Explore Japan With Barrett Ishida


CulturallyOurs Podcast Explore Japan With A Local

CulturallyOurs Podcast Cover Karthika Gupta Oct 2018
Season 05
Explore Japan With Barrett Ishida
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Show Details

In this episode, we explore Japan and the city of Tokyo with Barrett Ishida. Barrett is a local living in Tokyo and he share some of his favorite places to explore in and around the city. He also share some off-the-beaten path adventures around Japan away from the super touristy places – a country that seems to be the perfect mix of the new as well as the traditional. From restaurants to outdoor spaces, Barrett take us on a beautiful adventure – right from the comfort of our homes. Barrett also shares some incredible images from all his adventures around Japan on our blog.

Show Notes

Karthika explores the incredibly beautiful country of Japan and the city of Tokyo with a local Barrett Ishida. Barrett lives in Tokyo and he shares his love for this city – unique experiences in and around his home town. He shares some off-the-beaten path adventures around Tokyo that can help us explore this amazing country that is famous for its history, traditions, modern and of course amazing food. From restaurants to outdoor spaces, Barrett take us on a beautiful adventure – right from the comfort of our homes. Karthika and Barrett also talk about the future of travel as seen from the eyes of a local living in a touristy location.

The Transcript

Karthika: Welcome Barrett. Thank you much for joining me on Culturally Ours, as I am very excited to have you on the podcast and cannot wait to chat with you. Get to know you a little bit better and sort of getting to know your corner of the world a little bit.

Barrett: Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure being here and thank you for staying up too, I know it’s pretty late for you.

Karthika: It’s nine o’clock thankfully the kids are in bed, but my only concern is that if somebody comes knocking on my door, Oh, we’ll deal with it when that happens. before we sort of jumped right into the questions, can you tell us a little bit sort of who you are, where you’re from, just to help set the stage for this?

Barrett: My name is Barrett. I grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii in the US, I’m a Japanese American. Japanese heritage fourth-generation grew up in a completely English speaking environment after high school, I kind of moved around the West coast and then I decided to move to Japan probably because I have Japanese heritage. And then when I graduated from high school, I took a trip and it kind of changed everything for me. I just fell in love with it, and it really interested me and I decided someday I want to try living there. And I finally did teach English for the first, like five years, and then I moved to Tokyo and then I started working at a marketing agency, doing a marketing job at a Japanese agency.

Karthika: Wow. How long have you been in Tokyo?

Barrett: Six years now, this is my 11th year in Japan.

Karthika: Oh, wow.

Barrett: It’s much longer than I thought I’d be here.

Karthika: Well, you love it or are enjoying yourself that you’re there for now. Do you still have family back in Hawaii?

Barrett: Most of my family is in Hawaii I mean, pretty much that’s where my family immigrated to from Japan way back in the day. And the majority of us are there.

Karthika: Okay talk to me a little bit about Japan and specifically Tokyo you’ve been there for 11 years. You love it. Just kind of walk me through why you continue to live there and what attracts you to not just Japanese culture, but, the city and the country as a whole.

Barrett: Wow. It’s just that it’s such a different place? But growing up in Hawaii, we kind of were influenced a little bit by Japanese culture and just Asian culture in general, but it was always kind of interesting to me and, and then when I took that trip after high school, it, it like just kind of inspired me to take a chance and move and see what it’s all about. But I think if I think about why I’ve stayed here, to be honest, I was to stay for two years and then move back to the US and go to grad school and do that kind of thing. But 11 years ago I started to reflect on what makes me stay here? I think there are a few reasons. One is that I feel safe. I don’t worry about being mugged in the street. I don’t, there’s, there’s not like what I used to live in San Francisco and now and then there’d be something that I’d come across that would make me feel for my safety and just fearful fear for my safety and just kind of I’m scared. And when I came to Japan, I would see these dark, tiny alleys and everything in my body told me not to even go near there, but it’s, it’s a pretty safe, you see like little kids walking around elderly people walking around in the, in the night and it’s more or less safe. It’s not perfect, but it’s, it’s, that, that is one thing that I don’t have to worry about as much, which is fantastic another thing is that the food, the food lives up to the hype. It’s just really good. I’ve complained about everything there is to complain about living in Japan and the difficulties of it, but the food is something I’ve never complained about. It’s, it’s fantastic and it’s, it’s not overly priced either. It’s pretty affordable. You can get decent food for really cheap and the same goes with housing the first studio that I lived in Tokyo probably is around $950 us. And I could never find that kind of apartment to live by myself in any of the cities that I lived in. Granted, I lived in kind of more expensive areas in the US like LA and San Francisco and stuff, but, I think that that’s, that’s another reason and just the overall day-to-day is pretty smooth, it’s just easy living for the most part.

