Tag Archives: city guide

City Guide: Tokyo - Tips, Tricks & Must-see

Last week I visited Japan for the first time ever. I jotted down my first impressions on the day I got back. I promised to share all the tips, tricks and a travel guide for Tokyo. Before I traveled there, I got some inside info from my Dutch buddy, Mike Asscher, who goes there often for business. He also sent me a guide of Engin Yenidunya, which I used as a foundation of this City Guide. I tweaked it with my own experiences and feedback:

Picture taken from KLM flight from Amterdam above Tokyo before arrival.

- Transportation from Tokyo Narita Airport: Please note the airport is rather far! A cab to downtown Tokyo costs around us$300, so it’s not recommended. Two alternatives, both approx. 3,000 yen: 1. Narita Express - www.jreast.co.jp/e/nex/; 2. Airport Limousine Bus (to major train stations/ hotels) - www.limousinebus.co.jp/e/

- Cell phone: You can rent a cell phone or pocket wifi at Narita Airport (at the following outlets) or at some hotels www.narita-airport.jp/en/guide/service/list/svc_19.html | http://www.softbank-rental.jp/e/

- Cash: Most ATM's in Japan will not accept foreign cards – citibank, shinsei bank, post office and 7-eleven ATM's are the most foreign card-friendly ones – non-citi/ shinsei atm's also have limited operating times (if you can believe that - most close at 11pm and will not dispense cash until around 6-7am). The most popular credit card in Japan is VISA and not everyone will accept MasterCard. There are still some places in Japan that won't take credit cards or that will charge a 5% (or more) premium on credit cards so it's a good idea to carry some cash on you at all times. You can find many change offices in Tokyo. There are many ticket shops that sell all kind of tickets, they also have good exchange rates.

High-speed trains in Tokyo, Japan.

- Concierge: Carry the phone no. of your concierge with you – if not staying at a hotel or your concierge is not helpful, you can try the grand/park hyatt concierge for help (03 4333 1234/ 03 5322 1234)

- Cabs: Tokyo cab drivers are notorious for not knowing the city well. it always helps to have a map and phone number for your destination when hopping in a cab – most cabs have gps systems and they can just type in the phone number for your destination (if it’s a commercial establishment) and pull up the map for it. Otherwise, show them the Japanese address which should also help. Pricing is comparable to European capitals.

- Subway/Metro: Carry a subway map with you – you’ll be able to see how close/ far things are to/ from one another – download one in your own language at: www.tokyometro.jp/e/ Please note that there are several metro operators in Tokyo and they each have their own tickets. At every station you can get tickets from a vending machine (also in English) and Ticket Office (where they speak limited English). Navigating around Tokyo is very easy, efficient and cheap.

- Trains: If you're planning on traveling heavily around Japan, you should buy a Japan Rail (JR) pass (can only be purchased outside of japan), will save you a fair bit of money - www.japanrailpass.net

High-end Hotels:
- Grand Hyatt – Roppongi Hills location gives easy access to work/ play/ shop… – http://tokyo.grand.hyatt.com/
- Andaz – Opened in 2014. Nice rooftop bar on 52th floor. Good Toranomon location - http://andaztokyo.com
- Park Hyatt – home to “lost in translation” movie, great hotel, great view, business location – http://tokyo.park.hyatt.com
- Ana Intercontinental – Good location in Akasaka – http://anaintercontinental-tokyo.jp/e/
- The Peninsula – Good location by Ginza & views of the imperial palace – http://peninsula.com/tokyo
- Ritz Carlton – In the Tokyo midtown complex – http://ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Tokyo
- The Conrad – In Shiodome, great views & two michelin star restaurants – http://conradtokyo.co.jp
- Four Seasons Chinzan-so – Peaceful garden, away from the action – http://fourseasons.com/tokyo

