“I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so”
LASSE BECH MARTINUSSEN a Danish photographer
MADELEINE SAVAGE emigrated to Tokyo from London
fashion & lifestyle writer
CONTENTS 4 6
Shinjuku Washington Hotel
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
An honest view of Tokyo’s food offering
HANGING WITH THE LOCALS
Shannon Peter gets up close and personal with some sea creatures at the Tsukiji fish market
30 CITY LIVING
A photographic perspective of Tokyo
40 NEXT STOP IMMIGRATION What it’s like to up and move: to Tokyo
Lasse Bech Martinussen: photographer
Charlie Brooker’s Kyoto
THINGS TO REMEMBER
A selection of ‘must-pack’ items
TIPS YOUR JOURNAL
Photo: Jade Barltrop
Dear Traveller, First of all welcome to Memento. You might have bumped into us at our Terminal 3 pop-up shop, or heard about us on the Twitter grape-vine, or maybe you just liked the look of our cover and were curious. Either way, thank you for picking us up. Here at Memento we want to bring you up-to-the moment information on locations around the world, shown through beautiful imagery, interesting articles on authentic travel experiences, and facts. But don’t worry, we know that each of you will have your own things you want to add, so we’ve left blank pages throughout the publication for you to create whatever you wish, and remember your trip the way you want to. For our first issue, we’ve focused on Tokyo, Japan. We had an amazing time planning the issue and exploring the city and we hope you will do the same. From Charlie Brooker’s unusual culinary experience to Shannon Peter witnessing a rather out of the ordinary auction, we don’t focus on your runof-the-mill Eiffel Tower malarky. So if pictures holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa is more your thing, we aren’t for you. If you’re looking to broaden your horizons, learn about real culture and express your creativity whilst doing it, then, let’s get stuck in. Enjoy the issue, and - fingers crossed - we’ll see you next quarter. Or if you just can’t wait, at www.mementomag.co.uk - we’d love you to share what you thought of your latest trip with us.
Anna Heaton The Editor
HOTEL WATCH On arriving at the Shinjuku Washington, prepare to have an initial reaction of utter confusion. Climbing the escalators through restaurants, cafes, and 24 hour shops, unusual to say the least for what you’d expect of a typical hotel, you will finally reach the hotel lobby on the third floor. Make your way up to your room, and you will have your first real Tokyo experience, in the form of nightshirts and slippers provided for you to wear. Be warned, a silky M&S set it is not. The rooms are pokey, to say the least, but its all that you’ll need with so much to see just outside in its central location. The bathrooms are also categorically Japanese, including a toilet with multiple flush, music, and washing options for your perusal. Only in Tokyo. The staff are friendly and always willing to help: one positive is that the language barrier is not so much of a problem inside the Shinjuku Washington walls. Definitely pay a visit to the Ground Floor 24-hour shop which stocks a variety of Japanese goodies, including Gold Juice, an infamous hangover cure, and plenty of pack lunch options if it’s food on the go that you’re after.
Photo: HG Esch. Words: Anna Heaton
SHINJUKU WASHINGTON HOTEL
In terms of hotels across the board, a double or twin room at a deluxe hotel will cost approx. 30,000 Yen (£192) per night, and a first class will set you back a little less at 20,000 Yen. Of course, affording the 12-hour flight to Tokyo is enough of an expense, so if you’re looking to do it as cheaply as possible there other options.
Tokyo - HI Tokyo Central YH 18th Floor, Central Plaza 1-1 Kaguragashi 162-0823 Tokyo Japan email@example.com
Business hotels such as the Shinjuku Washington are available at a slightly more reasonable price but are, as a rule, smaller with fewer amenities, including no room service. However, most of these do have vending machines that provide snacks and drinks on all floors. Unlike the Washington, the majority of hotel staff do not speak a lot of English, but the procedure remains the same. The room charge for this sort of place is 5,500 Yen to 10,000 Yen on average.
