Treat Yourself to Unique, Delicious and Trendy Japanese Food and Lifestyle Products from Tokyo Direct

I live in the UK so sometimes I miss all the delicious Japanese food I could eat to my heart’s content when I lived in Tokyo. There are a few Japanese food suppliers in England so now and again I can get my Japanese food fix through their home delivery services but they all seem to offer the same items and I never get the chance to try anything different, that is up until now, thanks to Tokyo Direct. This is a new company in the UK offering unique and high-quality Japanese food and sweets, kawaii goods and lifestyle products.

I love the fact I can finally get my hands on delicious and unique Japanese food items that are trending in Japan right now. I can order instant ramen from Tokyo Direct that tastes better than some of the ramen noodles served in restaurants in Japan. I can now get Japanese cereals that are so delicious I can’t wait to get up in the morning. I can also order new varieties of chocolate biscuits or other snacks imported straight from Japan that go perfectly with a cup of PG Tips tea or Earl Grey if I’m feeling fancy!

The Managing Director of Tokyo Direct is Mr. Akira Soeda. He has been living in the UK for many years and he too was disappointed with the limited range of Japanese food and sweets available in the UK. He was also quick to recognise a lot of the food available here was outdated in terms of popularity and quality so he decided to start his own import company. Mr. Soeda knew from the get-go he wanted to introduce the finest Japanese food and lifestyle products. He also knew, right from the start, these products had to be unique and a cut above the rest when compared with the items offered by his competitors in terms of taste, quality, and packaging.

You really need to visit the Tokyo Direct online shop to see what’s available. While you’re there make sure you check out each and every page. There’s a selection of general food, ramen, sweets and snacks, matcha and tea, sake, stationery, and also kitchen and lifestyle products. Don’t be put off by the prices. You’re not buying your average ramen or curries from Tokyo Direct. You’re buying high-quality items that are incredibly tasty and a lot more delicious than any other food products you’ve tried before. If you do have a limited budget you can still afford the less expensive items such as the Ginza Curry for £4.50 or the Raoh Ramen Noodles for just £2.50.

I was lucky enough to try four different products sent directly to my home from Tokyo Direct. Everything was packaged really well and I was honestly blown away by the superior quality and taste of all the items I received.

1. Raoh Tonkotsu Ramen Noodles 1pcs 日清ラ王 豚骨 1袋 (£2.50 per packet)

Tonkotsu Ramen

I’ve never tasted ramen noodles in a packet that have been so good. I added some pork and sliced spring onions and each mouthful was divine. I’ll definitely be ordering some more of these Raoh ramen noodles in the future for quick and easy meals.

2. Matcha Granola (500g) 抹茶グラノーラ (£12.00 per packet)

Matcha granola

This packet is huge so you won’t have to buy cereal for a couple of weeks as long as you don’t end up eating this granola for breakfast, lunch, and dinner which you may very well do when you taste this variety. The granola is crunchy but it’s really fresh so it won’t break your teeth. I would never have thought a matcha-flavoured cereal could be this tasty but it really is! It’s like having a Zen moment in the morning with its subtle matcha flavour and of course, there are the health benefits because it contains wheat, milk and soybeans. Honestly, you have to try this cereal. You’ll love it and even if you’re not a matcha fan I promise this granola will convert you.

3. Shiroi Koibito -white lover chocolate cookie 白い恋人 (were £13.00 but now just £11.00 on sale)



These cookies are for the ladies! When I used to visit the homes of my Japanese friends in Tokyo they’d serve me English tea in Wedgwood cups and saucers with a dainty biscuit on the side in the most exquisite packaging. These cookies remind me of those times. Enjoy a sliver of white chocolate placed between two slices of langues de chat (light but crunchy French biscuits). It’s a winning combination and something you’ve probably never tried before so do yourself a favour and order these for sure. They’re the perfect accompaniment for a more refined afternoon tea with your Japanese or British friends and your Grandmother will love them as well!

4. KitKat Matcha (12 pieces) 抹茶キットカット 12枚 (were £10.00 but now just £5.00 on sale)

Matcha kitkat

There are lots of Kitkat lovers out there who have already tried this matcha flavoured variety but if you haven’t then you’re missing out. This lovely chocolate snack just melts in your mouth, they’re really creamy, and you’re going to find it difficult to eat just one so it’s lucky you get 12 small individually wrapped Kitkats in one packet!

Make sure you visit the Tokyo Direct online shop on a regular basis because new and exciting products are being added every day. You can also put in a request for any items you’ve seen in Japan that you’d like to enjoy in the UK and Akira Soeda will go above and beyond to get these for you and have the items delivered straight to your home.

