Step into Christmas. 29. 11.2013

As December lurks nearby the shops are filled with festive paraphernalia and the preparations for a Browns English Christmas begin. Tom has been feeding booze to dried fruit for Christmas pudding, I believe there are at least two company parties to prepare for and perhaps one for the punters too. Some friends I know started their shopping in October, I’ve not started mine yet eep. It seems that Christmas is a much bigger deal here than I thought. I haven’t seen the coca cola advert yet though…

I had promised some blurry pictures taken from the Sagano Railway in Arashiyama but there was a two hour wait and we were hungry so went for ramen and climbed half way up a mountain instead. I did take lots of photos of Arashiyama itself, how could one not? Wow. It’s almost everything I love about Japan in one area, unfamiliar foods and sights filled with beautiful history and lofty mystery. There was also a puppy at the shrine we climbed up to. Next time I go I want to go up to monkey mountain and maybe try the railway again. A pointer for potential tourists is – if you’re going to Arashiyama in November it’s peak time so go EARLY. Here’s one of the views from the shrine, oh look it’s meeeee.


One of my students, Junko, is very talented and makes material for Kimonos on a traditional loom. I had the opportunity to see it for myself on a night of nabe (a sort of delicious hot pot) and saying goodbye to Leon who is a colleague who just moved to Switzerland (gamba te Leon!). Please see the photo below, it’s absolutely huge and I’m utterly impressed by it.


Junko also very kindly invited me to her Salsa class which I attended last week. I tried to practise some of my Japanese on the class which was very hit and miss but ultimately the best thing for my studies. Dancing was great fun but the highlight for me was when the salsa teacher cracked out his shamisen! I was bowled over, what a treat. The class also gave me some Japanese cooking tips and I was very grateful to take home some nori (seaweed) to try.


Last weekend I worked at another festival/market event, this time on the west of town near the Golden Pavillion and Ryoanji. Mitsumi treated me to a traditional Japanese pancake thingy called a Dorayaki which was surprisingly delicious – I tend to be disappointed by Japanese desserts as they aren’t all chocolate brownies but this one hit the spot. I also saw a brass etching workshop, met a violinist who plays in a Swedish folk band, and a lady who kindly showed me her South American guitar like instrument that I’m afraid I can’t remember the name of! She also owns a shop filled with curious and tiny beautifully designed jewellery as well as dolls etc.

Lastly, thanks to some extra blankets (thanks Jeff!) and working out the settings on my air conditioner unit I’m quite a lot warmer this week. Let’s see how I feel in February…

Thanks for reading, adios!




When autumn leaves start to fall. 14.11.2013

Three weeks ago when the temperature was mid twenties and I was still wearing flip flops (much to the bemusement of the locals) someone told me I’d soon be shivering in a sub zero climate. A week ago I still didn’t really need a coat. This week…. Well I’ve already had enough of the cold, I don’t care that my aircon heating is hugely expensive or that there are benefits to the beautiful airy Japanese architecture. How has a country this advanced not managed to catch onto CENTRAL HEATING? Not only is there no central heating here, I’ve also yet to see double glazing and most houses don’t have carpet.

There *are* ways of heating your house if you’ve got the money to shell out for gas and electricity. Firstly I’d love a hot carpet, it’s pretty much an electric blanket for the floor. This is important because I sleep on the floor on a fold out mattress or futon just like a lot of Japanese people do. Also if you’re using the aircon it only heats the air which then rises so your left with cold feet. Luckily I’m living on the top floor of my building so everyone else’s heating rises to my apartment in theory. I’ve also heard of people using kerosene heaters and a sort of heater under a table which you then sleep under? I might be misunderstanding that one but it sounds like a good nights sleep to me.


Of course there are many benefits to the cold too. One of which is the ‘ Momiji ‘ which is a name for the colourful autumn Maple leaves, there’s also a word which the Japanese use for all the leaves changing colour which is 紅葉 (kouyoo) it’s hugely possible I’ve spelled that wrong. The photo above was taken on a trip I took with Yasmin’s mum to the Botanic Gardens – I’d highly recommend it at this time if year, we were both very surprised at how many flowers are out at this time of year. Please see below a picture I took of plants which I thought looked like autumn Christmas trees.


I’m taking a trip into the mountains on Sunday so no doubt you’ll be inundated with blurry tree photos taken from a fast moving train then.

Last week a new bike shop opened near to one of my schools in Iwakura Minami. It’s called Cobucycles and it is owned and run by my good friend Chisato and her Husband. Their picture is at the top of the page (you know, the one with people standing in a bike shop). I’ve already identified a million and one things in there that I want to send home as Christmas presents. One of the things that makes it really stand out is that there are tonnes of accessories for kids bikes including wing mirrors shapes like balloons. I want!!! There are also lots of fancy bikes and funky bike helmets for adults, anyone for a Brooke’s saddle?

Cycling is big business in Kyoto just as it is in places like Cambridge and London. I’d say the main difference here is that you’ll often see people riding whilst holding an umbrella or with kids in a basket on the front and back, plus a dog sometimes! The pavements here are fairly wide and in a lot of cases they are split into separate pedestrian and cycling lanes, though most of the time it’s a mixed affair regardless of the signs and colour coding. I’ve yet to see any road rage, but if you do take your life into your own hands and run a red light (totes by accident….ok..?) you’ll probably get a polite beep or two. I want to add that riding whilst holding an umbrella is illegal – today I’m popping over to Chisato’s to pick up a nifty device which will hold my umbrella up for me. Oh it’s also illegal to ride a bike with no rear brakes and apparently someone did get arrested for that last week.


I bought some sparkly orange reflectors and a fancy back light which turns itself on automatically when it feels vibration and it’s dark. No euphemisms there, I’m sure.

Finally.. This week a friend introduced me to a pub where a group meets to play Irish folk music, they sort of invited me to come and play with them so I’m dead set on buying a violin as soon as I can. Sitting with a beer listening to them was a real treat, and the owner of the pub is very talented as well as friendly and extremely helpful. I’ve also heard about a country and western group on the other side of town so I hope to be telling you loads about all of that soon.

All the best, stay warm!

Love rach xoxox