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/

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

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.

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.

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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…

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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.

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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…).

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

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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.

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Happy mosquito repelling!

Love Rach

Xoxox

A visit from the Mothership. (Featuring Miyako Odori) 24.04.14

I’ve had an exhaustingly adventurous couple of weeks, and my calendar shows no promise of letting up. However, this can only really be a good thing right?

Last week my mother endured the arduous 17 hour journey to come and see me. She even brought me some salt and vinegar crisps of which there are none in Japan, not proper ones, not even in world food stores. She was a model traveller – trying everything from the standard Japanese curry house ‘Coco Ichibanyaa’, to the less palatable perhaps… Sashimi (raw fish with rice and seaweed). Sushi has grown hugely in popularity in the uk recently, and I’ve got lots of friends who love it, but I don’t blame those who don’t. After all, not everyone likes fish cooked – let alone raw.

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She did very well, even if she did have to hide her leftovers under her chopsticks. I think it might have been the raw squid that almost sent her over the edge. We also tried two regional styles of Okonomiake, a night of Yakiniku (thanks to the Freitags!), ramen, and I tested out my new ‘Nama fu’ recipe rather unsuccessfully.

Unfortunately my dad couldn’t make it this time, but, as he has a crippling fear of heights it meant that without him we could brave the cable car and rope way up Mount Hiei. Even those of you who enjoy walking should take the cable car up one day, it’s a lot of fun and feels like you’re on a proper ride. Here’s my mum taking her life into her own hands getting into the rope way car at the top of the mountain.

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Kyoto is bowl shaped, it’s surrounded by mountains. It is said that the mountains keep evil out, so they are very important. In august huge kanji characters are burned into the side of the mountains.

One of the highlights from my mums visit was taking the Shinkansen. It’s such a reliable, fast, and comfortable way of travelling. It’s expensive though! What would have been roughly a five hour journey by car took us just under two hours, from Kyoto to Hiroshima. First we went to the peace park and took in the museum there, I can’t recommend it highly enough. The museum covers the history surrounding the bombing of Hiroshima in a balanced and informative manner, and somehow maintains the essential element of sheer tragedy and horror. I’d like to delve further into this subject, but I know I wouldn’t be able to do it justice in this format.

The second part of our trip to Hiroshima was a tram ride over to Miyajima Island. Our day passes covered unlimited tram and ferry travel so it was super easy, I love trams, why aren’t there more trams?? Anyway, the weather was perfect and we spent a long time looking through countless souvenir shops, gazing at the famous Miyajima gate, and visiting the aquarium (which was my mums favourite part of her visit). I’d never seen a sea lion before, they are HUGE! I’ve popped a picture of the famous gate below. The tide was out, but it’s still quite a sight, it was built in the water because it was thought that the island is a God.

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Here you can see some of the island, and ma.

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My mum enjoyed her trip a lot, and cited how organised and clean Japan is. She also found Japanese people to be ever so kind and welcoming, thanks Japan!

Today I enjoyed a hugely special treat. Gion’s Miyako Odori. Miyako Odori (dance of the capital) is quite the astounding show of art and talent. Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan, but, as Tokyo became he capital Kyoto needed to retain its popularity somehow, so the attractive and intriguing Miyako Odori was created. It is now one of Kyoto’s most famous events.

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Here is a Geiko performing tea ceremony. Maiko are trainee Geisha, Geiko are full Geisha. Geiko clothes and accessories are simpler. Here’s a photo of a Maiko below she was assisting with the ceremony.

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The tea ceremony part of Miyako Odori was extra and optional, I’d recommend going for the whole experience. With your matcha tea you also receive a sweet. Aren’t they pretty?

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The show itself was out of this world. Such talent and elegance, the costumes and music – ahhhh I loved it! All the music was played by Geisha, there were even Geisha playing male roles on stage. As well as music and dance performances there were scenes covering each season, each one with a different short story. I kept thinking about how happy I’d be if I was somehow reborn as a Maiko… But I’m happy there are women who have chosen to go into that profession still, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be cut out for all the hours of training and entertaining. I’ve not got any photos of the show, but, somewhere online I’m sure they exist – go and take a look, it’s worth your time.