Tokyo Direct

Louboutin Manicures and Lobster Medallions at the Luxurious Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo

Tokyo is a fast-paced city, a place where excitement and exhilaration breed and embrace a complex culture that allows tradition and modernity to merge and flourish. Every transaction, bow, smile, human connection and act of service in Japan’s capital is delivered with a selfless willingness to make you feel comfortable and at ease as you navigate this awe-inspiring metropolis. The hotel that provides better customer service than any other is, in my opinion, the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo.

Mandarin Oriental

In September last year, my husband and I celebrated my birthday at the Oriental Lounge on the 38th floor of the Mandarin Oriental where we enjoyed the Golden Fan Afternoon Tea “Escoffier”. We’d thoroughly enjoyed afternoon tea at Claridge’s in London a few years earlier and the food and service there had definitely been first-class so we thought this experience would be hard to beat but we were wrong — the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo went above and beyond anything we were expecting.

I can’t say enough about the great customer service we received at this five-star hotel in Nihonbashi, a district famous for textiles and kimono. As soon as you enter the Mandarin Oriental you quickly discover nothing is too much trouble, nearly everyone speaks English extremely well and the staff all have a sincere commitment to providing their guests with an outstanding level of service that is truly memorable.

Reception

We were shown to our seats as soon as we entered the Oriental Lounge. My husband and I love a good cup of tea so we sipped and sighed in comfort as we enjoyed the refined flavours of a couple of blends on offer and gazed down upon the streets of Nihonbashi and the surrounding business and shopping districts. Unfortunately, the cumulus clouds that afternoon prevented us from seeing Mount Fuji which would have been a sight to behold from our excellent vantage point next to the floor-to-ceiling windows. However, the picture below shows just how clearly you can see Mount Fuji in the distance on a winter’s evening.

As we waited for our food, we noticed the staff seem to effortlessly float across the room and even though they were entirely non-intrusive they were ready to serve you with a confident smile at a moment’s notice.

oriental-lounge-01

It didn’t take long for the food to arrive, all beautifully arranged on a three-tier afternoon tea stand. My heart fluttered when we noticed the staff had thoughtfully placed a chocolate plaque on the top wishing me a happy birthday! It’s the little touches like this that give a five-star hotel the human touch. We started with the savoury assortment and I was pleased to discover every bite was delicate but rich in flavour. This was followed by mouth-watering lemon and cheese scones and exquisite petits-fours. The sweet but subtle tastes of the Caramel Pudding with Guerande Salt, the Fuji Apple Tartlet, the Chestnut Honey Madeleine Glazed with Lemon as well as the Nelly Melba Peach, created by August Escoffier in 1893, were all scrumptious.

afternoon tea

The highlight of the afternoon tea for both my husband and me was definitely the Lobster Medallion and Cauliflower Coulis with Caviar that simply melted onto our taste buds. We both reacted with oohs and aahs. We couldn’t hold back our delight and appreciation.

We were very impressed with the afternoon tea and luckily for us our experience was enhanced even further when we met the concierge, Tomoya Mori, in the Main Lobby adjacent to the Oriental Lounge. Tomoya was very friendly, he spoke fluent English and he was able to answer some of our questions about the rooms at the hotel and all the five-star facilities the guests could enjoy.

Tomoya later introduced us to the Assistant Public Relations Manager, Chie Kuno, who proudly showed us around this magnificent hotel. Chie explained how the hotel is like a tree and all the rooms, with either a prime view of Tokyo Skytree or Mount Fuji, are the leaves. The forest and water symbolisms continue throughout the hotel from the rugs in the rooms to the furnishings in each of the twelve restaurants and bars including the gourmet shop.

room-premier-deluxe-room

But it’s all the five-star extras that make this hotel so great.

For example, an invisible butler will pick up your dry cleaning and polish your shoes!

Mandarin closet

The spa at this hotel is also world-class. It was named as one of the top 25 spas in the world by Condé Nast Traveller in 2011, follows the same philosophy as the rest of the hotel with a dedication to peace and serenity and finding the optimal balance between mind and body. Skincare and wellness products produced by Subtle Energies, an Australian skincare brand, are gently applied in treatments to soothe and de-stress every muscle in your body so you look and feel fantastic every day during your stay and even after you’ve checked out of the hotel.

Spa

We all know Christian Louboutin is a brand synonymous with style and opulence but at the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo you can enjoy a Louboutin nail treatment for a fraction of the price you’d pay for a pair of those famous Louboutin shoes. Think sassy, sexy and eye-catching nails that will make you look like a million dollars or in this case a million yen!

