Alone in Tokyo – Diary of a Nervous Traveller

Alone in Tokyo

The holiday part of our trip has finished, and Husband has gone off to work, which was the main aim of coming to Tokyo, so I cannot really complain. It does change the mood though, as although I will comfortably follow him round the world, I am quite a nervous traveller when alone. I have never been alone in Tokyo before.

I spent the morning writing blogs, telling myself that this was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, I had spent several days seeing sights, and it is always best to write about places while you’re actually in them, as it’s easier to capture the mood of a place. Plus, it was a nice easy thing to do, which didn’t require speaking to anyone other than the maid, who came to clean the room.

But then it was midday, and I was hungry. I told myself, unconvincingly, that the packet of stale shortbread from England would make an excellent lunch, and I needed to lose weight, and eating wasn’t a priority. Tummy rumbled and logic kicked in. I needed to leave the room and venture to some shops. All very scary for me.

Having made the decision to go, I left quickly, so I didn’t change my mind or become so nervous I needed multiple trips to the washroom. This was partly good – I made it down to the lobby without changing my mind; and partly bad – because I left without a bag, which meant I left without an umbrella. It was raining. I can tell you that everyone in this part of Japan owns an umbrella, and uses it even when there’s just a spot of rain.

I walked through the tiny shopping mall opposite the hotel, and used the skywalk to reach Ebisu Station. I knew there were a few little shops there. I first checked the bakers. There were pictures and prices outside which was helpful, though I was unsure if the ‘egg sandwiches’ were a single portion or a whole loaf. They cost ¥900, and I knew (because I had been given a lesson by Husband to avoid me spending an unexpected amount) that ¥1000 was a little under £10. So they seemed expensive, but maybe not for a city. Then a smiley young shop assistant came to speak to me. Added pressure. Decided I wasn’t in the mood for egg sandwiches.

Found a supermarket – this was easier, as I could check things whilst remaining anonymous. Most food seemed to be wrapped in shiny plastic. It made the food itself look plastic, especially the sandwiches. There was a fridge full of little containers of dumplings and rice balls and fish. I couldn’t work out which ones required cooking, and which were ready to eat. Found some onigiri (triangles of rice, sometimes with a fishy filling). That seemed safe, though I couldn’t tell if they were plain or filled. There was also a salad, though I wasn’t sure if I was buying slices of cheese or tofu.

Stood in the queue to pay. The checkout girl spoke, so I nodded and said “Arigato,” which means “thank you” and is the only Japanese word I know, and hoped I hadn’t agreed to anything expensive. I was given my food, in a carrier bag, with a plastic wrapped fork, and a wet-wipe, and a little blue packet which turned out to be an ice-pack. Wasn’t that nice? I paid with my ¥1000 note, and received a bunch a change which could, frankly, have been any amount at all for all I knew. Then we both nodded, and thanked each other again, and I left.

Walked out of the shop, and I swear, everything was different. I didn’t recognise a thing, nor did I know which direction to walk in. This happens to me a lot, especially when trying to find where I’ve parked a car. Husband had given me very clear instructions about finding my way back to the hotel. “Look for the sign to the skywalk.” This was not where I thought it was, but I followed it anyway, and round the next corner, everything became familiar again. I’m rather fond of that skywalk. I took a photo for you, though I’m not sure if you’re supposed to. Ate lunch in my hotel room. Now, shall I write something more this afternoon, or shall I try to find a park…?



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If you enjoyed this, you will love my new book: The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary.
I have always written a diary on holiday, so last Christmas, I decided to find all my old diaries and blogs, and make a book for my children. However, several other people also asked for a copy, so I have written a public version – it’s available on Amazon and has been described as “The Durrells meet Bill Bryson”!

Why not buy a copy today? I think it will make you laugh.

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The Imperial Gardens in Tokyo

The Imperial Gardens in Tokyo

We got a taxi to the Imperial Gardens (which was very silly, as the underground is a fraction of the price, safe and clean and would have delivered us to Hibiya station in less time. But we’re tourists – knowing things takes time). We passed the Nijubashhi, which is a stone bridge over the river, and used to be the main entrance. Lots of people were taking photos, so we did too, assuming this was a famous landmark.

