The Adventures of Kin Niku Kuruma (Part 1) – 筋肉車

3200km, 20 Prefectures, 10 Castles, 10 Onsen, 7 Islands

Where do I even start with this one… Road trip anyone?


How about Kin Niku Kurama, well there he is (above), in all of his silver Nissan glory… This little Nissan Dayz was our home for 12 days, when I say ‘our’ I mean Philip and myself. Philip if you don’t know already is a tolerable friend I have made here at the iCLA. He hails from Germany, in the wine region of Northern Bavaria and is the model that you see there beside KinNiku!  Why 筋肉車 or Kin Niku Kurama, literally translates to Muscle Meat Vehicle , or as we interpreted it as the muscle car.  So why?  I think it had something to do with the fact that this was the smallest cars that I have ever driven we thought that we would play on the irony of it all and call it our muscle car!


All the fun began on the 20th of March 2016


Day One – 20/3/16

So here we are in our Kin Niku aka home for the next 12 days (or at least we thought).




We started off with a bit of a bumpy ride, trying to figure out the GPS system. Philip is somewhat proficient in Japanese, whereas mine is nonexistent… That took a bit of time but once we had it going we were on the road!!

Our first port of call was Kawaguchiko, which I previously made a post about visiting at a later date! (see link – We visited the lakes for the iconic views of Fuji-San and the natural beauty! We stopped the car for the first break of many to come to feed the fish and ducks in the lakes.




After the quick stop off we made our way to the port of Numazu, Shizuoka for the first view of the pacific ocean from Japan and of course my first visit to a beach in Japan! In Numazu we visted the port, Numazu Minato Shinsenkan for some sushi! Tamago Kudasai – Egg sushi for me please! This market was right in the centre of the port it was a bit crazy trying to drive down to it, we ended up just parking the car about a 15 minute walk as the que of cars was about 2km from the port! Take my advise don’t go there in the middle of the day, get there earily the traffic is crazy, or else be cheeky like us and park at the Seven 11 near by!!





Then we went a little further along the cost to the Senbonhama Park which turned out to be really nice.

Top tip – throughout the trip we just used trip advisor to find some local attractions like parks, onsen, temples and food. The onsen part never really worked out with the GPS or Trip adviser we just used websites of famous onsen and worked our trip around those!




Senbonhama Park was right beside the ocean and you could enjoy walking through the forested area of the park on your way along the cost. Then, on the way back to your car, you could walk along the beach. The beach was actually very busy with lots of young people out barbecuing and older people out for their evening walk. There was lots of interesting things going on and a lot of hawks flying around!

And of course you can’t help it, skimming stones is a must when you get to the ocean!


After our walk in the park and on the beach, we left for Hamamatsu to see the castle in the morning. Before we got to Hamamatsu we discovered quite a famous park in Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture so we thought why not check it out! Fuji itself didn’t seem very interesting to Philip or myself, as it was just a big industrial town and not very pretty. But what a back drop and the view of Fuji-San from there was amazing! It is really interesting to see Mount Fuji from the other side, as this is the opposite side to that which we usually see living in Yamanashi Prefecture. There are actually a group of mountains but there are two very obvious ones. Fuji-San, the bigger is of course the most famous and on its southern slope in Shizuoka Prefecture there is Houei zan which can only be seen from Shizuoka!





The park was surrounded by green tea farms and when we got to the park there was amazing views of Fuji-San and the Sakura has just started to blossom!




Day 2 – 21/03/16

We started are first morning of the trip with our breakfast in the Hamamatus castle grounds. This was the first castle of our trip and a very beautiful one at that!


The gardens that surrounded the castle were a treat!


Not a bad place to start are first full day of traveling! After the castle, we had a bit of an idea how far we wanted to get and today was about covering good distance. We were aiming to get to Kobe for the night as we wanted to go to Shukoku, one of the islands on the south coast of Honshu (the main island of Japan), the next day!

Before heading for Hamamatsu, we decided that we would have our first 温泉 (or onsen) of the trip. We stopped off at a place in Hamamatsu called Bentenjima that had a toei gate (shown below) and we went to a hotel that had an onsen called 浜名湖弁天島温泉ファミリーホテル開春楼  (website – This was quite a small onsen but it was reasonably priced and had gorgeous raised baths outside with a great view of the gate and the ocean! Just don’t forget to bring your bathing suit, the outdoor baths are mixed!





