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!

dsc_0030DSC_0059.jpgDSC_0055_01.jpgDSC_0043.jpgDSC_0041.jpgDSC_0039.jpgdsc_0040dsc_0031

Brighton, England

View this post on Instagram

Sunset at the pier. #sussex

A post shared by @ stavon_k on

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.

DSC_0107.jpg

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!

DSC_0188.jpgDSC_0141.jpgDSC_0142.jpgDSC_0144.jpgDSC_0154.jpgDSC_0167.jpgdsc_0186DSC_0182.jpgDSC_0172.jpgDSC_0204.jpgdsc_0184

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…

DSC_0208.jpgDSC_0210.jpgDSC_0215.jpgDSC_0222.jpgDSC_0233.jpgDSC_0245.jpgDSC_0261.jpgDSC_0272.jpgDSC_0283.jpgDSC_0284.jpgDSC_0293.jpgDSC_0294.jpgDSC_0296.jpgDSC_0302.jpgDSC_0323.jpgDSC_0334.jpgDSC_0338.jpg

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

So, thanks for looking/reading!

Stephen!

Advertisements

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

DSC_0885.jpg

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?

DSC_0746

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.

DSC_0065DSC_0034DSC_0062DSC_0052.jpg

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.

DSC_0075

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.

Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa2.jpg

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.

Debussy_-_La_Mer_-_The_great_wave_of_Kanaga_from_Hokusai

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!

DSC_0074.jpg

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.

DSC_0127_01DSC_0178DSC_0189DSC_0193DSC_0173Summer time 5th Aug_5821.jpg

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.

IMG_6590

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.

DSC_0206

6th Station, 2390M –  6:47am

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

DSC_0210DSC_0205

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.

DSC_0216DSC_0215

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!

DSC_0218

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.

DSC_0223

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!

DSC_0221

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!

DSC_0228DSC_0226_01

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

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?

 

IMG_5293

 

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.

 

dsbksfIMG_1368

 

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.. 😉

IMG_1370IMG_13734038IMGP0297IMG_1385

 

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!

 

IMG_1366

Kuninobu Takeda ’16th Generation descendant of Takeda Shingen’

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

 

IMG_1365IMGP0329_01.jpg46IMG_1350IMGP0317

Some of the other performances during the parade.

IMG_138139IMGP0266IMGP0305IMG_1374

 

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!

 

IMG_7554IMG_7573IMG_7546

 

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

 

IMG_7547

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..

output_KOCp76

 

Homemade Samurai Armour

Now where to begin….

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

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

IMG_3446

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading/looking

Stephen

 

All things Handmade!

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading/looking,

Stephen

LifeSoFar

So, here we go..

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy looking/reading,

Stephen!