Haunted Streets and Abandoned Peaks 26.06.14

Today’s featured photo was taken at Enryakuji which is a Temple up Mt.Hiei bordering my end of north east Kyoto with Shiga on the other side. The monks are seen burning amulets/charms from last year, the smoke takes them up to the gods. Mt Hiei is one of the barriers which keeps evil from seeping into Kyoto city, which is sort of bowl shaped – a lip of mountains absolutely surrounds us. Thousands of warriors have lost their lives on these mountains, but it’s not just human and amulet remains which lurk here. image

Here lies an abandoned ski slope. This is the closest I’ve ever been to a ski lodge, and this one has apparently been closed for about 12 years. The story goes that one year they closed just for the summer period but simply never reopened. Skis hang mouldy under a caved in roof – you can still make out designs and colours through dusty windows. The old ski lift chairs are laid out waiting and crumbling.


This is was my first taste of ‘urbex’. Japan has many abandoned buildings due to it’s affluence of the bubble era and the subsequent burst of the last twenty or so years. It’s not just buildings which are left but their contents which remain largely untouched, they show us the history of people who lived and worked and played there. It’s such an interesting and haunting experience. On this occasion we (Kansai Photo walks) were lead by writer and explorer Florian who posts his regular expeditions online. His adventures include my favourite, Nara Dreamland – an abandoned theme park which reminds me of Ghibli’s Spirited Away and Satoshi Kon’s Paprika. Have a look around the website and discover abandoned Sex Museums, Hotels, and Schools. It is advised that it is dangerous and sometimes illegal to enter abandoned buildings – so please do some research before jumping in.

One reason I came to Japan was because I’m enamoured with Japanese culture and traditions. I love the history, the shrines and temples and kimonos and ceremonies.. Among a hundred other things. But it can feel so hard to tap into Japan past a thick crust of language and cultural barriers. It has always been through reading other blogs, and pestering friends, that I’ve managed to find events/places I’d otherwise miss out on.

Deep Kyoto is one such place I go to to find out what’s going on and why. It is written by Michael Lambe who I actually met through a friend I worked with at Cambridge University Press! Small world etc etc etc. Together with Ted Taylor; Michael has edited a collection of 18 tales written by 16 authors (including our very own lonely planet writer John Ashburn) who all give their own accounts of walking about Kyoto – Deep Kyoto Walks. Deep Kyoto Walks has been my guide for the last three weeks.

My first walk was my favourite for a couple of reasons. Firstly it involved finding ghost scrolls, I bloody love ghost themed stuff. I might not believe in them but I enjoy freaking myself out. Secondly it was an exploration of the area of Kyoto I actually live in. Bridget Scott takes us up into the mountains by Ichijoji and Shugukuin, in particular we visit Manshuin Temple. This is where, in a dark corridor by the ornate peacock room, one is faced with two barely lit scrolls with a woman painted on each. Emaciated she disappears into the ground, clutching thick and torn hair. There is no mistaking that she’s a ghost and I’m sure I spent an awkwardly long time gaping at these depictions of horror. Another highlight was time spent reflecting over rice fields along the way. image

Jen Teeter wrote a passage about Gojo. Another haunted area filled with a history of debauchery and organised crime spanning back hundreds of years. I could fill a complete blog just called ‘things that Jen does’ brimming over with Ainu organisations, teaching, song writing, and Eco charities. But in this case we will concentrate on her writing. Jen tells us of a sweet shop visited by the ghost who takes candy and leaves a leaf, a wood block print museum (pictured belowe), and a hill made with the ears and noses of fallen enemies. Luckily Jen is a friend of mine so I got her to take me to some of the places featured in Deep Kyoto Walks.


In the last week I’ve climbed Daimonji 4 times. This is party due to Miki Matsumoto’s chapter about taking her young daughter to scale the half an hour climb. If a two year old can do it..I thought…then I should jolly well walk up. And I did, and I met a wonderful group who meet at 6:30 am every day to do radio calisthenics (a Japanese daily stretch which has aired since 1928).


So far Deep Kyoto Walks has been a great tool for discovering the city I moved across the world to see. Actually the anthology itself is a storybook of other people’s experiences, but, also makes places more accessible to those who’d like to make their own mark and see these things for themselves. There are chapters based on a Kyoto which doesn’t exist anymore, some of the history there is more of an expat’s bubble playground. But definitely the highlight for me has been in walking around today’s Kyoto.  Deep Kyoto Walks is available as an ebook on amazon.

Thank you to Florian and Michael for showing me around.