Mid-range Options:
- AirBnB – Number of Tokyo apartments is on the rise – https://airbnb.com
- Asia Center – unbeatable for its price/ location combination - http://asiacenter.or.jp
- Weekly Mansion – Akasaka & Shirogane, most central. No minimum stay requirement. www.wmt.co.jp/en
- The B – Roppongi/ Akasaka – www.ishinhotels.com/en/
- Floracion – Minami-Aoyama – 5 min walk to Omotesando - www.floracion-aoyama.com
- Cerulean Tower – Shibuya – www.ceruleantower-hotel.com/en/
- Excel Shibuya – right in front of Shibuya station - http://www.tokyuhotelsjapan.com/en/TE/TE_SHIBU
- Villa Fontaine – Roppongi or Roppongi Annex – www.hvf.jp/eng/roppongi.php
- Apa – Nishiazabu – www.apahotel.com/hotel/shutoken/04_nishiazabu/english/
- The Glanz – Azabujuban – www.theglanz.jp
- Olympic Inn – Azabujuban – www.olympic-inn.co.jp/azabu_index.html
- Marroad Inn – Akasaka – www.toto-motors.co.jp/marroad/akasaka/

Park Hyatt Tokyo, New York Bar from movie Lost in Translation.

- Shibuya 渋谷 - anything & everything - check out the crossing, shopping streets, department stores, 109, and the love hotels - the crossing has the highest population density in the world; you’ll recognize it from the movie “Lost in Translation” - www.japan-guide.com/e/e3007.html

- Harajuku 原宿 - Takeshita Dori (street) and the area next to Harajuku train station are home of Japan’s gothic lolitas (and Meiji Shrine) - especially on Saturday/Sunday afternoons - also lots of Japanese designer clothing/ boutiques in the back streets - check out Yoyogi Park if the weather is nice (or during cherry blossom season) and Bowl-o-rama at the Omotesando end of Takeshita Dori for “bad english” t-shirts - www.japaneselifestyle.com.au/tokyo/harajuku.htm / www.japan-guide.com/e/e3006.html

- Omotesando 表参道- shop till you drop I - the "Champs-élysée" of Tokyo - mainly foreign brands

- Omotesando Hills adding to the diversity of brands on offer - www.omotesandohills.com [Shibuya, Harajuku, Omotesando and Meiji Shrine are adjacent to each other so you can check them out on the same day if you’re pressed for time]

- Ginza 銀座 - Shop till you drop II - Foreign brands as well as big Japanese department stores - www.japan-guide.com/e/e3005.html | www.tokyoessentials.com/ginza.html

- Tokyo midtown/ Roppongi hills - Shop till you drop III & IV- Tokyo midtown is the cousin of Roppongi hills – both are big shopping malls/ office building with a variety of restaurants/ cafés + hotels inside (Ritz Carlton & Grand Hyatt) – they’re a 10 minute walk apart (both connected to Roppongi subway station) - www.tokyo-midtown.com | www.roppongihills.com

- Shinjuku 新宿– 2.5 million people go through Shinjuku station daily; several department stores; take a stroll through Kabukicho, one of Tokyo’s several sketchy nightlife districts (remember to mind your own business) - www.japan-guide.com/e/e3011.html / http://japaneselifestyle.com.au/tokyo/shinjuku.htm

- Akihabara 秋葉原 "electric town" and maid cafés – http://japan-guide.com/e/e3003.html -

- Meiji-jingu Shrine 明治神宮 (Harajuku) - http://meijijingu.or.jp/english/
- Sensoji temple 浅草寺 (Asakusa) - http://japan-guide.com/e/e3001.html
- Ueno 上野 area (nice park and several museums) - http://japan-guide.com/e/e3019.html | http://tokyoessentials.com/ueno.html
- Yasukuni Shrine 靖国神社 and the adjacent war memorial museum - (the controversial shrine where japan’s ~2.5 million war dead are enshrined) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yasukuni_Shrine | www.yasukuni.or.jp/english
- Odaiba お台場 - Oedo Onsen, little hong kong, statue of liberty, good views of rainbow bridge, ferris wheel… - http://japan-guide.com/e/e3008.html | http://tokyoessentials.com/odaiba.html