Tokyo - Sumidagawa YH 2-21-4 Yanagibashi Taito-ku 111-0052 Tokyo Japan firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re looking to do Tokyo even cheaper still, then hostels might be the way to go. YHs are the most common where the standard overnight fee is 3,360 Yen per night for members or this plus an additional 600 Yen fee for non-members. You can purchase membership from Youth Hostel Association office in the UK or in Japan in the hostels themselves. Single-sex dormitories are the norm, mostly between four to six-bedded, but family rooms are also available. Meals are available at 1,250 Yen a pop for dinner and 750 Yen or less for breakfast. If you’re lucky, you might stay in a temple which are unique to the YHs in Japan, others have Japanese style rooms for an authentic experience.
Find out more about types of accommodation in Japan at www.japan-guide.com or http://www.hihostels.com/
Tokyo - HI-Tokyo Ueno YH 1-13-6 Ueno, Taito-ku 110-0005 Tokyo Japan email@example.com
where did you stay?
where did you stay?
A varied perspective on what the kitchens of Tokyo have to offer. From the travellers themselves, this is what youâ€™re letting yourself in for. Veggies beware.
Photo: Natalie Sawyer Words: Anna Heaton
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Photos: Shannon Peter
Photo: Alex Clouston
Photos: Jade Barltrop
Photos (top-left): Shannon Peter, (bottom-left: Darcy Summerton, (right): Avarni Bilan
Photo: Shannon Peter
Photos (left): Jade Barltrop, (right): Shannon Peter
If you can get your head around the unevenly translated menu then hopefully you can find something that you’ll enjoy. However, its generally an unusual mixture between egg-fried rice style servings and deep fried chicken and chips. Whatever takes your fancy they’ll likely have it but in our experience, those who were most adventurous lucked out as the traditional stuff was by far the best.
‘The Lock Up’ is an underground prisonthemed eatery situated in the heart of Shibuya. Arrested on arrival by a waitress come policewoman, you will be led to your cell where you eat sat on the floor at a low table; traditional Japanese style. The entire restaurant is decked out to look like an underground prison and no expense has been spared when it comes to making it as realistic as possible. Cocktails are served in creepy, test tube shaped glasses and smoking with an unusal substance. Those who hang around long enough past 10.30pm will get a special surprise, unlike anything you’ll have experienced in your life. But we won’t spoil that for you.
Photos: Anna Heaton
As you have seen, the variety of foods on offer in Tokyo is vast, and depending on where you go each and every thing will be entirely different. But one thing that you’re guarenteed will be a unique experience is the choice of conceptual dining. A themed restaurant in London might consist of something along the lines of ‘The Rainforest Cafe’, which in all its glory is indeed unusual, but it doesn’t quite meet the standards that Tokyo have set.
One other restaurant to strongly recommend, this time in the district of Ginza, is another conceptual experience. This time Alice in Wonderland themed, the people who put together this treasure trove had also gone to town. Although a little difficult to find, having to ask several confused locals for directions using crazy hand gestures and facial expressions, we eventually made it several floors up one of Ginza’s many neon buildings. This time greeted by Alice herself, you will be lead to your table through an array of hanging pieces of fabric in the style of pages of the book. Once in the main eating area you will notice a hundred amazing things to feast your eyes upon. The one downside to this place is that it is on the more pricey side, having to pay a straight up service charge, something the Japanese do not generally use, and table fee. Plus, although not awful, the food was less than spectacular and consisted mostly of your standard, pizza, pasta, chicken combinations. However, this really doesn’t matter as the experience alone is enough to wow even the biggest Disney-hater, and it’s fair to say you definitely won’t be seeing it anywhere else. When in Tokyo, as they say.
