Kamakura and Cherry Blossoms

Hi, everyone. Spring is finally here! I hope that wherever you are, the weather is getting warmer and you’re waving a cheery goodbye to winter. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, maybe you’re glad the weather is cooling down.

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I went to Kamakura with some friends to see the cherry blossoms. I decided I didn’t want to do hanami this year (visiting a park or natural space with cherry blossom trees under which to eat and drink all day) since last year I was left disappointed. I’d made a huge picnic only to have the couple we’d planned it with cancel at the last minute. But I decided to go to Kamakura, the lovely town near Yokohama, and it was great!

At-4FEEK

Cherry blossoms, locally called sakura, only bloom for a couple of weeks in the year and since there are thousands of them all over the place in Japan, there are many great spots where you can see them. We visited a temple and a shrine, as well as a long pathway with sakura trees either side. It was pretty magical.

#kamakura #sakura #cherryblossom #pretty #鎌倉 #桜

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We went to Engaku-ji, a gorgeous temple that is really “Japan” in many ways; gorgeous architecture, tranquil grounds, and a sense of peace. My friend Mike joked that all we needed to see was a cat and the day would be complete. Lo and behold, we saw a chubby kitty on our way out.

We also saw some ladies in kimonos riding a rickshaw.

Makin’ my way downtown #rickshaw #kamakura #japan #人力車 #鎌倉

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After a wander around the shrine, we walked down the road surrounded by sakura trees. You could see several torii gates in a row, which means the road must have been some kind of pilgrimage path long ago. I bet it looked even more magnificent back then without the cars and buildings.

We were starving after all the walking so we had an awesome lunch at J.S. Burger near the station. Om nom nom.

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I haven’t been getting out much lately so it was a really refreshing day. Kamakura is around an hour away by train but it’s got a completely different vibe from Tokyo and it’s well worth a visit to get a taste of the “real” Japan.

Guys I Just Had Ramen That Blew My Mind

Today I was craving ramen, and my boyfriend can never say no to ramen. So we found this place near our house.

It’s called Mame-kin Gyoza and it serves Chinese noodles. They had a spicy hotpot with which you can have gyoza (dumplings), or tsukemen (that you can dip into the hot soup.)

I chose both, naturally. The picture had five little pictures of peppers and wooooo it was spicy indeed.

The hotpot thing had vegetables, pork, shiitake mushrooms, chili peppers, and even some fish ball stuff that you find in oden.

It was super hot and spicy and tasty. I chucked in the cold noodles and gobbled them all up. The gyoza dumplings had also soaked up all that lovely soup.

The waiter put two small bowls down so my boyfriend and I could share but he underestimated my power. I shoved all that in my belly and it was D E L I S H.

If you like ramen, visit Mame-kin Gyoza for yummy spicy tsukemen noodles! ❤️

Top 8 Experiences in Ishigaki, Okinawa

I’ve been on a social media hiatus the past week or so, and it’s been quite refreshing. Tied in with that was my three-night stay on Ishigaki, the westernmost island of Okinawa, Japan. It was exactly what I needed to get rid of the stress that has been building up lately. If you’re stressed and you can afford it, an island holiday is a great pick-up.

I never really thought of myself as a tropical island person. I like mountains, rivers, and cities. But I loved Ishigaki. The contrast between the rather cold Tokyo and the open friendliness of the island people was surprising and refreshing. Despite it being February, Ishigaki’s weather lingered between 20-25 degrees Celsius. And there was so much space. So few people.

I won’t bore you with every single detail, but here are the best things I did in Ishigaki and the surrounding islands.

1. The Limestone Cave

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What I was expecting to be a touristy and highly commercialized spot was surprisingly awesome. We followed a path to admire some stalactites and stalagmites that had formed over thousands of years, sometimes taking on amusing shapes such as Totoro, the famous Studio Ghibli character.
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It was only a ten-minute drive away from the port and there was also a souvenir shop. We also saw some funky cocoons and a creepy-looking crab. It’s worth visiting when you’re in Ishigaki.

2. Trying Wagyu Beef

When you talk about high-quality beef from Japan, most people think of Kobe beef. Ishigaki wagyu is made from the black cows of the local area (whereas Kobe beef is made from the cows in Kobe), and we were hoping to try this high-grade stuff while we were here. A taxi driver recommended a place called Kingyuu, which means gold beef.

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It was just delightful. I’ve never had meat so marbled and tender, and now I finally understand what people mean by “melt in your mouth.” It was a fantastic experience. Kingyuu is just one of the many recommended places to try Ishigaki beef. If you want to go, make reservations.

