religions practice, everywhere you went the Japanese were also touring their own heritage. Often we’d catch an everyday business woman or man on a stop on for a quick devotion, be it in a shrine next to a Pachinko parlor or in a larger temple hovering on the periphery of the city. Though we expressed reserve in temples, not looking to offend by misunderstanding, we always felt welcome alongside them.

We paired down our to-do for the trip based on the sheer inability for us to see everything, focusing on selecting a few must sees, then allowing time to just hang around Central Kyoto’s neighboring districts.

We made sure to go to Fushimi Inari Shrine, a shinto shrine with hundreds of red-orange torii gates in Southern Kyoto, that requires a train ride farther from of the city center. Inari being the god of rice, there were thousands of fox statues with grains of rice in their mouths throughout the hike. We hiked the gates in the rain which while a bit muddier than I expected actually meant for us that there would be fewer intrepid tourists.  It was a transcendent experience in a downpour. My city girl canvas sneakers squeeked as rain belted the large tree leaves and the ground. Every minute or so you’d find some respite venturing between gates, up a hypnotic route to the top.

Gion where we slept was a superb base for exploring both food and temples. There were several temples in walking distance to the our apartment, including Chionin and Yasaka Shrine.  If you cross the Kamo river near Gion there are several busy alley streets with cheap food, teeming with expat nightlight as well as hip vintage stores and cafes tucked away. Just walking the neighborhoods off either side of the river in all directions from Gion turned out to  be a pleasant way to explore. We came across several antique stores off the beaten path this way. Venturing more southern of Gion, we discovered Cafe Arabica which brewed a great cup of coffee.

Nishiki Market alongside with the arcade area in downtown Kyoto offered the similar feel of Tokyo but with the added benefit that you’d discover a shrine right after you had just been trapped in a loud pachinko parlor. There is nothing quite like witnessesing a contemplative ceremony in an area full of shopping and modern life.  We spent a few days exploring this area, stopping in Nishiki market for food and to observe the hawkers.

Walking on Sanjo and into the neighborhoods north of Gion but on the other side of the river, ending at the Imperial Palace Gardens, provided a quieter stroll around residential Kyoto. Here we observed more of what a calm day to day life in Kyoto might be like. There were several Japanese boutiques and good restaurants tucked away in this area that I’d loved to visit again, like Cafe Bibliotek Hello.

Another farther expedition was going to the otherworldly Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Though busy with tourists, the sacred bamboo forrest is nonetheless awesome to walk through, like a stroll on another planet’s forests. Afterwards we went to  Tenryuji temple, a quick walk away, which is the head of an active zen buddhist sect. The temple is situated right near the mountains, incorporating the backdrop breathtakingly into the zen garden grounds. I’ve never seen moss treated as a central element to gardening until Japan. The area near both called Sagano is beautiful too. We spent a while just lounging near a river, watching wooden boat cruises passing by.

We made two day trips out to Kyoto. The first was to Osaka. known for it’s dinning scene, so we could stroll around Dotonbori while sampling the cities’ well known street food, great for budget traveling. The city reminded me of the lights and commotion of Tokyo but it was nice to be able to venture there and back to Kyoto in less than a few hours.

The second day trip we took was to Nara, the even older-er capital of Japan before it was moved to Kyoto, home to the largest buddha in Japan and (of course) sacred deer that roam around a reserve. We spent most of the time with the deer. The most memorable moment was sitting in the a park’s cafe, lounging on the table sipping Asahi dry beers, while deer came in and out of the restaurant, perching next to us as friends.

We left Kyoto with another day and half in Tokyo before flying home, a bit burnt out of being away but also awe struck with Japan. Kyoto was a quiet but lively and livable city. It was full of everything at once, a glimmer at another side to Japanese life and history.

 

 

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Batata Pita Bar

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My love affair with falafel started with Mamoun’s $2 sandwiches, enjoyed hastily between college classes.  But as of late my favorite is falafel variety is found at Batata, an israeli-style falafel cafe located on a sleepy strip of good restaurants and shops on the border Kensington and Windsor Terrace . Batata, which means sweet potato in Hebrew, is quickly becoming a beloved spot of the neighborhood with what I’ve read is true to Tel-Aviv style falafel.

