Home Sweet Home

Back from the ‘land of the rising sun’ to the ‘land of the rising rain cloud’.

I decided to take a short break from my dissertation and fill you guys in with what exciting thing have been going on in the past 3 months. My apologies that I am only getting around to this now but there are some cool trips that you ought to hear about.

So,  Japan was quite the experience and you were all able to come with me on the adventure thanks to lifesofar.org!  I haven’t updated my blog in a little while (dissertation fun) and I have felt the need to talk about a few different trips that I have gone on recently.   Over the course of my year aboard I learned a lot about Japan mostly, but also people and myself. I also happened to meet some very influential people that have really had a positive effect on my life. The new friends I gained and the old ones that only became closer, and of course, not forgetting the teachers that changed the direction of my path. These people have all helped me to have a much more positive outlook on life and make small changes that in turn (I hope) can help others.


Big up iCLA, I would recommend the University if you wanted to study in Japan! – https://www.icla.jp/en/ 


All and all it was one of the best experiences of my life to date, if you are studying at university and can a year or term abroad it’s a must. Or, maybe you are just thinking about going to live aboard, study or travel. Take my advice and DO IT!!!!!

Back to basics

For those of you know don’t know much about Northern Ireland (my first home) or England (my second), it tends to rain a lot. Not so much in Brighton where I study and live in England, but it makes up for it in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland my hometown. I’m currently at home writing my dissertation for my final year and of course Christmas! After coming back from Japan I have made many Japanese friends at uni, and have gone on some little day trips with them.

Northern Ireland

Now that I have made these international amigos and of course advised them to come to Northern Ireland Aka ‘the most beautiful country in the world’ (disclaimer, I may be a little bias) there is just no stopping them. Some of the hot spots that I have visited recently with some friends from all over include Carrickfergus Castle, Belfast, Crumlin Road Gaol, Bushmills Whiskey Distillery, Gobbins Path, Carrick-a-reed Rope Bridge and the Giants Causeway (to name a few). If you do wish to come to Northern Ireland, I would strongly advise the Antrim coast as it is undoubtedly one of the most (if not the most) beautiful and interesting parts of the whole Island.  Home to Game of Thrones, the titanic and some very friendly people it is much more than meets the eye. Food, coffee, culture it ticks all the boxes and probably one of the cheapest places to visit in the UK!

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Brighton, England

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Sunset at the pier. #sussex

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Brighton pier is probably the most famous landmark in Brighton and believe it or not this is one of the most beautiful times of the year to see it. Especially with the sun so low in the sky, it makes for quite a dramatic backdrop.  As I’m sure you may already know this was my city of choice to study in, it has also played its role changing my views and perceptions of the world. An unforgettable city that is a must if you are travelling around England. With its extremely unique culture, diversity of thinking and people, it is a one of a kind and I couldn’t recommend it enough. Things can be a little pricey, so, be prepare to pay a little extra for your tea and coffee.

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Out and about

If you are like me and manage to get yourself on the international trips you are golden. This term I booked myself a trip to visit Oxford and Harry Potter Studios, and if you go through your university or even an agency sometimes it’s cheaper. When adding up the cost of travel, the time it takes and what you are going to do when getting to said location it can be easier and cheaper to book with a tour group. For big cities in the U.K I find it can be much easier (and cheaper) just to book with a tour company, there is no fuss with buses or trains you go to the stop and they pick you up. When you arrive usually there is a city tour and you have the rest of the day to do what you like.


If you are in Brighton I would recommend a company called Discovery tours I have used them in the past it’s cheap, their tours are good and happen year round! – http://www.discoverytours.uk.com/


Oxford, England

Oxford was the first trip and I spent the day with Ryan, a nice guy that I meet on the journey there! When we arrived our group was taken on a tour of the city, to our dismay the weather was of course raining, but that didn’t stop us. We started our city tour on the campus of the Christ Church University of Oxford that is famous for the staircase from Harry Potter films, then visited a church. We walked around the city centre by our guide who told us mainly about good pubs to go to and what famous (mainly English) people came from the schools, this was funny as everyone else on the trip (international students) had no idea who he was talking about.  After the tour, Ryan and I went off and visited a few places around the city, like the famous market, the botanical gardens, the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Turf Tavern (famous for Bill Clinton allegedly getting high there). There was also a few free museum that we visited, like the museum of history and science, it was also a very interesting visit!

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Harry Potter Studios, England

At last, it was a long time come!! I have always wanted to visit the studios of what has to be one my favourite childhood (and still today) films! HARRY POTTER!!!!! It all started in 2001 believe it or not, yes I know, feel to make you feel old… If you were into the books the adventure started before then, but for me being the kind of kid that couldn’t sit still for 2 minutes unless it was Runescape or great show on, it had to be the films for me.  I have always enjoyed it and of course, it is one of my guilty pleasure nowadays to spend a week just watching each film one a night!

