The Adventures of Kin Niku Kuruma (Part 2) – 筋肉車

Kyushu here we come!

Day 5 – 24/03/16

We started the day off with the 2500-year-old tree on Omishima island.

 

Oyamzumi Jinja, was the first port of call which is famous for its tree in the centre of the shrine and also its roots in samurai culture.

 

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The temple was really interesting and also had a samurai museum right next door to it. We parked the car just down from the temple itself and there was a store full of local produce. Shikoku is really famous for its sea salt, so we got ours from there!

Driving along the islands in between Shikoku and Honshu was by far the most stunning length of road on the trip.

 

 

Everywhere you looked in any direction it was just breathtaking… I don’t know how many times we stopped just to get out, wander around and just take some photos. So beautiful!

After our morning stroll through the temple we were headed for Matsuyama and the famous Dōgo onsen!

 

This onsen one of the most famous in whole Japan, it has been being used for over 1000 years. The building that you see here started its construction in 1894 and has remained virtually unchanged. It is famous for its stone and wooden baths that are both really very pleasant to the eye and of course feel great!

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Are you a fan of Studio Ghibli? Well if you are this is the onsen you want to visit as it inspired the only oscar award-winning Japanese animation – Spirited Away!

So after are delightful bath for the day in Dogo onsen we went across the road to Dogo Beer Bakushukan – (https://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g298230-d1173955-i90179307-Dogo_Bakushukan-Matsuyama_Ehime_Prefecture_Shikoku.html)

I always go into Japanese restaurants feeling doubtful that I won’t be able to eat as I am vegetarian, but the staff here were extremely helpful and made me up some udon with tempura which actually turned out to be the nicest tempura I have eaten since being in Japan (that’s over 7 months now). I would highly recommend it after your hot bath at Dōgo Onsen!

 

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After a bite to eat we did a little sightseeing around Matsuyama. We first went to a temple nearby Dōgo onsen called Isaniwa Jinja.

 

This was a nice walk up to the top with a great view over the town, it was also had some very interesting artwork. There were pieces of art that had been carved and painted on top of wood, really interesting stuff actually!

 

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We made our way down through the city markets towards the castle and some of the gardens in Matatusyama. Philip made some friends on the way.

 

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After adventuring around the town for a little longer we made our way to Yawatahama and the ferry to Beppu! When we drove down we were going to stop and stay in Yawatahama for the night but we discovered that we could get a ferry earlier on in the day. We liked this idea better as it saved getting the 6am ferry that we had originally booked. The process of changing the ferry times was pretty simple, I sat in the car and Philip went in… the perks of driving eh?

 

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It was also great timing as we caught the sunset as we were sailing over! It was a well needed break for me too it was nice just to sit back not think and still be covering miles!

 

 

Just seeing the number plate on the front of Kin Niku reminded me of something funny, indulge me while we are sailing across to Beppu.

We had now gotten to the point in the journey where we had covered a fair bit of distance and a running joke was reoccurring.  If you know or have met any Japanese people you will soon learn when they think something is cool or amazing they tend not to say cool or amazing they just make loud noises. Like OHHHHHHHH or WOOOOOOOO or CHOOOOOOOOO or HUUUUUUUUU or HOOOOOOO or HEEEeeeeeEEE, I could go on. These noises vary as well depending on the individual and of course can change (just to give you an idea). So as I was saying just seeing the number plate reminded me, every time we would go to eat somewhere, fill up the car or stop somewhere to ask for directions we would get a puzzled look followed by “WAHHHHHHH?!?!?!, YAMANASHI????” this happened at least 2 or 3 times a day.

Anyway we had now pulled into port in Beppu, it was time for dinner and a place to stay.  おやすみ (or oyasumi) – good night!!

 

Day 6 – 25/03/16

Beppu, Beppu, Beppu

 

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If only every day could start like this, Hyotan Onsen Beppu.

 

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Beppu is famous for having multiple hot springs in one area. I have a Japanese friend in Beppu and she recommended we visit Hyotan Onsen, of course, she was defiantly on to something. For 1000 yen we were able to try 10 different types of baths water from 3 different onsens and also the famous sandbaths! It was situated right in the centre of Beppu and very easy to find, access and it had free parking!

 

 

Philip and I always managed to be the first to the onsen every morning we were there at 9 on the button! Today was no exception and I was able to run down into the onsen and snap some quick photos so you can get an idea of the place!

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They also had quite an impressive waterfall bath which was very relaxing!

