Tokyo: Nippori

After visiting Japan recently, I’ve decided that instead of doing my usual diary style posts about our trip, I’d separate my posts by neighbourhood, rather than day. It’s the sort of thing that I would find really useful if I was going somewhere, so I hope that others might, too. First up, the last place we visited…

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It’s unusual for me to be able to combine my two big interests (at least blogwise) in one post, but a visit to Nippori Fabric Town allows me to do just that! Luckily, Sally gave me a special dispensation to buy fabric in Japan during the Summer Stashbust, otherwise this would have been a very sad visit.

Ben and I caught the metro to Nishi-nippori (C-16 on the Chiyoda line)and then walked for about ten minutes down to Nippori station (JR Yamanote line), where we met Paul and Jamie. I was conscious that nobody else was very interested in fabric shopping, but I was willing to take advantage of their politeness and make the most of my time in fabric heaven. While we waited for Paul and Jamie, we enjoyed a spot of people watching, including these children and their plants.

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The fabric shops are located on or near Nippori Chuo Dori, which runs directly east from the square outside the station. I found the map at the top really helpful for locating the places I knew I wanted to visit from blog research, although you should note that Japanese maps put the direction you’re facing, and not north at the top of the map. It makes sense after a while. Oh, and you should bring cash, as a lot of the shops don’t take cards.

I wanted to visit Mihama, as I’d heard a lot about their discounted and precut bags of fabric. You can’t open the bags before buying, but people seem to have a lot of luck there. Sadly, I… um… well, I couldn’t work out how to get into the shop. It may have been shut. Tokyo is really confusing, and there were so many other places to visit that I decided to move on, rather than force my way into what could have been somebodies house.

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Fortunately, I was soon cheered by the discovery of the first of five(!!!) Tomato shops. Each shop has a different theme, although I didn’t find this immediately obvious during my visit. There’s Notion (selling notions), Arch (selling sale fabrics, and housing the “1 metre for 100 yen” section), Main Building (with more metres for 100 yen, as well as multiple floors of fabric goodness of all sorts), Interior (selling curtain and home furnishing fabrics), and finally Select (selling some more fancy stuff, including organic cotton).

It always takes me a while to get into the swing of a fabric shopping trip, but by the time we got to the second Tomato shop (the main one, I think), I was ready to start buying! I wasn’t sure whether the language barrier would be an issue, but the shop assistants were polite, helpful, and very efficient, even if we were holding fingers up at each other to signify lengths. I made an early decision to buy three metres of everything, since that would cover most eventualities. I’m not sure if it’s possible to buy half metres, since I didn’t know how to express that with my hands.

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A nice light fitting in the nana shop

I think we visited all of the Tomato shops, but I only bought from two of them (the main one and Select). I also browsed in a lot of different shops, buying from one other place (I don’t know which one – it was between Interior and Select). That shop had some nice traditional fabrics (which I didn’t buy) and a lovely old nana working there. I wanted to take her home with me, but apparently she wasn’t for sale.

We also looked into a shop full of buttons (including some awesome sewing, skeleton and cat themes ones), but I struggle to get excited about notions after a nasty childhood encounter with the dragon lady who ran the button stall at our local craft fair. I was accused of muddling the buttons up into the wrong pots, which I so wasn’t doing and it was all very unfair and traumatic for six year old me.

I’m really pleased with the fabrics that I bought. I didn’t want to buy for the sake of it, even if the prices were low. There were some really cute fabrics available, but I only bought things which I could really see myself wearing. Want to see?

380 yen (2 GBP – why has my pound sign stopped working??) per metre from Tomato. I’ve given this to my mum, who is planning to make a dress.

380 yen (2 GBP) per metre from Tomato. Not sure if you can see the second layer of geometric print in this picture. Current plan: dress (maybe a Megan or a Lilou)

Foxy fabric. I can’t remember how much it cost, but it will probably become a blouse. This came from the nana shop.

Reversible spotty chambray (the other side has anchors, but they don't photograph well). 850 yen (5 GBP) from Tomato Select.

Reversible spotty chambray (the other side has anchors, but they don’t photograph well). 850 yen (5 GBP) from Tomato Select. Current plan: 70s style sundress.

Gorgeous stripy cotton voile(?) from Tomato Select for 1500 yen (9 GBP) per metre. Current plan: some kind of top

Gorgeous stripy cotton voile(?) from Tomato Select for 1500 yen (9 GBP) per metre. I don’t have a plan for this yet, but it will become something beautiful.

