Sunday, December 21, 2008


Happy New Year! I've finally done it, bitten the bullet and published my first blog! Welcome to Yoga and Gimlets, I will be writing about cocktails, travel and my adventures in Bikram yoga.

So my first blog and I find myself in Tokyo, Japan. I'm visiting my older brother and family for Christmas and New Year and a much needed break to put 2008 to bed. I will be combining 3 of my favourite passions on this trip, cocktails, travelling and Bikram yoga. I have attended class each day since my arrival (only 4 so I shouldn't be too smug as yet). I will write a lot more about Bikram yoga later in this blog, first I think I should take you on an adventure with me through Japan.

Tokyo - what can I say? It really does look like Bladerunner. My first impressions are its clean, extremely safe (the benefits of a people who believe strongly in honour), hectic, filled with beautiful tiny streets where you could imagine finding a Mogwai, you will have to excuse my constant references to films in this blog, have slightly square eyes.

The population of Tokyo is 12 million which is about 10% of Japan's overall population, its big and sprawling but highly organised. I must say I have nothing but admiration for the Japanese having being surrounded by them now for a number of days, they are well mannered, cordial, stylish and share a similar sense of humour to us Brits!

So what have I been up to, as I mentioned earlier my first truly Japanese experience was 
to go and have my tattoo greatly improved, I had my first tattoo when I was 19 and as cliched as it sounds, it was done by a Hell's Angel called Goldie in Key West. It was very spur of the
 moment and although I liked it for a number of years it now looks faded and quite naff and certainly doesn't fit the Emma now, some 17 years later!

So my brother and I set off to meet Horizaru, check out, he had been recommended by a friend of James's (my brother)and was not your normal tattoo shop. He's is mostly self taught and was acommercial artist before becoming a tattooist. We went to a part of Tokyo called Tabata and went to a beautiful old house, that was very much in the traditional Japanese style with shoji screens and tatami mats.

He greeted us, chatted through some ideas I had sent him and then started on a design, it took him about 20 minutes to mix my ideas and his ideas and he started to draw on my skin. I love mermaids, always have done since I was a little girl and visited Zennor in Cornwall which is famous for it's mermaid,

He then set to work. Now let's talk about me and pain, 
me and any sort of pain are not friends, if you nudge or pinch me
slightly I wail like a total girl so you can imagine that I was little scared about the prospect of the pain of having a large needle dragged across my skin repeatedly.

I sat in the chair and he started work, I thought I would be able to read my book. The book reading lasted about 5 mins when the pain started to really hurt, ALOT. I started trying to breathe through it, visualise non painful things and generally try and not think about the pain. Obviously it didn't work. 

I lasted 90 mins in total and ended up sobbing, yes actually sobbing. He suggested we may want to have a break for a week or so and he would finish it in another 90 minute session. I jumped at the chance, I had pure adrenalin pumping through my veins but also felt slightly emotionally spent. It also meant that I could join my brother and his friends at lunch at Salt. My tattoo was covered in a very attractive black bin bag type bandage. I was delighted with the result thus far, the pain was definitely worth it and I now had a tattoo I was proud of.

I arrived at Salt to be greated by a bunch of my brother's friends, my brother had pretty much decided I was his walking 'show and tell' but I said no tattoo viewing until after dessert, not sure they have written etiquette on lunch and tattoos but it seemed fitting, I needed a drink. Salt is home of the legendary Australian chef Luke Mangan. We were in the private room with an impressive view of Tokyo including Mt Fuji in the distance. The food was excellent, I started with a lobster bisque, king fish cerviche followed by medallions of succulent lamb. 
Everyone raved about the mashed potato, funny its always the chips and mashed potatoes that seem to be really commented on in any restaurant whether it's your local pub or michelin rated.

We then all headed to the Oak Door at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo. Everyone got very merry on champagne and truly into the festive spirit, the alcohol was certainly helping to numb the itch pain of the tattoo.

The Oak Door has got to be in one my top 10 of favourite bars around the world. The Bar is in the centre and everyone sits on high tables around it, its great for people watching and the service and standard of drinks exemplary.  I didn't test their cocktail making skills on this visit but have been before and since and they not only have an impressive list of premium spirits but will also make pretty much anything you ask for. I then executed a fairly good Irish goodbye when the jet lag got the better of me.


My next Japanese experience was to head to the Japanese mountains in Iwa
ppara, Iwappara is about 90 mins from Tokyo on the super fast bullet trains. Trains in Japan run on time, are very clean and very fast, I wonder if they have excuses like 'leafs on the lines' somehow I doubt it.

Now, I am by no means a great skier, this would be my fourth ski trip but as the 
first 3 had been 10 years apart I was a little more hopeful about this one as my last ski trip had been 10 months ago in Austria.