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As in my last post onsen can be used not only for bathing but other things and Beppu is famous for using it in many different ways, for example, cooking food or heating homes. They use it to steam cook fish and other things for example in Hyotan onsen they were cooking eggs with it.
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You could also relax and breathe in the steam from the onsen as it is supposedly good for your throat, if you enjoy the smell of sulfur (or eggy farts) then this is perfect for you! Philip clearly loved it…
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After we spent a ridiculous amount of time in the onsen (two and a half hours later) we decided that doing a bit of sightseeing around Beppu would be good! Again we ask my friend Mi for the hot spots in the area, she recommended The Hells of Beppu, so off we went!
The Beppu hells were all pretty close by to one another, the first group was near Hyotan Onsen, the other hells were located on the outskirts of the city. Driving it was no problem at all even if you were using public transport there was a lot of buses as these are very popular tourist destinations!

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Beppu you were awsome but Sakurajima here we come!!

 

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Driving, driving, driving, toliet break, driving, driving, dinner, driving….

 

Day 7 – 26/03/16

 

What a view to wake up to…

 

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Not to shabby eh?

 

 

Sakurajima, Kagoshima prefecture we spent the morning on a few of the walks around the active volcano. We first ventured up and around the volcano a little. This is the most active volcano in Japan it usually erupts on a weekly bases and can even happen daily.

We started the day with a walk around the base of the volcano.

 

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Here we can see Kin Niku posing in front of Sakurajima! Looking as handsome as ever!

After this, we went down the coast for are daily bath and this time it was a very special onsen! Magma Onsen, yes, I said magma!!!! This was one of the most interesting onsens for Phil and myself, but that’s obvious right?? Its an active volcano onsen, it’s AWESOME!!

The magma bath was really unique and noting like we had tried on are trip so far. For a start it was colder than most onsen that we had visited before, but not only that the water itself was thicker with a mud-like slim consistency. It was copper in colour and felt kind of weird on your skin, but its natural, so it has to be good right???

After are bath we headed for the lava trail and a walk alone the coast!

 

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We saw a lot of interesting rocks, had a great view of the ocean, Sakurajima and most improtantly made a new four legged friend!!!

Meet our little ginger buddy

 

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He walked with us around the trail and we had a great little adventure together!

This was actually a really nice way to end our time at Sakurajima, we saw lots of interesting things and of course made a new furry mate! As we were leaving Sakurajima we were engulfed by a plume of black smoke started to rain down suit and ash all around us, there was a small eruption just as we were leaving! Everything started to turn black, must be a real pain in the ass if you had just washed the car? Luckily we didn’t have that problem!

Fukuoka here we come!

On the road, passing by parks you always gotta call in!

 

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Another destination that wasn’t planned out, Kumamoto and its black castle! We were going through Kumamoto around 4 or 5 o’clock just before sunset and the traffic was crazy! I suggested to Philip stopping in at Kumamoto castle to look and see what if it was nice or not. We hadn’t actually planned to come to the castle or stay very long in Kumamoto but now we are so glad that we did!  It was perfect timing we could see the castle in the daytime and also the night!

 

 

As I’m sure you are aware by now of the devastations earthquake that struck Kumamoto on 16th of April 2016. The castle has been left in ruins along with most of the city. Throughout our trip, we saw many so beautiful things while stopping off at some amazing places but for me Kumamoto had to be one of the most stunning and historical places!  The people of this still great city need all the help they can get, there are many ways that you can support. If you feel like helping out there are lots of fundraising schemes that will do just that. This is one that I have been following – https://www.generosity.com/volunteer-fundraising/2016-kumamoto-earthquake-relief-fund

Other ways to help – http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/04/17/national/kumamoto-quake-info-where-to-go-how-to-help/#.Vx3xChJ96K4

The castle was our first port of call in Kumamoto

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This is by far one of the most beautiful castles in Japan that I have ever seen and its gardens surrounding are an escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city! As I mentioned before we had timed it well coming in being able to see the castle then going inside to view the museum and come out to the castle at night!

Of course we took a stupid photo, it’s a must, right?

Pip and his samurai mate!

 

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It was surrounded by a massive moat and a large park to the rear of the castle that was full of sakura and other plants! One of the most impressive parts of the castle had to be the long winding roads leading to the castle that lined with cherry blossom trees!

 

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After checking out the castle we came outside to find a festival that was happening in the caslte grounds. Lots of different groups from all over Japan dancing in a competition!

Oh, and the castle was just gorgeous at night!!

 

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Then it was back on the road to Fukuoka. Thanks, Kumamoto it was fun!

 

Day 8 – 27/03/16

 

 

Hiroshima anyone?

