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

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

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

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

 

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

 

All the fun began on the 20th of March 2016

 

Day One – 20/3/16

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Day 2 – 21/03/16

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

 

The gardens that surrounded the castle were a treat!

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

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

 

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

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

Iga-Ueno Castle

 

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

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

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

Day 3 – 22/03/16

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

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

Gin No Yu Onsen – (http://www.feel-kobe.jp/_en/sightseeing/spot/?sid=119)

 

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

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

 

 

Nunobiki Falls was the first place that we thought would be nice to check out, we also went to the Herb Garden, all within walking distance of each other (about 25/30 minutes apart). – (http://www.japan-ryokan.net/kobeherb/en/index1.html)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Day 4 – 23/03/16

The best kind of view to wake up to!

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

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

 

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We went to several of the temples before getting tired out and hungry. Shikoku is famous for udon noddles, so we stopped in at a place that we had seen being advertised for miles around. Oh, we weren’t lying by the way, the udon is awesome! We went to a place called うどん亭八幡 or Udon Tei Yahata, it was really busy but we got seated quickly and enjoyed are meal! – (http://tabelog.com/en/tokushima/A3603/A360301/36002906/)

 

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After some lunch we made our way to Zentsuji Temple.

 

 

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

 

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

Driving through the mountains on are way towards Matsuyama we discovered

If you are wondering who Will is, or William Reed to be more precise, he is one of our teachers at the iCLA. If you want to know some more, he’s actually a pretty cool guy, check out his site – (http://www.williamreed.jp/about/ or a more recent page http://www.samurai-walk.com/)

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

Before arriving at the bar, we managed to get lost and awkwardly had to ask five or six people for directions to the bar and about an hour and a half later when we finally got there and it was closed.. So we contacted Will, and ask him where we could meet Yamanaka Ekan (the buddhist priest) and he told us that he was around at his other business ハニカムカフェ or Honeycomb Cafe – (http://tabelog.com/en/kagawa/A3701/A370101/37006862/).  Which turned out to be absolutely amazing, the coffee (yes that isn’t wine in the glass, don’t worry, no drinking and driving for Steve) was even better and the staff were, well brilliant (crazy).

 

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

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

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

Thanks for reading/looking

Stephen