1 Year On - Japan 2014

So it's been exactly a year since I first went to Japan. To commemorate the event I put together a video showcasing some of the random footage I took whilst out there.
Feel free to share and like it!
Since that epic trip which I still reminisce on to this day (one year later!) I have undergone several changes in my life to try and continue some of the changes I had experienced whilst being in Japan.

My first and largest change was to get off the screen more. To do more things that involved not being in front of a computer. That led me to take woodworking classes for a few weeks (I hope to write up a post showcasing the stages of my wood working). Also I now regularly attend East Hill Bible College studying Systematic Theology which I find a very interesting and deeply engrossing subject.

Within a few days after arriving from Japan I realised how much I wanted to change my lifestyle. So I did a huge declutter of my room, chucking out old furniture and donating a tonne of stuff. Laid down new flooring, painted the walls brilliant white and then placed an order for some solid oak furniture in a Japanese style. I love my room now, its so bright and full of light and it makes me happy being in it.

Also, the company I worked for went through a set of redundancies, making some teams redundant, one of them being mine. Yet not a month after I was made redundant I was working on a project with them.

I also invested in a beginners piano course and picked up a used slimline piano/keyboard on eBay which I've been practicing ever since. In fact some of my goals have been to play certain pieces, difficult pieces and the fact that I've learned at least one of them offers much satisfaction. Here is a piano ghosting my playing.
My largest change is that I am now a Landowner, having just acquired a 5 acre plot of wild texas land a few days ago. There I hope to, over the next few decades, build a place that would bring back the beauty of Japan. I've acquired some Niwaki books (the art of tree shaping) and I have already started picking out trees to go on the land - I'll post up on that separately.

On top of the land I also decided to pursue the niche hobby of BJD collecting. Having picked one up in Japan I have investigated further into it and found several others that I found incredibly beautiful. Here is my travel one, Annabel, an Iplehouse K.I.D Irene.
Annabel my Iplehouse K.I.D Irene
I have started a website dedicated to showcasing them at Gift Colony.

Japan is still on my mind and I still want to go back. The next time I go back to Japan I will be prepared and will have bring enough money to commission a kimono for me. Also maybe a robot for Jose, we'll see. I wanted to go back this year though I won't be able to as my next stop will be Houston and my 5 acre plot which has no address. I wonder if I should call it after something in a book, like Rivendell or Valinor.

It's very difficult to say how much going to Japan has changed me from the person I was. I still speak Japanese a bit and I still watch shows in Japanese. I feel that since going I am a better person, a happier person. I find that the future is brighter, and full of light and hope. I will go back to Japan, it's a matter of when.

Shinjuku at Night

Day 22: Back to London UK - Bye Bye Japan!

Finally and sadly today we left Japan. We took the express bus to the airport at 6:15 and said bye to the super metropolis that is Tokyo and it's winding roads and towering buildings.

Shinjuku at Night, Tokyo Japan
Last Photo of Shinjuku

Thoughts of Japan

The trip has been very enjoyable and after so much travelling a long deserved rest and recuperation is what is needed. The plane was a 12 hour trip over Russia for an arrival time of 15:05 in the UK same day using British Airways. I ended up watching 5 films on the plane and no sleep mainly because the person behind me had legs that were far too long and kept hitting the back of my seat.

The weather was beautiful on arrival and blossoms everywhere and the difference between the two cities were markedly different. Tokyo a dense super metropolis and London is still a low rise suburban sprawl with the ability to see the sky to some degree still intact. Also contemporary architecture in London is markedly more beautiful than Tokyo from the traditional house to the high rise.

Still despite architectural preferences Japan's beauty lies in it's rolling hills, it's high mountains and in the detail taken to every task done. On exiting Heathrow airport I noticed there was just sky. No beautiful mountain peaks peeking above the tree line. Our own trees smaller and more straight, each one the same as the other unlike the tall curved trees that are gently nurtured in Japan.

