unallersimple: (japan poster)
Read part one by clicking here.

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I had a great time with Yoriko and her family. Though it was only two days, it was wonderful to be in a real family home again rather than a smelly single apartment. They did my washing, made me meals and insisted that they take me to hospital to get my eczema checked out. They went to a great trouble with everything too, not just making me meals but making sure they used the Peter Rabbit crockery to put the food on! I'm so lucky to have such wonderful friends.

My second day in Yokohama, after seeing Landmark Tower and experiencing the earthquake, was a really lovely day. After the typhoon had passed the sun shone. The weather was perfect for strolling around Sankei-en Park; a huge and beautiful garden with traditional Japanese buildings in the grounds. The park had a scheme where you could get a free badge if you visited the buildings and got a stamp from each one on your leaflet. We eagerly completed the challenge to make sure we got one. What a great way to keep small children (and people like ourselves!) entertained. What a great way to encourage visitors to see everything too.







Yoriko's grandmother lives just a few minutes walk from the gardens so we strolled over for tea and biscuits that afternoon. Before we went in I learned a little about her. "She's a very cool person." Yoriko told me. "She lived in Yokohama for many many years. She's seen many things, for example, war and many foreign people. So she's used to foreigners." I couldn't wait to meet her, and she was of course absolutely wonderful. So friendly and welcoming. Before we went out to eat she even let us kip on the living room for an hour or so because we were both so tired! I was also impressed when Yoriko told her about a gay friend of mine, and she didn't even batter an eyelid. That's seriously cool for an elderly person in Japan! (Here most people don't really have a concept of being gay, let alone a tolerance or acceptance of it. You can spend time having sex with men in saunas or love hotels...but you must get married and have kids eventually.) I even had the chance to make the "homodachi" joke! (Homo + the japanese word for friend which is tomodachi.)

We went to eat at a Japanese restaurant and spent hours talking. I really enjoyed it. I could understand most of what her grandmother said and realised proudly how much my Japanese has improved since I saw Yoriko last year. It was also really nice to see and spend time with a grandmother again. I really miss my own who have been long gone. I'd forgotten how good it is, how healing it is to be welcomed by friendly family folk. I was really touched by her kindness.



^Yoriko & Grandmother


^Tasty sashimi (raw fish) and of course don't forget the beer in the background!

When we arrived back at Yoriko's house we found her parents checking out old family videos which had recently been converted to DVD. We sat down together and watched parties and family gatherings, laughing at the clothes they used to wear and how everyone looked so young.

I was so touched when Yoriko's mother said I was like a third daughter. (Even though we've only met twice hahaha, guess I made a good impression!) I told her I would love to have her as my Japanese mum. I'm hoping to catch up with the family again when I'm back in that end of Japan when I fly home for Christmas. What a great bunch.

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unallersimple: (onsen)
I really enjoyed my first ever trip to Yokohama. I met Yoriko at the station the day after Summer Sonic and we went to check out the sights. The city has a wonderful atmosphere to it. A feel of Japan combined with sea, ships and foreigness. The city is one of the most important ports in Japan. It was here that Matthew Perry (The commodore, not the guy who played Chandler in Friends!) arrived in 1853 with warships demanding that Japan open up its ports and trade with the rest of world. This was the event that ended centuries of isolation and marked the start of the country's modernization and industrialization. The city has a high percentage of foreign populations such as Koreans and Chinese as well as a lot of US military personel from nearby army bases.


^Sadly my first day was one of the cloudest I've ever seen, but the attractions still looked impressive. Here is the WW2 Hikawa Ship and the huge ferris wheel known as Cosmo Clock in the background.

The highlight for me was Landmark Tower. It's the tallest building in Japan and the views from the top are amazing. We went during the day and stayed long enough to watch the light fade and see the city at night. The observatory deck was full of tanks displaying fish and other creatures from the ocean which was an unexpected surprise but a great idea as it meant the views were stunning inside and out. The tanks were so beautifully lit they seemed magical.


^ Here are some "Doctor Fish" that nibble away at the dead skin on your hands. It's a freaky, gentle, tickly feeling!





^For a long time we were worried that we would be able to see Mt Fuji because of the clouds but at twilight they finally parted to give us a glimpse.






Click <a href="http://unallersimple.livejournal.com/63827.html">here</a> for part two.

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unallersimple: (japan poster)


You can find parts one and two of this trip to Kyoto by clicking here and here.