So what is an Onsen?  An onsen is an area that has a natural hot spring that the locals tap into for public bathing, heating of homes or, in some cases, cooking! The natural hot springs are all over Japan due to the “Pacific Ring of Fire” in other words the meeting of tectonic plates and volcanic activity. These pockets of hot water are all affected by the different minerals in the different areas, so every onsen you visit will have different minerals and natural healing properties!

So we were back on the road again and on are way to Kobe when we decided to stop off at Iga, which is famous for its castle and the Ninja house that is beside it!

Iga-Ueno Castle


The castle was surrounded by a moat with its enormous walls that have been standing since the 16th century. The castle gardens are a lush green with lots of pine trees and a view of the Iga city as they are raised 184m above sea level.


Philip looking super cute at the ninja house. This ninja house is in the castle grounds and showcases all of the hidden compartments and different areas in the houses that the ninja would have used to hide weapons, or themselves, if they were under attack!

After the castle we left for Kobe and a place to stay for the night. We stopped at Iga-Ueno castle in the late afternoon to use up some time as driving through Osaka is crazy! If you need to drive through Osaka, don’t do it during the day it is choc-a-block with traffic. We got there around 7/8pm and we still had to sit in traffic.. When we finally got to Kobe, we decided that we would head to Arima-Onsen just North of Kobe for the night, then we were in the perfect place for our morning bath!

Day 3 – 22/03/16

Three days down and it’s time to leave Honshu!

We started the day in Arima-Onsen, with one of the famous onsen in the area. It is one of a few rare places in Japan were multiple onsen meet! We were in fact spoilt for choice when it came to onsen here, but we decided to go for one that we though would be the coolest.

Gin No Yu Onsen – (




This onsen has famous for its sliver baths that contain radium among other minerals.


After the onsen, we made some fried eggs by a nice shrine enjoying it hanami style, then hit the road! We discovered some nice parks in the area and we checked them out!



Nunobiki Falls was the first place that we thought would be nice to check out, we also went to the Herb Garden, all within walking distance of each other (about 25/30 minutes apart). – (




On the way from the waterfall to the Herb Garden there were some hidden treasures! Like this dam on the pathway up to the gardens!





The gardens were filled with small styled plots from all around the world, there were botanical greenhouses, walled, herb and Roman gardens, even a vegtable patch. It was a gorgous little retreat from the big city of Kobe down below and I can see why it is so popular!




After taking in the sun and all the flowers, we set off for Shikoku! On our way across the islands we crossed over the Kobe-Awaji-Naruto Expressway. On this expressway there is a bridge, the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge which just so happens to be the longest suspension bridge in the world.




We made it to Awaji Island (the one connecting Honshu to Shikoku) and drove down the island on the east coast when we arrive at Sumoto. Of course we mananged to get ourselves lost and drove half way across the country side. I was very beautiful though and we even found a beautiful garden on the coast!


We decided to stop and make dinner on the beach with the setting sun and the rising moon!




After dinner we made are way further down the coast on to the southern part of the island and decided to camp out on the coast overlooking the bridges to Naurto! We found what could only be described as one the best camping spots in the world and my favourite of the whole trip.


Day 4 – 23/03/16

The best kind of view to wake up to!

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After breakfast, we were bound for Naruto and its famous whirling tides. On our journey through Shikoku we first stopped there and after seeing the tides moved more central. We were headed towards Zentsuji Temple, the home of Kūkai. For those of you who don’t know, Kūkai is probably one of the most influential Japanese scholar to date!

We (by we, I mean Phil) initially struggled to find the number for the temple (and when I say number I mean telephone number). In Japan the GPS or Sat Nav uses phone numbers to locate your destination and it is extremely useful! While Philip was looking for the number, I decided just to punch in temples nearby (in this case about 50km) and we went just for it. We soon discovered that Shikoku is famous for one of Kūkai’s pilgrimage and we found ourselves among one so we decided to follow it. At the first temple that we visited, we talked to a friendly monk and he gave us a map with the directions to the next stage of the pilgrimage.




We went to several of the temples before getting tired out and hungry. Shikoku is famous for udon noddles, so we stopped in at a place that we had seen being advertised for miles around. Oh, we weren’t lying by the way, the udon is awesome! We went to a place called うどん亭八幡 or Udon Tei Yahata, it was really busy but we got seated quickly and enjoyed are meal! – (




After some lunch we made our way to Zentsuji Temple.