We walked to the park entrance, which seemed like a long way in the hot sun, and there weren’t many signs, but we found it eventually. I was glad I had worn comfy shoes (will not repeat Husband’s feedback comments).

We were issued with tickets, which were free, and had to be returned at the end (am not entirely sure of their purpose).

The gardens were a mix of huge walls (the Japanese are very good at walls) and random buildings. We passed a restroom, which is NOT a washroom, but rather a shady area to sit and rest. Most Japanese gardens seem to have them. They have vending machines (everywhere in Japan has vending machines) and seating, sometimes people remove their shoes to enter, and they are generally quiet. I like them.

The gardens were also, at times, startlingly beautiful. I imagine that during different seasons, various areas would become more lovely. It is a garden you need to visit throughout the year. There were several trees that were bandaged and supported by posts, trimmed and encouraged to grow into the desired shape. Trees in Japan are also beautiful.

We went into an old guard’s barracks. We had to remove our shoes, and were provided with a plastic bag to carry them. A man seemed to be employed for the sole purpose of taking the plastic bags from the ‘finished’ bin, folding them, and replacing them in the ‘to use’ bin. I am not at all sure why we needed to remove our shoes. The barracks was rebuilt, and had a modern lino floor, so preservation wasn’t an issue. It was where the soldiers lived, not died, so I don’t think it had any sacred significance. Perhaps it was for cleanliness reasons – Japanese people are very clean.


The following day (after an almost completely sleepless night – jetlag is horrible) we returned to another park in the same area. This time we went by underground. I am not convinced that Husband read the scale on the map properly, but perhaps I was just tired. After walking for about 6 hours, we found the entrance. I was not really in the mood for wandering around a park, so we went straight to the park cafe for lunch.

We ordered burgers and cokes, using our pointing and gesturing method. Japanese people all seem to be very polite and helpful, and they cope very well with people who speak no Japanese at all. The burger was really nice, very fresh, and served with salad (not the mushy slime you tend to get in the UK). Portions are smaller than in England – it would be easier to be healthier here I think. Lots of areas are for jogging, and we saw several runners.

We then realised we had seen most of the park on our way to the restaurant. It wasn’t huge. We wandered around for a while, and found some shady tracks through trees, saw a couple of rest areas (vending machines and seats) and walked to a viewpoint over a river (somewhat marred by the massive flyover). Then we gave up, and went back to the hotel.

Tokyo is beginning to grow on me. The people are very polite, and friendly and helpful. When we are confused, people will stop, and ask if we need help. Everywhere is very clean, and it feels very safe. We saw people jogging around the parks, and they had left a bag with their belongings in, on a bench. Bikes are left unlocked. In restaurants and trains, people will leave their things – even mobile phones – on their seats while they order food or go to the washroom. No one seems to steal here, it is rather nice, how you feel society ought to be. We have not seen a single homeless person or beggar, which is very rare in a major city. Are there no homeless people in Japan?

I look forward to discovering more as we explore a little further.


Thank you for reading.



Startled by Beauty

I turn a corner, and happen upon a small pond, filled with water irises all in bloom, their sword-shaped leaves reaching towards the sky. The pond is edged with azalea and has a backdrop of shaped fir trees. It is beautiful, a tiny spot of perfection.

Husband took a sneaky photo of me while I was writing this.

All around me, people are taking photographs. There are kneeling professionals, aiming long lenses for the best angle, tourists with iphones, teenagers taking selfies. Everyone pauses, surprised by the beauty, snaps a shot. Then they move on. Very few make use of the wooden benches, stop a while, take time to absorb the scene. We have become a species that rushes to record, to collect, to own. But we rarely live in the moment. How many of these photographs, I wonder, will be examined, enjoyed. Or will they too be quickly glanced at before put away, the next event always being more pressing, more important.