Art Museums/ Galleries:
- Mori Art Museum: 53rd floor of Roppongi Hills, Mori Tower (6-10-1 Roppongi) - http://mori.art.museum/eng
- National Arts Center 国立新美術館 (7-22-2 Roppongi): http://www.nact.jp/english/
- Suntory Museum of Art: Inside Tokyo midtown (赤坂9-7-4 Akasaka) - www.suntory.co.jp/sma/
- Musuem of Contemporary Art (MOT): Worth the subway ride (三好4-1-1 Miyoshi) - http://mot-art-museum.jp
- Bridgestone Museum of Art: Quite a collection! (京橋 1-10-1 Kyobashi) - http://bridgestone-museum.gr.jp
- Wako Works of Art: Mix of great JP & world artists – 6-6-9 Roppongi- tel:03-6447-1820- http://wako-art.jp
- Zen Photo Gallery: Same building as Wako – 6-6-9 Roppongi- tel:080-4652-7058 - www.zen-foto.jp
- Tolman Collection: Japanese Prints - 2-2-18 Shiba Daimon – tel: 03-3434-1300 - http://tolmantokyo.com
- Tokyo National Museum 東京国立博物館 – 野公園 13-9 Ueno Park - http://www.tnm.go.jp/en/

Must-see locations:
- Tsukiji Market– Visit the world’s biggest fish market before it moves outside of Tokyo in 2016. ~5am auction is touristy and over-rated; OK to go ~9am to walk around & have breakfast – for sushi, you can line up for an hour (or two) at Daiwa (大和).

- A grand sumo tournament (Tokyo in Jan/ May/ Sep; Osaka in march) - http://www.sumo.or.jp/eng/

- The view from the top of Roppongi Hills Mori Tower - much better at night - www.roppongihills.com/tcv/en/ (no need to go to Tokyo tower once you've seen the view from here)

- Purikura – Dive into an arcade for all-you-can pose & edit - http://web-japan.org/trends/11_culture/pop120216.html

- The LIT (Lost in Translation) cocktail at the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt where the bar scenes of “Lost in Translation” were filmed – (西新宿3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku) – Go in the evening and enjoy the great view for a cover charge. Make sure to make a reservation beforehand. [Tip: Watch the movie again after you return home from Japan!] - http://tokyo.park.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels/entertainment/restaurants/

- Skytree - The highest building in Tokyo with amazing 360 degrees view of the city - http://www.tokyo-skytree.jp/en/

- Natural Spa - If you don't have time to leave Tokyo, it is highly recommended to visit LaQua Spa in Tokyo Dome City - A spa of the highest class that takes advantage of natural hot springs bubbling up from a level 1,700 meters underground. Featuring an outdoor bath, a massage bubble bath, and saunas. It is open 22 hours a day: starting at 11 am and runs all the way to next morning 9 am. No reservation needed. Make sure to try the Japanese traditional rub-down cleaning massage session. - http://www.laqua.jp/pages/en/spa.html

- There are many Shrine's in Tokyo. The major ones are listed here above already.

Last minute tips:
- Most up to date lists: What's Going on in Tokyo these days – http://metropolis.co.jp & Time Out Magazine is available free of charge in subway stations - http://timeout.jp

- Interesting lists of Tokyo/ Japan experiences/ events: http://unmissabletokyo.com | http://unmissablejapan.com

Japenese whisky

Fun Fact: Tokyo is home to 160,000+ restaurants and 286 Michelin stars (almost 4x Paris’ 77 stars). And, don't forget to taste the local whiskies, they really reach Scottish level of quality!

- Wakaba [わかば] (Roppongi) - If you can find a Japanese speaker to go along (as there is no English menu).

- Kaikaya [開花屋] (Shibuya)- No fish = No life -03-3770-0878 円山町23-7 Maruyama-cho - http://kaikaya.com

- Toriyoshi [鳥よし] Nnishiazabu) – Yakitori (meat/ veggies on skewers); all counter seats – 03-5464-0466 /西麻布 4-2-6 Nishiazabu - http://r.gnavi.co.jp/g388701/

- Dante (Akasaka) – Teppanyaki with a vintage feel -03-3583-5460/赤坂 2-14-9 Akasaka

- Uoshin (Nogizaka) – cozy, reasonable, loud izakaya - 03-3405-0411/赤坂 9-6-32 Akasaka http://uoshins.com

- Azabu Ramen (Azabujuban) – THE ramen place. Open 24 hours. 麻布十番 1-2-9 Azabujuban

- Honmura An (Roppongi) – Soba - 03-5772-6657/六本木 7-14-18 Roppongi - http://honmuraantokyo.com

- Nodaiwa [野田岩] (Hig.Azabu) -03-3583-7852/東麻布 1-5-4 Higashiazabu

- Maisen [まい泉] (Omotesando) – Tonkatsu that’s hard to beat -03-3470-0071/神宮前 4-8-5 Jingumae

- Sabuzen (Shibuya) – Shabu Shabu – 03-3485-0800/ 神山町 10-8 Maruyamacho http://shibuya.shabuzen.jp

- Andy’s Shin Hinomoto [新日の基] (Yurakucho) – The first foreigner-owned izakaya in Japan - talk to Andy about what to order – near Ginza –有楽町 2-4-4 Yurakucho/ 03-3214-8021 - http://www.andysfish.com

- Gonpachi [権八] (Nishiazabu) - 西麻布 1-13-11 - 03-5771-0170 - Tarantino's inspiration for the restaurant scene in Kill Bill 1 + Where Koizumi took bush - www.gonpachi.jp/en/nishi_azabu/home/location

- Sushi Seizan [鮨 清山]– Decent sushi in Roppongi hills - 03-5772-2077 - http://r.gnavi.co.jp/fl/en/g183526/

- Like your Michelin stars? Then, here you go: http://gm.gnavi.co.jp/restaurant/list/tokyo

Even an full vegan meal becomes art in Japan.

- Womb (Shibuya) – THE club in Japan spread over three floors – considered one of the world’s top clubs – mainly house/ techno/ drum ‘n bass - check who’s playing at www.womb.co.jp

- Golden Gai (Shinjuku) – 200 tiny bars in 6 tiny alleys. Most have 6-8 seats usually filled with regulars. http://unmissabletokyo.com/golden-gai

- Geronimo's (Roppongi) – drink up and see if you can leave a permanent mark in Tokyo expat history – right at Roppongi crossing – www.geronimoshotbar.com

- Two rooms (Kita Aoyama 北青山 3-11-7) – Slick bar in Omotesando; great terrace – www.tworooms.jp

- R2 (六本木 7-14-23 roppongi) – Two rooms’ Roppongi sister. Beginning of the slippery slope – http://r2sc.jp

- Feria (六本木 7-13-7 Roppongi) – Packed with Japanese/ foreigners dancing/ standing around http://lounge-feria.jp

- Vanity: The “new Feria” in Roi building - (六本木 5-5-1 Roppongi) – http://vanitylounge.jp

- Le.g.a: Another relatively new club in Roppongi - (六本木 7-8-6 Roppongi ) – www.le-ga.jp -

Paraiso (Roppongi) – Latin bar with good food and drinks – http://paraiso-bar.com

- Oak door at Grand Hyatt (Roppongi hills)– busy most nights- http://tokyo.grand.hyatt.com/

- Muse (Nishiazabu 4-1-1 西麻布) looking to get jiggy? muse will deliver – http://muse-web.com

- A971 (Roppongi) – standing bar at Tokyo midtown with some tables – www.a971.com

- Black List – Regular parties organized by Cedric and Beno - www.blacklisttokyo.com