If anyone has any travelling/Japan tourism questions please go ahead and ask.

See you next time,

Love Rach x

Standing and Staring.

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My mind is full of pink and white flowers. My journeys to and from work take me five times as long, and every day or night out has been tailored mostly around looking at trees or eating and drinking spring themed foods. This leisurely madness which is ‘Hanami’ is the tradition of viewing Sakura, cherry blossoms. Groups of families and friends sit under the trees to share food and drink. Apparently a long long time ago the Japanese would celebrate Umé blossoms (plum) the same way, but now it’s all about the cherry. It’s such a wonderfully extended way of saying Hellooo to spring and the new academic year (in contrast to the uk academic year which starts in September).

The picture below is of Hanami Dango. I went to Arashiyama to see the blossoms and visit the monkey park again with friends, I had to try these – aren’t they pretty?? They are made of mochi which is rice cake, and are plain, Sakura, and grass flavoured. The grass one is way nicer than it sounds. Typically for Japanese sweets the Dango aren’t overpoweringly sweet and instead are pleasingly delicate. Very spesh.

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I’ve been to about five different blossom viewing spots around Kyoto and there are so very many more. I feel like one could stay here for ten years and still feel like they missed out on some of the best blooms. Sakura gets a lot of news coverage. There are daily reports on which blossoms have reached 100% and discussions on where the optimum viewing zones are up and down the country.

Here’s another snap, this one was taken on the way to work from my Japanese class. This demonstrates why getting anywhere takes so long at the moment….

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Of course these flowers aren’t good news for allergy sufferers. There seem to be quite a lot of people who get hay fever in Kyoto. It might just be because they are more noticeable though – often people wear face masks. A couple of weeks ago I had a disgusting cold which kept me up at night. The dry air wasn’t helping so I was wearing a face mask at night – it did actually help me to feel a bit better! I wore it for a day for my lessons but it felt peculiar so I only did it for that one day.

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Thanks fully I don’t get hay fever and I’m fully over my cold so.. I was all ready to learn to cook – finally!

I’m not a natural chef. I take after my grandma in that I’m not gifted with domesticity and I’ve got a big forehead. But having just inherited a fridge (and lost my neighbour in the process, boo!) it was the perfect time for me to learn what to do with all these wonderful and weird Japanese ingredients I’m always too scared to pick up at the convenience store. I was invited by a friend who works for Kyoto Journal – which is a tool I’ve used quite since moving – and we serendipitously found out another friend from Kyoto Journal would be joining us for the class.

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So here’s Lisa and Lucinda being taught to cook, not sure what at that point but over the course of the afternoon we learned to make dashi, dumplings, sesame seed dressing with spinach, and some fish. Of course all the dishes had proper names but this is in no way a food blog and my recipe sheet is all the way over there in the kitchen. We were taught in English and as well as practical advice we were taught a bit about where our food came from and how to serve green tea – ooooh plus a spot of sake tasting.

The proof of the pudding was today when Misaki became my test subject and came over for lunch. I cooked the dumplings again with a twist. Today I cooked sweet potato dumplings with a mushroom and miso filling instead of chicken. It seemed to to down well, so maybe I’m not such a hopeless cook after all. Thanks Cooking Sun!

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Ok this picture is from the class and not the meal I cooked today, but looks great doesn’t it.

I’d better get back out in the sun then.

Lots of love,

Rach

Xoxox>

Obligation Chocolate & 0 Calorie Jelly.