Karthika: That’s awesome. Now I know especially given the times that we are in and everything that has happened with 2020, right. How has Tokyo, how has Japan as a country in itself handled a pandemic and things opening up and if so, what are some of the reopening’s, what does the reopening plan look like?

Barrett: I think overall we’ve done okay. Of course, there’s a lot of complaints, but overall there hasn’t been an enormous spike or anything even, I mean, especially considering how big of a city Tokyo is and how dense it is. I think overall it’s been okay. We’ve had two waves. The first one was in April and the city kind of shut down a little bit, and then we had a second one come in the summertime but we never really shut down. There’s some law in Japan where the government cannot force a complete shutdown. And it’s, it’s really weird but it was more like please, please, please stay home. It wasn’t like you have to stay home and shut down all this stuff. And there were fewer people out and more people were working from home, but we never could shut down. Every shop stayed open, at least they adjusted their hours or something, but they were open companies, especially the older, bigger, kind of more traditional Japanese companies. They are very analog and they have outdated work styles. some of them couldn’t work from home. And that, that was an issue but overall I think we’ve done. Okay especially cause mask-wearing masks are kind of part of a normal culture here, to begin with. There was no real big issue with masks other than there wasn’t enough at one point, and culturally Japan is very non-touch we don’t, we don’t hug here. We don’t shake hands much like a kid kissing on the cheek or anything like that. it’s already somewhat socially this tense in a sense but from this month actually, or October it’s October here we are slowly reopening. certain people with certain types of visas can come back in and then there’s like a smaller limit for regular tourists. And I think it’s going to be opening up step-by-step that way.

Karthika: That’s very interesting. And you bring up such a great point about just the culture in general. You’re right in Asian culture, wearing masks is something that has always happened. And it just feels like a natural progression, but all the fact that as a culture, it’s not that touchy and feely. And it’s easier to kind of move into this sort of mandated role of guidelines. Right now you talked about travel, which sort of leads me quite nicely into my next question that it’s such a tourist, it’s such a tourist hub, especially Tokyo and with the way the travel has changed these past few months, do you see that sort of impacting the tourist sort of culture that the travel industry and just the economy in general?

Barrett: Over the past several years that I’ve been here tourism just really skyrocketed in Japan as a whole. And you got a lot of people from the West and increasing amounts of people from China and it’s just crowded streets of many tourists and now there’s like none. And for us living here, it’s fantastic actually to be honest, because there was a sense of overcrowded this, and Tokyo especially is already overcrowded as it is with, like, with just Japanese people here but, the tourism has pretty much completely shut down. And what happened was there was a campaign going on by the Japanese government called go-to travel, and it’s pretty much-encouraging people to travel because I think a lot of the hotels and just travel-related, tourism-related companies are suffering. And they are giving us discounts. If we go on, catch the train or catch a plane somewhere and stay at a hotel though, they’ll give a percentage back to us they’re really, they’re pushing us to get out of, get out of the house and go someplace.