HANGING WITH THE LOCALS Having travelled my fair share of the world, I quickly came to the conclusion on arriving to Tokyo, that, to me, it is the city of space. Space to breathe and space to see. However, that right to personal space is quickly ripped from under your feet when you arrive at Tsujiki fish market. Naturally, the area is more densely populated than other sights, as you’d expect for a bustling marketplace, but the lack of personal space comes more from the assault on the senses. Every breath taken is filled with a different concoction of aromas, from the potent smell of the morning’s catch, to the earthy, comforting smell of the hand carved wood handles of the artisan fish knives. This is where I’d have to agree with any guidebook and advise you to forego
those extra few hours in bed, and arrive before sunrise, if not to witness the daily tuna auction, than to earn your spot amongst the limited 120 visitors per day. If you’re used to stuffy auction rooms with a heavy gavel annouing the successful sale of a renaissance painting, then let’s just say you’re in for a bit of a shock. It’s more a case of local fishermen offer up their bounty to the energetic restaurateurs, clamouring to get the best price for the day’s servings. But don’t assume that the sensory surprises stop there. I may be uneducated in the underwater world of fish and sea life (or perhaps I’m simply naïve), but I had no clue just how huge a tuna fish really is. I’ll let you find out for yourself but, for the record, it. Is. Huge.
Words: Shannon Peter. Photos(left):Darcy Summerton, (right): Hollie-Anne Brooks
Shannon Peter investigates just how exactly one bids for a tuna the size of a family pet. And why the Tsujiki Market isn’t for the faint-hearted.
And the visual surprises don’t end there. You’d be forgiven for being alarmed by the cellophane wrapped taxidermy panda, which lies amongst a pile of utensils and kitchenware at one of the stalls. I instantly remembered it from an anecdote told by a friend who had visited the city a few years before, and hoped it was the same one that had remained unsold. I don’t know about you but the thought of there being more of its kind, ready to replenish this stall’s stock doesn’t sit well with me. Thankfully, the rest of the market’s merchandise was a little more savoury; supplying everything you’d need to put on a seafood feast fit for royalty. A pre-visit read up taught me the market handles over 400 types of marine life: seaweed to sardines, crab to caviar, as well as fresh fruit and veg, flowers and kitchenware. Being slightly fish-phobic, I sought solace in the crockery stalls, safe in the knowledge I wouldn’t have some sort adverse reaction to the sight of a sinister eel staring back at me.
Oriental pottery of every size and function, I couldn’t help but think how fun it would be to kit out a first home here and with prices that rival even those of Ikea, it would be rude not to. But try to keep your rational head on; the truth of the matter is you probably don’t need all those miso bowls and hand engraved chopsticks, no matter how beautiful they are. Never mind trying to keep it all in one piece in your hand luggage on the way home, I can tell you that from first hand experience, that is no mean feat. But what use are all the utensils, the ingredients and city’s freshest seafood if you then have no clue what to do with it? Don’t worry; although disguised as the sort of market seller to stand amongst the ‘One Pound Fish’ man at Upton Park, these savvy businessmen have got that covered too. In the market, you’ll find stalls selling piles and piles of Japanese cook books. So, I can’t exactly read Japanese, but did that stop me from parting with my Yen? Of course not. As a sucker for a good piece of graphic design, I was so mesmerised by the simplistic, sophisticated aesthetics of these guides, that before I knew it, 3 of them were mine.
Shopping certainly works up an appetite. Granted, sundried squid and jellied eels aren’t to everyone’s taste, but the stallholders are eager for you to try their fare. A lap of the market can provide enough tasters to satisfy even the largest of appetites, but if you’re going to eat sushi anywhere in Tokyo, you should save a little space to feast on the city’s freshest sashimi here. Of course, if you’ve taken the crack-of-dawn recommendation, you’re gonna need a pretty strong stomach for a plateful of sushi, and at any time of day, patience will be required – queuing is almost always necessary for the many food outlets of the market.
