japan | nara, the city of deer

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I am feeling black and white photos lately. Anyway…

We arrived in Nara to a marching band. We couldn’t figure out what the purpose was but it was quite fun to be accompanied down the road for a while.

Basically if you find yourself in Kyoto take a day-trip to Nara because … DEER! There are hundreds of deer that roam the city that are mostly friendly if a bit cheeky and they are big fans of the crackers you can buy (ie you will be running away from them as they try and take them from you). Plus you can find a fair number of World Heritage Sites. After a deer ate our map (oops) I think we only worked our way to one. A temple which is the biggest wooden building in the world and that had a rather large bronze buddha.

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There were lots of tourists in town but it didn’t take away from the charm of the place. Also I did do a bit of souvenir shopping from one shop on the main road from the station to the old town which had the most awesome things.

p.s. don’t you think the deer antlers look a little like pretzels …

japan | the quiet side of tokyo

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I was nervous about Tokyo. We were going from our 200,000 population town to a city with 28 MILLION PEOPLE! My mind just couldn’t get around that. I was eventually able to manage it mostly without getting lost too often in the crazy massive metro stations (I’m sure there were 200,000 people in our nearest metro station at one time). I did find that I enjoyed the quieter sides of the city more than what seemed like a shopping crazy obsessed city. So if you are not too concerned with spending all your money and you are also interested in the quieter side of Tokyo here are my suggestions.

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Yanaka

Admittedly this neighbourhood was mentioned in our Rough Guide guidebook and from the internet it seems like on a weekend it can get crazy busy. This neighbourhood is about the only part in Tokyo that was saved from an earthquake in the 30s and WWII damage and so is ‘old style’ Japan. I probably would have visited at another time as when we went on a Wednesday morning most of the shops and restaurants were closed and it was more just a pleasant wander through a nice neighbourhood. Also it was about as hot as the surface of the sun and not much shade so I now totally get why the Japanese ladies all carry an umbrella with them all the time.

One place that was open was a little bakery/cafe which made delicious ice-tea and delicious ‘fusion’ type bake goods with a Frenchy feel but definitely with Japanese flavours.

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This one street in Shibuya: Kamiyamacho

Shibuya is the ‘shop yourself crazy’ area of Tokyo with several malls which are just H.U.G.E. Like seven stories of mall! However, if you start walking towards Yoyogi Park you find Kamiyamacho street. Along the road you will find some beautiful little shops,an independent publishing bookshop and a Monocle shop which I was hoping would have coffee but didn’t.

However, we did find the one decent coffee that we had in Japan at a Norwegian coffee shop that makes Italian coffee called Fuglen.

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Yoyogi Park

Just a nice quiet place to walk around and gather your thoughts while watching the Japanese be Japanese. Playing basketball, reading the newspaper, cycling by.

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Mori Art Museum

I really enjoyed seeing contemporary art curated in a Japanese gallery. The Japanese aesthetic really came through in particular in this exhibition on Form and Shape which I really enjoyed. If you like art I would suggest heading to this gallery as you can also get a view of Japan from the 52nd floor.

Other bits

Sky High Juice bar did some great smoothies. It is a little bit out of the way but we really needed a vegetable and fruit hit.

I would fully recommend our airbnb.

Itoya stationery store in Ginza is amazing. Seven floors!

japan | i caught a sunset

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Just a late night post because I am editing pictures of Japan and this was our first sunset that we spotted – through the buildings (because Tokyo is pretty flat and there are a lot of high rises).

Also love their cabs, although we obviously didn’t get one.

read ’em and eat

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I can’t believe it is nearly August! Even though we are still on ‘holiday’ we are back home and I am trying to get back into routines, starting to plan for the coming months, getting back to some semi-regular blogging and start preparing for the course I will be teaching next year (which involves amongst other things the book hiding under my kindle there).

So in honour of the getting back to blogging here is a ‘read ’em and eat’.

read ’em

Off the internet I have just finished reading 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I had only read Murakami’s short stories After the Quake before and his writing and story telling is a bit different from what I usually read. This book is looonnnnggg (it took me two weeks to read including full days of reading sitting on the beach) but I did enjoy it in the end. It has a touch of the magical realism which I am a big fan of. The Guardian has an in-depth review if you want to find out more before committing to it.