The temple was amazing, with a lot to offer all around it stalls with local food, sweets and crafts! Even made some friends.




After wondering around the temple for a while, we headed back to the car and were on are way to Takamatsu to meet up with someone Will had set up Philip and myself with!

Driving through the mountains on are way towards Matsuyama we discovered

If you are wondering who Will is, or William Reed to be more precise, he is one of our teachers at the iCLA. If you want to know some more, he’s actually a pretty cool guy, check out his site – ( or a more recent page

So as I was saying, Will set us up with, and I quote, a ‘Buddhist priest that owns a bar’ … I know I didn’t believe it at first but yeah, just about anything goes in Japan apparently!!  Oh, and it turns out the guy is absolutely nuts (see photo for evidence…)

Before arriving at the bar, we managed to get lost and awkwardly had to ask five or six people for directions to the bar and about an hour and a half later when we finally got there and it was closed.. So we contacted Will, and ask him where we could meet Yamanaka Ekan (the buddhist priest) and he told us that he was around at his other business ハニカムカフェ or Honeycomb Cafe – (  Which turned out to be absolutely amazing, the coffee (yes that isn’t wine in the glass, don’t worry, no drinking and driving for Steve) was even better and the staff were, well brilliant (crazy).




Can’t really tell who looks the more sane out of me or Yamanaka-san.

After that crazy adventure, it was time to grab some dinner and depart from Takamatus and head south for the night!

Well hopefully this hasn’t bored you.. I’ll get my next post up soon soon soon! Look out for Part 2 of The Adventures of Kin Niku Kuruma!

Thanks for reading/looking




The Oldest Cherry Blossom Tree in Japan, Hanami Jindai Zakura, Hokuto-shi – 花見 神代桜 北杜市(はなみ じんだいざくら ほくとし)

花見 or hanami literally means ‘flower watching’ or to look at flowers.  This phenomenon comes about at the start of spring as the sakura or cherry blossom trees start to bloom. People go crazy for the sakura in Japan and just right too as it probably one of the most beautiful times to see Japan.   As I talked about in my last blog  post on Kawaguchigo spring time is the rebirth of Japanese nature. All of the flowers start to pop out, the fruit trees are blooming and the smell of nectar is in the air.


The Sakura (or cherry blossom) is the unofficial national flower of Japan and has been celebrated here for 100’s of years! if you ever come to japan you will soon find out how the Japanese are borderline fanatical when it comes to flowers on tree’s….  so where am I going with this you say?  Well,

Yesterday, I took a little trip to Hokuto city, Yamanashi Prefecture to spend sometime flower watching or hanami as they like to say in Japan!

I first went to 山高神代桜 or Bowler Sakura Jindai which is quite a famous area to see cherry blossom, in fact, it is home to this tree.

The Jindaizakura, which just so happens to be the oldest cherry blossom tree in the Japan and in fact the world. Oh, and it’s in Yamanashi Prefecture!!! This tree has been a focal point for Japanese culture for hundreds of years, and at a mere 2000 years young it is still growing strong! Jindaizakura one of the three famous sakura trees in Japan, the second oldest is Usuzumi-Zakura in the Usuzumi Park in Gifu Prefecture which is around 1500 years old and Miharu Takizakura, Fukushima Prefecture is the third oldest at 1000 years old but by far the most famous. After lasting the tsunami and nuclear reactor disaster is it a beacon of hope for the Japanese and is visited by thousands of people when blooming.


The gardens surrounding the Jindaizakura tree are gorgeous,  fields of daffodils, snowdrops and tulips covered in the fallen cherry blossoms.

The temple park is in full of blooming flowers from all around!


 You can even stop off and get some tasty food! I would recomend the mochi and the sakura ice-cream. Yes cherry blossom ice-cream!!!! 



Parking at the temple cost around 400/500 yen depending on how close you are to the temple.

After walking around the park more than once, I got talking to a lcoal and they told me about a famous street that was a five minute drive from were the temple park was. So I thought that I would check it out!