I feel we will go back to Japan to see those mountain peaks once more. To travel the wide stretches between the cities. To see new sights and to wander roads not wandered. To find the unusual and the beautiful in the most ordinary of things. As Bilbo from Lord of the Rings once said "I want to see mountains again, Gandalf. Mountains!".  Having tasted travelling how can I be limited to the size of my screen once more? I had played Skyrim on the PS3 before we left and traversing a fictional realm via horse back across rivers and plains and over mountains akin to that you would find in Japan I felt very satisfying (despite the lack of hard work involved!) I don't think Skyrim will be enough though. I know there are mountains in Europe as well but I sense the mountains that are further away are the most satisfying. Satisfying because they are far away and the excitement lies in the journey not just in the destination.


Takeshitadori Harajuku

Day 21: Last Day in Tokyo - Akihabara and Harajuku

The last day in Tokyo and so much left to see. We decided to spend the day running around Akihabara and Harajuku as these were the places we felt we had to see if we could see nothing else before we left Japan.

Main street in Akihabara
Main street in Akihabara

First stop we went to Akihabara via the JR line from Shinjuku station. Akihabara described in one word would be "vibrant". The colours, objects, streets, buildings. It's as if someone decided to splash colour everywhere.

anime figures akihabaraa
inside one of the many collector stores in Akihabara

Near Akihabara station there are a lot of stores with 6 floors or more filled with merchandise for various anime, manga and games. From old style Dragonball Z to newer anime that I've never heard of these stores have just about everything and would take a long time to cover completely.

Robot Shop Akihabara
Finally we found a robot shop in Akihabara!

Somehow out of the blue, Jose managed to spot a Robot Shop on the 6th floor of one of these buildings from the outside. It had the latest robots and parts ranging from a few thousand yen to hundreds of thousands of yen (£30 - £1500). It had been one of our goals to see a robot and whilst we saw one at AnimeJapan this one was actually purchasable.

Collector anime dolls akihabara
Different variations of these collector dolls exist

We also found many doll collector shops and I have no idea how my fascination with these dolls began but it was great to see the variety of dolls and various accessories and outfits for them.

An Aerial view of Harajuku
An Aerial view of Harajuku

After Akihabara we dropped off stuff at our hotel and headed on to Harajuku, the home of modern fashion in Tokyo. The streets were packed with hundreds of people, an endless multitude, traversing the main streets.

Tokyu Plaza Harajuku
Tokyu Plaza hosts tonnes of designer gear

Tokyu Plaza (that's correct, Tokyu!) is fashion designer central and has a beautiful mirrored ceiling that changes what you see as you move up the escalator and it's absolutely beautiful and probably very difficult to clean! Still it's something that you don't see and it was wonderful to see it.

takeshita-dori-Harajuku teen fashion culture
The home of Harajuku's teen fashion culture

Takeshita Dori (Takeshita Street) can be accessed straight from the station and is full of various shops including places that sell Lolita outfits (in Japanese sizes only!) In fact their size system sets 4XL as a size 14 in the UK or something, not sure but their biggest size is smaller than the western sizes. They do have a tonne of cute clothes though!

Overall a good last day spent in Tokyo. Very productive and very long day. Today we used up the last of our yen on food and a few trinkets.

Day 20: On to Tokyo and Ghibli Museum

Today we said goodbye to Kanazawa to head back to Tokyo. The train station is enormous and I think that it must be a northern hub even though there are no direct trains to Tokyo. We took an express to Maibara where we then changed on to the Shinkansen. Thankfully the weather was beautiful!

Kanazawa Station is really big and modern

Once we were on the Shinkansen we got to see Mount Fuji again and the train wasn't crowded. The journey took roughly about 4 and a half hours.

We saw mount fuji again on the way to Tokyo

Once we got to Shinjuku we headed to the hotel and dropped off our bags before running out again to catch a train to go visit the Ghibli Museum. The museum is about a 20 minute walk from the station and is a very strange building. The whole thing is designed not to be square but very curvy. with various levels and roof terraces. Sadly it's forbidden to take photos inside (I've noticed this in a lot of Japanese places, even the shops!)

Inside Studio Ghibli Museum

Whilst the museum was cool it was far too crowded! It actually reminded me how much I dislike crowds but it is to be expected in a popular place like this. Despite this the exhibitions were beautiful and it turns out there are a lot of references to British culture within the artwork. From the hills of Scotland to the small towns and villages dotted across the countryside. It was very cluttered in a very beautiful way.

