Otsukaresama deshita!!!!

It is with great relief that I write the final page of my blog.

There was the dragging weight which was the winter blues, the distraction of Kyoto’s spring, and now finally… settling back into life in Cambridge, England. I’ve been back in England for almost a month now. Within two weeks of boarding my flight I accepted a new job and moved in with my new/old housemates.

I learned some Japanese, experienced a billion new things, ate a lot of new food, left lots of loved people behind. Why leave?

– Though teaching was fun, rewarding, and a great experience; I didn’t want to do it forever. Staying in Japan with my level of Japanese I felt would have given me a stunted choice of future careers.

– Sometimes expats can grow disillusioned with their life abroad and take the chance, with friends, to complain about it. Though completely valid, I wanted to leave before growing tired of things which I had once found romantic and magical.

– Rheumatoid Arthritis is a condition whereby your body turns against itself, destroying cartilage and damaging bones. Since I was 17 I’ve had many different kinds of medication, and while in Japan I managed to control it with no meds at all (I stopped taking the one thing I was on because it is banned in Japan), but in the latter months of my stay it was clear that my RA wasn’t dormant anymore, my toes, my knees, the warning signs told me.. time to stop kidding myself and go back on the drugs. These drugs that I wouldn’t be able to obtain in Japan. I’m not sad about it, I was over the moon that I had managed to live half way across the world away from the NHS and survive drug free for almost two years. I do know that my jogging helps, I do know that my attempt at a sensible diet helps, but ultimately I know that hydroxychloroquine helps too.

– My sister and her husband are giving me a a nephew in August, it didn’t feel good to face the prospect of being out of the country while my sister faces one of the most dangerous times in a woman’s life. Plus, I didn’t want to miss out on new nephew hugs (and niece hugs!).

And with that I decided – over a Christmas spent in the comforting company of my family – to move back to the UK, for a while at least.

Cambridge has been my homing beacon ever since I went to University here in 2007, so, here are a couple of photos I’ve taken since moving back. This will be my final blog, of course the more you know about something the more you realise you don’t know, pretty demotivational. Thank you so much for reading and for supporting me on my escape to the ‘Mountains Beyond Mountains’ of Kyoto.

Lots of love, Rach xoxox

Gwydir Street

Gwydir Street

Parkers Piece and Ducks

Parkers Piece and Ducks

'Canned on the run/ Band on the run' ho ho ho, get it?? mm?

Canned On The Run. 27.11.2014

Widely publicized as one of Japans most practical quirks; vending machines lurk around most corners. Everywhere. In my first few days here they were an absolute wonder  – not needing to speak to a person to purchase a drink, not needing to feel awkward struggling with my new foreign coins. They still are actually. Not too long ago I climbed up Mt Atago with friends – its the tallest mountain in Kyoto, and there at the top we were welcomed by a beautiful shrine and some vending machines.

Now we could be talking about how one can purchase alcohol/cigarettes/used undies (not really, that one is very illegal actually!) from vending machines as well as fresh vegetables – but – today let’s address Japans least controversial energy source – Coffee.

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There’s no shame behind my admitting that I’m a lover of brands, mainly food/drink brands. I cherish my Branston and Heinz, I long for Galaxy and Dairy Milk. Coffee is no exception – for me it has to be BOSS. I mean, they have a fantastic image. Tommy Lee Cooper is the face of Boss Coffee, TOMMY LEE COOPER. And their tagline? “SUNTORY BOSS is the boss of them all since 1992”. Suntory has been selling drinks in Japan since the 1800s, they are one of the well established huuuuuge beasts of Japanese companies which you will probably have heard of – such as Yamaha, Suzuki, and Asahi. Besides all of that, their Cafe au Lait just happens to be my preferred choice because they add all those extras which make it irresistibly terrible for your health and more like a dessert.

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See here above, two vending machines right next to a convenience store. You might think “Well that makes sense, Rachel, because when the shop closes you can just pop over to the vending machine at all hours”, but you’d be completely wrong. Most convenience stores are open 24 hours, I say most but I don’t think I’ve ever come across one that actually closes, ever. There are probably tonnes of reasons to pop vending machines right next to a store which sells the same products, we could even make it a discussion if you like. Anyway, I want you to see some of the other coffee varieties which are available here, please see below.

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So here you can see not just canned coffee but coffee in bottles and those plastic cups on the left – they have a foil top covered by a plastic lid and an opening for your straw, so they are quite nice to drink from if you don’t fancy a can. There are coffees of every nature including soy milk, unsweetened, black, white, espresso, latte etc. The coffee doesn’t have to be cold even, as you can buy hot coffee in a can/bottle from vending machines or the convenience stores too.