Batata’s crispy sweet potato falafel plate is my beloved standard. The plate’s sides offer a colorful mix of vegetables, pickled and lemony, with velvety hummus and tahini smoothing it all out. The schug–a middle eastern style hot sauce, — is piquant and fantastic. I always ask for pickles on the side of the plate as an extra because the world needs more pickles, please.

Other favorites on their menu are their schwarma sandwiches and the schnitzel with waffles.  And I really enjoy saying the word schnitzel, too.

Batata Pita Bar
3021 Fort Hamilton Pkwy
Brooklyn, NY 11218
b/t 3rd St & 2nd St

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A Few of My Favorite Manhattan Bookstores

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Once in a New York City bookstore I saw a framed map of long gone great bookstores of Manhattan.  I’m paying homage to that literary map of Manhattan by noting a few of my current favorites.  Bookstores come and go so fast but let’s hope the city is never without them.

A Bookstore tour of Manhattan:

  1. Book Culture: This is full of academic,  used, and nice spot for browsing
  2. Kitchen Arts and  Letters: All cookbooks! Enough said.
  3. The Corner Bookstore: Classic Upper East Side bookstore.
  4. Albertine: French language books in a beautiful 5th Ave mansion.
  5. Kinokuniya: The Japanese chain delights with extensive collection and of course Japanese reading material too./
  6. Rizzoli: Art books everywhere.
  7. Idlewild: Travel guides and foreign language.
  8. The Strand: Iconic, a classic.
  9. Union Square Barnes and Noble: A chain but the best of it, perfect browsing spot.
  10. McNally Jackson: Champion indie, good for a cup of coffee too.
  11. Posman Books: Another champion indie, with several locations around the city.
  12. and a tiny hidden Strand

 

 

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Bao Haus

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Bao Haus is owned by Eddie Haung, recently well known for Fresh off The Boat but generally known as a rabblerouser in the food NYC food scene.

Bao Haus is a small Taiwanese fast eatery with steamed buns on a busy strip of East 14th. Since I work uptown, always commuting back to Brooklyn, Union square is my nexus for after work eating.  I like to combine two bao with taro fries and a Taiwanese soda for cheap dinner bliss.

Bao Haus
238 E 14th St
New York, NY 10003

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The Cats of Japanese Illustrator Aiko Fukawa

Japan appeared to me to be a country full of illustrations, in every form, on everything. From restaurant menus, signs, subway advertisements to the luggage pick up at the airport, it seemed that its a country entirely adorned with characters, color, and illustrative touches.

Because for this I picked up a few   many printed things—from free pamphlets in the subway system to stickers at department stores dedicated to paper goods– just to savor the colorful illustrations.

Since then I’ve been enamored with Aiko Fukawa’s playful illustrated cats after buying a packet of her stickers (naturally.)

Aiko is a graduate of Tokyo University of Arts and a designer of paper goods and stationary. You can buy many of her designs at Uguisu, an online store dedicated to all the wonderful Japanese paper goods that I loved while in Tokyo.

Follow her on Instagram and Tumblr, too.

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A First Time Trip to Tokyo, Japan

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I’ve been considering for a while now how to write a travel guide from our Tokyo portion of our Japan trip. It seems impossible to me now to describe how much I love Tokyo without the two of us packing up our apartment, selling off all of our possessions, and living full-time in Japan for a few years. Then, only after years living in Tokyo, do I think I could really write an insider’s guide. 

But short of moving, I’ve settled on writing what a first time trip to Tokyo (and then Kyoto to follow) was like for us, how we planned, what we had time to do, etc.

I hope it helps another Japan enamored individual dreaming of their first trip to the land of the rising sun.

Here it goes!

How We Flew to Japan for Cheaper than We Expected

We have both always wanted to go to Japan (I’m talking, teenage dreams here.) but we also feared the long distance flight cost.  Thankfully there are a few tricks to finding that sweet spot travel deal to Asia. The exchange rate right now is also quite favorable, too. 

Sixth months before we started our trip planning by monitoring flights on The Flight Deal. The Flight Deal is my absolutely favorite travel web site. I’ve scored deals to Paris, Milan, Sweden, and New Orleans all from just reading the daily email.  

