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

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.

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.

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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.

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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).

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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