Now, I’m as much of a happy snapper as the next tourist, but as you walk around the market try to let your eyes experience it first hand. I’m sure you’ll want to capture every sight, every googly-eyed creature and every piece of pottery you fell in love with but couldn’t fit in your back pack – but take time to look at it with your eyes. It all looks just as beautiful in real time, if not more so, as it does through the camera lens. Satisfied with plenty of purchases and photographs to document the visit, I exited the market pleased with my morning’s triumph. It’s probably one of the most exciting areas of the whole of Tokyo: so much to see, to taste, to photograph, to smell, but I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief as we found our way back out onto the open and sparse Tsujiki road. Finally, after a few hours of relentless sensorial assaults, I have to admit that reclaiming my personal space felt pretty good.
Tuna Auction (120 per day): - First admission (60) 5:25-5:50am - Second admission (60) 5:50-6:15am Travellers must apply at the Osakana Fukyu Center at the Kachidoki Gate starting from 5:00am. The Wholesale Area Travellers may enter from 9:00am onwards. The Outdoors Market Area Open to all from 5:00am. How to get there: - Take the Marunouchi Subway Line from Tokyo Station to Ginza and transfer to the Hibiya Subway Line to get to Tsujiki Station. The fair is 160 Yen on this journey and takes around 8 minutes. - Take the Oedo Subway Line directly from Shinjuku Station to Tsujiki Shijo Station. This takes 20 minutes roughly, at the price of 260 Yen. Typical of Japanese culture, the Tsujiki Fish Market does come with a list of dos and don’ts. Be sure to take not of the following: 1. Do not enter areas restricted to authorised personnel.
2. Do not obstruct traffic. 3. Do not bring large bags or suitcases into the market. 4. Do not enter the market in high- heeled shoes or sandals.
5. Do not bring small children or pets. 6. Do not smoke in the market. 7. Do not touch anything. Don’t say we didn’t warn you! MEMENTO 27
WHERE DID YOU HANG?
WHERE DID YOU HANG?
Compositions: Anna Heaton
A photographic representation of Tokyo; as youâ€™ve never seen it before.
Tokyo Imperial Palace
In the Chiyoda area of Tokyo, a short walk from Tokyo Station. If it’s a wander around the castle that you’re after, you’ll have to plan carefully as it is only open on January 2nd and December 23rd. However, to stroll around the grounds is doable as long as you avoid Mondays, Fridays and special occasions.
Meiji Shrine Complex
Located in the vibrant area of Harajuku, the Meiji Temple is a complete contrast. The serene walk to the temple offers another side to the juxtaposing city and there is plenty to see on this short walk, including barrels of Sake. If you’re lucky, you may get to see the procession of a Shinto wedding. Which happen throughout the day.
Tokyo’s answer to Paris’ Eiffel, the Tokyo Tower is a great place to get a comprehensive view of the city. You might argue that the vibrant orange stands out like a sore thumb but this is actually to comply with air safety regulations in Japan - a factoid for you. This observation deck is open 365 days of the year and you can get to the top observatory for 1420 Yen (roughly £10).
This is one of the many views from the Shinjuku Washington Hotel. Shinjuku is the most commercial area of Tokyo and is home to the world’s busiest station - Shinjuku Station. Definitely worth a look if you don’t mind the hustle and bustle. Another great look-out point is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, also situated in Shinjuku, and a fantastic piece of architecture.
The Sensoji temple is a breathtaking sight, however the real treasure of Asakusa is Nakamise - the 200m market street. If you plan to visit the temple, set aside a healthy chunk of time as these small shops will no doubt distract you for at least half an hour. Traditional Kimonos, Oil Paper Umbrellas alongside wobbling sumo statuettes, there’s pretty much a souvenier for everyone here. But this street is no fake attempting to target the tourists flocking to the temple. Oh no, the Nakamise is several centuries and offers a true Japanese shopping experience. Don’t worry though, if you’re not sure what to take back for Mum or Dad, there’s answers to that too.
If you insist that the Nakamise is really not for you, then the Sensoji Temple is a wonder. Although perceived as a tourist attraction, the temple does offer an insight into true Japan. A functioning Buddhist temple, you will also have an opportunity to donate and be given your fortune on a piece of paper. But be wary, we know, from experience, that they arenâ€™t all good. Read at your peril. MEMENTO 35
An alternative view from the Shinjuku Washington Hotel, reviewed on page 10.