Today is Valentines day, Happy Valentines day!!! Today many ladies/girls across the country will be handing out chocolates to their colleagues, friends, and family. Traditionally only females hand out chocolate for Valentines, however, a newer festivity has been added to the calendar – white day. This is when men can give back to the ladies, though I’m told his is more for boyfriends sort of. There are a few different sorts of gift, giri (obligation chocolate), tomo (friends chocolate)’, and honmei (true) which is what you give the guy you really like. I was going to make some chocolate but, it was too much bother and I’m trying not to eat sugar. Then I was going to make sugar free banana cake – but I’ve not got an oven. So, this year I’ve completely failed.

However, it doesn’t matter because today isn’t REALLY Valentines day, it’s Keira’s birthday wooo, Happy Birthday sweetpea!

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Some of you may have noticed some unusual photos appearing on my Facebook page. Well, these are from photo booths called ‘purikura’ or kawaii booths. It automatically makes your skin glow and your eyes bigger – as per what is considered cute here. The affects can be a bit scary, but it’s a lot of fun and it makes me want to get dressed up and take a million photos. It was pretty cheap too considering it costs about a fiver to get passport photos done in the uk, our three sets of photos were about £3 altogether. The booths are situated in arcades an shopping malls, usually there will be lots in one big room and you can choose different types. I’ve only tried one so I’m afraid I’m not sure what the others are like.

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It has been very snowy here recently and pretty cold, not as cold as Tokyo thankfully, the temperatures are between -2 and 7 roughly most days. A couple of weekends ago when we were celebrating Setsubun it was surprisingly warm, I thought winter was over, I hoped spring was early..For Setsubun we visited Yoshida shrine, ate long pieces of sushi, and threw beans at ogres out of the window. If I’m here next year I might try and volunteer to dress up as an ogre, it seems like good fun and the kids have a great time running around screaming.

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This coming Sunday Yasmin will be running the Kyoto marathon. I think she is insane and incredible. I’m looking forward to watching her run. I’m hoping that the snow will be gone by then. But for now here’s a photo a took from my roof about an hour ago, there are usually mountains in the background but there’s a bit of snow in the way..

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Oh yes, and, I’ve found something horrifying and curious – 0 calorie jelly. I bought it, I had to buy it, you’d have bought it too. How can it be… This sweet jelly with chunks of who knows what inside, no calories, no real substance. What’s it made of?? I don’t know, maybe I don’t want to know but I feel wrong eating it, almost naughty, like I’m cheating the calorie gods. I’ve looked it up on the net and people have discussed it but nobody mentions what it’s made of. I could ask someone but then I’ll know the horrors of what I’ve eaten. Mmm. What do you think?

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Those of you stuck in high winds and floods – take care. I’ve seen lots of scary footage on the beeb, doesn’t look good.

Lots of love,

Rach xoxox

Horses and Monkeys and Bears (oh my!). 13.01.2014

I began 2014 having been awake until wholly inappropriate hours on New Year’s Eve. I woke up early(ish) to meet Chisato and her family at the Kamigamo Shrine. Praying may not seem like the best hangover cure to you but it seemed to do the trick, or maybe it was the scrumptious treats that Chisato had prepared us for lunch. At the Kamigamo shrine we fed a horse (being the year of the horse), wrote prayers on wooden boards to be burned, and Chisato got her fortune – she’s very lucky this year and almost got the best one. The fortunes come in different levels from great luck to awful and they set a forecast for the whole year – I wasn’t brave enough to get one – what if I got told I was going to have an awful year?? I was entrusted to tie the fortune up with other peoples as you can see below. They look a bit like Christmas trees don’t they.

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At the shrine you can also purchase mini bows and arrows which are symbolic of the new year, and you can also buy charms and get some calligraphy done. Next stop was a temple which is important to Chisato and Hiro’s ancestors, we spoke with the head monk for a time and drank matcha tea. He asked if I was one of those crazy people he’s seen on tv who are obsessed with Japan, funny guy. Anyway I guess I convinced him I was ok because I was invited to return whenever I like. This particular temple isn’t open to tourists which is a shame in one way because it’s such a treasure but I understand and respect their reasons for doing so – it’s not Disneyland it’s a spiritual place where people reflect and pray and pay respects to their deceased.