3. Visiting Hateruma Island

We went to Hateruma Island for the day, which is an hour away by ferry from Ishigaki port. The island is the southernmost part of Japan and was so peaceful. The others on the ferry seemed to melt away and during our time cycling around the island, we didn’t see many other people at all. Just goats and sugar cane fields. It was gorgeous.

I took a photo of some farm workers, who were among the few people we spotted here.

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You can see the southernmost point of Japan if you cycle down to the south coast of Hateruma.

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4. The Beach

I’m not really one for the beach; when I was a kid, “beach” meant big coats, throwing rocks into the sea, and hot flasks of coffee. You wouldn’t really see me relaxing with a bikini and a book. However, we came across this lovely white sand beach on Haterumaand just had to take off our shoes and socks to play.

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There were a few other people there, as well as a guy who seemed to be living there – he had his clothes hung up and was relaxing on a towel with a beer! I felt it would be rude to take a picture of him, but it was a pretty unusual sight.

I didn’t see anyone paddling or writing in the sand, but what’s the point in going to the beach if you’re not going to do those things?

5. Visiting Taketomi Island

Taketomi Island is so nice, but it had a lot more tourists on it than Hateruma had. That being said, there are a lot of experiences you can enjoy here, such as seeing fish from a glass bottom boat and riding a wagon pulled by a water buffalo.

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I had my reservations about the buffalo part (I hadn’t booked it; I’d left all that to Ken), but the animals are strong and get fed well and showered every few steps of the tour. I think they were happy… but I really don’t know. They’re fed and washed and taken care of, so I suppose they’re as happy as buffalos can be.

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Taketomi is full of charming houses, fields of cows, and pretty flowers even in winter. It’s also only a ten-minute ferry ride from Ishigaki, so it’s easily accessible for a half-day trip.

6. A Free Shamisen Show

As part of the water buffalo tour, the man who guided us, a local of Taketomi, played this cute song on the shamisen. It’s unusual and exotic and was an unexpected treat.

#shamisen #music #Japan #Taketomi #竹富島 #しゃみせん

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7. The Food

Wagyu beef isn’t the only food you can try in Ishigaki. On our last night, we had tempura, maguro (tuna meat) katsu, sashimi, tofu (which tastes a hundred times better here), and thick chunks of pork. The vegetables here are fresh and the mango, in particular, is much better than on the mainland.

8. Swimming in the Pool

The Japanese like to keep by the rules. The pool is generally closed in winter, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Ken asked if we could take a dip anyway, and to my surprise, they said yes. No one else was hanging around the pool (25 degrees is hot for me, but I suppose not to everyone), so the pool was empty.

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This was a particularly special moment; my boyfriend asking the hotel staff if we could swim, and for us to be alone there, taking in the sea view and having a really refreshing dip before dinner.

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Almost the entire trip was fantastic, but these eight things were definitely the highlights. Getting away from the stress of the city was completely refreshing. I adore Tokyo, but I’d suffered from writer’s block and anxiety and didn’t realise how much I was feeling it until I had this very relaxing three-day trip to Okinawa. If you’re thinking of visiting this tropical prefecture, I highly recommend Ishigaki.

Peach Coca-Cola in Japan: Gross or Great?

I’d heard a bit about peach cola floating around in Japan. It’s just one of the many experimental flavours of drinks and the like that pop up now and then in the country. You’ll see crazy varieties of crisps, chocolate, alcohol, and soft drinks. I saw a bottle of peach cola in Daiso and grabbed a bottle.

Peach is quite a common flavour. You can get peace juice, peach soda, peach alcoholic drinks. What would peach cola be like?

I usually don’t drink cola unless it has whiskey in it, but I took a swig. At first it just tastes like regular cola, but the peach flavour comes afterward, at the top of your mouth. There is also a peachy aftertaste mixing with the usual slightly acidic sensation of coke.

I personally don’t think it’s that special. If you’re old enough to drink, you can get very similar peachy flavours with better drinks, such as peach horoyoi (3% alcohol). Though I suppose if you’re a huge fan of cola, it might be worth a try.

Basically, it tastes pretty much how you’d expect. Quite tasty, but nothing groundbreaking.

Yakiniku (Korean Barbecue) in Japan

It’s the weekend, and a national holiday on Monday! I’m getting geared up to spend the next three days killing dragons, hunting monsters, and reading books. Not necessarily in that order.