Ta ta for now, Love rach Xoxox

The Mosquitos Cometh. 13.06.14

Today’s featured image is nothing unusual to people globally, actually my family would use these on camping trips because insects enjoy tinned curry just as much as us. In fact the smell of this insect repellant coil is really making me crave camping food. I was recommended these mosquito coils by a student and my friends, you can get ones which plug into the wall now but it was decided I’d probably like to go to battle the traditional way. So here’s the box, I love he box, isn’t it beautiful? Cocksec know how to design a box.


On the front it says ‘Good Design’ which it is.


Another tool in my battle against that which is the blood filled water balloon is of course moz spray. I still can’t read kanji well at all so I depend on adorable family scenes on the bottle such as this…

Awwww, huge Mosquitos.

The sensible thing to do is never to leave your apartment, because here you are protected by screens on doors and windows. They don’t, however, stop tiny black flies getting in – but you’ve already lit your insect coil so don’t worry about those.



I’m in the third floor up so I don’t worry too much about cockroaches, but those who live in old fashioned Japanese houses on the ground floor with questionable drainage can have trouble. (No names!). In which case gas bombs are used. Boom. No exaggeration.

The cause of this sudden flurry of life is the approach of tsuyu, the rainy season. This year is meant to be an El Niño too which I suppose means wetter than usual. I’ve got three umbrellas and a pair of wellies, plus an umbrella holder on my bike, but that didn’t stop me getting soaked on the way to Yasmin’s and having to buy a new dress (oh no…).

Don’t miss the well timed drip on the right there.

Not my umbrellas, but pretty aren’t they.

On the subject of clothes shopping, I’ve found a huge store near me which calls itself a jumble sale. Now, I love jumble sales and this one is a lot of fun. For one it’s huge, and super cheap, and just full of people’s old junk for cheap. I found a hat which I needed (totally..needed…it..), and a top from Guatemala which has tassels on it. TASSELS! I’ve never had to spell that before. Tassels.

Here’s my happy shopping face.


Happy mosquito repelling!

Love Rach


Who will you come to like?

Today’s featured image (spotted by ROYGBIV) shows a poster explaining difference sexual preferences to students. The title is translated as ‘who will you come to like?’. I’ve not witnessed any discrimination of lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered people so far in Japan. Actually I’ve not seen much evidence of the above existing – or what that means exactly. Yesterday I went to a TEDx talk at the Kyoto University of Foreign Studies. It featured videos of talks by inspirational people such as activist Malala’s Father, which was a real treat and gave food for thought. The main feature I was attracted to, however, was first by Patrick Lineman – US Consul General; and secondly George Takei – Star Trek actor, and activist. 20140605-153841-56321056.jpg TEDx Kyoto Patrick spoke about differences he’d felt since childhood due to his sexuality, even though as an identical twin one might feel…the same… . He noted a time when one might have been arrested just for being gay, and he applauded the number of States which gay couples now have equal rights as heterosexual couples. The right to be married and recognised as a couple, legally. He noted something which I’d noticed just this past week – that in Japanese, the word for different is the same as the word for wrong. ‘違う’, chigau but he also praised recent events such as the recent LGBT coming of age festival in Osaka. Clearly though Japan has had issues with its love of uniformity it strives to be accepting of individuality and change, at least on civilian level. George Takei spoke about his experiences as a child living in America during the Second World War. George was born in the USA to Japanese parents. Around his fifth birthday George and his family were taken by armed soldiers to an internment camp to be held, as he noted, like criminals. This amid fears of Japanese people after the infamous Pearl Harbour bombing. As he spoke about this time he reiterated time and again that every country is run by people and as such: mistakes are made. He also wanted to stress that although they had been discriminated against unfairly; thousands of Japanese civilians living in these camps volunteered to join the American forces. They still believed in the values of the USA. 20140605-155627-57387103.jpg TEDx kyoto on Facebook. There were some great points being made about the improvements in LGBT rights across the globe plus how we can still make a difference. For example – recognising that legally children are completely denied LGBT recognition. It’s a controversial point, can a 5 year old be gay? Clearly this was a difference Patrick Linehan had felt ever since he was self aware. Children are denied education about gay relationships because it’s still such a huge issue, some people still believe that to be gay is a choice. Perhaps it is because to be recognised as gay is to recognise that one has a sexuality. Is this why educating children about sex is apparently terrible enough to be banned by some parents? The talks finished with a Q&A session hosted by George, Patrick and both of their husbands. Questions were prepared by students of Kyoto University of Foreign Studies. At one point George made the point that still now there are few laws protecting people from being imprisoned for no reason, a student had asked whether the internments of WWII could be repeated, but I wondered… Doesn’t Guantanamo bay count? Are people not being imprisoned without trial?!.. If the questions were opened up to the audience maybe I might have asked. Maybe. Have a watch of some TED talks on YouTube if you haven’t already, they’ll keep you chewing on thought food for hours. See you later, Love rach xoxox