Japan: Kyoto to Tokyo

It’s our last day in Kyoto. It’s a city that I could spend A LOT more time in, but it’s hard to fit every thing in over a three week period. I need to spend some time in Tokyo!
We check out and spend the morning walking around Teramachi for the last time. It’s so nice to walk around with just our day packs and not to worry about our big luggage. It’s probably sitting safely in our Tokyo hotel as I type.

We come across a small street where there is a coffee shop with a patio. I haven’t seen very many patios in Japan at all so this feels like a novelty! Dad orders pancakes. So Japanese, I know, but one can only eat fish for breakfast so many times. The fruit topping on the pancakes is frozen. Like, still frozen. I steal one of his blueberries and feel no regret having only ordered a matcha latte. It’s not awful of course, frozen fruit is fine. I’m just not jealous.


We catch a Shinkansen (super fast train) to Tokyo around noon. Because we were traveling with our luggage before, Dad had upgraded us to a nicer train car with more space, charging stations, more comfortable seats, etc. This time, because we’re traveling so light, we book the peasant seats. They’re still fabulous in comparison to what you’d get in other countries, but with these tickets we actually don’t have “reserved” seats, and therefore risk getting onto a train which is full, and having to stand. Luckily for us there are a couple free seats next to each other.

The trip to Tokyo is around 2 hours, and I bore easily. In search of something to keep me entertained, I pull out my new Lush shampoo that I purchased earlier in Kyoto. I don’t know what I plan to do with it. Just stare at it? That’s what I end up doing. I go to read the instructions (because using shampoo is so hard) and find that after a bold HOW TO USE: all the instructions are in Japanese. Well shit. Good thing I’ve got the English instructions memorized!


Arriving in Tokyo is weird. Tokyo is kind of weird. Unlike Kyoto, everyone here dresses basically the same. Everyone wears a black suit. Not grey, not blue, just black. Sometimes the tie colours vary, but even those are very plain. Dad says Tokyo reminds him of Blade Runner. It is pretty interesting to see how conformist this society seems to be. The weirdest thing about Tokyo though, is that the business districts where everyone wears the same black suit, can coexist with the Harijuku area where everyone wears crazy anime-like costumes. It’s an eclectic mix. I’m also obsessed with how adorable the school uniforms are for young kids. They dress like little sailors. This, to me, is a perfect hybrid of the two. An adorable, almost cartoony kind of conforming.


We try to walk from the train station to our hotel. Dad has looked at some maps and feels like he knows where to go, and it’s a nice day. Why not?
The only small wrinkle in this plan, is that we don’t actually know where we are, and all the maps are in Japanese, and never point North. They just put maps up any which way they please, so if you can’t read the language, and don’t know where you’re going, it’s pretty easy to get turned around. And of course, we do. We have no idea where we are, so after 20 minutes of walking we just give up and get in a cab. Our driver instantly makes a U-turn. Classic.

One of my friends whom I met living in Lake Louise, Alberta, last summer, has been living in Japan for the last few months. He happens to be in Tokyo tonight, so of course we meet up and go for a beer! I haven’t spoken to anyone my age in over two weeks now (with the exception of my young monk friend in Koyasan), so I look forward to the opportunity to be around people my age, catch up with a friend, and check out the nightlife in Tokyo.

We meet in the lobby of my hotel, then head over to the club district of Tokyo called Roppongi. It’s Monday, so it’s not a very busy night out, but I can totally imagine how crazy this place would be on a weekend! Tacky bars covered in lights line the streets, where club promoters stand outside shouting at you to come in; offering drink specials and saying it’s the best bar in town. I’m so happy to have had the chance to come out for a night like this during my short stay in Tokyo!

Guest Blog: Written by my lovely father, Mr. Mark Lai. This is what he did during my night out.

Naomi is craving a bit of night life (and no doubt a break from the Old Man) and so has arranged to meet up with a friend of hers whom she met while working in Lake Louise last summer. His name is Murray Christmas…I know, say no more…and he just happens to have been working here in Japan for the past several months. I take it he leaves Tokyo tomorrow, so the timing for Mr. Christmas to show Naomi around the Tokyo club scene is tonight or never.
Anyway, this means I have to fend for myself this evening. I read about the bar here in the hotel and see they have a cigar menu! That piques my curiosity, so I decide to check it out.

I find a seat at the bar and chat with the bar tender in broken English. I observe that he is quite talented and is kept busy mixing elaborate concoctions of colourful “girlie drinks” for stern looking conservative business men in black business suits. I opt for a glass of Bordeaux and an 18 year old single malt on the rocks. Then I ask to see their cigar menu. They have a surprisingly extensive selection of (mostly Cuban) cigars , complete with dimensions (length and circumference) and estimated smoking duration. I choose one if the Romeo ‘y Julieta options available…estimated smoking duration of 65 min. The keeper of the cigars (not the bar tender) brings my selection (which is of course perfectly humidified) and proceeds with a ritualistic clipping of the end and painstaking torching of the tip in preparation for me to smoke. Wow, only the Japanese could elevate the lighting of a cigar to an art form as complex and subtle as their tea ceremony.
Smoking a cigar may not be the wisest thing for me to be doing in preparation of my marathon in Banff this June, but this has to be the most enjoyable cigar I have ever experienced. What’s more is that I am smoking it inside, at the bar. Nor am I the only one but somehow their ventilation system is able to deal with it because the air quality is quite tolerable.

The dynamics within this bar are quite interesting to observe. It appears to cater to Japanese business men. Other than the bar itself, where solitary drinkers are hanging out, the rest of the place consists of curtained off “private” rooms. As it is almost 100% men in the place, I surmise these private “rooms” are intended to enable confidential business discussions. I feel like I’m in some kind of Japanese version of Goodfellas. I
I finish my cigar just before last call at midnight and then make my way to bed. Naomi is still out, but I know I don’t have to worry about this travel savvy kid of mine. She has a good head on her shoulders.
She arrives safe and sound sometime well after I have fallen asleep.

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