After finishing up the shopping, we decided to retrace our steps towards Nishi-nippori station in search of a place for lunch. As it wasn’t such a touristy area, it was a challenge to find somewhere with pictures outside (by far the easiest way to know what you’re ordering), but we stumbled across a place with delicious and cheap katsu basically right opposite the station. In most restaurants you get a jug of water on the table, but here we were able to help ourselves to something which tasted like a cold combination of rice tea and coffee. It was strange, but quite nice once you got used to it!

In the area: Heavy rain put us off a walking tour, but Yanaka is just on the other side of the railway track, and I reckon you could make it around both areas in a day. Having survived earthquakes and WWII, Yanaka is more historic than a lot of Tokyo. With a lot of wooden structures and temples, it sounds like a lovely place to spend an afternoon. Our guidebook (Lonely Planet Pocket Tokyo) suggested a walk starting at Yanaka Ginza, before heading in a large semi circle around artists studios, coffee shops, bars and shops. This is on my list of areas to visit when we get the chance to go back to Tokyo. 

Seattle Part I

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I’ll probably break down the excitement of our trip to Seattle into a few posts, lest it all get a bit too much for you. I was so excited about it, I started my holiday diary the day before we even left, so I’ll try and be a bit concise with the bits that only I care about!

Friday 2nd May
I booted it home from my Russian lesson (I’m always Russian around – hahaha ha ha…) and we headed for Heathrow. We got a bus to the terminal from the car park, then had to wait for another bus to the hotel which, despite being called Hilton T5, was in fact not at T5. Schoolboy Heathrow error. That bus arrived and was full so we thought we’d check out the taxi situation – £35 apparently – I swore at the taxi queue bouncers, and huffed off back to the bus stop. The coach was £8 return, which I also considered a rip off, but there was little I could do about it. The hotel was lovely and new, but the location pissed me off. Give me Gatwick Airport any day of the week.

Saturday 3rd May

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Neighbors, Please stop opening this door! It is NOT a portal to another dimension. My bedroom is right behind it and when you SLAM it shut, it freaks out my cats and the humans living here. Thanks, Dave

We shuttled back to the airport at 5.30 am and I didn’t swear at anybody. I managed 1 hour of sleep while sitting upright on the plane (personal record), finished reading Look Who’s Back by Timur Vernes (started funny, then got a bit real), and watched Inside Llewyn Davis (I didn’t get it, which was annoying as I really thought I would love it).

Getting into the US was a delight, as ever. I got my bag sniffed by a doggy, and Ben had to have an agricultural scan.

Missy and Kim drove us to our home for the week (we rented an apartment in Capitol Hill on Airbnb), supplied us with donuts from Top Pot (om nom) and left us to settle in. Next door to us we were pleased to find that there was a portal to another dimension, and CATS! As it was 1.30pm, we decided to take a nap. We woke up 12 hours later, ate our donuts and felt a bit sad.

Sunday 4th May
DSCN0610We gave up trying to sleep at 5.30am and waited for Missy and Kim picked us up at a more normal time of the morning. When they arrived, Kim informed us that one of our neighbours had died. He was correct.

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We went to 5 Spot for breakfast. Ben went for the Slinger and I had a Val Verde Scram – we would recommend both. The Val Verde Scram comes with a chub, which after asking the waitress, turned out to be a link, which is actually a sausage.

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Next we drove up to Fremont, where I spent some time having my photo taken with Murder Lenin, before going to meet the troll who lives under the bridge. We discussed whether flotation tanks were relaxing, or whether you’d just freak the hell out – Missy and Kim had given them a try recently, and it’s a bit of both, apparently.

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We headed over to Ballard to see the Farmer’s Market, and we scoffed a bag of yummy fresh cinnamon sugar covered donuts, before heading back to the car for the next stop. Archie McPhee’s shop is brilliant – there were all kinds of masks to try on, including my beloved horse head. I picked up the annual Christmas tree ornament for my mum and step dad, and a tote bag with a giant squid catching a diver.

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Next up it was Gasworks Park, which is very scenic and has fantastic views across to Downtown across the sound. Kim said he went there once and there was a closed off section with some black stuff oozing out of the ground. Sadly we missed out on any such excitement, but I did see a man having a lovely time with his doggy.

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That night, the four of us went for drinks at Bathtub Gin, which was a very cool place with potent cocktails, but incredibly slow service. A highlight for all of us was when the drunk lady opposite’s boyfriend went to the loo and she didn’t notice and kept talking to his empty seat for five minutes.

Dinner was at Serious Pie, a fancy pizza place who’s logo looks like a man who’s penis is on fire. I had one which used egg in place of the tomato sauce, and was topped with serrano, cheese and rocket. It was delicious.

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