The Studio is a little bit expensive I think it will cost you roughly 40 pounds for a ticket, this is a bit steep but for me totally worth it. I am a massive fan of the franchises and I don’t mind giving back to the film industry every now and again!

The studio tour is self-guided and there is SOOO MUCH TO SEE! If you get hot for props and all things Potter-related, you have to go here! I really enjoyed see all the sites in full size and learning a lot more about how much effort actually went into making the film! Excuse some of the funny coloured pictures, they seem to love their pink and purple lights in the studios…

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P.s unless you like sweetness don’t go for the butter beer….

So, thanks for looking/reading!

Stephen!

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Fuji San – 富士山

Climbing the tallest mountain in Japan

A little history, fireworks, a waterfall and of course some climbing.

This will be the big one, the way best way in my eyes to finish my year aboard in the one and only Japan. For a very long time I have been talking about climbing Fuji (I even brought my hiking boots with the very intention to climb) and now the 8th of August will be the day that I take it on.

View of Fuji overlooking Kofu, Yamanashi

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I have only seen Fuji from afar, living in Yamanashi you are constantly reminded of 3776m breath-taking volcanos grandeur wherever you are in the prefecture. I had climbed some of Fuji’s neighbouring mountains and only been inspired more by the sheer size of the mountain.

My year in Japan has been one that I will never forget, and when in you come the land of the rising sun it is only fitting that you climb the most climbed mountain in the world, right?

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With a climbing season of only 2 months and around 300,000 climbers every year, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about! It was recently added to the UNESCO’s World Heritage List as “Fujisan – Sacred Place and Source of Artistic Inspiration” – June 2013. The reasons for this active volcano being added are to do with its contribution to the culture of Japan and also the art of the world. For the Japanese it wasn’t only a source of artistic inspiration but a holy place of worship and accordingly at the foot of Fujisan there are many shrines and temples. For hundreds of years the Japanese have climbed Fujisan as a part of a religious pilgrimage, this resulted in no  women being allowed to climb Fuji until 1868.

The day before the climb

There were a few events and places surrounding Fujisan that I had never seen, so the day before I climbed myself and my good friend Yuka set out on an adventure to try and do a few!

Starting the day with the trip down to Shizuoka, Yamanashi’s neighbouring  prefecture that also shares the beautiful Mt Fuji. Famous for the ocean, Macha (green tea) and oranges is another place I would recommend a quick stop off especially to the falls we visited!

Shiraito Falls (白糸の滝, Shiraito no Taki) near the border of Yamanashi and Shizuoka, right beside Mt Fuji.

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The picture perfect scene, the iconic symbol when people think of Japan they often think samurai, geisha, sushi and Fujisan. So iconic in fact that they put the active volcano on the 1000¥ bill. We went to try and a get the view of Fujisan from Lake Motosu.

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I had no such luck, of course, there was a lot of clouds that day… (its behind that cloud I swear…)

As mentioned before Fujisan had a great influence on in Japan but also in the west not only in art but in the music of the 1900’s. The 5th Paris Expo or Exposition Universelle held in Paris France was the first to bring the world of Asian art to Europe. Consisting of art, music, dance, food and pottery, this was the chance for the middle-class Europeans to come and experience world culture on their doorstep. One artist who was practically influenced  by this was, of course, the young Frenchmen Claude Debussy, whose work would never be the same after that faithful day. It is clear that fuji and the music of Japan had a massive impact on his work after visiting the Expo he would go on to write ‘La Mer’ that was inspired by the famous depiction of the Great Wave off Kanagawa the woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai.

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An obvious indication of this is shown in his choice of art used on the cover of the score. Other artists such as Van Gogh and Claude Monet would also gain inspired by Japanese works of art.

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As well as visiting Lake Motosu I stayed a litter later as there was a firework festival that night at Lake Kawaguchiko. On the way picking up some budō (or grapes) as Yamanashi is the wine country of Japan they are the best here!

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The firework display just so happened to be one of the biggest in Yamanashi Prefecture, with around 10,000 fireworks. For those of you who don’t know fireworks or Hanabi (花火, which translates as fire flower or flower fire) is an integral part of Japanese summer culture. All over Japan no matter was you go there will be abundances of Hanabi Taikai (firework festivals) going on! This was an opportunity to get on my yukata (summer kimono) and eat some kaki gouri (shaved ice with sauce) while watching the fireworks.

