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

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

 

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.

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

It’s More Complicated Than It Looks. 31.07.2014

Kimono translates roughly into ‘ wearing thing ‘. There are many different ranks and types of Kimono worn by both men and Women, there’s a huge variety and one can spend days sifting through racks of vintage and new kimono in second hand shops and markets here. There’s also a tonne of accessories, endless fun. But let’s say you know nothing about Kimono but you’d like to wear one? Here’s a basic guide to Yukata – the summer kimono – originally worn as pyjamas but now popularly worn at summer festivals and fireworks.

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So let’s begin! Here’s my Yukata, in my fave colour, pretty huh. Then we have three belts – two slimmer rough belts called Koshi-Himo plus the wider and brighter Datejime belt. We start by popping on your yukata and pulling the fabric by the sleeves to get it centred on your body. One it’s settled you pass the front panels LEFT OVER RIGHT (because the other way round means you’re dead). Lifting the bottom a few inches from the floor secure that line by tying your first Koshi-Himo belt around your hips/lower waist. Tie firmly, this is your anchor. You don’t want to be flashing everything.

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There are long slits on either side of the Yukata beneath the arms, pop your arms in there and ensure the layer of fabric covering the belt is neat and straight, use your chop action here. This overlap is called the Ohashori. And there should be at least a couple of inches showing under your final obi belt. Short people like me have no problem with this.

The back of your Yukata should expose your neck a little, very sexy. Pop your fist between the back of your yukata and your neck, this is the correct width. The higher your neckline at the front the more youthful it is. To secure your neck like use the second Koshi-Himo under your bust and tie at the front/side securely. Pull spare fabric to the sides to get rid of unsightly extra material and folds. Secure this line further with the wider and prettier Datejime belt (red one pictured). This is secretly my fave belt, it’s subtle and hidden but really pretty.

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This is the most decorative belt, it goes on the outside. Past it around yourself twice and make a bow at the front (easier).  Describing how to tie the obi here won’t work, look on YouTube, there are some great obi tutorials. Once you’ve tied your obi swing it round the back.

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Not done yet! Personally I then like to insert an Obiita into the layers of obi, it keeps everything neat and flat, getting rid of those pesky folds and bumps from the layers of belts underneath.

And finally we add accessories such as the sandals which are called Geta – they make a great sound while you walk about, and I’ve got a fan called an Uchiwa popped into the back there. This one is from Tokyu Hands which just opened downtown. I love their simple patterns.

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There, you’re ready for a day or night out at a matsuri (festival), or simply a walk down the river, or some fireworks, or take a taxi ride somewhere and have a cheap trip to a museum because here in Kyoto people who wear Kimono receive discounts. I love Kimono, and if you do too and have any questions just ask away. This was a pretty rushed and rough guide and there are much better ones on the net, give it a search.

For now I’m off to get an ice cream as it just hit 36°c.

All the best,

Rach xoxox

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

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

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

Foreigners, Fortunes, and Fashion.

It has been a month since my last post. In that time friends have got Married (Congrats Peter and Mari!), I’ve had three guests come and go, I’ve been to Tokyo, taken a hundred Kawaii photo booth snaps, taught about a million English lessons based on Frozen’s ‘let it go’, and spent at least 4 hours doing Karaoke. The last one is no exaggeration and happened in one evening.

So – Tokyo. My featured image was taken from Tokyo’s sky tree. The tower looms at 634 metres, I’m not a fan of heights as such but there’s something fun about being scared; I couldn’t miss out on looking over the biggest city I’ve ever been to. There had been a sizeable earthquake just before our visit (a 4 on the richter, felt in the centre) and I wondered – what with the swaying technology fitted into tall buildings – just exactly how an earthquake would feel from this height. We would probably be swung for metres from side to side, that’s according to my massive assumption and tiny knowledge of engineering. I’m imagining a limp old celery stick being shaken about. I’d love to know what would really happen? The view itself as you can see was very impressive, although it lost an edge with the pollution. It’s a great way of taking in the size of Tokyo and getting a grasp of where you are.

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Here you can see Richard, Rachael, and Loesja, plus the Sky Tree to the left and the thing which to is foreigners looked like a golden poo – The Asahi Flame. My students agree that it looks like a shiny turd and blame it on the bubble economy (or influenza as the Brits have started calling this phenomenon). The bubble is when Japan had lots of money, put very simplistically. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s beautiful.

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Nearby the Sky Tree is Asagukusa Temple which sits among lines of very entertaining and expensive market streets. Anyone looking to buy anything ever should not spend their money down these lanes, I couldn’t believe the prices. Anyway, the Temple itself is noted for its fortunes which are written in several languages. First you pop your hundred yen into a pot and take a cylindrical hexagonal wooden box with a hole in, you then shake it and take a wooden stick which comes out of the hole. You the. Read the number (in kanji) and find a corresponding drawer which is full of fortunes. There are several levels of fortune, great blessing, middle blessing , small blessing, blessing, near blessing, curse, and great curse. I’ve not been a fan of these because although I don’t believe in it I’m worried about receiving bad fortune. However, just this once I took part with
Rach and Loesja. Well, I got Daikichi – which is the great blessing! I can’t start believing it just because of that but… It did sort of feel like I’d won something. My fortune is pictured above. In contrast Rach and Loesja got bad ones, along the lines of “you will not meet a hermit” and ‘” if you climb a mountain with a harp you will have an empty heart” written on them, oh no. We cleansed our hands at the temple and got some incense to get rid of any bad air left from that. You know, just in case.

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These are the sort of images I’d have associated with Tokyo before I went, and this is the modern side which I sought after as Kyoto is full of old traditional Japanese culture. We went to a tiny shop filled with condom related gimmicks, we spent hours down Harajuku’s ‘freaky fashion’ filled shopping streets, we left Richard in a Disney themed Starbucks on the roof of a shopping centre. There was some time spent gawping at artefacts in a ten story sex shop – purely for educational reasons, you understand – in Akihabara. As recommended by the Lonely Planet guide to Japan we found a spot to do some people watching at Shibuya crossing. Harajuku was my highlight, I loved all the alternative looks, mad hair, unpractical footwear, and cutesy frills. There is so much energy and everything made me want to redesign myself – pretty inspiring place actually, so expressive. I want to go back there.

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In contrast I spend my last few hours in Tokyo in the tourist information centre near the Imperial Palace. Rach, Rich, Loesja, and I were encouraged and taught to write calligraphy and do origami as well as getting dressed up in Kimonos. It was great fun, what a fantastic centre.

With that it was time to go home to Kyoto. It really did feel like coming home, and I adore this city. When the guys came back we went to Saiho-ji which is called The Moss Temple. I will leave you with this image to rest your tired reading eyes.

Thanks for visiting!

Love Rach xoxox

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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