Cold coffee is extremely popular in Japan, it is consumed all year round – just as ice cream is eaten even in winter! Every cafe serves iced coffee, and there are sachets and concentrates available at any store so one can have cold coffee at home.

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So it was to my absolute surprise that a London based cold brew coffee company – Sandows – was breaking through the hundreds of coffee brands to make it into a fancy Japanese magazine. An old school friend, Luke Suddards, and his business parter Hugh Duffie appeared – it seems just a little while ago – on my facebook feed telling everyone about their new business, and now Sandows has turned global.

Did they know how big coffee is in Japan?? Did Luke know what they might be up against?

“There’s a big coffee scene […] in fact cold brew pretty much originates from Japan!”

I asked Luke about the company, I wanted to know how their coffee was different, how they’d managed to reinvent something which I’d felt saturated the Japanese market. He explained…

“Cold brew is in fact quite different to iced coffee as it’s brewed without any hot water; this means it takes much longer but you end up with a much less acidic, sweeter cup. In  contrast an iced coffee is an espresso which is brewed hot and then cooled down and added to the milk; cooling down coffee once its been heated provokes much more bitterness so you will find that most iced coffees are loaded with milk and sugar etc to cover that up. Our process allows you to drink it without any additives”

Well then, after gushing on about the Boss Cafe au Lait milk and sugar filled goodness I’m really interested in trying this newfangled brew. If I can enjoy a good cold coffee minus the terrible stuff then I’d be much better off. Sandows isn’t in the vending machines or the combini yet, though,  I really rather hope to see it in some of my favorite cafes here, because good coffee is worth sitting down for.

I’m now looking forward to traveling home to England for Christmas.

See some of you very soon!

Love Rach xoxox

PS here’s Sandows’ website http://www.sandowslondon.co.uk/
And tumbler for more pictures http://sandowslondon.tumblr.com/

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Kamogawa 鴨川 – Duck River. 21.10.2014

Having lived here for over a year now, and faced with the arduous labor of deleting thousands of unwanted pictures from my ipad, I’ve noticed some common themes. Kyoto is beautiful – this is the undisputed truth – and today I’m sharing some of my fave snaps of Kyoto’s main artery – the Kamogawa, or, 鴨 wild duck 川 river.

The Kamogawa is a place to practice instruments, hold blossom viewing parties, bbqs, fireworks (but thats illegal so don’t..), jog, walk your dog, get into town without nearly being run over. There are always people there.

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This photo was taken at the very beginning of my time here. Foolishly I was taken in by the beauty of the river and decided to eat my breakfast sitting on some steps leading down to the water, I was bitten to shreds by mosquitos. The mosquitos seem to be less bitey this year, I think the weather has been a lot cooler this time round. This section of the river is by Demachiyanagi which is the main train station connecting the Keihan line (to Osaka through downtown Kyoto) and the Eiden line (which takes me home to North East Kyoto, and then on up to Kurama).

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Further up north by Takano you can see why people say Kyoto has five seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Typhoon season. I took the top photo in Spring, or, Cherry Blossom season. The picture underneath that one was taken during a typhoon. During typhoons the river swells, sometimes up and over the paths and has been known to flood even downtown Kyoto around Sanjo! I’ve tried to pop that into perspective below.

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The picture on the left is at normal levels, the two on the right show that you can’t see the turtles as they’ve been drowned by the water coming down from north Kyoto. At these times it is usually prohibited to walk by the river.

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Here’s a snap I took from the train on the way up to Kurama in the snowy winter, I love how you can always see the mountains around Kyoto and the stark changes they endure through the year. I don’t think the river froze, its too fast moving to freeze. My winter blog was quite a miserable one, I’ll be more prepared this year and will hopefully appreciate winters uh..unique…blessings… uch I hate cold.

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You can see here in this moody number taken in Autumn last year that the branch of the Kamogawa that comes from the west seems to be a lot wider, you can’t see it but the Botanical gardens are on the right.

My cousin explained that the guidebooks recommend not walking by the Kamogawa at night, so perhaps I too should advise this? But if you’re visiting in the summer do stop by Sanjo and come down to the river for a chu hi! And there is surely no danger during the day so be sure to spend some time watching the wild duck river go by.

Thanks for reading!