Christian Louboutin

You can also dine at Sushi Sora or sit counter-style at the pizza bar that was awarded the Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2018. Don’t worry too much about the calories, the pizza dough here is 80 percent water. You can even make reservations for the Chef’s Table in the private wine cellar for two to eleven people.

This luxurious hotel also boasts three restaurants with a Michelin star. For something different, chat with fellow guests as you enjoy the molecular menu at the eight-seat tapas bar or dine on Cantonese cuisine at Sense, the Chinese restaurant offering panoramic views of Tokyo and tea tastings at any hour of the day. Signature (pictured below), their contemporary French restaurant with its ornate décor, offers an impressive dining experience. It’s the perfect place for a romantic dinner or a group celebration.

signature-restaurant-02

The Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo is superbly located on the top nine floors of the 38-floor Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower. Sit back and relax in style as you sip on a Negroni Sbagliato cocktail in the Mandarin Bar or enjoy the best the hotel has to offer while you unwind in the marble bath in the Presidential Suite.

So, if you’re flying to Tokyo for work or as a tourist or if you’re thinking of attending the 2020 Olympics (in which case you should think about making a reservation as soon as possible) I highly recommend the Mandarin Oriental. It’s one of the best five-star hotels in Japan where you’ll feel very welcome and extremely comfortable and you can rest assured every single staff member will go out of their way to ensure your visit or stay is one you’ll always remember.

 

🌸  SPRING CHERRY BLOSSOM PROMOTION! SAKURA AT MANDARIN ORIENTAL, TOKYO

This spring, cherry blossoms are featured in promotions throughout the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo. The cherry blossom season is celebrated in the Sense Tea Corner on the 37th floor and Sakura Dim Sum Afternoon Tea is served on weekdays only from 15 March through to 27 April (4,800 yen per person).

Interesting fact: In 1598, feudal leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi hosted a cherry blossom viewing at Kyoto’s Daigo temple. Preparations began well in advance, with delicacies brought from throughout the land. During this era, lavishly decorated tiered lacquer boxes became popular among the upper classes and box lunches prepared for flower-viewing excursions were truly extravagant creations. Warlords and nobility alike seemed “to prefer dumplings to flowers”.

During the period 15 March through 27 April, chefs and bartenders at venues throughout the hotel will also present artistic gourmet indulgences based on a cherry blossom theme. At night, the Zen Garden pop-up bar features highly original cocktails. Enjoy cherry blossom viewing in the spirit of the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo with cocktails from 2,300 yen.

Don’t miss the areawide Nihonbashi Sakura Festival (16 March – 15 April) featuring food stands offering local delicacies near Fukutoku Shrine on 31 March and 1 April. In shades of pink, “Sakura Lightup” brings new beauty to Nihonbashi after dark. Experience an exciting fusion of dining, art, and cherry blossoms in springtime Nihonbashi.

 

Five of the Best Japan Travel Guides in 2017

It’s always a good idea to buy a new travel guide if you’re itching to visit the Land of the Rising Sun or if you live in Japan and you want to explore more of the country. Take a look at these five Japan guidebooks below. Each guide will appeal to a certain type of traveller. Simply choose the one that’s right for you.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Japan published by DK Eyewitness Travel, flexibound £15.18, paperback £34.95, 408 pages

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Japan front coverEssential information is delivered in short paragraphs so this is perfect for travellers who don’t want to spend a lot of time reading but it’s the 875 stunning photos that make this guidebook so appealing. There’s also an emphasis on the cultural and historical aspects of Japan presented with 85 maps and 55 detailed illustrations. An added bonus is the durable flexibound cover which keeps the book clean and the pages protected from dog-earing.

Flipping through this guidebook, you’ll discover one page or two dedicated to aspects of the Japanese culture that require further explanation such as the differences between geisha, geiko and maiko in Kyoto, the inner-workings and the towers at Himeji Castle and the significance of the floating world of ukiyo-e woodblock prints.

Realizing tourists are interested in exploring areas outside of central Tokyo there’s a great introduction to Kamakura as well as Mount Fuji and the Fuji Five Lakes. For those who want to travel even further afield, there’s in-depth information about surrounding areas like Takayama with corresponding illustrations. The depiction of a gassho-zukuri house, famous in the Shokawa Valley for its steep thatched roof built to represent praying hands, is well-worth examining.