Tokyo Imperial Palace
The palace grounds are surrounded by vast gravel expanses and random greenery. Typical of the space in Tokyo.
The tower itself.
A year ago, Maddie Savage was a young graduate with a million options to choose from, but she had only one thing in mind. Upping and leaving for Tokyo that same Summer, Maddie tells us about her experience, and why she fell in love with the Japan capital.
Compiled by: Anna Heaton. Photos: Madeleine Savage
NEXT STOP IMMIGRATION
A: First of all, can you tell me a little bit about how you came to your decision to emigrate to Tokyo? M: In the summer of 2011 I came to Japan for a holiday to visit my older brother and his family. I was visiting for 1 month and during this time I was the happiest I had ever been. I just felt like I fit in, which was a new feeling for me, and I fell in love with the culture, religion, food and people. So I decided to make it a permanent thing and come back to Japan the following summer to live. A: What was the main driver of your decision? M: I guess there were many points that made me consider the move. But I’d have to say that the main one would probably be my family – I loved being closer to them. Also the fact that I was incredibly happy whilst I was here, it made it impossible for me not to come back at the next opportune moment. A: What was it about Tokyo in particular that attracted you? M: I fell in love with everything to do with Japan, not just Tokyo. The food, the big difference in seasons, the culture, the religion, and the safety were all big factors. It just felt like home straight away. Then once I was living in Tokyo, the fashion, nightlife and the feeling of living in a big city were all great bonuses. There’s always something weird and whacky going on! A: How was the process of moving? Before and during the move. M: The process of moving was very easy. It was never really a decision to move to Japan, I just knew it was happening. So when I came back from my month here in 2011, I filed all the paperwork, booked my tickets and just waited to finish my degree so that I could return. Once the move was in motion, it was a little harder. It was very difficult saying goodbye to family and friends, but I knew that it was what I wanted and I couldn’t wait to get back there; knowing that it had made me so incredibly happy. However, when I came back to the UK in November for my graduation, leaving was much more difficult and I think that that was the first time I ever felt really homesick.
A: What have been the biggest cultural adjustments that you’ve undertaken since moving? M: There are so many. For some people it is quite difficult, but others don’t need to make them as they just adapt to that way of life. For me it’s been pretty easy, as I just felt like I fitted in here. Don’t get me wrong, there are huge differences within the two cultures, but I just felt a part of it. Many people say that I’m Japanese at heart. Perhaps one of the things that people find the most difficult adjustment would be the busy lifestyle. Even on days off you’re going to do something, the trains are extremely busy during rush hour, you can smoke inside etc. One thing that still surprises me sometimes is the amazing customer service, I love it! A: How have you found the language barrier and learning the language? M: Contrary to belief, I don’t really feel like there is much of a language barrier as a lot of people speak English. I’ve found it easy to learn certain phrases and I speak a little Japanese; that’s enough to help you get by. As long as you can order in a restaurant and go shopping that’s all you really need. A: How did you go about finding a suitable job? M: Finding a job was very easy, there are so many English teaching jobs, teach isn’t for everyone but I would advise to do it for a year, earn some extra money and travel around Japan. A: What was the most daunting thing about the move? M: The most daunting thing about the move was worrying that the reality wouldn’t live up to my expectations. But I soon realised that that was never going to happen, I love Japan! And even if it did happen, it’s not the end of the world – I could always go back to England. MEMENTO 42
A: Do you have any favourite Japanese dishes since moving? M: All Japanese food is amazing to me! Yakitoori is great, especially Tsukune (typical food for a Japanese salary man, but it’s delicious). Also, Chicken Katsu is very nice, any fish with rice and Miso Soup...yaki soba are a few favourites. A: Are there any hidden gems in the city that you particularly love? M: The hidden gems are things like small Asian restaurants that nobody knows about because they’re amazing! Cat cafes where you can go and cuddle cats for as long as you like are really cute. I love the vintage stores as they are really cheap, and good quality clothes! Karaoke rooms are another amazing thing here, but there aren’t that many hidden gems because everything is so accessible. A: Do you have any anecdotes about things you’ve encountered over the course of your experience? M: Funny stories would be mainly misunderstandings, one of which involved innocently wandering into a ‘hostess’ venue for men after mistaking it for a massage place. A: What has been your favourite part of our year in Japan? M: This is so difficult to summarise in just a few sentences! The independence is great, having my own apartment is nice. But I would have to say that it’s really been the people that have made it so easy to stay, that make your trip amazing and get you through the harder times of feeling homesick. Oh, and the food – of course.