We had some breakfast in Fukuoka then headed to Kitakyushu, Kokura Castle.

 

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After we went to the castle we realised that we passed quite a nice area so we went back on ourselves to Hiraodai, Kokuraminami. This is known for its limestone caves and unique landscapes. This had to be the most distinctively different areas of Japan I have visited. We were driving up the side of a mountain to come into the valley that the limestone caves were situated when we turned the penultimate corner and everything changed. Most places in Japan are a green lush with trees and bushes this was so foreign and really took us both by surprise. So we desided to stay a while!

 

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We, first of all, went to the limestone caves and went underground, this was somewhat impressive but it was very short and not really worth the 500 yen that we paid as we only spent about 5/10 minutes in the caves. If you are really into caves go for it, if not there are nice hikes to do around this area!

 

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Then we thought, why not climb a mountain?

 

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After seeing the caves and hiking we decided that we should get a move on as we had a lot more ground to cover, so we headed for Hiroshima!

Driving, Driving, oh and driving!!!

We arrive late in Hiroshima around 9pm and it was time for dinner!! We found a good spot to park the car and we headed into the town. Of course, we headed for the nearest okonomiyaki place, and damn it was so good!! (and veggie of course)

 

 

The other great thing is you watch them make it infront of you!

 

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After dinner and a cheeky beer we headed for bed!

Day 9 – 28/03/16

Hiroshima, Hiroshima, Hiroshima!

 

 

Probably one of the most famous cities in Japan for a variety of reason like food, the interesting people and its history in the second world war. Okonomiyaki is up there with Houtou for me but it probably steals first place in being my favorite food (also the fact that they can make it vegetarian easily is nice too!!)

In the morning we started the day with our daily castle fix at Hiroshima Castle!

 

 

It was quite unipe in the colour as it was the first naturally brown castle that we had seen in Japan! Like Kumamoto Castle still has its moat and surrouding wall.

 

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A really beautiful castle and lovely gardens surrounding there is also a zoo if you are into that kind of thing!

 

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When in Hiroshima you are constantly reminded of the atrocities of the Atomic bomb that was detonated on the 6th of August 1945. When the US Air Force dropped “Little Boy” (the nuclear bomb) in the centre of Hiroshima the city was reduced to rubble, while people were turned to dust in seconds. To give you an idea of here is an image of just before and a few days after the explosion.

 

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With this in mind, there are a lot of really beautiful memorials, gardens, buildings and The Atomic Bomb museum which really do open your eyes as to what happened when the bomb was dropped and the devastating after effects it imposed. If you are in Hiroshima I feel that it is such an important part of Japans recent history you should really take your time and let it sink in. I found myself becoming very emotional when in The Atomic Bomb Museum, some of the stories that are used throughout make everything very personal. It is important that we learn from the mistakes in history to never let them happen again while remaining mindful of this history. We mustn’t repeat the mistakes of the past!

 

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Hiroshima’s Atomic Bomb Dome, one of the only buildings to survive closest to the hypocenter, or ground zero. Which was added to UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, in memory of those who died and also a clear reminder that nuclear war fair should never be used.

After a bit of a heavy morning, we decided to head out of Hiroshima and have some late lunch! We drove down the coast heading south to Kure where we discovered (thanks to trip advisor) an Okonomiyaki that turned out to be amazing!!!

お好み焼き&たこ焼き ヴィヴィor Okonomiyaki Takoyaki Vivi is the place, (if you want to find it sreach for it in Japanese) and it is a small local favorite!

 

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We went inside to no seats, but two ladies quickly stood up and moved around the counter to fit us in! The ladies behind the griddle were extremely friendly as were the locals in the restaurant. It turned out that one of the other customers spoke really good English, so we got talking. This is apparently the best in town for Tako’s (squid balls) and Okonomiyaki. This was definitely the cause as the place was full and when people left there were others waiting to get in.  As I said before the two ladies that were cooking were an absolute delight and the food was even better!! We stayed for two portions, fat life… I had both the okonomiyaki with soba and udon, they are both amazing. Try all the sauces the spicey one is the best!

 

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There is also something really amazing about watching your food be cooked and prepared right in front of you. They also had an English menu which is really rare in Japan, they didn’t speak any English but they have gone the extra mile by preparing the menu!

 

 

Overall it was delicious also, a great experience watching the food be prepared and the atomiser. There is something really nice about a room full of women as they are not shy to talk or as we say in Northern Ireland have good ‘Banter’. I feel like this would have been a completely different experience if it were all men.

 

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Great place, great food and even better people check it out!!!