Karthika: I was talking to somebody earlier in the month from Slovenia and she said the same thing that the government is giving locals like a voucher, €200 or whatever, whatever the amount is for actually going out and staying in a hotel staying in, going to a restaurant eating just because they want to revitalize the economy. it’s very interesting with Japan sort of doing the same thing,

Barrett: And they’re all expanding it to eateries as well. I don’t know the details yet, but I think he would spend more than a hundred dollars. You get some kind of discount don’t quote me on that, that amount, but it’s something like that it’s called the go-to campaign they’re trying to get people moving around and spending money. Again.

Karthika: That’s very interesting how you’ve, you’re a local for all practical purposes, having lived there for long this one is sort of kind of from a local point of view, right? if I or somebody else wanted to plan a trip, where would you take us? Give me, give me maybe an itinerary on sort of what to do, where to go. And from a, from a, maybe a local’s perspective, not a tour.

Barrett: I think, to be honest, it depends mostly on a couple of things. One is what season you’re coming to Japan is very much the culture and all the events and whatnot are very centered around what season it is. For example, if you’re here in the summer, we’d be going to use some festivals and see some fireworks and stuff but if we’re in the spring, we’re going on a picnic to see the cherry blossoms. And it depends on the season. And how many times have you been here? But I think when I get asked, what are the places that you have to go to for a first timer in? , I don’t go, I don’t go deep at all. It’s kind of a silly answer probably, but I started in Shinjuku and it’s kind of the main hub of Tokyo. It has the busiest train station. It’s just a business shopping entertainment hub. I think we start there just to see all that is Tokyo. And then catch a train to an area called Hatajuku. Hatajuku is known for its kind of cosplay costume-wearing that kind of culture? It’s more geared to young people. There’s a lot of boutiques there. I’ll take my guests there and right next to it is this area called Omotosundo and that’s kind of more high-end fashionable boutiques, but it’s great for people watching people are dressed up there, there are, you see a lot of like media, they’re just kind of interviewing people and taking street snaps of, of people walking, just because they’re like fashionable. And then hop on the train and it will go to Asakusa, which is kind of an older area. It’s got one of the more famous shrines in Tokyo. There are a lot of more traditional older shops. We kind of get that contrast of Tokyo and then take the train back to Hatajuku and walk down to Shibuya for a night scene. Shibuya has a lot of lights in its entertainment district. It has this famous crosswalk. I think people have seen it, but it’s, it gets really crowded and, and just surrounded by all the lights is great. And then there’s a new building that just got built there with a kind of a rooftop-like sky deck. We would go up there and enjoy the view of Tokyo at night. I think that would be my one-day recommendation for a first-timer in Tokyo.

Karthika: That’s a lot.

Barrett: I didn’t know where to cut it.

Karthika: No, but I liked the kind of the new and the old mixed in because it’s such an old city that you want to get in and see both the older control aspects of it. Plus the newer hipper fashion.

Barrett: That’s one of the big draws of Tokyo just in general because there’s such a huge contrast. Like you can see centuries-old shrines and even homes. And then just down the block is this brand new high rise of glass and it’s just really contrasting and you see some people in key mono walking around now and then, but then you’ll see others wearing designer European wear walking down the street. It’s really interesting to see.

Karthika: For sure. Now, one thing that I’m noticing and fast you are as well, that in the place of the travel, a lot of things are becoming, kind of more off the beaten path or grassroots, very hyper-localized of experiences. The next series of questions are Barrett’s perspective: what would you do and where would you go? What is your favorite restaurant? And more importantly, why?

Barrett: That’s a very hard question.

Karthika: I know, especially when you said food is one of the things that’s amazing about Japan.