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So, the Japanese know how to do a fireworks display, this was without a doubt the most impressive firework show that I had ever seen. Some of the larger fireworks were wider that the bridge that crosses Lake Kawaguchiko which is over 500 meters long. These things were HUDGE!

Prearing for the climb

 

Meanwhile doing all of this I made the time to prepare for the climb, and it turns out there is a lot to consider when climbing up 3700 meters. This was the biggest climb that I have ever done and I heard a lot of different stories from different people. Some people told me it was easy, others told me it was hell, I wasn’t really sure what to believe. Of course like any kid of the 21st century (if I can even call myself that) I went straight to the internet and watch some videos of the climb.  After being inspired by youtube, and having a lot of laughs I went to prepare.

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What I brought to Fuji

 

Hiking boots – you may take this as a given, but you wouldn’t believe the number of people that wear sandals, runners and other types of shoes that just wouldn’t cut it.

Clothing – I bought the day before the climb a pair of hiking trousers from Uniqlo (best purchase ever) they were comfy, warm and cheap too! A T-Shirt, woolly hat, fleece, shorts and an extra pair of socks.

Waterproofing – Bring a coat and if your trousers aren’t waterproof bring some waterproof ones. You won’t regret this if it rains a little and the wind picks up.

Drinks – I brought 2 litres of H2O, 1 litre of Green Tea and 6 or 7 various energy/sugary drinks. 

Food – I brought some onigiri (rice balls), hard sweets, loads of chocolate and some other snacks.

Backpack – You need to put all your stuff somewhere, right? Just make sure it’s comfy as it’s going to be your best friend for the next 7 to, however, many hours you spend on the mountain.

Cash – This is essential as you have to pay for the climb, food or water and if you need the toilet there are several (usually at the stops) but you have to pay, 200 while climbing and 300 at the summit.

Plastic bag – There are no bins on the mountain so bring a bag for your trash and also to stop valuables getting wet.

Sunglasses – If you don’t get rained on its going to be bright. These are also great for your decent (especially if it is windy) as the dust from the track goes everywhere and can get in your eyes.

Towel or bandana – This is super important for your decent unless you like eating lava rock. Covering your face with this really makes the decent a much more pleasant experience.

Suncream – The UV rays are ‘hella strong’ on Fuji and if you don’t wanna burn, bring suncream.

Medical supplies – We all like to think that nothing bad will happen but it is really important to be prepared in case something does. I brought some plasters (band-aids), painkillers and Imodium to ensure an easier climb. 

Things I would recommend bring that I didn’t

Gloves  for general warm and also for some of the rougher bits of the hike where you have to climb.

Bag cover – if it does rain or you get stuck in a cloud, you’re gonna get wet along with your bag and all the stuff it contains.

Headlamp – if you’re gonna climb at night for the sunrise.

Shoes – A change of shoes for the bottom when you get down it is a great feeling to take off the old shoes and change into new ones. A light pair or flip-flops would be perfect.

Things that I would recommend not bringing

If you are only going to climb from the 5th station in one day (like most people do). One and a half litres of water is fine and 3 or 4 energy drinks would be enough just bring a little extra cash you can get more if need be. These will be the heaviest things that you will bring and if like me you bring an extra 2 litres you don’t need you will really feel it the next day or four.

Now that we are packed and ready to go, let’s climb! 

The Climb 

8th August 2016

Wake up! – 3:00 am

It was lovely and quite an early start to the day, that involved getting dressed and packing my bag with the 10s of litres of liquids that I had foolishly decided to bring along with me. Then off to the bus to pick up the rest of the group!

5th Station,  2305M – 5:15am

Arriving on the bus to the fifth station, we spent some time to acclimatise and ready ourselves for the walk ahead!  Starting our climb at 2305 meters we had another 1410 meters to the top! When we set off at 6 the walk was rather pleasant and we made sure to stop off ever 20 to 30 minutes for a quick breather.

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6th Station, 2390M –  6:47am

The climb was going well everyone was having a lot of fun and the weather was brilliant!

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7th Station, 2700M  – 8:30am

The climb to the seventh was one of the longer climbs and had a rough patch of rock that lasted for 20 or 30 minutes. This was probably the most intense of all the climbs! The weather was getting worse as well, we started to walk into a cloud and everything was getting wet.

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8th Station,  3360M – 9:32am

When I arrive at the 8th station I realised that my leg was starting to hurt, I think that I had pulled a muscle in my left leg. It was making things a little difficult at this point! As well as that a few of the people in the group had fallen really far behind and wouldn’t be able to make it to the summit in time so they were turned around. My leg was sore and the group had been cut in half!

