Words by Penny Thomas |

There is something about travelling to Japan that keeps me coming back for more. Over the past four years I have managed to travel to Japan four times and I doubt my last venture in March will be my last. Although I could babble on about all the great places to visit in Japan I want to focus on the ever-adapting and awe inspiring city of Tokyo that never ceases to amaze me.

Tokyo is a city that embraces innovation whilst honoring traditions. I think this is why the cuisine, design and culture are so enthralling. When first arriving to Tokyo you can feel a bit of sensory over-load, but once you get your hands on a Tokyo metro map and a Passmo card (the golden ticket to using transport in Tokyo) you’ll slowly begin to understand that this busy place is extremely well organised and actually not as big as you might of expected. What fascinates me is that the Tokyo metro has an average of 80,000 passengers every hour, but when riding these trains there’s a sense of peacefulness. This might be hard to grasp, but Japanese people are generally extremely respectful of others in public spaces. It’s considered rude to be speaking on your mobile phone on trains or having overtly loud conversations – there’s even a woman’s only train that runs in rush hour.

Without sounding too cliché I have to admit I love to shop (it’s part of the kettu sisterhood DNA) and shopping in Tokyo is unavoidable. I saw an add for Lexus in Tokyo and they used the word takumi, which translates to artisan or craftsmanship. This really resonated with me because everywhere in Tokyo I would see people taking such pride in the work they produce and having an appreciation for handcrafted items.

Tucked away underground in Roppongi is a store named Nuno, which translates to fabric in English. My good friend introduced me to this place a few years ago and I instantly fell in love with the different textures and colours. Nuno blends the traditional with the contemporary – which is very much a metaphor for Tokyo in general. The store in Roppongi has fabrics draped from the ceiling to the floor, making it feel like a gallery. Amongst all the fabrics are fashion items, accessories and soft furnishings. The Nuno staff want you to try and play with the different textiles to see how imaginative you can be. Nuno fabrics are constantly adapting as they create new styles each season, giving you a reason to return whenever you are in Tokyo. 

It would almost be a sin for me not to visit a Marimekko store whilst in Japan, luckily the three level store in Ometesando isn’t hard to locate. Marimekko in Japan is hugely popular, as Japanese people love the vibrant colours and playfulness of Marimekko prints and fabrics. In 2013 Finnair, a Finnish airline company, created a three-year partnership with Marimekko that saw an entire plane have a Marimekko makeover. The plane traveled between Helsinki and Tokyo with a Unniko print exterior and Marimekko tableware goods on the inside for practical use and for sale. This just shows the marketplace for Marimekko in Japan and how well it is received. The store in Ometesando compliments the Marimekko brand extremely well and is constantly busy, it’s certainly worth checking out.

I checked out 21_21 Design Site in Minato which had an exhibition titled Athletes, I believe this exhibition was adding to the hype of the Olympics that will be held in Tokyo in 2020. This exhibition was unlike any I had ever seen before, there were so many interactive aspects challenging you to control your body and mind. The 21_21 Design Site has an interesting history for a modern art gallery. Issey Miyake wrote an article in 2003 titled Time to Create a Design Museum, which sparked a sensation that eventually led to the opening of 21_21 Design Site in 2007. The exhibition space is devoted to the theme of ‘everyday life’, with an aim to promote an understanding and interest in design by involving designers, company people, engineers, craftsmen, and the general public. The space is incredible and is surrounded by greenery which is always a plus in a big city.

The best thing about being in Tokyo in late March early April is that you get to experience 'hanami', which describes watching the sakura trees, also known as cherry blossoms. The weather is starting to get warmer at this time of year and people are full of excitement when the sakura trees begin to blossom. 

 Here are some places I recommend eating at:

EN restaurant (Shinagawa)
Ginza Maru (Ginza)
Tonkatsu Maisen Toyama Honten (Omotesando)
Here are some places I recommend checking out:
Tsukiji Fish Market
Yoyogi Park
21_21 Design
Tokyo Skytree Tower