Fashion lovers will appreciate the sections dedicated to shopping with information on how to pay, the sales tax, rights and refunds, tax-free shopping, and the differences between Western and Japanese sizes. If you’re interested in buying tea, ceramics or traditional washi paper you’ll love the summary of specialty souvenirs in Kyoto.

Foodies will zero in on A Gourmet Tour of Central Japan recommending the chestnut confectionery in Obuse or the sasamushi (eel steamed in rice wrapped in bamboo leaves) in Matsumoto, as well as other local delicacies. There’s also a focus on the differences between Edo and Kansai cuisine and the types of tea, sake, soft drinks and beer sold primarily in Japan.

A brief but excellent nine-page guide to the history of Japan at the beginning is enough for first-time travellers and you can expect a short but informative description for each area when a new part of Japan is introduced. Sections are also dedicated to Northern Honshu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, Kyushu and Okinawa. These are colour-coded which makes it easy to turn to the area of your choice.

This guidebook also has lots of helpful hints and information on onsen (hot springs), the science-based, historical and foreign culture theme parks, as well as the popular amusement parks in Japan. There’s also a survival guide for travelling with children or if you’re visiting with a disability and a short section on how to be an environmentally responsible tourist.

 

Super Cheap Japan: Budget Travel in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima and Surrounding Areas by Matthew Baxter, published by Super Cheap Japan, paperback £9.95, Kindle £3.49, 180 pages

Super Cheap Japan front cover

Travelling in Japan can be expensive so this guidebook is the perfect companion if you’re on a budget. This book is quite slim so it’s easy to pack in your luggage but its biggest drawcard is it’s full of information on how to save money when you visit Japan. There’s also an emphasis on what you can do and get for free so it’s perfect for the thrifty traveller.

Super Cheap Japan would appeal to backpackers, seasoned travellers who want to see the best of Japan without breaking the bank and young people with a passion for Japanese culture who are visiting for the first time on a limited budget.

The savings begin within the first couple of pages with a recommendation to buy food and alcohol at convenience stores. Some of the other money saving tips include advice on the most suitable and cost-effective train passes, where and when to see the cherry blossoms, which festivals you can see in Japan in every month of the year, the best budget shopping areas and where you can find the most beautiful parks and gardens. It’s also a very good guide to the UNESCO World Heritage temples and shrines in Kyoto and Nara.

The sections on cheap restaurants, bars and clothing shops in areas like Shimokitazawa, Koenji and Kichijoji are also very interesting. These towns are outside the main tourist areas in Tokyo so travellers can see the real Japan and have a better chance to mix with the locals.

A lot of the very up-to-date information in this book will appeal to young people interested in game arcades, animal cafes, maid cafes, discount stores and 100 yen shops, stores that sell manga and otaku merchandise and clubs with purikura photo booths where you can dress up and add graffiti and stickers to your photos.

This guidebook also advises travellers to visit areas such as Nikko with its beautiful scenery, Mount Fuji with its spectacular sunrises, Kamakura with its Great Buddha, Mount Takao with its hiking trails and Hakone with its relaxing hot springs. Travellers can appreciate the natural surroundings here without spending a lot of money.

 

Lonely Planet Guide Japan (Travel Guide) published by Lonely Planet, paperback £12.91, Kindle £12.91, 928 pages.
 
Lonely Planet Guide Japan front coverThis 2017 version with its pretty plum blossom cover is very comprehensive. It would make a fantastic reference book for hard-core visitors who plan to travel the length and breadth of the country. It would also appeal to niche travellers planning a skiing trip or travelling with children, hikers, adventure lovers who want to climb Mount Fuji and anyone who wants to know what’s new and interesting in Japan right now.

Fans of Lonely Planet Guides love their detailed maps and their insiders’ opinions on why a particular hotel or other form of accommodation is so appealing and you can expect the same from this Japan guide. There’s also a good-sized pull-out city and subway map at the back and lots of detailed maps inside to help you get around the different prefectures and towns.

Snippets of invaluable information are highlighted in yellow and red throughout the book with the titles Don’t miss, Worth a trip and Local knowledge. These are must-read sections to ensure you get the most out of every area you visit.

This Lonely Planet Guide certainly covers a lot of areas but it does go into more depth with several points of interest that deserve attention. The section on the Ainu, Hokkaido’s indigenous people, is particularly enlightening and the poignant descriptions of the atomic bomb explosions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki are essential reading.

The pages dedicated to the Northern Honshu, Tohoku region are also good. Train geeks will enjoy reading about the novelty trains in the area, you’ll want to make a note to visit the medieval town Yonezawa best known for its Yonezawa-gyū (local beef) and there’s a section dedicated to the famous music, arts and environmental Earth Celebration in Ogi.