We arrived at Iwappara and there had been a good snow fall the night before, the first of the season, we checked into the Sierra resort, which is a very hip hotel over looking the slopes and with recording studios in its basement as well as onsen (Japanese style communal bath) and every child friendly facility imaginable. It snowed heavily all night and the next day which meant 
skiing in a blizzard but the snow and easy slopes were amazing. 

Now I'm not very experienced at travelling with children and we had my 3 and half year old nephew with us who was an endless source of entertainment and amusement. We were the only Westerners in the hotel and Jack was quite the star. Japanese children are much more obedient and quiet but Jack is rather like a blonde force of nature.

Our last day was perfect sunshine, blue skies and crisp snow, I did my best skiing ever including a spot of night skiing, they floodlit the slopes until 8.30. 

I also ate far too much katsucurry over the three days, but its great ski fuel. Katsu curry is my favourite curry in the whole world I could live on the sauce alone. It is traditionally made with pork but in Wagamama they make it with 
It is traditionally made with pork but in Wagamama they make it with 
 with chicken or vegetables, it's actually kind of sweet. Wagamama do make an excellent fairly authentic version if you're lucky enough to have one in your country/town. I fully intend to try and make this when I get home.

We returned from the snow for New Year's Eve, but the night before I finally got to go to Ginza, home of some of the best bars and bartenders in the world. I have a new tradition that has been made this year when travelling with a friend and that is whenever you're in amazing city, either before or after you start hitting the bars, you go for Spanish tapas. This may seem a bit odd but tapas restaurants seem to find me, I even have a cat named after one, El Rincon Latino. The cat is called Rincon and I was in the restaurant the night before I picked him and his brother up from the cat rescue centre. 


I was with my brother in Ginza, he's pretty handy in all excursions in Japan as he speaks the language impressively. We went for tapas, drank a fair bit of albarino and then went in
search of Star Bar. Star bar is tucked down a quiet street in the Ginza area which is a big high end shopping area littered with designer stores. As it would appear with all great bars, the entrance was very low key and the only thing that really alerted us to our destination was the star on the door mat. We walked downstairs to a tiny bar, that at most would sit about 20 people, we sat at the bar, my favourite seat in any bar.

We were greeted by Yamasaki Tsuyoshi who immediately recognised my brother from an evening nearly 2 years ago that he had spent with Naren Young amongst other people. Yamasaki had found them in Ginza and had taken them on an impressive bar crawl with my brother (alcohol intake permitting) translating for his western friends. 

My brother ordered an old fashioned and I ordered my favourite, a gimlet. Everything about the way these bartenders made their drinks was attention to detail taken to a new level, it was quite beautiful to watch and of course the ice! The ice had been frozen for 72 hours and was crystal clear.

My gimlet was second only to the Richmond gimlet made by Mr Joerg Meyer at Le Lion earlier this year. We then met Kishi Hisashi who is a world champion bartender, my brother translated our conversation (very impressive especially the more alcohol I added). Hisashi truly loved the craft and felt that the pinnacle of any bartenders career would be to work in a bar in Ginza, he also mentioned that they found it amusing when global ambassadors came to visit them to 'teach' them which they accepted humbly of course. 
I would love to get a bunch of Japanese bartenders together with the German bartending community, it would be quite amazing to behold.

We stumbled out of the Star Bar several hours later and this is the very poignant plaque they have outside, I think this sums up my experience.

'Come linger about for awhile, Gossamers of warmth kindle your heart, holding last memories of this night. Celerity, sincerity, and with a smile.....'

The other highlights of the rest of my Japanese adventure were visiting a Shinto shrine for midnight on New Year's Eve. A friend of mine, who I had met on my travels, suggested it and it seemed like the perfect way for me to say goodbye to 2008 peacefully. 2008 had been a challenging year but in the end the good in it far outweighed the bad. We went to the Meiji shrine and we weren't the only people. It was amazing to see, hundred of young Japanese people all lining up to throw money into the shrine and write their prayers on pieces of paper or beautiful pieces of carved wood. We said goodbye to 2008 and welcomed 2009.

I also enjoyed a trip outside the city limits of Tokyo and was lucky enough to see this incredible view of Mount Fuji, there was not a cloud in the sky and apparently it is rare to not see Fuji covered in clouds, a good omen for the start of the year.

Lastly just before I left Tokyo I went to have my tattoo finished with Horizaru, this time armed with 2 valium and 4 painkillers I only let out one small wimper! I LOVE the result.

It was with a heavy heart I said goodbye to Japan, can't wait to go back.


simon said...

I enjoyed reading about your adventures!

barbie boy said...

surely this blog is short a topic??
I think it should read:
"my adventures with cocktails, travel and Bikram yoga.....
and all the while keeping my knickers firmly ON.."

Jay Hepburn said...

Great first post Emma - I've always wanted to go to Japan looks amazing. Welcome to the world of blogging!