Photo: Alexander Clouston
A: Finally, what advice would you give to someone moving to Tokyo now? M: My advice to someone moving here is to embrace it, and to keep an open mind. Stay for at least a year because your feelings about Japan will go through peaks and troughs over and over again. Try everything at least once. I would definitely recommend living in a house-share, because you meet so many people. Finally, learn the basics of the language and try ALL the food. All of it.
READY? GET SET, GO.
Thinking of emigrating? Here’s some things you might want to do before you buy a one way ticket, an apartment and wave family and friends goodbye...
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Visit the place - think you can live in Tokyo? Then visit first. Maddie spent a whole month there before committing and you should do the same. It was right for her but that may not be the case every time. Learn the culture - don’t know your ‘Namastes’ from your ‘Yakisobas’? Then it might be time to find out. You want to be sure it’s for you, so don’t go making any rash decisions before you’ve checked it out. Get a visa - you really don’t want to fly twelve hours across the globe, move in, roll up to hand out some CVs in Shibuya to be told, “You can’t work here.” Visas can take a while so sort it out in advance and don’t get caught out. Dabble in the language - you want to be ahead of the game right? And Japanese doesn’t come naturally to everyone so brush up on some key phrases to help you get by. Especially as many of the locals do not speak English. Prepare yourself - like Maddie said, go in with an open mind. Try, try, try. Try food, experiences, meet locals, get involved. What’s the worst that can happen?
INT ERV IEW
Lasse Bech Martinussen, photographer. We all like to think ourselves a dab hand with the camera when it comes to circling the ChampsElysees in Paris, or climbing the Colosseum in Rome, but in reality are nothing more than a novice with a forgiving subject matter. Lasse Bech Martinussen on the hand, does no such thing. Steering from the stereotypical, churned out tourist sights that leave little to the imagination, he favours a more cultural approach. Starting as a hobby and a way to record his trip he began taking photographs that would tell a better story than the memory behind it. Now, he points and shoots with ambiguity, crafting the story or finding it there. Either way it tells a story you wonâ€™t have heard before, whilst portraying people for what they are in their daily lives, no frills. Letâ€™s meet him and his Tokyo Puzzle series.
Japan was all I ever imagined it to be.
It was just really, really exciting in a lot of different ways. I loved it, a lot. I had this particular sense of Japan as a very contrasty country, and Tokyo as a very contrasty city. I had the impression that, on one hand, the people were extremely serviceminded, and open and welcoming, and on the other, extremely insular and closed. I just thought that might make for a good subject of photography, a dichotomy or whatever.
It had an incredible pace and energy, just from a street level.
Walking through the street is basically really, really intense. Just because of the people, and the sounds, and the different types of personalities and sub-cultures. I stayed in Rappongi but I really liked Aoyama, and the more quiet areas like Ebisu. There’s a bunch of boutiquey shops but in a more mellow way than Shibuya and Shinkjuku – or other crazy parts of the city – it was really nice, just very clean and urban, and interesting.
Photos: Lasse Bech Martinussen Compiled by: Anna Heaton
Sometimes I just go to a place to find the story.