This was art. The sculptured trees, the colour, the trickle of water, the flash of bright koi as they swam through lilies. I was startled by the beauty. It is, perhaps, the most beautiful scene I have ever encountered. Thank you for sharing it with me.


The water irises can be seen at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

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First Impressions of Tokyo

First Impressions of Tokyo

Arrived in Tokyo after a week of obstacles: dog kennels all full, no one able to cover Lunch Club or children’s work, house being painted (will not comment on the wisdom of deciding to arrange for renovations to coincide with a trip away). However, we did finally make it to the airport (after a brief return to the house because one of us forgot to put on shoes and suddenly realised they were wearing slippers – but we won’t comment on that either).

The flight, with BA, was about 11 hours, which is way too long wherever you’re sitting, but if your seat happens to be right next to the toilets, is even more unpleasant. The highlight – which almost made it worth it – was a brilliant view of the peak of Mount Fuji as we landed.

Finally arrived at The Westin in Tokyo. Hard to keep track of time when travelling, so several days had merged into one long one. Hotel was nice, dumped bags and went for a wander.

I have never been to Japan before, and had fairly low expectations. Tokyo is unexpected. It reminds me, on first impressions, of the Stockholm I visited 20 years ago, in that it appears to be very clean and functional but with ugly buildings. And massive flyovers. Things are designed to work efficiently, not to look nice. Perhaps in a city this is sensible – I’m not sure people who work in London are particularly enamoured with the time it takes to edge your way around Trafalgar Square.

We went for a quick stroll, to a river near the hotel. The weather is humid but not too hot. We wandered through a little park, where school children were growing vegetables. We saw lots of bikes – many of them electric, and lots had a young child sitting in a child seat at the back. Japanese children are very very cute. I am guessing, by the number of bikes left unlocked, some with bags in the basket, that Tokyo has an unusually low crime rate. My mother tends to leave her bicycle unlocked and no one steals it (but then, it is particularly old and unfashionable) but I’ve never seen other bikes abandoned before, and certainly not in cities.

I can tell you that: everyone obeys the traffic signals, the streets are very clean, and everyone has the same hair as me. This is weird, and feels rather surreal (perhaps not helped by being awake for about 36 hours now). In England, straight dark hair is fairly unusual, but here everyone has it. It is like looking at the back of me all the time. People are also very smart, and I feel scruffy and crumpled. I may have to do some ironing while we’re here.

There are lots of men with flags, who wave you around every obstacle (sort of the opposite to India, where a deep hole in the street will be completely unmarked). There are also vending machines everywhere. As in, everywhere.

We went to the Shibuya district. There’s a statue of Hachiko, a dog who sat outside the station every night waiting for his master, for ten years after his death. We also saw a famous road crossing, where people were pausing, in the middle, to take photographs – it’s one of the iconic scenes of Tokyo.

We wandered around a district which appeared to be full of hairdressers – lots of shop windows filled with photos of women’s faces. Read the Chinese characters, and realised that they were in fact brothels – suggested to Husband that we might find a better area to walk around.

Went back to Ebisu district, which is where our hotel is. Wanted dinner, but didn’t have the energy to cope with anything unfamiliar, so opted for Burger King. Buying a burger in a foreign language is challenge enough, but a combination of pointing and smiling, plus a very helpful server, managed to buy a couple of burgers. In Japan, “small” means small – I think I had a child’s dinner (about 8 fries and a half-sized coke).

We pretty much sussed the underground system – I will explain it in another blog, but it’s a brilliant way to get around Tokyo. I’m looking forward to discovering more of this city.

Went to bed feeling exhausted but not at all sleepy. The joys of jet-lag…


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If you enjoyed this, you will love my new book: The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary.
I have always written a diary on holiday, so last Christmas, I decided to find all my old diaries and blogs, and make a book for my children. However, several other people also asked for a copy, so I have written a public version – it’s available on Amazon and has been described as “The Durrells meet Bill Bryson”!

Why not buy a copy today? I think it will make you laugh.

The US link is here:

The India link is here:

The UK link is here: