Japan is one of our favourite, but all-too-rare, holiday destinations. So smart, so polite and well-ordered, such care taken with everything from handing you a business card to presenting a plate of sushi as a work of art. But I also love the quirky personality of Japan: its hidden bars, pop-rock-cutie fashion and dark crime novels.
We spent four days in Tokyo with Zoe (7) and George (5). I took some Japanese books (aka ‘destination reading’) forgetting that chances to read when holidaying with children are pretty slim. Some highlights below – bookish and otherwise!
We loved Cat Street. Had a great coffee and cronuts at The Roastery. Also excellent burgers and salads at Golden Brown Burgers (recommended by Monocle). Don’t be put off by the ‘burger’ aspect – these were nutritious, with wonderful fresh salads also on the menu.
Yoyogi Park was beautiful to walk through and we would love to see Tomigaya (the area just on the other side of the park from Harajuku), which sounded fun and Brooklyn-esque and was featured recently in New York Times. I think I need to open a file “Things to Do When We Return to Tokyo sans kids”.
We had a sushi dinner at family-friendly Itamae Sushi – it was excellent. There are various locations; our closest was near Shiba Park.
Books: Tokyo Precincts and Tokyo Style Guide have some beautiful ideas for neighbourhood walks.
We spent two hours shopping for stationery at Loft, then went next door to Muji for another suitcase. 😉
We adored Matsuya department store and could have spent longer. Lunch tip: we bought bento boxes from the Food Hall and took them to eat on the rooftop (level R in the lift). Very relaxed.
Book: I could not help thinking of Out by Natsuo Kirino, which features factory workers who make bento boxes, and a grisly murder.
We did a tour late morning – would be good to make the 4am commitment and see the tuna auction (another one for the file). There is talk of moving the fish markets to a new location, so it might be one of the last chances to see the original.
A fabulous lunch at Tsukiji Edogin – it’s a five minute walk from the fish markets with excellent produce and space for 9 of us (we had met up with friends from Sydney), and they take bookings. I highly recommend it if you have a group but want to go local.
Winning lunch at Edogin with Penny, John and Gia
Our wonderful nanny minded the kids for us so we escaped with friends Penny and John for a fabulous dinner at Sushi Tsubaki (another Monocle recommendation) with a cool chef, wonderful traditional sushi, amazing fresh fish and flavours.
Next stop, Shimoda on the Izu Peninsula. Note to self: bring your international driver’s licence (Japan is strict on the paperwork) – a car is recommended. Also, when renting a house, remember that coffee is number one priority! We had to resort to the 7-11 down the hill, which had that filter style that tastes like someone has put coffee dregs into old dishwater. Our wonderful host came to the rescue with some pods on the second day.
You need to seek out the cool spots in Shimoda and (ideally, with a car, which you will have because you’ve taken my advice) beyond. (e.g. a surf shop on our way out which served fantastic coffee; Perry Road near the harbour).
I’m not sure we have quite nailed that area yet but Jason found it super chilled and relaxing so it’s a thumbs up!
Thanks to The Readers podcast – Simon and Thomas discussed Japanese books in one episode and the listeners had some great recommendations…
Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata, translated by Edward G. Seidensticker
Beautiful and subtle, this was too oblique for me. Slow-moving, with an unsympathetic protagonist and his lover, a tragic figure. Nuanced writing, thoughtful and humane. There is much to think about and space to read between the lines. I would appreciate it more reading quietly on a train going through the snow country of the title (instead of at the beach with children!).
The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe, translated by E. Dale Saunders
Contrary to the title, not a beach read! A man is held captive in a woman’s house to help dig out the sand dunes that the house is buried in. This had a nightmarish quality, both with his failure to escape, the heat and the sand (in his food, hair, clothes). Interesting and poetic, with descriptions of thirst and being trapped by sand all too vivid. I admired it.
Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino, translated by Alexander O. Smith
I really enjoyed this detective story set in Tokyo. It has an interesting premise (a wife suspected of murdering her husband from afar) and engaging characters: the likeable but flawed Detective Kusanagi trying to solve the mystery with the help of his physicist friend Yukawa. I loved The Devotion of Suspect X too, and am keen to read more by Keigo Hugashino.
Fear and Trembling by Amelie Nothomb
I loved this novella about working at Yumimoto Corporation in Tokyo. Amelie Nothomb has a wonderful, dry sense of humour but also a deep understanding of Japanese culture. Her empathy for her Japanese colleagues and ability to laugh at herself make for terrific, laugh-out-loud comedy and an at times poignant study of the constraints of life in Japan working for ‘the company’.
Bullfight and The Hunting Gun by Yasushi Inoue, translated by Michael Emmerich
I love Yaushi Inoue’s beautifully spare prose and the way he reveals characters slowly, leaving us to think about where our sympathies lie. Small but perfectly formed, these are cut like crystal. Highly recommended.
And I could do a whole post about Haruki Murakami (I read Wild Sheep Chase while I was away, and found the most beautiful little book called Haruki Murakami Goes to Meet Hayao Kawai – inspiring).
Do you like reading for holiday destinations? I have another one coming up (Barcelona), which has me thinking about books in translation generally. Maybe for another post!
Now back to Inifinite Jest….