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Station 8.5, 3450M   – 10:17am

Everyone was now very wet and one of the girls was showing signs of altitude sickness, meanwhile, my leg wasn’t getting any better. But the show must go on so we quickly made our way to the 9th station.

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9th Station, 3600M – 10:50am

So close to the top at this point everyone was getting excited, the cold and wet wasn’t going to stop us, we were going to get there!

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Summit gate, 3700M – 11:28am

Finally after 5 and a half hours of climbing we could see the gate to the summit of mt Fuji!!!

Summit,  3715M – 11:40 am

We got to the top (those of us left) and let out a group cheer! Then it was time to try and warm up, relax and get some food into our bodies! There are several shops at the summit all selling hot food and drinks, of course at very high prices but what can you do at 3700M. There is, of course, vending machines as it wouldn’t be Japan without them! Another very Japanese thing when climbing a mountain is to collect a little Omiyage (or souvenir) in the form of a small bell! I, of course, got mine and the shop owners will engrave the date of the climb! 

Video of the Climb

Descent   – 1:00pm

With all the fun over at the top, it was time to face the horrible fact that we had to get back down again… Taxi anyone?   If only…

We started are descent and the wind had picked up, this meant that all of the loose gravel on the downward path was going everywhere. This is where the towel that I mentioned earlier came in handy. I wore it as a face mask and put on my sunglasses to protect my eyes, these two things were a real life saver and meant the descent was a lot easier and safer. I foolishly decided that it would be easier to jog down as the pathway is quite steep and awkward to walk on. Believe it or not, it was actually easier on my sore leg to jog. To cut a long story short after a lot of sweating and heavy breathing we made it to the bottom just after 3pm.  With two hours to wait for the bus home, we just lay there and relaxed waiting for the rest of the group to arrive!

 

We headed home at 5pm and I was fast asleep as soon as we got home! Needless to say I could hardly move my left leg the next day but of course, the onsen fixed that right up! Over all what an amazing trip and great experience!

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Best way to end the climbing experiance, get naked with lots of other men in a big bath! ut seriously, get to the onsen after your climb it will help if you are staying in Yamanashi this one is amazing! Kunitachi, Arashi no Yu, Spa in the Storm, Isawaonen, Yamanashi is famous for its pebble baths and will work wonders on any aches and pains you may have after the climb!   It is also renoned for curing people of sickness and ailments, great spot well worth a visit!  Unfortuntly they only have a japanese website, but if you visit the hotel you can go into the baths for the day at a resonable price!

http://www.isawa-kunitachi.com/hotspa/

Thanks for looking/reading

Stephen

Katana (刀) or the Japanese Sword

 

Karate class adventures

Today we joined Katada Sensei (my karate teacher at iCLA) on a little adventure to one of his friends in Kofu!  Katada Takashi has been more than just a teacher to me. Over the year that I have known him, he has taught me many things to do with the overall culture and Etiquette of Japan.

When we first met I would say I was somewhat boisterous or rather excited about being in Japan and studying martial arts with a World Champion.   Not speaking very good English we developed a sense of communication through, me talking and him agreeing with everything I said… Joking of course, (this did happen a lot though) the communication came through the dojo and practice karate. Growing a mutual respect for one another benefited, practically for Philip and myself in many ways. On many occasion we have been invited by Katada to events or trips and also to join the karate training with his team, (they’re all 3 dan and upward, training for the 2020 Olympics) which is pretty unheard of for two foreign novices.

P.s for those of you know don’t know what that is, here it is put in simple terms by ‘Our’ Philip – “if you are proud of your driver’s license, they’re like fighter pilots.” or my personal favorite “If you have no badges, they have 10.”

Katada for those of who know him is not only a master in karate but a keen connaisseur of everything Japanese.  Dedicating all free time to learning things like Sado, Iaido and the rest of his time to his young family. We have gained experiences in these fields because of Katada, in both Sado (or the tea ceremony) and Iaido (or drawing the sword) on a regular basis. Just two weeks ago we were able to try using a live blade for the first time thanks to Katada.

 

 

Because of these experiences, he asked both Philip and I if we would like to see how the katana are made. Of course, we jumped at the opportunity to see a swordsmith working metal!! Que today’s adventure!

 

Kofu’s Secret Sword Smith – Ito Shigemitsu

Not really sure if it’s a secret or not but it sounds more provocative don’t you think?

We jumped in the car and drove 20 minutes south of the campus and arrive at Ito Shigemitsu’s workshop/home. We introduced ourselves in the Japanese fashion of lots of bowing and saying your name. Then it was sword time!!

 

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He showed us first of all the raw materials for making the swords. Japan, of course, is an island with limited raw materials. They weren’t blessed, like many other places around the world with iron ore, so they had to get inventive. They were able to extract it from sand that was rich in iron like this.

