Chuugoku 3: Hanako

To help practice Japanese, I’ve been using a language exchange app, which allows you to send messages to native speakers of the language you want to learn, who can then correct what you say or suggest a more natural phrase, that kind of thing. Basically working as a bilingual Facebook, users can post pictures or talk about what they’ve been doing, or ask about a particular language point and anyone on the app can comment on or correct your posts. Before my trip, I made a post asking for locals’ recommendations of the best places to visit in the area, or things I should try to do if I can, most of which I managed to squeeze in.

One of the people who I’d been talking to on there who read my post, however, was a girl called Hanako. When she heard I was coming towards where she lived, she immediately enthusiastically offered to show me around near where she lived, and a few days later went even further and said that upon consultation with her parents, I could stay with her family in their house if I so wished. Slightly overawed, and quite apprehensive of an almost complete stranger’s unabashed invitation, I accepted.

And so I found myself nervously pulling in to the town of Hamada in Shimane prefecture, where Hanako and her dad would be waiting to take me to their home. After a slightly awkward introduction, we went down and got into their car; the realisation that contrary to the advice given to all young children, I was willingly entering the vehicle of a stranger I met on the internet, not knowing where on earth I was being taken. I let it play out. I didn’t really have a choice at that point anyway.

The journey took about seven or eight minutes, during which we made awkward small talk in Japanese about the weather (beautiful today isn’t it?), and how tall are you? (yes, over 185cm), and how this part of Japan felt bang in the countryside compared to Tokyo (yes, we know!), and thank you for coming to collect me from the station (no problem!), and about how few trains there were (that’s because we’re in the countryside!), and how far from the station do you live (we’re almost there now) and oh look now we’re here.

On arriving at their house, the father departed back to work and I met the mother.

The mother was just as friendly and welcoming, and within seconds of walking through the door had me drop my bag, take a seat and gave me some tea. We repeated many of the small talk questions from the car, in what was turning into quite a surreal situation.

Hanako took a note of the fridge, showing the plans that she’d made for the day. For some reason they also had an array of local travel brochures to hand in their kitchen, and they showed me one of the places that we would be going to later. I didn’t realise that at the time, however, as the mother was speaking very excitedly and in very quick Japanese and I couldn’t really pick out everything (or in fact much) of what she was saying.

Before long, it was time for a lunch. According to her plan, Hanako and I would be going to a restaurant around the corner which she’d never actually been to before, but her dad goes to quite a lot, and which has some local delicacies. When I asked her what they were, she said it was just hamburg and fried shrimp like literally everywhere else in Japan.

It was slightly more relaxed over lunch, away from the barrage of questions from her mother. We could talk about things we’d previously spoken about on the app already, so safe ground, and could fill the hour or so it took at the restaurant relatively pain free.

Upon finishing up and paying, we walked a short way to the bus stop to continue our journey around Hamada.


A walk around Kami-Shakujii

Following on from this post about my old house in Kami Shakujii and this one a couple of years ago showing the neighbourhood where we lived in Hong Kong, I have a long overdue post showing the area where I lived when I first came to Tokyo in 2011. This summer I went back for the first time since I left, and it’s hardly changed at all! Here are a mix of photos from this trip and my earlier year there.

I used to get this train every day!

I used to get this train every day!


Kami Shakujii station

Kami Shakujii station

View from the station

View from the station


Across the tracks

Across the tracks


The supermarket at the end is called

The supermarket at the end is called “Inageya” (cue childish mirth)

My old pad

My old pad


Sumidagawa Fireworks

Rather than the welcome to winter that fireworks are back in the UK, in Japan they are a summer affair. The hat, scarf and baked potatoes are shunned in favour of shorts, beer and intensive sweating in the stifling summer humidity. In Tokyo, there are three big firework festivals on consecutive Saturdays at the end of July/beginning of August, and this year we cycled to the one 10 minutes from our house along the Sumida River.

People come into the streets to try and get any possible vantage point they can, and usually bring out picnic blankets and chairs to sit at by the side of the road. Like when the cherry blossom comes out in spring, it’s a very social occasion with friends and family meeting up, drinking beer and generally having a jovial evening.