After noticing Japan deals posted on the Flight Deal, but not in our preferred time frame given vacation days we already had, we found a flight by using Google Flights. Google Flights is a neat service that helps you target select dates for travel, showing you when prices are higher or lower. Knowing we were in the shoulder season also helped target a price for about $800 round trip per person.

We also opened a travel rewards credit card months before the trip in order to get a signing bonus after reaching a specific amount on the card. If you have good credit and pay your monthly credit card bill on time, opening a card like Barclays Arrival Plus or Chase Sapphire Preferred (this is not sponsored, just my two cents) can significantly help defray costs of a once in a lifetime trip.  With our accumulated points we subtracted almost $800 from our total airfare cost, meaning we paid a little over the cost of one round trip ticket.

Score!

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Arriving in Tokyo

We flew first to Hong Kong on a 15 hour flight from New York City on the wonderful Cathay Pacific. This was a great flight, with an attentive crew who made flying economy for such a long distance very comfortable. It turns out this route from Newark to Hong Kong is one of the longest flights in the world! For someone like me it was a specific thrill to overcome as I’m not the most comfortable flyer. There was an abundance of entertainment and snacks–like cup of noodles–for the duration of the entire flight that eased a lot of my long-haul jitters. I even slept for more than a few hours.

At Hong Kong we had a several hour layover before switching to another Cathay Pacific flight to Tokyo’s Haneda airport, one of two airports in the Tokyo metro area. We decided on a flight to Haneda over Narita because it is actually closer to the city. I believe that more international flights arrive at Narita, though.

At Haneda we took the airport limo bus into the Shinjuku where we were staying. On the way back (we flew the same route home) we actually took the monorail to the airport. I would definitely recommend the airport limo bus, especially when you’re arriving, because it made the process much easier. You can see if it stops at your hotel, or like us, take it to a major train station area.

Where To Stay 

For the two people traveling to Tokyo renting an Airbnb offered the best deal that we could find. However hostels also looked like a fun and easy way to travel on the cheap.

I can’t speak exactly to the precise legality of Airbnb in Japan as a whole—a few internet searches suggested it operates on the down low perhaps–but we had no issues with our hosts and apartments. They apartments we rented were neat, compact, and easy to navigate. 

We decided to look in popular area for renting a place, narrowing it down to Shinjuku, Shibuya, or Harajuku. While we stayed in Shinjuku, I’d also recommend the areas around  either as good starting points. 

A big plus to renting an Airbnb was that the host provided a pocket wifi we could take with us as we traveled around the city. I realized after the trip that you can also book pocket wifis at the airport when you arrive. I would recommend getting one for your entire trip, either way. It was beyond helpful to have on us especially when navigating streets and subway systems. 

Though we rented an apartment for most of our stay, the last night in Tokyo we stayed at the boutique business hotel Hotel Niwa. It was a lot bigger than I expected a hotel in a city of tiny spaces to be. It was quite fab, with the rooms decorated like Japanese tea houses. It offered a nice respite on our last day in the city. 

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IMG_6929Getting Around 

Train stations are huge and full of things to do, buy, and eat in Tokyo. Shinjuku Station for example is actually made up of multiple department stores, concourse levels, food courts, cafes, and more. All this density makes train stations themselves a destination. I imagine if you had only a night in Tokyo, you could eat everything you dreamed of in a station like Shinjuku.

Tokyo is a sliced by multiple lines of commuter trains and subways, all operated by different private companies. Urban planning wise this system is utterly fascinating. Coming from New York City where everything is run by a single government agency, it was strange that there was no solidified system or plan. There was a hyper intensity to the mix of train lines in Tokyo.

Transit is a complicated economic and political situation for sure,  but I will say the service was so much better compared to New York City’s over burdened and oft-delayed subways. 

The JR Yamanote Line is a perfect line to ride because it travels a circle around the city. Since you pay by distance traveled you could even just stay on the train, sightseeing as you go, and end up paying just the cost of the single ride. If you have limited time in Tokyo, I’d stick to this train for most outings.

We didn’t have a JR pass for the entire trip so we bought Suica cards at a station. These cards are transferable to the other lines, which helped when we did transfer from the Yamanote line. 