料理も美味しいし、店員さんも良い! 最高のお店なので、みんな行ってみて!

After eating way too much food we hit the road again! It was starting to get late and we wanted to cover as much ground as we could. Himeji Castle was the next port of call! When on the road we called into a few different places, first off was Zenkō-ji temples, Onomichi.

A beautiful temple on the top of a mountain that has been there for over 1000 years!

 

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We packed the car and walked up the path but there is a cable car for those that can’t walk as well! The park that the temple was a part of, Zenkō-ji park was really nice and full of cherry blossom trees, really beautiful and what a view!

 

 

After the spending some time walking around the park the sun was starting to set and it was time to leave! Fukayama was are next stop for a quick castle viewing and also some dinner, mind you I’m not sure were we got the room from after all the okonomiyaki..

 

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The parks have a different dynamic all together at night, posing their own beauty. You may not be able to see all the flowers but this only heightens the other senses. This was in the middle of the cherry blossom season. The smell of sake is in the air the laughter of people sitting under the Sakura. During the day, we have Hanami which translates to flower watching that involves drinking (not always alcohol, but usually alcohol) and eating under the sakura. But of course the Japanese have a word for just about everything nature related, so, Yosakura is basically night time Hanami!

 

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Oh, and of course, the castle was beautiful! Unfortuntly my Ipad dosen’t really do it any justice at night.

 

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What a way to end a great day!

Day 10 – 29/03/16

Himeji Castle and Nara

 

 

The biggest castle in Japan, of course its on are list! We got there bright and early and rightly so. There was just a flood of people come 9am, it was crazy.

 

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We went inside the castle but there wasn’t actually very much to see most of the other castles that we had visited at some sort of museum or exhibition inside Himeji was just empty rooms. A little bit disappointing really but the castle itself was stunning for me seeing it from the outside would have been enough. The gardens, on the other hand, were totally worth the money, Philip and I both really loved the gardens and I’m sure you can see why!

 

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All of these walled gardens were unique and so beautiful in there own ways!!

 

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So much wow for the gardens, if  you are going to the castle you must go and see the gardens!

Off to Nara next and its (in)famous deer!

 

 

I mannaged to meet a nice one, these guys are actually super poliet and are famous for bowing to people if you feed them! Unless you have food though they don’t really bother with you.

 

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Nara of course is not only famous for its wild lif, but its temples also! Some of biggest and more famous temples are here in Nara.

 

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Nara Park is すばらしい (Subarashii) as the Japanese say or in English glorious or superb! The connections of history, culture and wildlife is like no were else!

 

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Oh, the sakura there was pretty damn awsome too!

 

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Getting hairier by the day…

After Nara we headed a little closer to Yamanashi and the end of the trip.

 

Day 11 – 30/03/16 

Shizuoka and home!

 

 

We started the day as all days should start with an onsen and a castle (have you noticed this reoccurring theme?)

 

 

Breakfast at Yoshida Castle, Toyohashi was the start to our day. Situated right biside the Toyokawa river it has a small but beautiful garden with a great view of the city!

So fun fact, this is the morning that our dear Philip got Instagram, so if you want to follow him please do so! @philipmewes

Shizuoka next, first stop was Kunōzan Tōshō-gū.

 

 

This temple was also situated on top of a mountain (or cliff if you like) which had amazing views of the pacific ocean and the strawberry farms along the coastline! Talk of strawberries there was so many strawberry farms in this area all you could smell was the sweet, sweet smell of fresh strawberries.

 

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Oh and lots of steps, I mean about 40 staircases worth! Good luck

After the temple, we went back to numazu to meet a friend and have some lunch! Then in the evening time decided that we were close enough to home to go back and sleep there. The student option, you know cheaper and comfyer! Before going back to Kofu we decided to revist the first park that we went to on our travels Iwamotoyama Park in Fuji to see if the sakura had started to blossom 10 days later!

We were in luck!

 

 

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Even the tea fields around the park seemed more alive!

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What a way to end the trip, back where we first started!  I really hope you enjoyed reading about Pip/Pip’n/Philips and my adventure around the south of Japan. If you’ve gotten this far you have probably read a little bit of my ranting or just enjoyed the pictures, that’s great too! We covered a lot of miles and I think I have captured most if not all of the trip in these two posts. I tried to keep this one as short as I could!

Hope you enjoyed it as much as we did! Thanks again for taking the time out to have a look! See you again soon there are lots of new exciting trips that I will be posting over the next few weeks that have already happened in the time it has taken me to write this. Keep your eyes peeled!