The Sky Tree all lit up

The Sky Tree all lit up


People sat by the side of the roads looking for a good vantage point

People sat by the side of the roads looking for a good vantage point

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Through the trees of Sumida Park

Through the trees of Sumida Park

All entranced

All entranced


Prime position under the motorway

Prime position under the motorway


Buying large shoes in Tokyo

For many a foreigner living in Tokyo, shoes and shoe shopping can be a stressful nightmare of a time. The first problem people will likely encounter is the size scale; all the shoe sizes are in centimetres. Admittedly not the biggest hinderance, as there are easy conversion guides online to help you find the size you need, but it can be baffling when first browsing for your new pair and having to consider that you’ve never actually measured your feet before.

The biggest difficulty though is likely to be that few shops stock larger size shoes. Finding any shops that have shoes bigger than a 27 (UK size 9) is a challenge. Often there will be a rogue 28 floating about, but of a design and quality that will seriously make you question whether any shoe will do. Anything larger than that is next to impossible to find, even in larger stores in Shinjuku or Shibuya. Although it is of course possible in many cases to order larger pairs in (taking anything from a few days up to a week), I’ve always been hesitant ordering shoes I haven’t tried on, which is why I’d also ruled out buying from the internet.

Enter Ten in Shinjuku. A shop specifically designed for the larger footed customer, it offers predominantly a reasonable selection of business shoes, and a slightly smaller range of casual trainers and boots. I discovered it from posts by other exasperated people online and being similarly frustrated at the lack of choices gave it a visit. Mens’ shoes ranged from size 27 to 30, plus a few bigger than that but not many (UK size 9-12) and women’s from size 25 up (I didnt check to see how large they went).

Shoe problem: solved.    





The Penguin Bar

Tucked away just round the corner from our hotel in Okinawa, we passed an intriguing place with the name on the sign of “ペンギンのいる Bar”, or in English, “the bar in which penguins are present”. With our interest piqued, we decided to drop in for a drink on our last night and see whether it lived up to its name.

Indeed it did!




On passing through the door, we were greeted by a life size stuffed polar bear, and the chill of a room cooled to well below a normal room temperature. At the side of the bar was a huge tank, within which three little penguins were indeed present! They did have a little pool to swim around in, but for the whole time we were in there, they mostly kept to themselves and were nattering on to each other in the corner.




On the table we had penguin shaped hand towels, and there was actually a reasonably wide range of (sadly non-penguin themed) snacks and drinks, and not too unreasonable prices either. There’s apparently three other penguin bars in Japan, in Ikebukuro and Kobe, if you fancy popping in somewhere more convenient.




We sat around for about 40 minutes to see if they’d do anything (they didn’t) before realising that when they didn’t do anything it was effectively just a normal bar with a couple of penguins in the corner!


The i-link in Ichikawa

Yesterday we were out in Chiba, and happened upon the i-link tower above Ichikawa station. With a free observation deck on the 45th floor, it gave commanding views of the city (in the distance!) and out to Tokyo Bay. Although the only really discernible features were Tokyo Sky Tree and the Edogawa River, the photos from the deck claimed that on a clear day you can see as far as Yokohama, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Mount Fuji! Not really sure I could see that far yesterday, but then I didn’t have my glasses on.








Moving house (again!)

Having been in a company apartment since we moved back to Japan last summer, we finally took the plunge (or more to the point had finally saved up enough) to move out into the Tokyo private sector. It also meant we could move back in to Tokyo proper, having had 10 months out in the wilderness of Chiba. Working out in Chiba, it made sense to live there, but having experienced the bright lights of the city when I lived in Tokyo before, we were pining to live in a slightly more happening place than the quiet little suburban ville of Funabashi-hoten. So, although we still work in Chiba, we’ve moved to a much more central location in Kinshicho, which makes it much easier to get to more interesting places in the city. Oh, and it’s a much nicer house! It makes a big upgrade on the tiny little box I had when I first came to Japan in 2011!

Some photos of our Hoten house, on cleaning day as we left it for the last time!






And our new Kinshicho house on moving in day!