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Making an Itinerary

First off, Tokyo is a megacity of 35 million. Nothing in the United States even compares to it’s size, and we’re New Yorkers.  That being said, there is way too much to do in Tokyo to fit into a five day trip. I don’t think a month would scratch the surface. So we agreed to just do what we could, simply put. I think this was the best strategy though I already have a list of what I’d do if (when) I return.

Before we left we armed ourselves with a handy Lonely Planet travel guide too. I also loved the Hey Kumo blog guide to Tokyo as well as photographer Jack Spicer Adam’s video guides from his trip.

It also helped us to bundle things together by area so we could plan a day over breakfast then know what train stations we’d be going to. We used a shared Trello board for each day, too. Traveling is so much better with trello, by the way.

Things to do, What we did 

Get lost in the lights and crowds of Shinjuku, day and night. We loved ending up in an Izakaya in Piss Alley.  You can recognize an Izakaya for their red lanterns, business clad patrons, and yakitori of chicken or pork. Glimpse another side to Tokyo (albeit completely walled off from foreigners) by wandering into the adjoining red light district. I liked to just stand inside Pachinko parlors in awe of the noise. 

Harajuku is perfect for observing the well known street style and culture, but is also full of smaller streets packed with vintage stores, cafes, and boutiques. Takashita Dori and Cat street are prime people watching spots. Also, don’t miss the trendy but delicious cylindrical crepes that this area is known for. (Yes I do want ice cream in my crepe thank you very much.)

Meji Jingu Shrine. It’s near to Harajuku but serene and quiet, even with the crowds. If you’re lucky you’ll catch a Shinto wedding which we did!

Tokyo Metropolitan Building is free and offers a panorama of the city. It’s not too far from Shinjuku, either. We went at night to the North Observatory for a gorgeous view. 

Spend a day or night in Shibuya for the famed crossing, for the busy streets. Find the hachiko statue, explore Tokyu Hands (the best, most enigmatic store of everything from leather goods to crafts to tiny scientific models), robotic or conveyor belt sushi, and general entertainment and shopping. Although I love independent non-American chains while traveling, the Starbucks in Shibuya has the best sport for watching the crowds. 

A little outside the hustle of the crossing, Shibuya can be small scale and quiet, full of interesting and trendy cafes and boutiques. We liked Shibuya Booksellers and Fuglen, a Norwegian coffee shop and bar for both day and night. 

Eat at Japanese 711. Enough said. It’s fun, full of weird but delicious edible items. It’s mad cheap!

Cheap eats! I blogged about all the cheap and wonderful things you can find and enjoy in Tokyo. Save your cash and eat it all.

Get lost in Tokyo Station for Tokyo Ramen Street and Character Street for delicious fast but beloved ramen and the weirdness of a Tamaguchi or Anime Store respectively.  

Tokyu Hands! I mentioned it already but it’s absolutely addictive, full of everything you think you want. It’s a great place to buy gifts like washi tape. There are multiple locations around the city, too. 

Browse expensive department stores and stop at their food foods in Ginza. Mitsukoshi has a grand food hall and open roof.  

Itoya Department store is full of notebooks, fancy paper, beautiful pens, and well designed items for any curated home office.

Tucked away in Ginza is Cafe de l’Ambre, a well splendid but low key great cup of pour over coffee. It’s like they used to do it in the old school post-war days. 

Ginza is also home to the Kabukiza Theater, worth a tour or a walk by.

 

 

Tsukiji Fish Market is fun even if you don’t get up early for the tuna auction. The area is packed with cheap and outstandingly fresh fish. I especially liked the small shrine for fisherman nearby. too. 

Vending Machines. Everywhere.

Explore Ueno Park then stroll into older Tokyo by going to Yanaka Ginza. The later is the only area of the city spared from the bombings of World War Two. 

Go to the top of Roppongi Hills complex for the Mori Art Museum’s contemporary collections and panorama of the city.

Learn about Edo Japan at the Edo Museum. I especially liked all the detailed models, being a tiny things lover. 

Walk along the Sumida river to just get lost.

Tips and Observations

Take note of what exit you need in a train station as most of them are so large, it can be a pain if you exit too early and have to walk around an entire block or more.

Every station will have an attendant to help you. Hooray!

