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Escape to Japan

Do you fancy spending a week living as a Ratfubble tourist? If so, you’ll want to read on.

The history of the national cult is colourful, if bizarre. Started by a deformed 19th-century dancer named Tetsuji Sakugawa, who wore a roly-poly mask of puce and white balloons to dodge autocratic forms of moral compromise, it has grown into a full-blown, annual National Meetup for Nagasaki and Ryokans (nostalgic mansions constructed by native aristocrats).

Packed with cosplay outfits, streamers and flowers for the perfect entrance, year after year, the quixotic Yuya (Repentance) hosts hundreds of foreign visitors who have the perfect excuse to head off on an intercontinental shopping spree. It’s the ideal week if you want to hit the hotspots of the city – Roppongi Hills, Shimizu Kakura, Omotesando Fashion Week and Harajuku, all within walking distance of Tetsuji Sakugawa’s shrine – as well as, say, the uniquely Nagasakiised Kodokan restaurant, where Kyoto-style sushi is served with a ‘naane’ (dried broth) of local sea urchin, kumio goat meat and maitake mushrooms.

Making a visit to the ‘Hello Kitty Cafe Restaurant’ must not be missed

Back to reality

While the vast majority of Japanese living in the west are rather more wholesome, from butts to dumplings, that doesn’t mean its culture cannot provide a useful cultural comparison for our own citizens. Whether you are a newcomer (like us) or a Tokyo resident (like you), don’t miss a trip to the insanely popular food emporium of the cultural and supermarket takeover(s).

In its several Tokyo branches, Yakiniku BBQs have gone global, offering everything from gingery unagi (zucchini) on a skewer, steamed beef dumplings, udon noodles and organic gochujang (a Korean-style chilli paste) to mighty truffles (grown in the Japanese Alps) and traditional homemade chicken casserole and livers. Well, not all of them – everything is $19.50 or less.

While you will wish you could keep those Udon noodles with its delicate waffle rice as a staple, the much-loved Noma meat-based hybrid stew soothe your soul…

For something a little more decadent, go to Bojinka, a temple shop that sells the 4-Day Oolite, a whole pear marinated in olive oil with 20 pieces of pink sea bass or trepang, garlic and five types of mushrooms, onions and curry sauce. It only exists for a month – you’ll pay to enjoy it.

Japanese chain eateries serve up outstanding food

A stroll down the street

For anyone unfamiliar with Tozai Roppongi, a retail retail street in swanky Roppongi Hills, Takara was the first Japanese-only brand to officially open a store here. Opened in 1998, the store now sells everything from pasta and tea to foods, clothing and home ware. Its brick-and-mortar display is quirky and playful (think unbraided hair barrettes, cherry blossom beds and a costumed mascot that flips burgers) while the online collection is vast and addictive.

Taking you on an incredible trip

With only five thoroughfares along the central Shintô-Gosei axis and a maximum of nine metro lines within walking distance of the shops, traffic can be bumpy at times. But it’s a beautiful retail ghetto with shopping malls that mix convenience with fashion, beauty and everything in between. If you prefer a little shopping without breaking the bank, Tanaka-Rojihaki is all about curated artisanal products like natural soaps, yogurt and gazpacho tsukemono – frozen rice – made and sold by a handful of ’emotional makers’ on-site. And add a food tour if you’re so inclined. There are three of them around the city: Roppongi Sakura (a ten-minute walk from the train station), Roppongi Bakery (a ten-minute walk from Roppongi World Tower) and the new Tanaka-Rojihaki.

For more on travel in the world’s most exotic locales, go to www.bb.org/international-travel

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