A giant iron robot that is in the film Castle in the Sky
view from Shinjuku station
Heading out of Shinjuku station

After we left the museum we headed on to Shinjuku once more. Here we walked around and tried to find something to eat before crashing out for the evening.


Day 19: Ninja Temple and the Geisha District

This morning we went to visit the ninja temple in Kanazawa also known as Ninjyadera. Despite it's name it actually has nothing to do with ninjas. The reason why it is known as the ninja temple is because even though there are only 3 floors there are seven layers. The entire place is a maze of stairs, secret passage ways, trap doors and hidden alcoves. A total of 23 rooms and 29 stairways contributed in making this place architecturally beautiful even though it lacks in other aspects. The various secrets it hides, the various access points to views never seen anywhere else. It is a little how I imagined my own house that I wish to build to be.

The entrance to Ninjyadera Temple also known as Myoruji.
The entrance to Ninjyadera Temple also known as Myoruji.

Inside the temple we were taken on a guided tour in Japanese (no English available except for a booklet). Photos are also forbidden inside.

Can you guess where the trick door is in Ninjyadera?
Can you guess where the trick door is in Ninjyadera?

Once we were out of the temple and walking around locally I also found investigated this wall a bit more closely. We see the formation for the castle bases and some residences and in general they tend to be very beautiful.

These walls are seen everywhere from castles to everyday houses.
These walls are seen everywhere from castles to everyday houses.

After a brief respite from the cold and rain we headed towards the Kutani Pottery Kiln. A place whose owner is currently the 5th generation of the family to be looking after the place. They had many beautiful samples that took months to make and showed the process of making these beautiful pieces.

Kutani Pottery Kosen Kiln

From here we took a taxi from the nearby train station to the castle entrance. To try and keep warm we ate some yummy hot cooked beef from this beef seller.

Hot beef seller, the beef was yummy.
Hot beef seller, the beef was yummy.

Whilst munching away we came across a wedding procession with the bride in her silver white uchikake kimono.

We were lucky to encounter a traditional Japanese Wedding enroute to the Cherry Blossoms by Kanazawa Castle
We were lucky to encounter a traditional Japanese Wedding enroute to the Cherry Blossoms by Kanazawa Castle

After a quick rock paper scissors match we took Jose's route to Kanazawa castle. The wind blew really hard and despite the mountain fleece I was quickly very cold.

Beautiful Cherry Blossoms surrounded Kanazawa Castle
Beautiful Cherry Blossoms surrounded Kanazawa Castle

Luckily for me the sun came out and warmed me up a little. Enough to take this photo at least. The cherry blossoms really are beautiful and there are so many of them!

Where I bought my beautiful hand painted teacup.
Where I bought my beautiful hand painted teacup.

We wandered in and out some of the shops in this area looking at the various pieces of pottery. I got myself a small tea cup though I saw a really cool tea pot. Sadly I can't bring back too much stuff with me!

The District where the Geisha would live and perform

From the castle we walked to the Geisha district to visit an Okiya where the geisha used to live and perform. It functions as a small museum now and sadly no photos are allowed inside except for mobiles (which I don't understand). I'll post the mobile phone photos later when I get back to the UK.


Day 18: Through the mountains towards Kanazawa

We left Takayama on the 11:00 train which would take us to Toyama. From Toyama we would then catch a train to Kanazawa. I know there was so much we didn't see in Takayama and somethings I had wanted to see. I don't think I prepared myself for the Japanese alps well enough however. One mountain fleece may keep my core warm but it's definitely not windproof and leggings don't do the trick either! I should have invested in some warm joggers.

A small town in Japan with lots of rice planted everywhere
A small town with lots of farmland everywhere

The train ride towards Toyama was beautiful. Our train travelled over rivers, through mountains and sometimes along the mountain side. We saw whole towns covered with farm land though I have no idea what they were farming. As we sped past them I thought it was rice but seeing the images now I don't think it is.

A large rural house between Takayama and Kanazawa against a mountain in Japan
A large rural house between Takayama and Kanazawa

We passed by many beautiful houses. Some huge and some very small. They were a mix of old and new buildings. Most were in the traditional Japanese style.

