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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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