- Ageha (Shinkiba) – The suburbs’ answer to Womb – the Shinkiba location is a trek (~7,000 cab ride from roppongi; try taking the train or the bus from Shibuya) but certainly worth it for some of the dj’s that play here - 3 areas (arena, water bar, island bar) with the water bar outdoors with a pool going mad past sunrise. Ageha gets going around 12 and doesn’t stop till 6/6.30 so be prepared for a big one - www.ageha.com

- The Room (Shibuya) – 桜丘町 15-19 Sakuragaoka-cho – A Tokyo institution that pre-dates Womb and the now closed Yellow. Very cozy atmosphere. Check who is on at www.theroom.jp

- Mado Lounge (Roppongi hills) – Sip your drinks enjoying the best night view of Tokyo – www.ma-do.jp

- New Lex (Roppongi) – Formerly Lexington Queen – Has hosted many celebrities coming through town in the past – these days, mostly packed with European models – www.newlex-edo.com

- Superdeluxe (Nishiazabu 3-1-25 西麻布) – Cool performance/ event space - www.super-deluxe.com

Tokyo has an abundance of live music whatever genre you fancy and whether you like surrounding yourself with 1000s of people or just 10. Here are some of the options:
- Electrik Jinja (Roppongi 5-9-22) – A hidden bar with great live music/ dj’s - http://facebook.com/electrik.jinja.official
- Shelter: http://loft-prj.co.jp/SHELTER
- Que: http://ukproject.com/que
- 251: http://club251.com
- Blue Note: http://bluenote.co.jp
- Cotton Club -http://cottonclubjapan.co.jp
- Body & Soul: http://bodyandsoul.co.jp
- Sometime: http://www.sometime.co.jp/sometime
- Pit Inn: http://pit-inn.com
- Intro: http://intro.co.jp/intro/
- B flat: http://bflat.biz
- All of me: http://allofmeclub.com

Nike Store in Tokyo with Michael Jordan Art Piece floating in the store.

Obviously as a #SneakerHead I couldn't skip all the sneaker stores in Tokyo:
- Mita: http://mita-sneakers.co.jp
- Atmos: http://atmos-tokyo.com
- Kicks Lab: http://store.kickslab.com
- White Mountaineering: http://whitemountaineering.com
- Chapter World: http://chapterworld.com
-  GoodEnough - Fuji Warahiroshi: http://gdeh.jp

Casio G-Shock Watches

And, as a #WatchNerd I had to find watches in Tokyo:

- Common Time by Charmy: http://common-time.jp
- Ishida: http://ishida-watch.com
- Archimedes Spiral: http://archimedesspiral.com
- Best: http://best-watch.com
- Oomiya: http://jw-oomiya.co.jp

Possible day trips from tokyo:
1. Hakone: http://japan-guide.com/e/e5200.html
2. Nikko: http://japan-guide.com/e/e3800.html
3. Mount Fuji: http://japan-guide.com/e/e2172.html
4. Kamakura: http://japan-guide.com/e/e2166.html
5. Yokohama: http://japan-guide.com/e/e2156.html
6. Mount Takao: http://japan-guide.com/e/e3029.html

Other destinations/Experiences in Japan:
- Kyoto: www.plus-alpha.jp . Hyatt Regency is a nice accommodation option - http://hyattregencykyoto.com . If looking to spend less: http://palacesidehotel.co.jp

- Naoshima: One-of-a-kind “art island” that is home to many outdoor art works (i.e. Kusama’s pumpkin), three great museums (Chichu, Benesse house, Lee ufan) including works by Monet, Warhol, Pollock among others, and the “art house project.” 1-hr. flight from Tokyo Haneda followed by 1-hr ferry ride – stay at the Benesse house (some rooms inside the museum) – info on hotel/ art works at: http://benesse-artsite.jp

- Spa Experience - Onsen / Ryokan: you’ve come all the way to Japan – you don’t want to leave without enjoying a refreshing onsen (Japanese bath) experience… a listing of high quality, English-speaking onsen are available at http://www.ryokancollection.com.