We had yakiniku for dinner, which is the local word for Korean barbecue. You get a grill at your table and order stuff to put on the fire. The meat is all cut thinly so that it cooks after just a minute or so.

Restaurants usually offer a tabehoudai (all-you-can-eat) course, but you generally don’t need it. The tabehoudai was around 3,400 yen but they had a set for two people for just 2,500 yen and it was more than enough.

They also had nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink) set, but you could only get it if you already ordered the tabehoudai. Therefore, we got just one bottle of sake and then ordered soft drinks to make our own mixed drinks. Forbidden? No. Cheeky? Maybe.

The set was ginormous, have a look. Please forgive the vertical shot though; I am not a clever man.

We also got a big bowl of rice, some sausages, and some kimchi, which is spicy Korean cabbage and one of my favourite foods ever. I remember going mental when I saw kimchi featured in an episode of QI.

It’s pretty much a meat lover’s dream. We had grilled kalbi beef and sausages and rice and kimchi and onion and carrot and pumpkin until we were full to burst. I also had juice with too much sake in and left the restaurant a little merry.

If you visit Japan, definitely be sure to try out “yakiniku.” It’s one of the best not-Japanese-but-kind-of-Japanese styles of eating you don’t want to miss 😀

Tokyo’s Blue Winter Sky

Day 38

I haven’t written anything in a few days because work has been really busy. Plus I spent most of last night playing Dragon Age Inquisition.

I was walking to work today when I noticed how beautifully blue the sky was. Winter here is dry and clear, with great views of Mt. Fuji. Even when the skyscrapers tower around you, you still see the perfect blue of the sky if you look up.

Look at that blue blue sky 💕 #Tokyo #Shibuya #winter #Japan #sky #渋谷 #冬

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A downside of a dry winter is that the country is prone to fires, although with modern heating systems and architecture and the like, it’s becoming less of a problem. It’s also easy to get dehydrated and chapped skin in this season.

Still, when I think about the dark, windy, rainy weather of winter back home, this blue blue blue sky isn’t so bad 😉

Pretty Yokohama

Day 29

Yesterday I met some people from university who I hadn’t seen for years. We went to Yokohama, the second biggest city in Japan and a short train ride away from Tokyo. Yokohama is relatively quiet, spacious for a Japanese city, and has an awesome Chinatown selling goods and food from (where else?) China. It also has a pretty big presence when Chinese New Year comes round in February.

The port is also really pretty and, like that day, we could see some ships getting ready to port. It’s much nicer on a sunny day but still made for a pretty impressive view.

We had lunch in Chinatown and then tucked into some coffee and pie at a cafe. It was a lot of sugar and calories but hey, it was a special day. We passed the small theme park, including the large Ferris wheel. It’s something which I always look at and think “that’s pretty,” while refusing to get on.

Pretty sunset

We did purikura, a photo booth where, as you can see, you can edit your photos after taking them. At just 100 yen each (400 yen per session), it wasn’t an expensive venture. LEP refers to the group we were in at university, and since it was 2012 since we all first met, we called that day the LEP Reunion.

Yokohama has a completely different vibe to Tokyo. In Yokohama, I always feel more relaxed with that “weekend feeling.” Still, I’ve never worked in Yokohama which is probably why. Still, everyone who has been to both cities would probably agree that Tokyo is the more hectic, if equally charming, of the two.

Oh, yeah. I also broke my shoe.

If you visit Tokyo, be sure to take a day trip to Yokohama, it’s a really cool place 🙂

A Trip on the Hogwarts Express

Day 25 [New Year’s Resolution]: A Trip on the Hogwarts Express

What’s your favourite childhood memory? A lot of the time, experiences from younger, more innocent times seem not only far away, but sort of magical because you know you’ll never get them back or feel that way again. One great memory I have is when my mum, her best friend Clarky, and my brother all got into the car one day. When we asked where we were going, they said it was a surprise.

This happened more often than you’d think. One time, we drove all the way down to Windsor to go to Legoland. Other times we’d go to bed on a normal night and wake up in the car park overlooking the pebbly shores of Portree for a surprise holiday on the Isle of Skye.

So when my brother and I got into the car at seven and nine years old, respectively (if I’m correct in thinking that this was 2002), we were pretty excited, making wild guesses all the way to York. I hadn’t been there before, but of course it would go on to be the city in which I went to university.

We arrived at York Station, and I remember thinking, even as a little kid, “why are we going to the train station when we just arrived by car?”

Our view was something like this:

Except there were a lot more people. Some, to mine and my brother’s bewilderment, were dressed as Harry Potter characters.