On that note; one of the stereotypes re Japan is the uniformity and ceremonial traditions, everyone following the same line. Yes it does happen, there are traditions and ways of doing things that people follow unquestioningly but I believe it’s a misunderstood concept. Personally when faced with some public situations I can feel awkward and I don’t know the right things to say etc, many people feel uneasy with death for example. Think then how reassuring it is to be told that there’s a way of dealing with it, one way that is acceptable and solves awkwardness. You deal with x by doing y – everyone does it that way. Of course it might not leave room for individuality in a historic sense but I’ve seen little evidence of people being unwilling to accept individuality in today’s Japan. I’ve seen tonnes of personality and creativity here, and I’ve also seen any ways that people rely on a ‘way of doing things’ that follows rules. It’s ok not to follow the traditional way, and it’s ok to do so.

A huge thank you goes out to Chisato and Hiro for showing me a beautifully traditional New Year’s Day.

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Couchsurfing.com has given me lots of opportunities for me to see new things in Kyoto with other travellers, I like showing people this city that I love and it gives me time to be a proper tourist. Last week I went to Arashiyama with an Australian and adopted a Belgian who we’d happened upon up in the monkey park. At the beginning I found the monkey park quite scary, I’d heard personal accounts of the intimidation and violence of the monkeys that live in the mountains around us. It’s a shortish fifteen minute hike up a mountain, and in the last stretch I heard screeches and braced myself. As soon as I saw the first monkey my excitement (and “awwww” factor) took over, they are pretty adorable wee things. From there we were steps away from the park where lots of monkeys were hanging around for treats (don’t take food up there, duh). There’s a warm hut with plenty of seating and large windows of wire mesh that prevent accidents but maintain a friendly contact between sapiens and simia, we fed the fuzzy cute things for a while and admired the view.

Next was a walk through Arashiyama’s bamboo cove. With a sure breeze the bamboo tap against one another creating this sort of rain like sound. With no pandas around to gobble it up the bamboo grows thick and ever so tall. There are apparently bears that live in Kyoto and Tom tells me they’ve been spotted in Arashiyama! I do plan to adventure into the mountains at some point but maybe not before finding someone with a map and bear wrestling qualities.

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Phew, this is a long one isn’t it!! Finally two more things, yesterday we went to Sanjusangen-do temple to watch the annual Toh-Shiya which is an archery competition. This is a tradition which goes waaaay back to the 12th century during the Edo period. Part of the tradition is a coming of age right of passage for girls, and they are absolutely astoundingly beautiful to watch – all in their best kimonos demonstrating impressive strength. It’s not just girls though, we watched older men and women plus some very impressive young lads who I’d say provoked the most reaction from us – in the crowds watching from an unsafe distance. I took some snaps but they’re not so good, my camera broke and my ipad lacks a good zoom.

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Today I made the expensive decision to buy a violin. I couldn’t bring mine with me to Japan in fear of it getting smashed up on the journey so apart from the short time when someone very kindly lent me one I’ve been without a violin. It may not seem like a pain to you, but playing music with people transcends all kinds of language barriers and lets me communicate on a whole different level. I don’t mean to sound so profound about the whole thing, it just comes down to wanting to have fun playing music with people. So I found a great violin shop near Demachiyanagi station and managed to tell the shop keeper that all the violins I’d seen were too expensive and I needed a cheap one – in Japanese no less. Of course he replied in wonderful English clearly recognising my struggle, and guided me to my final choice: a second hand Suzuki violin made in Nagoya. Great shop, wonderful guy, happy Rachel. I was also given a free case, quids in!

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If you’ve made it this far well done. I think that’ll be it for today.

Thanks for reading, all the best.

Rach xoxox

Ps I lied, there’s MORE. I ate a sweet pancake type treat called Taiyaki which is shaped like a fish, squid balls called Takoyaki, and drank a slightly alcoholic rice drink called Amazake which is also sweet, yum yum in my tum.