Love Rach xoxox

 

Japanese Vintage Pornographer’s House

I love all these weird and wonderful finds. Everything from abandoned sex museums to long forgotten schools and love hotels. Abandoned Kansai!

Abandoned Kansai

Old family pictures, dry plate negatives, books with titles like “Avoidances From Sexual Temptation”, a wooden wall telephone that looked like straight out of “Boardwalk Empire”… and somewhere there had to be 90 year old porn photos – my head was spinning!

3 years prior to that slightly overwhelming spring day, I went on a *second trip to Kyushu*. It was my first long-distance solo exploration trip and included amazing locations like the now demolished *Kawaminami Shipyard*, the also demolished amusement park *Navelland* and the wonderful *Ikeshima*.
3 months prior to that slightly overwhelming spring day, my urbex buddy Rory and his wife had helped me locating an amazing abandoned hotel I deemed worthy dumping 25.000 Yen travel costs on, so I spontaneously booked a flight from Kobe to Ibaraki Airport… I had 28 hours in the Kanto countryside and I was eager to make the best…

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KURO ダイヤモンド

KURO ダイヤモンド – The Black Burger.

For a couple of weeks I’ve been receiving emails from British friends about a mysterious black burger. This week Burger King’s latest creations became available in  Kyoto. A black bun, black sauce, black cheese, and a black burger. I HAD to try it.

A steal at about three quid.

A steal at about three quid.

The deal: “L of Coke Zero of Coke comes with a free purchased separately from now.” Basically its 690 yen, and you get a drink.

The Burger: KURO ダイヤモンド, or, The Black Diamond. Squid ink in the sauce, bamboo charcoal in the bun and the cheese, squid ink in the sauce, and soy sauce on the burger. The Diamond comes with veggies and mayo, The Pearl comes without.

The Results:

Charcoal coloured bun and some stuff squished inside.

Charcoal coloured bun and some stuff squished inside.

Yeah. So, I never expect the burgers to look like the picture. You can already see that the bun has a curious texture to it from the paper-like creases.

Inside:

mmmm :/

mmmm :/

So, this is actually as much as I ate of the black burger. It didn’t taste of much, and the texture was bizarre. The bun itself had an absolutely plastic quality about it, and the veggies all slid around and out in their black sauce – which makes them look like they aren’t so happy.

I don’t enjoy Burger King fries, and they weren’t anything special in this case so it is beside the point..however.. jeez these fries tasted like they’d been refried a couple of times, they were crumbly instead of crunchy and were just not right.

The Swede says no.

The Swede says no.

All in all the look of the thing wasn’t much, and the taste + texture were unpleasant.

I’m glad I tried it though, it felt like a foodie adventure. So, I’m sure there’ll be plenty more sold. Give it a try and tell us what you think!

All the best,

Rach xoxox

Me Ol' Bamboo

The Art of Living. 17.09.2014

I’m not a flexible girl. I mean, that, in life terms I try new food and experiences plus I’m always happy to meet new people  – but – even though I try to touch my toes five days a week I don’t know whether my fingers will ever reach my feet.  The kids have tried pulling my arms and jumping on my back but either Sensei’s arms are too short or it just wasn’t meant to be. So then what was I doing at early o’ clock on a Friday morning joining a blooming yoga class??! Until fairly recently Yoga has certainly been viewed by many as something reserved for those who buy hemp clothes and eat yogurt for every meal.

Lisa Allen who is responsible for my new hobby.

Lisa Allen who is responsible for my new hobby.

Here’s Lisa. She seems to be from the USA, England, and Japan. She convinced me to join her for Yoga at Impact Hub Kyoto. The scene in this photo is exactly where we did part of the Yoga class. Being Kyoto summertime it was about a gazillion degrees hot already at the crack of dawn, but in the shade of the bamboo plus a magic breeze coming off the Kamogawa river nearby we were guided most calmly through some stretches. Our instructor was Nicole Porter. She’s got an engaging voice and an extremely calming instruction about her – it was my first yoga session ever and even though we were throwing some challenging shapes I got into the swing of things fairly comfortably. The session was about an hour and a half, we ate breakfast together afterwards as a group (including yogurt). At this point I grabbed the opportunity to quiz Nicole. Nicole has been Yoga-ing all over the world for 14 years and has taught for about 8 now, did she think Yoga had changed over this time? She noted that Yoga is growing, especially in Kyoto. I agreed, I even have a friend who even cracks out her Yoga mat in the middle of her office! We are lucky here to have many vegan and veggie restaurants, the wholesome lifestyle is very popular in Kyoto.