In this case, I went there with a few assumptions of what the place would be, I guess from what I’ve read and been told, but I went to find out to find out for myself. So the way I approached it was to get a sense of the place when I was there and learn the city, talk to people, visit different places, and then little by little put the pieces together. I formed a certain point of view that I wanted to photograph that was much more directed towards the ambitious and curious side of Tokyo, I would say. This runs through a lot of my photographs in general, but I tried to document my experience in a way that is typically, a little alienated.
Speaking of contrasts…
My favourite image from the Tokyo Puzzle series – I would say – is the black and white image of the businessman looking up at the choices of guns, looking like a little kid. I took it in the very glitzy shopping area of the Ginza district. I just met all of these businessmen visiting gunshops after work to buy rubber ball guns and I thought, ‘what a contrast.’. I guess another theme, I find, quite specifically for Tokyo, is that they’re very naïve, at least in the eyes of a westerner, they have an almost childish way of behaving. It’s like they need to let out some steam, because they work so hard. If they get a break form that they use it in extreme ways.
Kyoto or Tokyo?
Kyoto was beautiful, a whole different experience. But I have to say it was quite boring to photograph, With that in mind, Tokyo would have to be my favourite.
Photography is documentation to me.
It started as a hobby, a way of documenting my travels to conserve good memories, but after a couple of years that the better the photos were, the more vivid and cooler the journey was in my head. So I figured that photography, as a medium, was a really nice way to represent my experience. When I did an internship in New York I took the next step and tried to work with it as a more artistic expression I would say. I guess reality is slightly boring; I’m often trying to create my own vision of reality into a story, that’s the inspiring way for me to work.
I’d love to go back.
I would definitely go to Asia again to shoot, I’d love to a new ‘Tokyo trip’, I’d tell myself that I’ve gotten a better photographer since I shot the last series!
Entering a Japanese kitchen is usually reserved for close friends. Charlie Brooker tells us exactly what they’re trying to hide in the rural area of Kyoto. Just a short bullet train ride out of Tokyo. Like most wimps, I have a thing about best-before dates. I know they’re a con; I know groceries last about 100 years longer than supermarkets pretend they do. I know throwing perfectly edible food away is an obscenity – doubly so if it’s part of an animal that was butchered for your convenience. I know that. But it’s still hard for me to ingest anything I even vaguely suspect might be “on the turn”. Imagine my surprise, then, to find myself cheerfully shaving bits off a six-
month-old chunk of desiccated tuna in order to make soup. Nevertheless, that’s what happened to me in Kyoto. If you ever visit Japan, make room for a few days in Kyoto if at all possible. Tokyo can feel like a gigantic over-stimulating pachinko machine if you don’t stick your head out for air now and then. Another advantage is that you can take the bullet train. Given its nickname, I’d expected my journey on the high-speed TokyoKyoto Shinkansen service to feel like some kind of terrifying vertical freefall; to be pinned to my seat by the G-force, my cheeks shearing backwards and flapping behind me like the ears of a basset hound fired from a cannon. The reality is almost underwhelmingly sedate. The train is as quiet as it is MEMENTO 54
Photo: Antti T. Nissinen. Words: Charlie Brooker, from ‘Raw Passion in Japan’, The Guardian Online
Photo: Odd Jarle Jorgensen
fast – so there’s no rickety clatter – and for the majority of the journey the track is raised above ground level, which means you don’t see trees whipping past the window, increasing the illusion of speed. What I’m saying is a Virgin Train to Birmingham New Street actually packs more of a thrill. Where the Shinkansen wins is on sheer gliding efficiency. It’s like travelling on Valium, and I mean that in a good way. Once you’re clear of the boxy downtown area, Kyoto coughs up picturepostcard back streets and around 2,000 ancient shrines and temples: the cherryblossom Japan of your imagination. But I hadn’t come for the sights. I was here for a cookery lesson. This is an “experience” offered to travellers by the Women’s Association of Kyoto: the lessons take place in the real homes of real housewives