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Matcha tea and David Lynch. 05.12.2013

The first of December was a very special day for me, not only did it mark my third month in Japan but it was a day which left a lingering happiness in me which still glows now. Perhaps it’s my surprise at the eager festive atmosphere in Japan – a country which manages to adopt every holiday it seems. It could be the relief I feel after Mitsumi very kindly helped me set up Internet at my flat. It could even be the buzz of starting my solo teaching full time…. But.. No. On Sunday I attended a Tea Ceremony at Joshoji Temple in the north west of Kyoto, and I’m considering marking it as one of the very best experiences of my life.

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Tea Ceremony is held once a month and hosted by different tea groups from around Kyoto. This particular Chakai (formal tea gathering) was being hosted by one of my students groups. I was extremely fortunate to have been invited to the event, it is not something which foreigners are invited to often and certainly not considered something for tourists – I will touch on this later on in my blogs… Autumn is a special month in Japan due to the Momiji (leaves) and the area around
Joshoji is one if the leaf viewing spots, so when I arrived I spent some time enjoying the colours. I then found the tea reception and ‘signed in’. I was offered a pen but Noriko mentioned I might like to use the special brush pen, ohhh yes I did! My name looks a bit clumsy next to the beautiful kanji…

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We then nipped over to the tea room, I’m not going to mention all the times I take of my shoes or put them on because that happens such a lot here (I now constantly wear slip on boots). Noriko slid open the door for me and we were greeted by two lines of people on either side of the room seated in seiza position. This position means that you’re sitting on your feet, google it. Another one of my students mentioned that some people think Japanese people’s legs are shorter because they sit in this way, but then I don’t know what my excuse is. So we bowed on entry and sat, Noriko then presented me with a few things I’d need for the ceremony, these are below.

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Everything, everything, everything is beautiful. Even the paper to clean your utensils! We were also fortunate to witness a male tea maker that day, apparently they are a lot rarer and there’s only one in that days group. We watched him make tea and then we were served matcha tea. Bow at bowl, pick up bowl, move to your neighbour, bow, pick up bowl, move to your other neighbour, bow, move to the middle, maybe bow again. So the ceremony itself involves a lot of bowing to the hosts and your neighbours and to your tea. I like the bowing culture – it feels safe, like smiling at people; you know you’re being polite and showing good manners, you know where you stand. We were also served a squishy sweet treat made of potato which was called ‘ chiri momiji ‘ which translates as fallen leaves. It was a brown ball with bits of bright orange and yellow on top, delicious. Once the tea was finished we had the chance to inspect all the bowls it was served in, every bowl was unique and valuable. Once the ceremony had finished we could also view all the tea making equipment. Trying to stand up with dignity after sitting seiza for even a short period of time was a struggle, my feet were completely dead. Noriko very kindly advised that I didn’t have to sit seiza for the entire ceremony.

Noriko has been studying Tea Ceremony for 8 years, it’s a lot more complex than I thought it would be, but each step has a logical purpose. As a participant I felt very calm and my mind was completely in the room and on the moment. I enjoyed the matcha and the sweet was extra special. The generosity of the friends I’ve made here is astounding and I feel very lucky. I want to send out a huge thanks to Noriko. Just the night before I had been enjoying a thanksgiving meal too, the food and drink and company was fantastic, it didn’t matter that only one of us was American, we were doing thanksgiving as properly as we could! Our hosts were both generous and very entertaining, so thanks guys. Oh and thank you To my sister for my Christmas tree and to Rebecca Lowing for my first Christmas card!!!

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Oh yeah, David Lynch, I’ve been on a viewing spree and I’m blaming him personally for the lack of Japanese study I’ve done in the last couple of days. I’ve also started watching some Tarantino but I’m not his biggest fan really, though Death Proof was a good recommendation.

On with my Christmas shopping..

Happy December folks, love you.

Rach

xoxox