A small house with a rice paddy in the back yard in japan's mountains
A small house with a paddy in the back yard
There are many beautiful rivers in Japan
There are many beautiful rivers in Japan

With mountains surrounding us on every side it felt like we were on a giant mountain plateau. High up in the alps it's easy to imagine this place cut off with snow. The water was a deep turquoise and clear even as it frothed and spilled over rocks.

A small beautiful town in Japan
A small beautiful town in Japan

Many of the trees seem to be evergreens in Japan and I think the ones that aren't are probably the ones that turn the beautiful shades of red and yellow during autumn. I think it would be wonderful to visit this place in Autumn. If it weren't for how cold I suspect this place to get I think it might be a great place to live in fact!

So many beautiful scenes

I really enjoyed the view from Takayama to Toyama. Once we had changed on to the train towards Kanazawa though the view seemed more of a cityscape and less rural. Kanazawa itself feels like a modern city on arrival though parts of it cling to old tradition. I'll cover Kanazawa more in the next post. You can also read about Jose's thoughts on Kanazawa here


Day 17: Shopping in Takayama!

Today we skipped our usual routine of running around town trying to see everything. Although Takayama has lots to see the combined stormy weather with freezing cold wind and my lack of super warm clothing meant I didn't want to stay out too long.

takayama street
This street runs right though town from the Yamakyu to the train station

From Yamakyu we walked to the main shopping area. It's possible to walk around the whole town if you don't mind the hilly nature of it so much. Whilst we were walking we came across many antique shops with expensive antiques inside. Even the smallest of trinkets were near £100 by themselves! There are also many French looking stores with French names which I think are to cater to French tourists.

takayama shopping street
The main street in Takayama

We wandered down to the main high street and there were many shops, some meant for tourists, others not so much I think. We went into one and I tried talking to the lady owner about her goods and found out that the goods in her shop are made in China and the goods made in Japan are much more expensive. It made me real think about the effect it has on the Japanese economy, being to close to an economic giant like China.

Graffiti street-art--takayama Japan
Graffiti Art / Wall Art in Takayama

Down one of the side roads I saw this and whilst I haven't seen any gang graffiti this is a different kind of art and still tagged with a signature. I think it's cute and have been looking for art here since we arrived though not the museum type, more local art.

The Kokeshi Doll I picked up from the toy shop in Takayama

My first Kokeshi Doll! I picked her up at the toy store. I have seen many Kokeshi Dolls since travelling to Japan, most tend to have similar aspects. Though this was the first green one I have seen since we have been here. Her hair reminds me of the bamboo forest we visited back in Kyoto's Arashiyama. She looks so pretty!

Hamburger sweet gifts from Center 4 Hamburgers
Hamburger sweet gifts we got from Center 4 Hamburgers

Finally when the storm was starting up again we headed back to Center 4 Hamburgers once more for a last Hida Burger. It was delicious and the lady gave us small hamburger sweets for coming back. These hamburgers are so cute!

The misty mountains of Takayama

Day 16: The long road to Takayama

This morning we said good bye to Kyoto though I think we will go back again some day. If just to get my custom kimono made! I’ve also figured out my family crest with a little help from a Japanese crest book which I picked up in Kyoto. I haven’t drawn it out yet but I have the idea mostly solid except for the sword detail and type of sword. I may post a sketch of it later (providing I create a sketch).

From Kyoto we took the 8:31 Hida Limited Express which took us straight from Kyoto to Takayama in just under 4 hours. The journey was pleasant with sunshine, no rain and beautiful scenery passing by of rivers running around mountains. The train itself rain by many of those rivers and also through many of the mountains. Towards the end of the train journey the train started to gently climb some of these mountains until we reached Takayama which sits approximately 550m above sea level.

After we dropped off our bags at the hotel we decided to run around the town and have a look around. We found a toy shop that sold dolls in kimono which I was so happy about as I had been looking for one ever since Tokyo but in all the places we have visited I have visited so far this is the only place that I've found that sells this particular type. I know there are tonnes of dolls out here and they are all super expensive but I'm glad I got to see this one at least. The price for this one was around £300.