On my last day in Kyoto I saw another of the city's most famous sites; the Golden Pavilion.


^ Sadly it rained all day on the Monday!

If anybody has ever seen an international gardening show featuring things from Japan, you may have come across Ryoan-Ji before. I remember seeing it on a Dan Cruickshank program a few years ago. This temple is well known for it's zen garden. To our eyes it appears to be nothing more than a yard of gravel with 15 rocks thrown in. However, there is of course more to it than that. All of the rocks have been very cleverly placed so that where ever you sit to view the garden, only 14 of the rocks can be seen. Apparently you'll be able to see all 15 when you've reached enlightenment. The more I think about it, the more amazing I find it. It's astonishing.




On Monday evening I had my first yaki niku restaurant experience. A yaki niku (grilled meat) restaurant is one where you have a gas cooker and grill embedded in your table. After making your order the raw meat is brought to your table along with some rice, vegetables and drinks and all you have to do is chuck it on the grill. For a British person, this can seem lazy, weird and a little scary. Why don't they cook the meat before serving it? What the hell is that in the table!? Woah big flame there! You want me to pick up that piece of beef on the grill with wooden chopsticks!?

Once you get used to this style of restaurant it's really fun. You can grill whatever meat or vegetables you want and then dip it in a variety of tasty sauces. It's a wonderful winter warmer. If anyone comes to visit - I'll certainly take them to a yaki niku restaurant for this unique experience.


^ Fire!


^ Chopstick fight!

Yoriko caught the train after the meal and my night bus home left Kyoto at 11.30. I was kept company by Regina who had also been in the area. She deserves a big shout out here because she ran a marathon that weekend! Respect. Major respect.

I rode my bike home at around 6.30 on Monday morning, showered, got dressed then cycled on to school. There I had a class first period which started off with something along the lines of, “ermmm I just got back from Kyoto! What are we doing today?” It was from that experience that I learned never to return from traveling the same morning as work starts!


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unallersimple: (japan poster)
My post about my first day in Kyoto in November 2008 can be found here.

On the first night of our trip we went to a special "light up" event at kiyomizu temple (its name means pure water). It's one of Kyoto's most famous places and one of the city's biggest tourist attractions for both Japanese people and foreigners. It was a rare opportunity to see the temple beautifully lit up at night while it is surrounded by colourful Autumn leaves. So many had come to visit the temple that people were employed for crowd and traffic control. It was such an amazing sight to see people queuing around the temple and all the way down the street just to get in. Once we bought our tickets and made it inside the grounds, we couldn't even walk around because it was so full. We had to just shuffle slowly and be carried along with the crowds. In the grounds some people went inside the temple buildings to pray. Others waited in line to buy a piece of paper with their fortune on or bought a token to bring good fortune to a certain area of their life such as health or relationships. Everybody took photos.




^ People waiting in line to take a picture of Kyoto and the Autumn leaves below.

That evening Kayo left for her home town and I spent the night in Yoriko's family's apartment with her and her parents. It was my first Japanese home stay and my first time to sleep in a bed for months. I can't tell you how much I miss sleeping in a bed. I'm used to sleeping on my futon at home now, so I thankfully no longer try to get out of bed end up rolling around on the floor instead. But it's just not the same as what I've grown up with and while it's ok, it's not as comfortable. As a result any chance I get to snooze above the ground is a happy moment. It's funny how one of the defining moments of the trip is not seeing the amazing temples or eating scrummy food but the simple experience of sleeping in a bed.

The next day we set off for fushimi inari taisha. This is a huge shrine filled with thousands upon thousands of red gateways (called torii in Japanese) which line a trail of several kilometers around a mountain. The shrine is where you can go to pray for wealth, and the torii have been donated by hundreds of different people over the years. At the base and at several points along the trail there are various shrine buildings and statues to pray at. It's so beautiful and enjoyable to amble around. Yoriko showed me how to write a wish on a wooden block covered in paper. After drawing a face of a fox on one side and writing on the other, you tie it to the side of a building with a huge bell inside. Then you throw money inside under the bell, clap your hands twice and bow.




* So many!

We drew the face of a fox because it's one of the symbols of fushimi inari taisha snd two statues of foxes are placed at the beginning of every section. They are often carved holding a key in their mouths, which represents the key for the rice store. Legend has it that the spirits of these ghosts can possess people by entering their body under their fingernails, which I of course don't believe, but I made sure I didn't touch any of the fox statues when we were walking round anyway!