Barrett: There is so much good food here, and there are just many restaurants. I heard that there are more Italian restaurants in Tokyo than there are restaurants in San Francisco, just to kind of give you. Just to kind of give you the scale of how many places to eat here but, if I have to, if I have to pick, I would say to eat at a Yakiniku restaurant and it’s a kind of a Japanese, Korean inspired Japanese barbecue restaurant I think the quality of the meat, just the quality of the meal itself is the biggest gap between Japan and say the U S I think in the US you can, you can find good sushi. And a lot of people come to Japan for sushi, and it’s good, don’t get me wrong. But I think the biggest gap is in the quality of meat for the price. For me, I think my go-to restaurant would be a Yakiniku place there’s kind of a, a few of them, they have slightly different names. And they are in this area of Tokyo called Ebisu. I’ve taken it, my sister and her husband, and a couple of groups of friends to these restaurants. And they’ve completely fallen in love with it like one friend was like, it completely changed my life. It’s just high-quality meat. And it’s not overly expensive for what you get, you are paying like two or three times the price in the US if you were able to find that kind of restaurant in your area. that would probably be my pick, but I could write a couple of pages.

Karthika: No, but this is good. It’s good to get I love asking these questions because it gives me an insight into what you like as a person and what you like. And sometimes when there are many choices, it’s like, tell me you had a goal. I didn’t want him to decide right now, what’s, what’s your favorite activity to do in the city or even in, just exploring the neighborhoods.

Barrett: A lot of time to off times, to be honest, it is because of our restaurant or eatery that I want to check out, but I think, just explain why kind of the minor neighborhoods, smaller neighborhoods I, I know I mentioned taking people to the big areas if it was their first time to Japan, but honestly, I think it’s these small areas that make Tokyo what it is there’s just, Tokyo is dense and compact, but it’s really spread out and there are these tiny, tiny stations almost run down and there’s nothing fancy about the neighborhood, but they have this kind of retro feel sometimes, just not stylish at all, but there’s something about the vibe of the area that, of these areas that feel authentic. And as someone who likes taking pictures, I’d love to take pictures of that kind of thing as well but it’s, it’s these neighborhoods where you find these amazing small eateries that are, that are never going to be on travel blogs. and, and just seeing the way that regular people live their life. I think the image of Tokyo, for someone who doesn’t know it is fancy lights, fancy lights, that ship, we are crossing busy, crossing, catching the hectic train anime, I guess you would throw that in there but it’s not a regular typical person’s life here. going to these small little neighborhoods and just exploring how they’re each different is, is just very interesting to me. And it’s one of the favorite things that I like to do.

Karthika: I love that. And you’re right in that, it just, you get a sense of truly what a place is and the people and the culture away from all the fancy and shiny, right. It’s day-to-day life. And that speaks a lot to a community and a culture. I love, I love that now, any sort of outdoor spaces that are perhaps more, again, I like a local hangout.

Barrett: To be honest, I think one of the biggest complaints and the biggest negative mark in Tokyo is the lack of outdoor spaces and outdoor-like parks and, and scenery. A popular local hangout is kind of the more well-known part is it’s a Yoyogi park it’s near how to do good it’s, it’s already really well known, but it is where a lot of locals go there’s a lot of green space. It’s very wide and there’s a lot of different things that you can see there, for example, there’s like this group of dancers and they just wear these black jackets kind of like John Travolta in grease. And they just, they’re just like dancing outdoors. You see that you see more modern pop dancing going on. A lot of people are playing music, having picnics. I think that is a very real and a very local place to go to, even though it’s already well known, it is like a destination for locals as well. But to be honest, a lot of people will go outside of Tokyo to experience more nature and outdoor spaces, unfortunately.

Karthika: That’s fine. Can you share, maybe some that, you find yourself regularly going to?

Barrett: Well, I have been going to an area which is kind of just West of Tokyo and there are some parks and areas that have cherry blossoms. For cherry blossom season, we go out and have picnics. It’s a little bit less crowded. You get to not be surrounded by all these tall buildings, I think those areas are pretty good to just get away just for a day. That, even though that not too many parks in the city, you can still get out relatively close by

Karthika: That’s not too bad. Okay. What about some local experiences, things like cooking classes or painting, or bike tours, some things that we might not find on a lonely planet.