with real arms and legs and everything, in real Japan. The Japanese rarely invite strangers into their homes. In fact, they rarely invite anyone into their homes – it’s an honour chiefly reserved for close friends. What, exactly, are they hiding? We were going to find out. First we had to shop for ingredients. This meant a guided tour of Nishiki market, a narrow covered parade of stalls and shops selling fresh produce and local delicacies, the majority of which are visually incomprehensible to the untrained western eye. And by “untrained western eye”, I mean me. I didn’t have a clue what I was looking at, but almost everything seemed to fall into one of two categories: mouth-watering or menacing. There were baffling vegetables that looked like the kind of thing Captain James T Kirk might negotiate with over a long-range scanner. There were pickled objects of unfathomable origin. There were mahogany-brown smoked eggs. And there was Katsuobushi, which is the only thing I’ve mentioned so far that you may well have already eaten, probably without having the faintest idea what it actually is. It won’t help if I explain that Katsuobushi looks and feels like a piece of ancient water-worn timber, like a chunk of Tudor MEMENTO 55
Photos: Peter Ptschelinzew/Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images
warship slowly rendered pebble-smooth by centuries of undersea friction. But it isn’t. It’s a fish. Specifically, it’s a skipjack tuna that has been filleted, smoked for the best part of a month, placed in a humid environment until it develops a fine layer of mould, taken out and dried, put back in the humidifier for more mould-growing, dried again, re-humidified, and so on, until eventually it’s declared ready. In summary: it’s a dry, mouldy fish that has been sitting around for months. And like I say, you’ve probably eaten it – in some form – if you’ve ever had miso soup. Because when you grate katsuobushi, the resultant shavings are known as bonito flakes, which – bursting with distinctive umami flavour – are one of the primary ingredients in the stock that forms the bulk of every bowl of miso soup you’ve ever slurped. Most miso soup is made with instant dashi
these days, but still: desiccated mouldencrusted tuna. That’s the source. Sorry to break that to you. Especially if you’re a vegetarian. On the plus side, bonito flakes smell delicious, as I discovered during the eventual cookery lesson, in a small house on the outskirts of Kyoto. And what was the mysterious forbidden interior of a Japanese home like? Tatami flooring? Low tables? Fragile origami furniture? No. Nothing to hide. In fact it seemed virtually identical to a British home. Our friendly hostess, Kiyoko Obase, even had an apron with the London tube map on it and a newspaper article about The King’s Speech pinned to the fridge. And it was raining outside, thereby completing the impression that we could have been in Dudley. The scent of the food we made was the giveaway.
As well as fresh miso soup, we made rolled sushi, with a side dish of horenso no goma-ae (that’s spinach with sesame dressing to you). I ate a lot of unfamiliar things in Japan – raw prawns, raw chicken, raw God-knows-what – but in a way this meal was the most startling. Despite being straightforward stuff – the most complex element, the rolled sushi, was surprisingly simple to make – it was powerfully satisfying, partly due to the glow of DIY achievement, but also because it was the first time Japanese food struck me as comfort food. And as home cooking, to be prepared and eaten at home. Albeit someone else’s home. On the other side of the planet.
HOW WAS KYOTO FOR YOU?
HOW WAS KYOTO FOR YOU?
Photos: Anna Heaton
WHAT TO PACK?
WHAT TO PACK?
TIPS Always look up. The buildings in Tokyo work on a stack basis so if the restaurant you want to find isn’t in front of your face, you still could be in the right place, just check a few stories upwards. Plan things you 100% want to see but other than that go with the flow - Tokyo is a city of discovery. Do not cross the road unless there is a crossing - jay walking is an offence. Don’t be freaked out by the ‘SARS’ masks, they’re just for hygeine precautions.
Go vintage. Just down the road from Harajuku are some second-hand shops and boutiques that are not only full to the brim of 90s attire, but cheap too. See a wedding ceremony at The Meiji temple. Take a carrier bag for rubbish - there are no bins anywhere to avoid bomb threats.
Photo: Avarni Bilan
If you want a picture of a Harajuku girl, don’t be afraid to ask, they dress to impress so they’ll more than likely pose for your photographs.