 

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Of course, this made the process very time-consuming and costly. Spending several days over a charcoal furnaces (like the one shown below) the sand is spread over the top where it heats up and the iron sinks to the bottom and collects in a trough.  This is a very delicate process, the furnace needs to be kept at a constant temperature to avoid the iron spoiling and the sand being spread evenly to ensure optimum quality. After the firing, you are left with a slab of iron and other impurities. This is then broken and sorted into different groups, some are used for the softer core of the katana and others for the harder exterior.

 

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It is then heated, hammered and folded. This is what gives the katana its edge over other swords from around the world. This process is necessary to extract any impurities within the metal and to align the carbon, making it extremely strong. As the metal block is folded it creates lots of small layers, within the steel, giving it a pattern or skin. Of course, every sword smiths pattern is unique as they have their own individual way of folding the metal.

 

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The block is folded once more, only this time, a softer piece of iron is added (with a lower carbon content) to the harder steel exterior. The softer interior will eventually be hammered down and become the edge of the blade. Then it is heated and hammered into a rod that is the desired length for the sword.

 

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The reason for the soft centre and hard exterior has to do with strength and durability of the sword. The soft centre makes the blade flexible so your stupidly expensive sword won’t crack and break. The hard exterior is for strength, it still needs to pack a punch when you are chopping off heads, right? 

 

Then the rod is hammered on one side for the signature style single blade, this also is where the katana gets its curve. As only one side is made thinner the single piece of steel stretches on the blade side and contracts on the other giving it the curve you see. Then the blade is given a rough polish and coated in clay and heated once more to 800oC. This gives the blade its signature Hammon (or pattern/wavy line), then it is dropped into a bath of cold water dropping the temperature rapidly hardening the outer steal.

 

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Then comes the rigorous task of polishing and sharpening, this is normally done by a professional sharpener taking weeks of even months to perfect.

 

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Then we got to try out one of his swords. It was like getting a gun and shooting cans on a white picket fence in the wild west only, Japanese style. So with a katana, a wooden block, and a vending machine coffee can, oh and the aim was to slice it in half.

 

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Then Philip suggested we do some gardening and why not cut the tree’s (joking, of course,) trust the Japanese to take him seriously.

 

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Left the corner a little bare…

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Shigemitsu showed us some photos of an Australian group coming to visit his workshop. They got two swords and by striking them together were able to make sparks fly. Then he asked if we would like to try recreating this, Philip of course, jumped at the chance of destroying a ¥1,000,000 (or about 10,000 US Dollars) katana. To his dismay it was of course not the expensive katana we would be using but two blanks that were yet to be sharpened fully (still worth a shit load of money). Then Katada and Philip proceeded to destroy these two swords while I failed to capture the sparks on my camera… Gomen Shigemitsu gomen…

 

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There was actually some sparks, I just didn’t get it in time…

 

After breaking two swords we went inside to look at the real deal. Shigemitsu told us how his family had been making Katana for hundreds of years. He then produced this smaller blade and hand guard.

 

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These turned out to be over 300 years old made in the Edo Period by his great-grandfather! Absolutely amazing, the history and what beautiful pieces of craftsmanship.

Then he showed us one of his more recent works.

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This is the 1 Million yen jobbie right here… What an honor to even see such amazing pieces, let alone touch and swing them about!

 

What an experience, thanks, Ito Shigemitsu and of course Katada sensei!

 

Thanks for reading/looking!

Hope you enjoyed it!

Stephen

 

Poor guy was right back on the wheel as soon as we left, fixing those swords no doubt.

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Shingen Ko Festival! – 信玄公祭り (しんげんこうまつり)

‘The Largest Gathering of Samurai’ – Guinness World Records, April 2012.

 

As you have seen in earlier posts in the build up to the samurai parade we have been working very hard to prepare and finish the armour in time.

 

 

 

A short video of the coming up to the parade and the post about making the samurai armour.

https://lifesofar.org/2016/04/04/making-samurai-armour/

https://lifesofar.org/2016/04/07/homemade-samurai-armour-part-2-helmet/

The Big day – 9/4/16

 

After the long wait, it’s time to finally march in the Parade!  Held here in Kofu the city of my study year abroad. Convenient I hear you say…

 

 

The plan was to wake up nice and early, get the armour on and head into Kofu city centre on the train for the start of the parade.  All was going well with only a few costume hick ups, noting that the master craftsmen couldn’t fix with ease though!

After an hour or two of everyone getting ready, some worry worts putting on diapers, we made our way to the train station.