- Winter Sports- Ski resorts: More and more people are starting to come to Japan on ski/ snowboard holidays. With decent slopes starting 1.5 hours from Tokyo by train, the options are endless. Here are some of the best:
1. Kagura Mitsumata (Niigata): www.kagura-mitsumata.ne.jp
2. Naeba (Niigata): Kagura’s neighbor – http://www.princehotels.co.jp/ski/naeba/
3. Gala Yuzawa: www.galaresort.jp (off the train & on to the ski lift)
4. Nozawa Onsen (Nagano): www.vill.nozawaonsen.nagano.jp/info/english/start.htm
5. Niseko (Hokkaido): www.niseko.ne.jp/en/

If you’ll be spending a couple of weeks/more in Tokyo, you may want to check these out:
- For higher end options, check out:
Oakwood, Mori, Somerset – www.oakwoodasia.com | www.moriliving.com | www.somerset.com

- Slightly cheaper than the three above are Bureau and Asahi Homes - www.space-d.co.jp/en and www.asahihomes.co.jp

- Weekly mansion & monthly Chintai: Apartments/ rooms all over Tokyo - www.wmt.co.jp | www.monthlychintai.com/en

- Cheaper alternatives incl. shared apt./rooms:  Sakura house: www.sakura-house.com - Some others are listed at www.moveandstay.com and www.tokyoapartments.jp

Hope this is usual to you. Thank you Engin for the wonderful source. I hope you like my additions. Please share your tips & hints in the comments.

[Photo credits: All images are taken by myself. For more views of my trip check my Instragram account for more snap shots and my Flickr account for more qualitative images.]


First impressions from my trip to Japan

I have been infected with the 'Japan Bug' since I am four years old. My first encounter with the Japanese culture was when I became friends with Takashi in kindergarten in Amsterdam. That is the first time I also started to learn about the Japanese cuisine, Japanese manners and discipline. I got intrigued immediately and never lost my fascination for Japan.

Huge Transformers out in the streets of Tokyo.

Thanks to my Japanese childhood friend in Amsterdam I got hooked on sushi, origami, Nintendo games, Japanese comics, Transformers and electric toy cars. Obviously, thanks to my friend, we had fresh supplies straight from Tokyo twice a year.

Strangely enough I never shook that passion for Japan, but it took me 32 years later to finally visit this mythical country. And, the irony is that it was work that took me there. Casio invited my father and I to visit their factories in Japan. In 1983 Casio created the revolutionary G-Shock watches, which I also got infatuated with when I was 4 years old. So, you can imagine how excited I was that we got invited to travel to Tokyo.

Today I got back after spending almost a complete week in Japan where we visited only Tokyo and Yamagata. So, I still need to process and let everything sink in, but wanted to write a quick post and share my first impressions (in random order):

People: They are so SO friendly and polite. The stereotype is so true that they bow at every occasion and multiple times in a conversation. The more respect they have, the deeper they bow. After a week you get used to it and one notices that you start bowing yourself automatically.
The locals are also very helpful and will go out of their way to help you.

Cities: I have only visited Tokyo and Yamagata, but what I noticed first is that the cities are so clean. And, the funny thing is that you will not find a single garbage bin anywhere! Almost a contradiction!

They ALL queue up neatly!

Metro: I have visited many cities and try always to use the metro system at least one. I was impressed by the Japanese network and infrastructure. Not only very clean, but also very punctual. And, a lot of people warned me that it is a difficult country to navigate in as hardly anyone speaks English and all the signs lack English. I can not confirm this. All the navigation signs (roads and public transportation) where bi-lingual or even tri-lingual (Japanese, English and Chinese). And, let's not forget all the signage on the floors to indicate walking directions and where to que up 😉

Culture: First thing I noticed that the people are very polite and well dressed. And, you hardly see people are over-weight. Or, even better said, it seems (not statistically researched by me) that 95% is lean! Then you notice that even late at night you see people leaving work at 8pm, 9pm, 10pm and even 11pm. You literally see them leaving offices, streets are busy that late at night and people in suits and business attire. Nobody bumps into each other. And, what was interesting, nobody raises it's voice. It seems that they take the issue of keeping the volume down so seriously, that it is forbidden to speak on mobile phones in the metro!