Every train station will have a bathroom, too. They will be clean but often feature western and squat toilets, so do take note! There is also a lack of soap frequently in bathrooms. This confused me a lot for a country that is so organized and clean. It’s better to bring hand sanitizer.

People don’t talk on trains but as a tourist I think its okay if you are chatting quietly. It’s an orderly process of travel, though. I’m talking people line up to get on a subway, with no touching, shoving, or any kind of rude behavior most of the time. It was fantastic!

English is everywhere but it’s illustrative, meaning people think English is cool on t-shirts, signs, etc the same way we kind of use French sayings on things to make it seem cool. So people were helpful but are definitely not fluent in English conversationally everywhere you go. It helped to do some research before hand on what sorts of Japanese sayings you’ll encounter when you enter a store, etc.

To say that I experienced culture shock when in Japan seems like a cliche. But it’s true, especially for me.

The strongest feeling I had while in Tokyo was that it’s cosmopolitanism is at once familiar and yet strange, like waking up at night with the lights on. Just like you’re at first confused where you are, unsure if you’re still in your room.

I took to making notes every time I encountered something I didn’t understand which ended up with an entire list of things I want to know more about in Japanese society

Why do the trains play jingles at the station?  Why do people not talk on crowded trains, or hold hands? Why are smart phones and flip phones popular in Japan? How do they run a city so efficiently, with such density, with what seems like a chaotic mix of lights, buildings, and competing private companies? What is Japanese class, poverty, and race like compared to the USA because despite there being no crime and almost no trash, there are stratifications below the surface. How and why do they read books and buy cds (!!) in droves? Why do they just love those darn paper calendars?

It’s hard to understand another culture in a glimpse of course, so Tokyo provoked a lot of interesting questions that I’m still sorting through. For that, I’m glad I made the trip and I hope to make it back to just keep figuring it out.

But man, do I feel like I finally understand Kinokuniya bookstore in New York City though. I

 

 

 

 

 

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Claudia Pearson’s Illustration in Fodor’s Brooklyn Guide

 

I picked up the new Fodor’s travel guide to Brooklyn after spotting it at a few local bookstores in late September around, naturally, Brooklyn.

Turns out, it’s the first Fodor’s guide to Brooklyn. A much debated borough as of late for all sorts of important but complicated reasons–the guidebook mentions gentrification in albeit a brief section in the beginning–it is still strangely pleasant to have a travel guide to somewhere you already live, even if things close and change faster than I can count.

Luckily the guide has recommendations and tid-bits about the farther into Brooklyn neighborhoods of Kensington, Midwood, and Ditmas Park which happen to be where I live (in the intersection of them all.) Still, there is much to the borough I’d want to add, especially even more of those neighborhoods and places off the beaten path from most new denizens. Perhaps the next edition can expand even more into far reaches of the borough.

But illustrations in the guide were a big selling point for me. I’m a sucker for illustrated New York City and all the illustrations, including my favorite the chapter neighborhood maps, were created by a local illustrator Claudia Pearson.

Pearson made a quick video tutorial about her process for creating illustrated neighborhood maps which is super helpful for all the self-taught artists and drawers like me:

Pearson is known not only for local illustrations but also drawings of food. She sells most weekends at the Brooklyn Flea. I proudly haul my gym clothing around in her tote.

I particularly like the work she’s down for Sustainable NYC and Grow NYC.

 

 

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Little Cupcake Bakeshop

havecake_willtravel

 

Sometimes I eat something to immediately think: I need to make a version of this at home. It’s how I have some of my favorite recipes: lemon focaccia from France, an oven adaptation of tandoori chicken from New York’s ubiquitous Indian restaurants, noodles bowls based of Boston’s Bon Me food truck.

And now I really want to bake myself a birthday cake based on this dreaming princess cupcake I had at Little Cupcake Bakery last week. First, there is the meringue frosting that gets me. Next, there is just a little raspberry in the middle. Then, one of my absolute favorite flavors present with an almond vanilla cake.

It’s a simple combination yet I think it would make a killer double layer cake too, perhaps with a lemon almond cake to just get wild for my January birthday! I’ll see you in winter, dreaming princess birthday cake.

Little Cupcake Bakeshop

30 Prince St, New York, NY 10012

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