Diapers I hear you ask, yes diapers… Someone had the bright idea of telling everyone that the parade would last a long time and there would be no toilet breaks. Their solution was to wear a diaper (or 3, literally 3).  Don’t worry I can put your minds at rest and tell you that there were no accidents and everyone got home with a dry bum. Or at least I think they did?

 

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Of course, everyone in Yamanashi knows about the parade, but that didn’t stop the funny looks as we made our way to the train station.

The Parade Route

We started at the Prefectural office and marched through the streets to the castle for the opening ceremony.

 

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After marching to Kofu Castle we sat down on the green and listened to the opening ceremony! Then it was time for the full parade, marching around the city centre and off to battle we went.

 

IMG_1364Bendik Aarsæther

She thinks that’s bad, try living beside him.. 😉

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We had the great honour of being allowed to take part in the parade itself, but as if that wasn’t enough we also got to march with this man in our group!

 

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Kuninobu Takeda ’16th Generation descendant of Takeda Shingen’

One of the only living decedents of Takeda Shingen. Talk about amazing!

 

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Some of the other performances during the parade.

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After a few more hours of walking we were back to the starting point and it was time to grab a quick bento, oh and photos!

 

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For obvious reasons I couldn’t take any photos on the day, I have been given permission by everyone to use all of the photos and videos that  you see in this post.

 

Big Thanks

Bendik Aarsæther, BA Productions   ( https://www.facebook.com/baprodnorway/?fref=ts )

Saitoh Naoki, LANDSCAPE FILMS  ( http://amadeus43.wix.com/landscape)

Ellie Parker-Harbord  (@icemonkey65 on Instagram)

Josephine Dryden  (@josiedryden on Instagram)

Yuka Shimazu  (@yuc4t4n on Instagram )

iCLA   (https://www.icla.jp/en/)

Everyone else who helped make this possible

 

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Time to get the armour off and get the beers in! What an amazing day and what an amazing experience!

 

Thanks for reading/looking

Stephen

 

 

 

 

I’ll leave you with this..

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Okinawa – 沖縄県

22/03/16 – 25/03/16

Another weekend trip, this time on one of the famous tropical Japanese Islands!

 

 

Located roughly 600 miles from Honshu (the main island of Japan) this collection of over 150 islands are the tropics of Japan. Famous for their sandy beaches, coral reefs and unique culture, (cue terrible joke) it is quite literally one of the hot spots to visit in Japan!!

 

Not during the rainy season, though we wouldn’t want you to get blown away or washed down the drain!  This starts Late April and ends late June, and of course, we booked our flights for the end of April! Right from the get-go I was very dubious about the trip as the weather forecast was rather daunting…

 

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Looks promising right???…

Alas, our flights were booked and off we went to Narita airport to catch are Peach flight to Naha, Okinawa!

Top tip – if you want to save on flights when flying to, from or inside Japan ‘Peach’ and ‘Vanilla Air’ are always having 3/4 day flash sales. You can find out the details by signing up for their email service or make sure to check out their website. 

We arrived in Naha grabbed some water and headed for our apartment via monorail!

 

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This was in fact, my first experience on a monorail, I’d be lying if I wasn’t a bit afraid, yes I don’t like heights….

About twenty minutes down the track and we arrived at ‘Omoromachi station’ our stop for our extremely nice and reasonably priced home for the weekend!

Top tip – we booked our apartment on Airbnb this is a great website to find fun, unique, and exciting places to stay in over 34000 cities around the word! This is a great website/app to find places to stay, also it’s often considerably cheaper for what you get, in better locations and more convenient. This is also great to get the real experience of the local area and to see how people from said location life!

If you want to set up an account and receive a £14 discount that you can use on your fist booking use this link! http://www.airbnb.com/c/stephenk98

 

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With a great view to boot!

 

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We arrived quite late and just grabbed some food in a local restaurant then went for a walk around the area! Outside the monorail station near our house, there is a water/steam/light feature thing. It’s easier if you just see it.

 

 

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Then of course it was off to bed after some local beer and grub!

 

23/03/16

Tokashiki Island

We decided to go on a day trip to one of the many islands that make up Okinawa! Tokashiki island was our port of call for the day. Making our way to the main port in Naha and boarded the ferry to Tokashiki!

 

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After docking at Tokashiki Island we went into the port office for some information about the island. Everyone was being ushered onto a bus that was headed for the famous beach on the other side of the island. We decided to walk as the weather was really nice  (but mostly because I had no money). On the way, we saw some forest or you could say nearly jungle on the way across this tropical island, we also got the opportunity to try planting rice. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time and passed up the opportunity (kind of regret it now).