They they take their mouth caps very seriously in Japan!

Mouth Caps: In The West we are used to seeing Asians wearing mouth caps. Especially when SARS accured. But, flying from Amsterdam to Tokyo I spotted a few people on the plane wearing a mouth cap, but as soon as we landed in Tokyo, it seemed 10% tot 20% of people where wearing a mouth cap. After a week, you get used to it and it seems normal. Everywhere you go, no matter the ago or gender, approx 1/5 of the population was wearing a mouth cap. When you enter a drug store, there are hundreds of different kinds in different sizes, available with different scents and colors. When you inquire why people wear them so much, the official answer is: People who wear a mouth cap have an infection and do not want to infect other. Uber form of politeness! Right?! But, I started paying attention and many people wearing a mouth cap were not sneezing, coughing of seemed fatiguq... So, I think a second reason is less polite and more self-centered: they do not want to be infected... Which is fine 😉

My dad and I having OG Tempura / Soba noodle lunch.

Cuisine: In case you love Japanese cuisine (read: sushi is just a small part of it), you feel in food heaven in Japan. In case you do not like Japanese food, you are not going to enjoy a visit to Japan as much as I did. Obviously you will find many different kinds of restaurants, especially as it seems that Japanese love French, Italian and American fashion & cuisine. But, I think that 90% of the food establishments are focused on Japanese cuisine. In case you love fish, I really recommend you to visit Tsukiji Market (Tokyo Fish Market - which is moving in 2016 to a new location).

Vending machines EVERYWHERE! Like a Boss!

Technology: I was always under the impression that Japan was the most advanced technology nation out there. I got this impression by the many technology companies they have, the innovations they launched, the focus on robots and their leading role in mobile technology. But, arriving in Japan, I noticed that I was somewhat disappointed. I did not find any new mobile phones, no new camera's, no amazing hybrid cars (which I never seen before - on the road or online), no technical innovations I not have seen before. Maybe my expectations where unrealistic as we live in a super connected world and the world is getting smaller since we are so connected and every technological innovation is adapted globally in a split second...
But, I still did not shake my sense of disappointment as I saw many people still using flip phones (fold-able phones) and old smart phones. And, what really struck me as odd: the number one phone in Japan was the iPhone... Yes, an American product! In contrary to most of the world, iOS is leading in Japan and they do not like Samsung & Android in Japan. Is it strange that I expected that Japanese phones (in combination with Android) would dominate?
But, I have never seen so many vending machines in my life. Literally every corner in Tokyo and Yamagata had a vending machine. Mostly for drinks. Most machines offer cold AND hot drinks from same machine. I drank hot milk tea and hot coffee IN cans from vending machine offering cooled bottled drinks.

Economy: It seems that the Japanese economy is getting back on track. They always exported more than they imported and Japan is a producing country. Mostly technology and innovation. VAT on products is only 8% and it seems the Japanese are real consumers. They shop a lot and like luxury. They eat out a lot and work many hours. It also seems they are a real work nation and people make many hours. As I understood from our hosts at Casio, up until 20 years ago everyone would work 6 days a week. Only in recent years they went back to an European model of working 5 days a week. But, I must say, I was surprised to see that on Saturday I have seen a lot of people commuting to work, dressed in suits with ties and carrying business bags. And, what I found very impressive, you see a lot of old (read: older than 65 years) working! In all kind of positions and functions

View of Tokyo from 350 meters above taken at SkyTree.

Tourism: Japan is very pro tourism. The emphasize on tax free shopping everywhere. All pricing in Japan is, like in North America, listed with sales tax (VAT) and added upon check-out. But, as a tourist spending more than 10,800 Yen in one shop on the same day, they don't charge you any VAT on the spot. They stamp the invoice in your passport and upon departure from Japan, they customs office only rips it out. They do not even want to see the merchandise. Talking about trust!! Although the Yen fluctuates often and has a big bandwidth, things are not cheap there. Neither for locals I have asked. Living is expensive, both housing as shopping. Nice to know: Japanese do not tip and do not expect tips. Not even bell boys in the hotels or drivers in cabs.

