Mel's Place

Published: Wednesday November 12, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday November 12, 2014 MYT 8:16:51 AM

Nine days in Japan and a healthy dose of experience

Melinda and her Sakura collection.

Melinda and her Sakura collection.

The columnist rediscovered some interesting food and travel places while in Japan for a show.

I have always loved Japan and was extremely pleased to be able to visit the country again for the Sakura Collection after many years of absence. What made this trip special was it included a cultural tour which, making it sweeter for the foodie in me, included lots of fantastic dining experiences and even the opportunity to learn some Japanese cooking techniques. 

Even better, Dirk and our daughter Maya were with me. We had a fantastic time and I’m putting it in diary form as we did so many things.

Day 1: We arrived in Osaka and took part in the first show at Osaka Kansai airport. For a post-show dinner, we were taken to a steak restaurant in Kobe, famous for its “melt-in-the-mouth” cuts of beef. I don’t eat any four-legged animals, but Dirk vouches for the top-class meat. Meanwhile, I enjoyed my seafood and veggie teppanyaki.

Day 2: We journeyed five hours by bus to Matsue in Shimane. After an amazing traditional Japanese lunch at Yushien Garden Restaurant, we drove around the charming, old-fashioned seaside town. We then stopped at the Matsue History Museum for a class on making Wagashi confectionery conducted by chef Itami, who’s been named a National Treasure by the Emperor. 

We later consumed dainty orange rose and pink Sakura flowers with red bean paste at a tea house overlooking a beautiful garden. Dinner that night was a 10-course meal at the Shimon Seafood Restaurant. Afterwards, I felt like I was doubly pregnant!

Day 3: We climbed to the top of Matsue Castle for a spectacular view of the town. After that. it was on to a boat ride on the castle river, passing the Samurai town and residential area, and a visit to Matsue Vogel Park, a flower and bird paradise. 

From the bird park, we went to a temple, then to the Inasanohoma/Hinomisaki beach to experience the truly spectacular sunset. We ended with dinner at the Robata-Kaba Restaurant where we had yaki-yaki.

Day 4: Today was Kyoto, once the Imperial capital of Japan, which is famous for its shrines. In Kyoto, we visited the 1,000-year-old Imamiya Jinja shrine and had a 12-layer kimono wearing course (the kimono does not have 12 layers; it is a form of grading the kimono). There were lots of exquisite vintage kimonos. Then, it was back to Osaka for a free and easy night.

Day 5: We visited another shrine, Osaka Temmangu, popular among those seeking good academic results. The priests here pray to waterfalls, the sun, rivers, the earth… any kind of natural element, even earthquakes! 

Next was a Samurai and Ninja course at the Quick-Samurai School where the women in our group were dressed up in kimonos while the men were given Samurai costumes to wear. Maya loved it! 

Dinner was cooked by Dirk whom we appointed as our chef for the evening. He had help from a cooking lesson in traditional Japanese New Year dishes.

Day 6: There was a sushi-making lesson in the morning, followed by our fashion show, held at the dreamy Osaka Castle. The show went pretty well; the traditional setting made it seem all the more authentic. Dinner was at a BBQ place. 

Since it was also Halloween, there were “ghosts” everywhere on the streets, which was rather terrifying for Maya. After bidding farewell to all the other designers and organisers of the Sakura Collection, we left for Tokyo on a bullet train.

Day 7: We visited the Tokyo fish market, tasting the delicacies of Japan and then did some market research at Shinjuku-Isetan and some underground shopping streets.

Day 8: Half a day was spent in Shinjuku looking at some crazy gadget stores! After that, we visited Roppongi – a very modern, Westernised area. You must visit the Roppingi Hills and go to the observation floor on the 52nd level to visit the Mori Art Museum, which offers a panoramic view of Tokyo. 

At the museum itself, we observed Taiwanese artist Lee Mingwei at work. Dinner was at a fun BBQ restaurant, Torikizoku, before returning to Shinjuku to explore the small alleys and tiny bars – that can fit about 10 people – in an area known as Golden Gai.

Day 9: Squeezed in a trip to Ginza, a luxury shopping area in Tokyo, to see the Esprit Dior exhibition. Four storeys of old and new couture – I could’ve stayed for hours, but had to catch our flight home.

Arigato and sayonara, Japan. I will be back!

> Award-winning fashion designer Melinda Looi tries to marry consumerism and materialism with environmental consciousness. She believes her greatest creations are her children. Send your feedback to

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