 

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We made our way over and back down the other side of the mountain coming across another small village (population of about 50 I’d say). We hit the shore and came to the beach, just wow.  This was one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen!!

 

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After walking around for a while and of course doing the very British thing of dipping your feet in and not actually swimming in the water we headed along the beach to a viewing point. The place was just breathtaking and the pictures speak for themselves!

 

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We headed back to the little village just beside the beach as I quite rapidly turning into a lobster. We were able to grab some food and people spoke really good English, nice and easy for us getting vegetarian food!

 

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As I had developed a rather glorious sunburn we decided that (or rather I decided) we should get the bus back to the port instead of walking. We were a little early so decided to have a little cocktail beside the beach before the bus!  It was a long day trip as the boat took 2/3 hours to get there and another 2/3 to get back. The evening was once again spent finding a local restaurant to get some grub and drink some more Orion, (a Japanese beer) by the why I think this is by far the best mainstream (if you can use that term for beer) beer in Japan!

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24/03/16

Markets, Shurijo Castle and more Fun Stuff

We started the day bright and early to try and pack in as much as we could! We bought ourselves a day ticket for the monorail as we wanted to pack in as much as possible. (this was great as we went for some food before leaving meaning we bought the ticket after 10am) In case you are wondering the tickets last for 24 hours and they work by the clock not the day so this was perfect for us as we could use it for our ride to the airport in the next morning!

We set off to Shuriojo Castle, making the obligatory stops at vending machines of course.

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The castle was set up on top of a hill and was an enjoyable walk up to it from the station and the view was just spectacular over the city!

 

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When in the castle they had a stay with people performing 3 or 4 times a day a  dance in the traditional style of Kabuki.

 

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After the castle, we thought we would head to a market, but it turned out to be a night one and not very open during the day…

 

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So we headed off further down the line to Fukushūen the traditional gardens in Naha. On the way, we walked through the city a little bit and found ourselves  emits a Japanese film/tv festival. Of course, we didn’t have a clue who any of these people were but everyone else was going CRAZY!After fighting through the crowd of people we made our way to the nearest station to get to Fukushūen. Of course we found ourself going through another market this time it was open and there was a traditional Okinawan performance going on!

 

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This is when the real magic of a trip happens we were going one way and decided to go another and found the market but more importantly the performance. This style of dance is known as Eisa and is a traditional Okinawan dance performed with live musicans

 

 

3 hours later, we made it to Fukushuen.

 

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Even making some buddies along the way. 😉

 

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This for me this was one of the real treasures of the trip, it was free, not busy and really very beautiful! With its winding paths, beautiful architecture, wildlife and the waterfall that you could walk through.

 

 

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After the park we decided that we would head back, it was time for a nap, some food and I needed to get the frozen towel on my sunburn again. I haven’t actually told you about that yet… (but yes I did have two small onsen towels that I was now freezing and then rotating them to cool down my back and neck, along with the gallons of after the sun… of course Philip and Josie give me nothing but moral support {yeah right}.)

 

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(Photo doesn’t really do it justice!)

So this was gonna be our big night out in Naha and after walking through the town we had seen a few spots that looked promising and cheap (mainly cheap). Josie found a local supermarket and we headed up to get a little something for breakfast before the airport, today’s dinners along with some beers.  So off we go on the 5-minute walk to the supermarket, head in and get our stuff then 5-minutes later we head out again (now, baring in mind that when we left if was clear as day). We got about 2 minutes into our journey and just one block from our apartment me the rain started. Oh, and by started I mean the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen in my life, (baring in mind once again that I’m from Northern Ireland and yes it rains over 200 days of the year there..) this was some hardcore rain. So, of course, we ran back and in the space of 2 minutes we looked like drowned rats. So that kind of concluded our night, ridiculous rain… Let’s just drink the beer play cards and watch a movie!

 

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Oh yeah we also heard that Okinawa was famous for its fruit and vegetables of course Josie and I being the vegetarians were interested in this (and Philip who would literally eat shit on a stick was of course, interested too…) ‘Goya’ or bitter melon (in English) is a cumber like fruit that is really popular and is said to give the eater a longer life. We wanna stay on the planet for a long as we can so we thought ‘ahh, why not give it a go’. That was a terrible idea.

Just Don’t.

In case you are wondering what the devil of all fruits looks like it is this.

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I mean, of course, try it if someone who knows how to cook it is present. You know when you’re watching the TV and the guys say’s “Don’t try this at home” well, this is a don’t try this one at home kind of thing…

 

25/03/16

Flights

Not really too much to say for today. We got up and headed back for Kofu, Yamanashi!