 

 

Thanks for reading/looking,

Stephen

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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).

 

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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 – https://lifesofar.org/kawaguchiko/) 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.

 

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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!!

 

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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!

 

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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!

 

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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!

 

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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!

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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 –  http://www.kaisyunro.com/index.htm). 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!

 

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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.

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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 – (http://www.feel-kobe.jp/_en/sightseeing/spot/?sid=119)

 

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

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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). – (http://www.japan-ryokan.net/kobeherb/en/index1.html)

 

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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!

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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!

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

 

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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.

 

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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! – (http://tabelog.com/en/tokushima/A3603/A360301/36002906/)

 

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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.

 

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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 – (http://www.williamreed.jp/about/ or a more recent page http://www.samurai-walk.com/)

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 – (http://tabelog.com/en/kagawa/A3701/A370101/37006862/).  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).

 

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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

Stephen

 

 

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.

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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.

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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!

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 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!!!! 

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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…
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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!
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If you want to check it out it is very busy and there isnt vey much parking on the plus side it’s free!
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I even met some interesting friends.. Posers
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Enjoy the hanami!
Thanks for reading/looking guys,
Stephen

Homemade Samurai Armour Part 2 (Helmet)

(You can see the helmet in its complete stage above, this also happened to be when I was interviewed for CATV a Japanese TV Channel that is broadcast to over 800,000 people, no pressure.. )

The second part of my Samurai Armour instalment,

When constructing the armour I thought long and hard about the helmet as it really is the centrepiece for any samurai armour. There are such vast amounts of styles and variations when it comes to this part of the samurai armour it was actually very difficult to choose. After looking through lots of different resources online and in books provided by Watanabe sensei I found one and based my design roughly around it!

 

Making the horns

I started off by making a cardboard cutout of one side then using it as a stencil to make both sides identical. After cutting, tweaking and perfecting it I scored the outline on to the same black plastic sheets that were used for the rest of the armour. This would act as the support and backbone really of the horns.

After cutting out the insert I cut out two pieces of styrofoam in the shape of the horns. 20160226_122536

Then I worked them with the Stanley knife shaving the sides and rounding off both sides, then I used a fine course sandpaper and smoothed off the edges.

Then same then I taped and glued the two pieces together with the plastic cutout in between.

The next stage was to add cloth over the top of the black tape to allow me to spray them easier. Also, this was a chance to add an effect to the horns so they weren’t perfectly smooth making them more like an animal’s horn.

After many layers of glue (about 7 or 8) I started to smooth out the surface using sand paper then repeating the glueing process to take away the ragged edge of the cloth. After three or four more layers it was ready to have its final dry then paint!

After the paint had dried I attached the two pieces together and fitted them to my helmet. The final result looks pretty awesome I think anyway! Let me know what you think!

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(This is an older photo there has been more modifications made to the armour for example, all the blue thread you see has been changed to purple and the Takeda mon has been added to the hand guards)

Thanks for looking/reading

Stephen

 

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 – (http://www.kachikachiyama-ropeway.com/en/), 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!

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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.

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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‘ – (http://www.houtou-fudou.jp/english.html) 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.

 

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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!!

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Thanks for reading/looking,

Stephen

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Homemade Samurai Armour

Now where to begin….

So much has happened in the last 5 months since starting the samurai armour project.

Let’s start from the beginning, the first process was to cut out the paper temples from the guide that we were giving by Watanabe sensei (a master contemporary samurai armour craftsmen). After cutting out the templates I taped the paper onto the plastic plates – the reason for using plastic was for ease and it is much faster.

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After cutting out the all of the pieces the edges needed sanding off and all of the dots you see needed to be punched out.

The stage after this involves threading the pieces of plastic together.

Then it was a matter of threading these pieces to the main body plate and designing the body plate itself.

After all the various pieces were threaded together I could start to personalise my armour to be the way I wanted it! The samurai were famous for using decorative knots, (actually, most traditional Japanese things use knots in some way, from Sado to Kudo they appear in all shapes and sizes) I wanted to try out making some and using them on my armour. Coming from Ireland I was really interested in the Celtis and the knots that they made, I thought incorporating this would add a nice personal touch.

These are examples of the Celtic and Japanese knots that I tied. After some more tweaking I added the Takeda Mon (or crest) to the chest plate, I really think it works well and the end result is awsome!! IMG_4198

Now that the armour was nearing completion I wanted to make a start to the helmet.

Thanks for reading/looking

Stephen

 

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

Stephen

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,

Stephen

LifeSoFar

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,

Stephen!