Kimono doll in Takayama
Kimono doll in Takayama
Takayama from above as the sun set
one of the many streams that run throughout the city


Day 15: Nara and Fushimi Inari Jinja in Kyoto

Nara, like much of Japan, surprised me by how modern it is. The various heritage sites are actually set separately in large grounds surrounded by high-rises and the like. On the grounds reside wild sika deer who have become accustomed to humans descending on mass to these sites. They have also become accustomed to humans feeding them, taking photos of them and petting them.

A baby deer getting used to the wild tourists coming over to pet him.
A baby deer getting used to the wild tourists coming over to pet him.

Further in past the main gate which houses giant wooden guardians is Todaiji. We didn't go inside however we it was interesting to see the building exterior and the ground it sat on.

Todaiji whilst not the largest wooden building is certainly huge
Todaiji whilst not the largest wooden building is certainly huge

Before heading back to Kyoto we stopped by Inari Jinja which has something close to 10,000 torii gates that head up a 4km path into the mountain. We only went the first 1000 or so gates as the sun had already set and hunger drove us back to Kyoto. It was interesting though.

Inari Jinja is most famous in the West for it's appearance in Memoirs of a Geisha
Inari Jinja is most famous in the West for it's appearance in Memoirs of a Geisha

We'll be heading out to Takayama in 20 minutes so I have to keep this short. Mata ne!

Day 14: Traditional Japanese Arts, Geisha, Maiko and the Miyako Odori

Today we went to the Maiko dress up experience. I was prepped like a Maiko and Jose was prepped in traditional mens kimono. The Maiko outfit has layers upon layers of clothes all strapped, clipped and tied together. It's so elaborate and beautiful their kimono but it is also quite heavy and when you combine it with the wigs and the hair ornaments and restricted movement, you can see how much effort the Maiko and Geiko put into walking as gracefully as they do. (The geisha use their own hair).

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Still it was a fun experience. I noticed they missed some aspects which I saw later on it the geisha performances but the time it took to prepare was well over an hour. To do every preparation would take even longer.

Afterwards we went to Gion to go watch the Miyako Odori. Before we sat down in our seats we had tea ceremony with the maiko and geiko. They performed it beautifully. However the amount of tourists standing up and taking photos it was like the paparazzi. They did very well to stay calm and not get too startled by all the flashes. I managed to take one beautiful shot before several tourist heads started bobbing endlessly in front of me.

A close up of maiko called Katsusen - 佳つ扇 prepped for her tea ceremony.
A close up of a maiko called Katsusen - 佳つ扇 prepped for her tea ceremony.
real maiko at a tea ceremony
This is what a real Maiko looks like, poised, elegant and ever so graceful.

We finally went inside and the lavishness of it all reminded me somewhat of Her Majesty's Theatre which performs Phantom of the Opera though only in lavishness. The style of it of the Gion theatre is all Japanese though.

The inside of the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theatre

As the lights dimmed somewhat and many attendants prowled the aisles with "no photo" and "no mobile" signs. I waited in anticipation when suddenly blinding light shone at the sides of the the theatre and curtains sprung up and there are the geisha sitting with their instruments. On the other side of the theatre there are I believe the school instructors who sing and play also. Then more geisha file out through a curtain and the music is absolutely beautiful. Watching them and the occasional yips and yo's from the side they glide and stamp their way to the main stage. It was a wonderful performance!

Walking down Gion there are some areas which look like they haven't changed in a hundred years.

Walking down Gion in the evening we saw the area come alight and life and I was reminded that this area was for the wealthier with meals starting at 10,000 yen (£60) in many places. Jose kept looking for Ramen even though I explained that we wouldn't find ramen here.

We stumbled across this small museum, which turned out to be a woodblock printers residence.

We walked further out and stumbled onto this great sign. It was so great, I figured I'd go in and with my limited Japanese had a small conversation with the owner. He was kind enough to give us some of his artwork (nothing too big!) Today was a truly good day and I hope to see more like it.

master ukiyoe printer
Here is the master printer and he explains that the prints are the work of 3 people. Artist, carver and printer