Cars: My expectations where met regarding cars... I expected to see 95% Japanese cars on the road, I expected Toyota to dominate, I expected to see some Europeans cars and I expected to hardly see American cars on the road. All these expectations where met. What surprised me is that I hardly saw Lexus on the road. I was surprised so hardly see sports cars on the road. Hardly Japanese and in the week I was there I have seen maximum 20 Porsche's, 1 Ferrari and no other European Super Cars. But, what surprised me more, I hardly saw Japanese sports cars...

Casio MT-G Triple Sensor watch

Watches: Regarding watches I had also high expectations. I expected that Japanese watches with dominate Japanese wrists and this was definitely the case. Looking at the three biggest Japanese manufacturers: Seiko, Casio & Citizen, you would see them often on wrists. As a jeweler, we know that Japanese love luxury goods, especially European luxury, like Swiss watches. I was surprised that I did not see so much luxury watches on wrists, but in retail the following luxury brands seemed to be the most popular: Breitling, Omega, TAG Heuer, Rolex & Longines (in this specific order). And, then the sixth position in the luxury list, seemed to be filled by: Grand Seiko. A brand that is slowly coming up with hardcore watch collectors in Europe, USA, Singapore & Hong Kong.

Mita Skeakers Ueno Tokyo.

Retail: Japan is a real retail nation. There are MANY shops, department stores and malls. Stores are open at least 12 hours a day. They have all the international brands present in Japan! There are so many area's in Tokyo to shop. One week stay in Tokyo is not enough to see it all! We hardly slept in Tokyo (literally 4 hours a night) and we tried to see many different areas. I will try to post a City Guide later this week for our experiences. What I noticed, there where hardly Western tourists there, but loads of Korean, Chinese, Cantonese, Indonesian and Singaporeans. I always thought that Hong Kong was 'the New York' of the East. But, I am starting to get the feeling it is Tokyo...

Casio Premium Production Line in Yamagata, Japan.

Casio: I have been wearing Casio watches since 1983 (launch of G-shock) and have collecting G-Shocks since. We have been Casio retailers for several decades and now that Casio is moving up market (read: prices between EUR 699 and EUR 2.699) they invited us to find out why Ace Jewelers should sell these lines (G-Shock Mr. G, MT-G and Edifice) in our premium boutiques and eBoutique. As I had expectations about all other aspects of our visit to Japan, I had these also about Casio. And, I can state that all these expectations where surpassed! I will write a seperate blog post about this.

Karaoke & Alcohol: Yes, this stereotype is so true. The Japanese L O V E their karaoke! It goes hand in hand with a lot of drinking! There are so many karaoke bars in Tokyo, it seems they don't like to do anything else. And, even when they are not into karaoke, they still love their alcohol. It is an interesting view to see all the people around midnight walking the street in their business attire pissed off their faces. I read in this months Time Out Tokyo magazine that Japanese often call-in sick at work due to hangovers, but hardly use drugs. It's as low as approx. 5% used cannabis, 4% XTC and 3% cocaine.

The Chita, Suntory Whiskey

Whiskey: Since we are on the topic of alcohol. Obviously the sake is amazing in Japan and there are so many kinds and I tried at least two different ones every day. But, what is highly recommended it the local whiskey. Yes, you have read it well! In Japan whiskey is made locally and is fantastic. I read about it already on Bexsonn's blog, but only got to try it in Japan. If you are into whiskey, I highly recommend you try some!

This is what came to my mind and wanted to share with you. Please share your feedback on this post and let me know if you have ever visited Japan and how you have experienced it!

[Photo credits: All images are taken by myself. For more views of my trip check my Instragram account for more snap shots and my Flickr account for more qualitative images.]