A pocket-sized Lonely Planet Japanese Phrasebook and Dictionary is also available. It includes essential but very basic tips on speaking, pronouncing, reading and writing Japanese as well as a 350-word two-way dictionary.

 

Must-See Japan: The Complete Insider’s Guide to Seeing the Best of Japan in One Trip by Tom Fay, published by CreateSpace, paperback £5.79, Kindle £3.49, 174 pages.
 
Must-see Japan front coverPublished in 2016 but updated in 2017, Must-See Japan is a brief travel guide that focuses on the three main areas tourists want to visit: Tokyo, the Mount Fuji region and Kyoto. This guidebook is perfect for visitors planning a short stay, backpackers who don’t want to lug around a bulky guide and travellers who want a concise guide that will fit neatly into their handbag or carry-on.

This travel guide claims it’s an insider’s guide to Japan and it certainly delivers on this promise with lots of great recommendations throughout the book. Even regular visitors to Japan will discover lots of new and different experiences, great restaurants, and out-of-the-way places they’ve never heard of before.

Find out where you can eat tendon (tempura over rice) at the first restaurant in Japan to serve this dish, which travel pass you should buy if you’re in Osaka for only a couple of days, and the best time of the year to climb Mount Fuji. These tips and so many other helpful suggestions are all packed inside this short but very informative guidebook.

Although this travel guide concentrates on the three main areas in Japan, it does cover quite a few other major and well-known areas including Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, Hokkaido, Shikoku, Kyushu and Okinawa. The information on these areas is limited but it’s still well-worth reading the insider tips if you want a more memorable stay in Japan.

If you skip to the back of the book you’ll find even more expert recommendations on must-eat foods, must-do activities, onsen, karaoke, shopping, hiking, sumo, ryokans (Japanese inns) and capsule hotels.

 

The Rough Guide to Japan published by Rough Guides, paperback £11.35, Kindle £13.67, 880 pages.
 
The Rough Guide to Japan front coverThis 2017 edition with 880 pages is nearly as thick as the Lonely Planet Guide and just as informative if you want to know a little bit about anything and everywhere in Japan. The sections on Kyoto and Nara, Buddhist and Shinto beliefs and pilgrimages would really appeal to travellers interested in history, culture and the spiritual elements that are very much a part of Japanese life.

There’s a list of 29 things not to miss at the beginning with corresponding page numbers so you can easily find that point of interest in the guidebook and you can expect entertaining and practical advice throughout. You’re urged to turn on the TV in your hotel room and enjoy the fairly easy to understand food programs just for a laugh and there’s excellent advice on earthquake safety procedures and how to call home if you want to contact your family.

You can also find out where to get the best coffee in Kyoto or for something different readers are advised to take the sake brewery tour in Kobe, join the Obubu Tea Farm tours in Uji or help the local community construct a giant snow sculpture in Odori Park at the Yuki Matsuri (snow festival) in Sapporo.

This guidebook also touches on current affairs in Japan such as the problem with Yasukuni and why this shrine is so controversial and the setbacks associated with relocating the Tsukiji fish market. There’s also a quick guide on who’s who in Sumo wrestling and information on renting a kimono in Asakusa, Harajuku or Shibuya.

The comment “I might as well be going to the ends of the earth” by the famous poet Matsuo Basho introduces the section on Northern Honshu where visitors can enjoy rural traditions and festivals. There’s also a very informative section on the three sacred mountains of Dewa and its shrines in Yamagata Prefecture where you can see the yamabushi (mountain priests) practising ancient rites as they summon the gods.

Travelers who want to take part in other ascetic experiences should read the sections on the 88 Temple Pilgrimage on Shikoku and the Kumano Kodo trail in the southern Kansai region, as well as information on shukubō (temple lodgings) and the monasteries and temples where you can stop to worship.

The section on Okinawa towards the end of the guidebook gives a lovely description of these islands and its beautiful beaches where you can dive, snorkel and appreciate the underwater wildlife. There’s also an interesting segment on the Ryukyu culture urging travelers to try the delicious Okinawan cuisine.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2018!

It’s the season to wish one another joy, love, peace and gratitude so I’d like to say a BIG THANK YOU to everyone who has read my books and visited my Cherry Blossom Stories Blog in 2017. I hope you’ll continue to support me in 2018. Here’s a short Christmas video I put together for you to enjoy. Happy holidays, stay safe during the festive season and fill your hearts with warmth and love as we say goodbye to 2017 and welcome the new year.