Barrett: No organized tour or a specific experience. I think there are two things that I would recommend just doing in general, one is to do it. if you need to go to a nearby station, you’d be like one or two stops. I think the best thing to do is just take a walk. I think a lot of tourists are not prepared, especially from America that I find because we’re not a walking culture. It’s easy to get tired in a city like Tokyo, just the crowd and just like walking, catching the train. But if you can and have enough energy, I think my recommendation for local experiences to just take the walk a lot of times between two stations is where you find the best cafes, eateries, the best just the best shops that are just really interesting, really random, like a shop with just model planes to make. Just old barbershops geared towards older Japanese men. And it’s really interesting just to find these local spots in these local areas. And a lot of times it, these areas that have the best things my second recommendation is to, instead of going to the higher up places to eat, try a run-down small [inaudible] is kind of their traditional Japanese pubs, but they’re more like restaurants slash drinking areas and a lot of these smaller areas and the rundown ones, you’ll be cramped in, but you get more of an opportunity to talk to the owners and the people around you who are a little bit tipsy it’s, it’s there, there will be a struggle to communicate in English, but I think that’s part of the fun there are a lot of Japanese people are a little bit kind of shyer, more reserved in general, but when they drink, they’re a little bit more outgoing they get, they get a little bit more courage. In these pubs you have more of an opportunity to kind of chat to the people around you and just kind of hear w, why did they start this place? How many years have they been running it? I went to one nearby where I live and it was this really small place. And it was just a bar counter of maybe six seats. And the guy was talking about how he took over the family business and has been running it for 40 years. And before that, they used to make traditional Japanese slippers. And it was just really interesting to hear these stories of real people making a living here in Tokyo. I think that those are probably the two local experiences that I would recommend doing. It’s not an organized thing, but it definitely

Karthika: No, but that sounds fascinating because again, it’s like on the ground right there with everybody and it’s an experience for sure. And your answer, right. there’s when you don’t know the right language.

Barrett: I am speaking from personal experience too. Like I, I found that these are the things that are, are very interesting, very local, and they make you think about a lot of things and reflect on a lot of things as well. I think these are my recommendations.

Karthika: Sounds great. Now you talked earlier about the campaign to get people out of the house, get people to explore and travel. where have you gone recently, or maybe discovered a new local jam or something that you didn’t know?

Barrett: Well, I haven’t traveled too much, but I went. It’s kind of a well-known area. It’s called Akihabara, and I was able to stay in a hotel there for just a little short staycation over the weekend. Akihabara is known for its kind of manga and anime culture, but to be honest, I’m not interested in that at all which is kind of weird for foreigners living in Japan. But, a lot of people visiting will go to that area to shop for figurines and toys and comics and stuff. But I was looking for more local things. I went to these kisaten coffee shops, they’re traditional coffee shops and they inspired people like the founder of blue bottle coffee, which is a very big kind of boutique coffee shop, I guess you would call it in the Bay area of California. And they kind of moved here and it kind of inspired him and influenced him. And it’s just these really small coffee shops that are, they’re not fancy, but there, they might be in these like dingy buildings one of them that I went to was in this really old building, tiny elevator on the third floor it’s just whole real, a real hole in a wall kind of places. And I found out that even though Akihabara has this image of lights and games and comics and whatnot, there are these older, like really old shops there I think that was a surprise to me cause I’ve never done that. And just visiting there for the weekends kind of forced me to explore the actual area and I think that was one of the things that I discovered that I just didn’t know about the area before.

Karthika: Sounds fantastic. Quite an adventure now, Barrett, this is going to be a sort of a question that is, again, I want to get your perspective. There’s no right or wrong answer and, everybody has a different take on it, whatever you’re comfortable sharing where do you think travel is headed in the future? Given everything that we’ve gone through?

