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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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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