Antonia’s Gorgeous Gift

I was so surprised and pleased to receive this lovely “fan art” from my friend Antonia yesterday. The beautiful image below truly captures the spirit of one of the main characters called ‘Haruka’ from my novel Tokyo Hearts: A Japanese Love Story. Thank you so much for this Antonia!

Haruka

Tokyo Style Winter 2013

I’ve been looking at various magazines and TV programmes to find out what is popular in Tokyo this season and I’m seeing a big trend towards vests and gilets for both men and women, on the streets this winter. Elegant versions can be worn to create a more polished finish and thicker styles will achieve a stronger sense of functionality. For women, I particularly like vests trimmed with shearling. I also adore the Arun knits with their textured cable patterns in deep shades like burgundy and teal. Contrast any of these with plain shirts and tops to reveal a pop of colour.

Men continue to stand out in the puffer vests worn as outerwear – a trend that has already been popular for the last few years.

A Japanese fashion brand that has really emerged in Tokyo called A Degree Fahrenheit by Yu Amatsu is well worth a mention. I’m loving his interpretation of the long drape vest (see below). Amatsu worked in New York for fashion wizards like Marc Jabobs and Jen Kao. I’m sure that after the Mercedes-Benz Tokyo Fashion Week 2013/14, the whole world will easily become entranced by his attention to detail and structure.

A Degree fashion image

Christmas and New Year in Japan

Many people ask me if Christmas is celebrated in Japan. If you visit Japan in the last week of the year, you’ll probably see Christmas trees on display in hotel lobbies and beautiful Christmas decorations adorning the shops and department stores. You may even receive Christmas gifts from Japanese friends and hear Christmas carols being played in their homes. However, these customs are adopted from abroad and Christmas is not strictly celebrated in Japan, as the emphasis is on New Year Celebrations.

There are quite a few traditions associated with the Japanese New Year so I’ll try and explain a few of the main customs. Many people will send New Year’s Day postcards which are usually handwritten, but with the introduction of computer software it’s now possible to customise your cards and simplify this tradition if you have hundreds of postcards to send. Traditional food known as osechi-ryori is also eaten during New Year celebrations and this can vary from region to region (see picture below). It’s also common for children to receive a gift of money on New Year’s Day and this is given to them in envelopes decorated for the occasion. Rice cakes known as mochi are also prepared in the New Year period and eaten in January. If you’re lucky enough to stay with Japanese friends at New Year then you’ll probably be watching the very popular NHK music programme called Kohaku Uta Gassen on television, which showcases the most popular music for that year. Lastly, in the first few days of the new year, millions of people throughout Japan will visit shrines or temples. If you’re in Tokyo then Meiji Shrine in Harajuku is a popular place to offer a prayer.

New Year food

I wouldn’t recommend a short visit to Japan during the New Year period as many shops, tourist attractions and even restaurants could be closed for as long as two weeks during this period. Many Japanese will take a holiday and often travel to domestic or overseas destinations at this time.

So don’t be afraid to give your Japanese friends Christmas presents as I’m sure they’ll be appreciated but it would be nice to try and understand some of the New Year customs and join in with these Japanese traditions to fully enjoy the festive season when you’re in Japan.

Check out Shimokitazawa (下北沢) when you’re in Tokyo

Shimokitazawa is an area that I always visit when I’m in Tokyo. It’s currently being pitched as a great place to live and anyone who has been there certainly knows why. Located in Setagaya and known to the locals as “Shimokita”; you’ll be completely charmed by this must-see town if you include Shimokitazawa in your Japan itinerary. The many lanes and alleyways that surround the train station are overflowing with students, artists, musicians and fashionistas. If you’re looking for street fashion then the independent boutiques in this area will not disappoint. As the sun goes down, you and your friends will be spoilt for choice with the many izakayas, bars and restaurants lining the paths. Take the Odakyu line from Shinjuku or the Keio Inokashira line from Shibuya and exit at Shimo-Kitazawa station.

I couldn’t resist mentioning Shimokitazawa in my novel Tokyo Hearts: A Japanese Love Story. Below is a photo of the drinking hole called ‘Enya’ – the izakaya I wrote about in my book.

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