Barrett: That’s a very hard one. I think, for a while, I think it’ll be kind of toned down a little bit, cause there’s going to be people that are not willing to take the risk of traveling. I think there’s a lot of questions on people’s minds if even if things somewhat got back to normal if they got sick in a foreign country then what is it, what is their situation? What is the help that they can get? What are the hotels and hospital situations in that country? And I think these are things that a lot of people didn’t think about before, but I think they’ll, we’ll, we’ll be forced to think about these potential issues because, once you get sick, it’s, it’s, you can’t just hop on a plane and come back to your home country? I think it’ll be toned down at least a little bit and there’s, there’ll probably be a lot of precautions and safety measures put on by just the airlines and hotels, but I think eventually it will return to somewhat normal, some normalcy that we’ve seen before I think cause people forget to get complacent? And, there might be permanent measures put in place I mean, if we remember like from nine 11 that there’s, it was completely different after that, but we’ve gotten used to it and travel has returned. I think it’ll be somewhat similar to that. but I think for a little bit, there’ll be less traveling going on, which, which might be a good thing because I think like Tokyo and I know a lot of places had some over-tourism problems but, I think, I think it will be toned down for a little bit, at least for the near future.

Karthika: Fair enough. And I like what you said that eventually, people forget, but, hopefully, things move in the right direction and it’s not like we do for God now. What are your travel plans? Where are you thinking of going next? Whenever that next time?

Barrett: On my list, before all of this happened was to go to Vietnam. I’ve been to Vietnam once and I really liked Hanoi and I just wanted to go again and I wanted to go back to Hanoi and see a new area called Hawaiian. I’ve never been there before it just looks gorgeous. The people there, people in Hanoi, were extremely nice. The food was really good, that was on the list. I think that would be kind of my first international trip that I would plan to take. But I think, to be honest, I think this whole pandemic and restriction on internet international travel was kind of assigned to explore Japan a little bit more. I think a lot of times we don’t appreciate the country or the area that we’re in enough we take a look at a little bit and then have our eyes, as, for people who like traveling we have our eyes to a different country, a different area and just kind of really desired getting out. But I think this kind of made me realize that there are a lot of places in Japan that I just haven’t been to and that I should explore because if I am to move out of the country, there are going to be a list of places where I’m like, why did, why didn’t I ever, ever go there? I was just a train ride away or one hour flight. on my list coming up and I’m taking advantage of that travel campaign by the garment. getting some money for this trip, but I’m going to an area called Kanazawa, which is, I’ve never been, but it’s, it’s getting to be a popular travel destination and people say it’s like another killing town. a lot more traditional gardens and things like say traditional sites to see. I’m excited to go there. It’s along the side of the Japan Sea and I’ve never actually been to that coast in Japan yet. A couple of new experiences right off the bat with Kanazawa another place that I’m planning to go to is in a prefecture called alimony. It’s at the tip of the main Island in Japan and I’ve never been that much further north from where I am. I’ve been to Northernmost Island, but I haven’t explored the North part of this Island. I’m interested to see that I know it’s a lot colder, but I heard culture’s a little bit different. The style of cooking is a little bit different. The way of speaking is a little different. I’m just really excited to explore a part of Japan that I haven’t been to yet.

Karthika: They all sound amazing. And you’re you said something that’s spot on. We don’t appreciate that. What’s in our backyards. I’m from India and I moved away when I was 21 years old. And now when I go back because I still have family there, I’m exploring much of India that I never even knew existed when I was living there. it’s a very interesting mindset.

Barrett: Same. I mean when I was in, I grew up in Hawaii and I didn’t appreciate what Hawaii was. And then I still have friends in Hawaii that are like there’s nothing to see or no place to go and no pictures to take. And I’m like, you realize like a lot of people pay a lot of money to visit there. Right, it’s a huge travel destination. I think there are things that we get used to and just take for granted. And I think if anything, the biggest takeaway, if, if everything is, if your family and loved ones are safe and you haven’t suffered too much from this pandemic, I think the biggest takeaway is to just look around and see what you have first before going in, looking for a way and being just appreciative of what you have first.

Karthika: Thank you much, Barrett. This was incredible. It was such a trip to chat with. You get to know Tokyo and I thank you much

Barrett: Right. It was, it’s really fun chatting with you, great podcasts, I just hope you get to visit Japan someday and just explore it as well.

Karthika: I’m taking you up on the offer of having you show me around.

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