I really had a lot of fun and was so happy that the not so amazing water forecast was not accurate at all!  I hope you enjoyed our little adventure in Okinawa too and it inspires you to get out and see the world!

 

Thanks for reading/looking

Happy traveling,

Stephen

 

I’ll leave you with this image, it was taken at one of the monorail stations. Make of it what you will.

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Shibazakura – Another day trip!

I’m trying to catch up and write down all the trips that I’ve been on recently. It’s been a fun-filled month or three of non-stop traveling, day trips and adventure throughout south-east Asia! This will be the first of many to come. The rainy season is about to hit in Japan so that means not as many adventures. But it gives me plenty of time to actually write about the things that I have been up to.  I’ll also be giving you an update on some of the little projects that I have been doing over the last few months.

So back to Shibazakura! 

1/05/16  – Sunday 1st May 2016

Just to point out, as I’m sure you have already noticed, ‘Zakura’or ‘Sakura’ has appeared again.. I think it’s kind of a rule if it is pink and something to do with nature it is called Sakura as I told you before this literally means cherry blossom, but in this case it will be used to describe the colour, not the species. Shiba, in this case, means moss and translates to cherry blossom moss or pink moss.

Again I find myself around the beautiful lake area located at the base of Mount Fuji it is one of the most beautiful places in Yamanashi. Especially at this time of the year (if you can get over the tens of thousands of tourists going there) this festival quite stunning and a fitting end to the cherry blossom season. It lasts for around two months but it is at its height in the last two weeks of April, after this is golden week and we will talk about why it’s not a good idea to go then…. After Golden Week it is still in bloom but not anywhere near the full bloom of before Golden Week!

I decided I should do something over Golden Week as I didn’t really have any plans and most of my friends had other plans. So I just decided to get up and go. I set off bright and early, catching my 8am train from Kofu. When going from Kofu you need to make a change  there are two different trains you need to get, first to Otsuki, then to Kawaguchiko. During the Shibazakura Festival there are shuttle buses that leave every half an hour and take you on the short journey to the field.

Oh, I’m not sure if I mentioned but, it was Golden Week here in Japan. For any of you who don’t know what this is, don’t worry, I will explain…

So basically Golden Week in Japan falls once a year and last for a week (kind of). It is different every year, as it can fall on different dates, but this is one of the only annual holiday weeks of the year in Japan and everyone is doing something. Golden Week is a collection of four national holidays within 7 days, so basically everywhere that would normally have a lot of tourists has 4 times as many. Be warned, I didn’t believe it until I experienced it…

With that in mind, back to the story. So I got off the train and headed over to bus stop seven. Walking past a huge crowd of people thinking nothing of it. I headed to the stop and the ticket booth only to realise that the line I just walked along beside was the one for the shuttle bus. Shit, I was going to miss this bus and of course, I did, and the next one oh and the next one after that. So three buses later I was finally on the road we got out of Kawaguchiko and about 10 minutes into the 30-minute journey when we hit the traffic for the festival.  An hour and a half later I arrive along with a million (excuse my exaggeration) other people, the place was heaving.

To cut a long story short, this is a beautiful place and festival, just don’t go during Golden week..

All the crappy parts aside. It was rather beautiful in hindsight, I refused to tell myself it was at the time as I was so annoyed with the transport and all the people but looking back it was a rather enjoyable experience! Let’s just have a look shall we?

 

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After the festival, I headed to the Ice Caves nearby called  Narusawa-hyōketsu, then went to Lake Kawaguchigo

 

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Thanks for looking/reading

Stephen

Yamanashi’s Fire Festival, Hokoji Temple.

April 29th, 2016

Today was spent at the Buddhist temple Hokoji for the annual Yamabushi fire festival!  Situated in Kōshū, Yamanashi Prefecture, this is a beautiful temple known as the flower temple as it is famous for its year-round flower gardens!

 

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The festival started with a reanactment of hiking up a mountain as it says in the name Yamabushi, Yama means mountain and Bushi is a warrior or samurai! After the reanactment that invovled walking through the town to a locals house and saying some words the main part of the festival began!

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Back to the temple and starting the ritual for the fire to be lit.

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It began with chanting then shooting arrows into the crowd(no humams were harmed in this shooting), then followed by blessings and more chanting.

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The fire was lit and the clothes started to come off!

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Then one by one the Yamabushi walked through the hot coals, after they had finished everyone else at the festival got the oppurtunity. Of course I went for it! Hot on my heals (quite literally) was my good friend Bendik walking through the hot coals!

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After walking throuh fire we explored more of the temple.

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Then it was off to the onsen we go, to wash our smoky bodies and what a view of Fuji-san!

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Thanks for reading/looking guys!

Stephen

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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

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.