Hello Tokyo 2017: Itoya Stationery Experience, in Ginza

Itoya is located in Ginza, the very posh area of Tokyo.  The first time I was there, it was undergoing renovations.  I’m happy to report the renovations have long been completed, and now,  visually, the store is stunning. It is now an impressive 12 floors, each organized by theme, such as Letter, Desk, Travel, Home, Fine Paper, Craft, with a cafe on the very top floor.

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The display in the storefront is hundreds of pencils “floating” in the air.

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Hello Tokyo 2017: Tokyu Hands, Shinjuku, Part One: Stationery

A trip to Tokyo would not be complete, unless you visit Tokyu Hands. It’s so hard to describe, but it’s basically an emporium of Japanese ingenuity, filled with gadgets, lotions and potions, and everything you never knew you wanted until now.  Tokyu Hands is definitely not just a tourist destination, because I observe that Japanese people shop there too.  The stationery floor is usually filled with office workers and teenagers (I imagine the stationery section must be one of the most satisfying forms of retail therapy after a long day of work or school).

The branch that I visited is the Shinjuku store, located in the Times Square Building, and it’s just a two minute walk from the New South Exit of JR Shinjuku Station. If you only have time for one visit, I would advise allocating at least one to two hours here, because the store is 8 floors. It’s sensory overload, but in the best, possible way. My advice is to shop there about an hour to an hour and a half before the store closes at 9:00 pm.  The crowds have thinned out considerably by then, so you have plenty of room to browse, and there is hardly a wait for the cashier, or at the tax return counter downstairs.

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During my first visit to Tokyo Hands a few years ago, I was completely overwhelmed. I think I may have had a mini-melt down in the belt buckle/ leather laces section (why was I there again?!). Since I was staying nearby, I divided up my visits over the 5 days that I was there, which made the experience much more productive (and rational).  I only zeroed in on the items that I was especially interested in: beauty and cosmetics (3rd floor ) stationery (8th floor) , and kitchenware (4rth floor)  and just limited my browsing to those three floors.  For clarity purposes, I will divide the coverage of my Tokyu Hands experience into two posts: stationery and kitchen gadgets

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Hello Tokyo! Visiting the Traveler’s Factory, in Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo

My enthusiasm for the Traveler’s Notebook was sparked by my friend Peggy, who introduced me to the entire line during a day trip to Taichung.    That was the moment I fell in love with everything about the notebook, the design, the layout, and mostly, the versatility.  Since then, I’ve been really lucky to see the celebration of their 10 year anniversary, and even to find them all the way in Hong Kong.  A trip to see the Traveler’s Factory in Tokyo has always been one of my dreams, and it was during this trip that my dream finally came into fruition.

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Hello Tokyo! Muji and Product Review of the Muji Hand Mixer (Model MJ-HM1A)

A trip to Tokyo wouldn’t be complete without a trip to my mother-ship, Muji.  Friends who have been over to my house, laugh and say that my home is basically a Muji showroom.  In my opinion, their products are perfect for basically every corner of your home.  Especially if you live in an apartment the size of a postage stamp. Their organizers fit into the tightest of spaces, and have an unobtrusive design that fits into any pre-existing decor.  In this post, I’ll give you a glimpse of the Shinjuku Muji store,  and also a quick product review of their electric hand mixer (model MJ-HM1A), that I brought home with me.

The Muji stores in Japan are similarly laid out to the ones in Taiwan, with separate floors for clothing, bedding, kitchen, household, and of course stationery products.  However, they definitely carry products that are only available in Japan.

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For instance, the store we visited had a lovely (and thriving!) plant section.

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Hello Tokyo! Harbs Strawberry Cake (東京下午茶:Harbs 草莓蛋糕)

One joyful discovery made during this trip to Tokyo, is that strawberry season is in the winter in Japan. Every grocery store we stopped in, there were gorgeous, plump, perfectly red strawberries on display.  This particular example is in the basement of Isetan Department Store, in Shinjuku.  Each strawberry is individually nestled in a small compartment to prevent jostling.  (And at 3780 yen~ or approximately $35 USD for 12 strawberries!!)  But don’t despair, there are less expensive options in other grocery stores, and even in the convenience stores, so have a look around.  Another option is that most of the bakeries in Japan also take bountiful advantage of strawberry season, and there are lots of cakes and desserts featuring strawberries.

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Hello Tokyo 2017: Nezu Museum and Cafe 根津美術館

On my second day in Tokyo, I went to Nezu Museum, based on my friend Peter’s recommendation.  Nezu Museum is located in the Aoyoma (青山) neighborhood, in the northwest part of Minato-ward.  The museum houses approximately 4000 pre-modern Japanese and East Asian works of art, including paintings, calligraphy, ceramics, and textiles.  There is also a cafe, and a garden on the grounds of the museum.

Whenever I’m traveling, I get a little nervous about finding things. I have the worst sense of direction, ever, and there does not seem to be a remedy in sight.  Whenever possible, I like really precise information about subway exits and landmarks.  So I’ll try to include these types of directions in all my posts, so maybe you can find your way more easily!

The closest subway station to Nezu Museum is Omotesandō station of the Ginza, Hanzōmon and Chiyoda lines. The museum is about an 8 minute walk from Exit A5. Please note that there are quite a few stairs to come up on, but once you emerge from the station, you will see this sign:

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Hello Tokyo! Hotel Recommendation: Sunroute Plaza, Shinjuku, and breakfast ideas at Gontrain Cherrier and Blue Bottle Cafe

In this post, I thought I would write about some of the basic amenities that made my trip so enjoyable. I’ll give you a quick review of the hotel that I stayed in, and my two recommendations for breakfast. I learned from a previous trip, that I am not one of those people who likes surprises when it comes to hotel rooms. I like to know exactly what the room will look like and what is nearby. That’s why if I find a suitable hotel, I usually will stay in the same one whenever I’m back in the country.  During my first trip to Tokyo, I stayed at Sunroute Plaza, in Shinjuku based on the recommendation of my friends, Carol and Laura, whose advice I trust with my life.  They were right, the hotel was perfect for my needs. First of all, there is an airport shuttle that goes directly to the hotel, from both Haneda and Narita airports.  The ground staff and driver help you with your luggage, and each piece is tagged and labeled before being placed in the trunk of the bus. The hotel is the last stop on the route, so you don’t have to worry about missing your stop.  At the end of your stay, you can book and purchase your airport shuttle ticket at the front desk, and that’s one less thing to worry about on your day of departure.

Once you arrive, the check-in process is smooth and efficient.  The staff is professional, friendly and bilingual.  I always want to see the inside of the hotel room when reading reviews, so here is a shot of my room:

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The room is small, but adequate.  I had to think a moment about how to open my suitcase, but after trying a few angles, I finally figured it out.  There are no drawers and just a tiny closet in this room, so you have to basically live out of your suitcase. There is a desk that faces a big window, that lets in plenty of light.  The window sill is also nice and wide, so you can store some items on it. All the electrical outlets in the room are located on this desk, so if you have a lot of gadgets that need to be charged, you might want to bring your own surge protector, or power strip.  There is free wifi in all the rooms, and also downstairs in the hotel lobby.

And the view from the window!  The glass is double-paned, so even with all that is going on inside, you don’t hear any street traffic or noise.

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