And there it was…
One of the most beautiful strees I’ve ever seen, I was completely surrounded by sakura. Along the road there are flieds of daliodils and friut fields with lines of peach (or momo as the japanese say) trees  that were some of most beautiful I have ever seen! These trees had three didifernt types of blossoms on each branch pink, white and a mixture of the two!
If you want to check it out it is very busy and there isnt vey much parking on the plus side it’s free!
I even met some interesting friends.. Posers
Enjoy the hanami!
Thanks for reading/looking guys,

河口湖 (かわぐちこ) – Kawaguchiko

Today was spent leisurely walking around Kawaguchiko,  probably one of the most famous lake areas in Japan. This is to do with where it is situated, the lakes are at the base of the 3776meter tall Mt. Fuji! This is my third time visiting the lakes and every time it is a wonderful and unique experience. Especially at the moment as spring is starting, the daffodils (or narcissists as they are known), snowdrops and the magnolia trees are blooming. This is one of my favorite times of the year, all that’s missing are some spring lambs running around the fields (coming from Northern Ireland were this is a norm), I suppose you can’t have it all?  But what a view of the blue mountain that is Mout Fuji, or Fuji-San as the Japanese refer to it.

As I said before coming here at different times of the year is always interesting, now we have the classic and iconic view of mount fuji with a little snow on the top. Two months ago it was completely white and in 2 months time it will no doubt be rid of its fluffy white winter coat. Coming from Kofu that is surrounded (in a valley if you like) by mountains it has its own warmer sub-climate (if that’s a thing?) Kofu is situated in relatively the same area as Kawaguchiko, in fact, Kawaguchiko is future south. But this 45-minute drive south makes a big difference. The Sakura or Cherry blossoms in Kofu are our in full but in Kawaguchiko are only starting to bud (this just means I’ll have to go down again and get a nice photo for you all!)

While walking around the lakes you can take some time to go out on the swan paddle boat (if you’re feeling romantic) or just soak in the sun and scenery. We decided to go on the Kachi Kachi Ropeway – (, cheating are way up the mountain to what I can only call the most amazing view of Fuji-San in the Yamanashi Prefecture! If you struggle with hiking, walking long distances or are in a hurry this can be a life saver.  !!!Helpful hint!!!  The ropeway can get busy at peak times like early morning and just after lunch because you could get stuck in quite a long queue! It cost 800yen for one adult and 400 for a child!


View from the cable car overlooking one of the lakes!

P.s Kawaguchiko is great as there are lots of regular buses from around Yamanashi Prefecture and if you drive there are a lot of free car parks. Which of course are hard to come by in Japan! This is the place you will most likely come to when you want to climb Fuji-San.

For lunch, we had some local food, Yamanashi’s famous Houtou which is handmade noodles that would remind you of a homemade tagliatelle in shape and udon in texture in a pumpkin soup. This is famous thanks to Takeda Shingen, (one of the most famous samurai generals in Japanese history that came from Kofu, Yamanashi) originally this would have been a vegetarian dish as it was served to the samurai before marching off to war.


This was in fact, Takeda Shingen’s meal of choice before war, it is quite symbolic as we will be marching in the remembrance parade for Takeda this Saturday!! This is one of my favourite foods from Japan, but I love everything noodles. Coming in the soup with big chunky vegetables it is thicker than the soups commonly in Ramen and tastes so fresh and wholesome!  We had our food in a big restaurant called ‘Houtou Fufou‘ – ( This was a really impressive restaurant and well-priced (around 1200 yen pp), oh and you can’t miss it! It’s like the Japanese answer to an iglu.



This is definitely worth checking out if you are near Fuji-San and in Yamanashi Prefecture it is a must!! Try Houtou, Yamanashi Noodles!!!

I’m not sure if you know yet but I’m sure you will find out soon that I am a vegetarian, Japan can be very difficult at times when trying to order food but things are changing and it is becoming much easier. For instance, this usually has meat or fish in the soup but I was able to just ask for a miso based soup, Japanese people are very accommodating. It can just be a little awkward when you are a big hairy guy and you say you don’t want meat or fish, you get some very confused looking faces. That being said after the initial shock and horror they will help you out in some way.

The lakes in Yamanashi are well worth the day trip, soaking in the culture and local cuisine. Go to Kawaguchiko, take your time and enjoy it! I know we did!!



Thanks for reading/looking,



Samurai, Samurai, Samurai (and my latest project)

When in Japan one must ‘Samurai, Samurai, Samurai’!!