Then it happened. The scarlet steam train pulled up, so long I couldn’t see the end, and stopped before us. The exact train that takes Harry Potter to Hogwarts every year. The Wizard’s Express.

“Surprise!”

We went insane.

In short, the Wizard’s Express took us to Scarborough. We sat in a compartment, did a special Harry Potter quiz (I think only up to book four at that point), and bought a mass of Potter themed sweets, such as chocolate frogs, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, Acid Pops, and a ton more inside a little cauldron.

It was the best. Now when I look back at all the effort my mum and Clarky put into it – back then, we didn’t have a computer, so it’s likely they looked it up in a magazine or newspaper – spent their hard earned money on tickets, packed everything we needed and then took us there, it makes me so warm and happy inside.

It isn’t possible to do a trip like this now, which I think is for several reasons:

  • In 2002, Harry Potter was popular, but not the billion-dollar industry it is now.
  • Tickets for a trip like that would probably be hundreds of pounds and have years of waiting lists.
  • Another reason, as some of you might know, is that the actual Wizard’s Express currently only has two carriages and is at the National Railway Museum.

Even back then I was writing books, and I briefly had a story in progress that involved a school trip where the kids travel around the world on the Hogwarts Express, a sort of mixture between The Magic School Bus and a Jacqueline Wilson book.

That trip is still a hugely fond memory. No one else I knew had done it, and I never saw it advertised again after that. After The Prisoner of Azkaban movie came out in 2004, Harry Potter gained a massive following, so it wasn’t really special and personal anymore. That’s OK though, because as far as I’m concerned, only me, my brother, Mum, and Clarky, as well as a few other people who were there that day, have ever taken that magical journey from York to Scarborough and back on the Hogwarts Express.

Snow in Tokyo

Day 22 [New Year’s Resolution]: Snow in Tokyo

“INSTAGRAAAAAM!” a workmate of mine bellowed when our boss informed us that it was snowing.

Everyone gets excited at the first snowfall of the season. It was really only a matter of time before it hit Tokyo, but I don’t know if people were expecting it to come to suddenly or to stick for long.

Our boss sent us all home early and I’m really glad I did; the trains were packed and that wasn’t even during rush hour. But look how prettyyyy!

S N O W S N O W I N T O K Y O #tokyo #snow #Gakugeidaigaku #雪 #学芸大学

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Tokyo kind of shuts down if there’s even a bit of snow. Anticipating train delays was one of the reasons our boss sent us home. Luckily my train takes less than ten minutes, so if all went wrong we still could have walked. It was super packed and I ended up apologising profusely to some poor woman who probably had my laptop bag sticking into her stomach.

According to the news, the station near my workplace is incredibly crowded now – like, hundreds and hundreds of people are stuck waiting for the train. I hope they get home soon and safely.

のれぬ

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We got back to Gakugei-Daigaku and were cold and stressed, so naturally, we bought alcohol. I’m really grateful to have been sent home because waiting among other cold and tired workers at 8pm at night would not have been fun.

Have you got snow in your country yet?

Winter in Tokyo

Day 14 [New Year’s Resolution]: Winter in Tokyo

It’s really really really cold today. The snow has made things a bit mental in other prefectures; a train in Niigata was stopped for fifteen and a half hours, trapping over 400 people on board, and one or two elderly people have died because of collapsing houses under the snow.

Tokyo doesn’t have snow, thankfully, but it’s still pretty biting. Insulation here is awful, so if you don’t have the heater on, cold air penetrates your room whether you’re in a house, a block of flats, or the office.

It really makes me miss home. At least when it’s cold, you’ll feel the warmth as soon as you walk inside. Right now, we get inside our house and have to turn the heater on as soon as we walk in, waiting around fifteen minutes before it’ll heat up the room. Just that room. No central heating here.

エアコン・女性

Every time I feel like I hate winter, though, I remind myself of the cockroaches that found their way into our bathroom (not an infestation; there are just a lot of them around when it’s hot) last summer. Cockroaches are terrifying, so maybe cold fingers, and taking twenty minutes to get your bed warm at night is an acceptable alternative. Maybe.

At least I’m not dealing with snow. I shudder to imagine the amount of yuki gakki (snow shovelling) is going on near my old place up in Nagano Prefecture. Still, there are many great things about winter, too: hot beverages and soup inside vending machines, winter sports, heat-tech wear, winter illuminations, etc etc etc.

#Daikanyama #tokyo #illumination #christmas

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Bottom line is that it’s cold.