Sexy Salad Please!

Sexy Salad Please!

The class I attend is held on Friday mornings between 7 – 8:30 but there are plenty of other classes to choose from.  There are also absolutely piles of events such as Hub drinks, blogger events, inspirational talks, idea sharing events and cooking groups. Impact Hub Kyoto itself is exactly the sort of place I wish I knew about when I first moved here a year ago. The aim of the Impact Hub is to bring environmental, self, and social innovation together – collectively known as the Art of Living – to bring about sustainable change in the world. Actually The Hub and I have something in common, we were both born in London! The first Impact Hub Kyoto was created in 2005 and there are now more than 7000 members in sixty plus cities globally. The original aim was to create a platform to spread innovative ideas and a springboard for positive change.

Free Internet and Bottomless Coffee, it's almost like they WANT people to use this space!?

Free Internet and Bottomless Coffee, it’s almost like they WANT people to use this space!?

Impact Hub Kyoto is so incredibly lucky to be using such a beautiful space. I’m a real sucker for old Japanese buildings and this one really takes the biscuit. The building was built by a Japanese artist 80 years ago and includes a traditional Noh Stage, a Tea Room, the collaborative workspace pictured above, and even a second floor filled with well lit tatami (those cushioned straw mats) rooms. All these spaces are available to use for events. Our Yoga class was partly outside and then taken inside to the stage.

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Distracting Lisa at work.

Distracting Lisa at work.

So I hope that if those of you who are new to Kyoto and need a space to meet people and use the internet – AND you guys who have lived here forever and want to learn something or share something –  will take a visit down to our very own Impact Hub. You can become a member, or you can just pop in for one shiny 500 yen coin. You may well see me there. Come and say hi, I will probably be high on several coffees trying to meet a deadline for Kyoto Journal (because I’m a proper writer now and everything!!!).

Thats all for now. Love Rach xoxox

Edit: A Quick Note from Impact Hub Kyoto…

If you have any questions or want to see/ rent the space contact: host[@]impacthubkyoto.net or check out the Impact Hub Kyoto website at http://kyoto.impacthub.net/

Opening Hours: Monday-Friday 10am-6pm Available for event rental outside regular opening hours.

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Cats: The Darlings Of The Internet. 15.08.14

The internet blooming loves cats. Cats are so in vogue right now, everywhere. Selfies and food photos are shameful but one could post photos of cats till they were blue in the fingers but nobody would complain.

Actually I’ve never been a cat person myself, my dad is extremely allergic to cats and he would sing a ditty called ‘The cat came back’ all about trying to get rid of/murder a cat in various ways. It’s catchy. We’ve always had dogs, I love dogs. Japan loves dogs too, I’ve seen many dog outfits including the one below, oooh and there’s a gang of labrador retrievers who meet at a park near me wearing basketball shirts (with their owners..). There is also a trend of older ladies taking their dogs out in push chairs, it is as curious a phenomenon to the Japanese as the rest of the world.

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Japan, like everyone else, loves cats. There is even a cat island , and lets not forget that this country is the birthplace of the enduring old favourite ‘Hello Kitty‘. On Wednesday I took a trip to a type of cafe which has crept its way into British culture too – a Cat Cafe. Apparently the world’s first Cat Cafe was in Taiwan but due to tiny apartments forbidding any pets: Osaka found itself hosting Japan’s first Cat Cafe in 2004.

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Here one pays an hourly fee, usually including a drink, to pet and play with a number of cats. I’m pretty sure that my dad wouldn’t be able to come within a mile radius of this place without suffocating. There were about 8 people, some chairs, lots of bowls etc and 6/7 cats, all in a room which might have been about 8×6 metres. I enjoyed feeding the cats at the beginning, they were very sociable and not violent at all. My late Nan’s cat wouldn’t have put up with any of that nonsense.

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The best cat had a comedy haircut as shown above, grumpy lion cat. Once we had run out of chicken pieces the cats generally found a bowl to fall asleep in, there were many bowls/baskets/saucepans for the kitties and none of them fell out over space issues etc. They seemed content and had a good bond with the girls running the place.

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There are other kinds of animal cafes in Japan such as Owl cafes. I’ve generally got mixed feelings about these cafes as in general I’m sure owls and cats prefer the freedom of being outdoors and not petted every day by new people. Perhaps that’s more stressful for owls than cats. But then I am intrigued so.. watch this space for the ultimate in wishy washy animal welfare opinions.

In a while crocodile,

Love Rach xoxox