That afternoon we saw several families celebrating a Japanese festival called shichi-go-san. These three words just mean 7, 5 and 3 and the festival occurs every November for families to celebrate their children's life at the ages of, yep you guessed it, 3, 5 and 7 years old. However, it is only boys who are five and girls who are three and seven that take part. Families take their children to a shrine to pray for a safe, healthy and happy life, and many like the one I photographed below wear traditional clothes for the occasion.



Kyoto is so famous for its abundance of old temples that many visitors seem to end up doing little else in a bid to cover all the must-sees. I fell into that trap a little too as the rest of the day was spent seeing yet more temples, but they were all amazingly beautiful and we stopped for some rest and green tea in our last temple of the day. The guy in the photo with me and Yoriko is one of her friends from university. By a wonderful and weird co-incidence we bumped into him on the train the day before and invited him to join us. Like many Japanese people I have met, he was kind and generous and often paid for my tickets and drinks so quickly I didn't even have time to read the prices!


^ Here you can see that in Japan green tea is consumed from a bowl in traditional settings.

ETA click here for Part Three.

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unallersimple: (rainbow walking)
A few weekends ago I went to Kyoto to meet up with Yoriko. Do you remember her? We both danced in the international party at university together and she came to visit my hometown in July this year. Now it was my turn to be her guest in her country. I was really looking forward to it and it was only the second trip outside of my area. I'd wanted to go to Kyoto for so long!

It was a five hour bus ride there from Matsue, (the main island of Japan is bigger than the UK) but it certainly didn't feel like that long. The views from the raised highways in Japan are beautiful. Most of Japan is not populated because the country is too mountainous. Around 80% of Japan is made up of the things. That is why the population density is so high in places like Tokyo; located in one of the few flat areas of Japan millions of people are crammed into one of the few areas that they can build a city in. Urbanization means that only 1 in 4 Japanese people still live in the countryside now. You can see what the space in between the cities looks like below.





We also drove past Mt Daisen, the tallest mountain in the Chugokku region of Japan. It takes about three hours to climb to the top and is covered in snow during the winter months. Another beautiful sight to see on the journey there.



I knew arriving in Kyoto would be a shock to me because I live in one of the most rural areas of Japan. I imagined it would be like when I saw London for the first time and was absolutely terrified, especially when it was time to ride on the Tube. But despite visiting big cities before I was still shocked by the amount of people, the size of the buildings and the amount of foreigners in Kyoto. I'm used to not seeing any when I go out and here there are thousands of non-Japanese living, working or visiting. You can also walk for 40 minutes around Kyoto's main train station, above and below ground and not walk in the same place twice. You wouldn't even cover half of it. Not fun when you get lost inside, or when you are trying to find which locker you left your bag in!

When me, Yoriko and Kayo, (another friend from Japan who studied at UEA), finally found each other we set off to explore. Our first stop was Nishi Hongan-Ji, a huge Buddhist temple built in 1591. Sadly the temple buildings were either under restoration or were too big to be able to take a decent photograph of. But I did managed to capture a crowd of people leaving after a service:



When you visit a temple in Japan, you *must* take your shoes off before starting to walk up the wooden steps outside. Here's me and Kayo, and if you look behind us you can see some people about to put their shoes back on.



Inside the floor is all tatami mats. People kneel on the mats to pray to the shrines at the front. Kayo took an action shot of me and Yoriko praying.



After visiting the temple we wondered around a huge food market called Nishiki Market. Yoriko and Kayo told me what some of the mysterious food was and gave me lots of things to taste. I tried eating a snack of sour, salty seaweed and ate tofu doughnuts for the first time.


^Huge blocks of seaweed.


^Enjoying tofu doughnuts...that are too hot!

Soon it was time for tea so we stopped off at a nearby restaurant. I remember when I went for meals with my Japanese friends in England they would always take photos of the food so I thought I'd do the same!


^On the back row, eel on the left and raw fish on the right. On the front row a bowel of rice, some vegetables I have yet to indentify, some soy sauce and some mizo soup. Mizo soup is a very thin and watery soup with things like meat, seafood, vegetables or tofu added in depending on the type of soup you have.


^Yummy food. :)


ETA Parts Two and Three have now been posted.


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