When thinking about Japan we are all extremely interested in these figureheads from the land of the rising sun! The samurai over time has become a key focus for people from all around the world. When you think Japan, at first, you think anime, sushi, and samurai or was that just me?

So the samurai are a pretty big deal, even for the Japanese people this keen interested is shared. Many businesses try to see from the point of view of the samurai, shaping or changing their business accordingly and even your everyday Japanese person tries to live by the samurai’s code or ‘bushidō’.

There is of course so much history surrounding the samurai but I won’t get into that today. There is one samurai I would like to talk about in particular though and he goes by the name of Takeda Shingen. He was born and lived in the city Kofu, Yamanashi Which just so happens to be the place where I am currently studying! Takada was considered to be one of the greatest of all the Japanese samurai generals.

You may be thinking to yourself, where is he going with this?? But of course, the reason I am telling you about Takeda Shingen is to do with the legacy that he has left on to this day. As he was born and lived in Kofu there is a parade held in his remembrance. The Shingen-ko matsuri or Shingen Festival. During the 3 day festival that is held during the first week of April, every year participants reenact the march that Takeda Shingen and his soldiers would have taken every time they went to war. It also happens to be the most famous samurai parade in Japan and is technically the biggest in the world. Oh, and it’s in the Guinness book of records also!!

So again you ask, Why is he still talking about this Takeda guy and the parade?

Well as it just so happens one of my latest projects turns out to be making my very own samurai armour! Oh and marching in the Shingen festival… (no biggie right?????) A few months ago I was asked if I would be interested in making my own samurai armour and after making it be in the parade, I of course jumped at the opportunity. As the parade is next weekend I have basically completed my armour but I will make a post telling you about the processes in which I made the armour! I will attach a link here when I finish it!


Thanks for reading/looking


All things Handmade!

Throughout the blog, I will undoubtedly be getting my hands dirty in some way shape or form! As I mentioned before my love of all things handmade is undeniable.

From a young age, my parents always encouraged me to be outside in the garden and working with my hands. At the age of seven I had my very first toolbox and plot of land in the back garden  (2ft square, still big enough for a little one) I would sit for hours hammering nails and screwing screws into random blocks of wood and at the same time waiting patiently for the seeds that I had sown to pop out of the soil as a baby plant!

One of my biggest passions lies in woodwork and I would love to follow it as a career path in the future. This along with my passion for music drives me more towards making musical instruments! To date I have made one (not so successful) musical instrument in the shape of a (kind of) Hurdy-gurdy!

Above see the process of making the hurdy-gurdy! At the top of this post there is a picture of my very own はんこ or Hanko -スティーブン or Stephen, the Japanese use these as a form of printed signature. I carved this out of Chinese Jade stone!

Have no fear there will be more posts to come #handycraft

Thanks for reading/looking,



So, here we go..


Let’s start off with a provocative quote (as I’m sure you will soon learn that’s just the kinda guy I am!) that so happens to be my favourite. I was driving to work one day as I normally would along the A2 or the ‘Coastal Road’ as it’s known when I noticed the van in front of me. I can only assume was owned by some hippies or people wondering the country due to the fact it was covered in painted-on flowers, smiley faces and other rather naff symbols.  On the back was written,

Smile, it’s the second best thing you can do with your lips”.

I just think it is wonderful, make of it what you will…

So, I’ve been telling myself to do this for a very long time and today Saturday 2nd its seems to be happening!! (Now I actually have to post something tonight….)  I have done a fair bit of traveling throughout my short time on planet earth and would love to continue seeing the world, meeting interesting characters and helping others on the way! I’m originally from the small town of Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, but I am currently living in Kofu, Japan on a study year abroad as part of my degree.  I have various interests and hobbies, ranging from horticulture to mechanics to making music, travel and woodwork, my love of all things that I can do with my hands is endless.

As I’m sure you are all wondering, ‘Why are you starting this blog Stephen?‘ Well, I want to write down some of the goings on of my life here in Japan and in the near future (hopefully) about some of my adventures. I will also talk about little projects that I will be undertaking, be that making something from metal, plastic, wood or a combination of the three. If I’m outside in the garden I’m sure something might just make its way onto the page..

Well, I like to keep things short, sweet and simple, as I myself don’t like to be bogged down with reading so I will always try to keep it simple and if you even need or want more information I will be glad to help you out!

Happy looking/reading,