On the internet:

I have been having gazpacho almost every day this week because there is no way I am cooking in the heat. If I can find some yellow tomatoes this version might start making rounds.

Honour your limits has me thinking.

On Instagram I just started following: the cutest bunny you will ever see and the dictionary of obscure sorrows which is words instead of pictures but beautifully written and although I am not one to lean towards sorrow it is necessary to appreciate joy.

eat

After a month away from our blender I am loving having smoothies back. I am trying to up the veggie quotient in them and a smoothie we had in a town in Japan inspired me. Yellow peppers.

Ingredients: one cubes frozen spinach | one banana (frozen if you have) | one yellow pepper | one nectarine (or other stone fruit) | handful sunflower seeds | scoop hemp protein | water and ice

Blend and serves two generous portions.

Do you have any secret veggie suggestions?

japan in short

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Japan. A mythical land far away that came to life for us over the two weeks we were there.

Before I go into any detail posts I thought I would just share some summary thoughts and layout our itinerary that we followed.

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We spent 14 nights in Japan which went a little like this:

  • We arrived in Tokyo at 6 am on a Monday morning. We spent four nights in the big city in the Ikebukuro neighbourhood. Ikebukuro is the second busiest station in Tokyo but we stayed about 15 minutes walk from the station in what seemed like a quiet suburban area.
  • We then took the train to Takayama which is much calmer and has an old town which is has been preserved and was really beautiful. We spent two nights in a traditional hotel for our anniversary. As a bonus, the train ride to Takayama is absolutely beautiful through the mountains.
  • Next up was Hiroshima for 1 night. This was a very interesting place to visit and I quite liked the town. In retrospect I would have spent 2 nights to do a daytrip to another nearby town which we missed. Also I would have gone to Kyoto first as the travel times would have made more sense.
  • Then we were in Kyoto for 5 nights. I LOVED Kyoto. It is a much more ‘human sized’ city than Tokyo and we stayed in a convenient neighbourhood for sight-seeing and exploring and just living.
  • Finally we spent two nights in Osaka (as we were flying out of Osaka). In my opinion Osaka felt more like a town that you live in than you go to on holiday.

The Japanese Rail Pass is really worth it and easy to use. We got a 7 days pass that we used from leaving Tokyo. We then only had to buy a single ticket from Kyoto to Osaka at the end of our trip. You have to order the Pass in advance but it was couriered to us and when we were ready to start using it we just went to the station and it took about 25 minutes to exchange.

Some other short thoughts:

  • Japanese people are really the most polite, helpful and friendly people.
  • June/July (also known as the rainy season) is probably not the best time to visit. It is HUMID!
  • As you can see from the pictures above the landscape is pretty varied from urban jungles to mountains and a lot of rice paddies in between.
  • Getting up a little early means you miss the crowds. We rarely felt like we were shuffling along with the tourist crowds which was quite refreshing.
  • I could have spent a fortune. Be warned! Japan is full of beautiful, well made and lovely things.
  • Matcha might be a trendy item at the moment but you can keep your matcha lattes and matcha cakes for yourself.
  • Maybe it was because we hadn’t done enough research but it was quite hard eating out (or even shopping) as a vegetarian. It was just difficult to tell what was totally vegetarian and we did have a couple incidents of meat in our salad or fish sauce in our noodles. We eventually just stuck to eating the same things from a very prolific supermarket. Happy Cow is useful but if you are staying in Tokyo for instance which is massive (I mean MAAASive) the restaurants are really spread out and without them all being mapped it is hard to tell where convenient places are. Food, particularly fruit, is also surprisingly expensive.

I’ll be back soon with more photos and details of places we visited.

not yet back

Well it has been a little quiet over on this little space. Not a totally unplanned absence since with the end of a school year my day job gets busy. And I am taking on an additional role next year (actually teaching a class! On photography!). I am also working on my dissertation. And if you follow me on Instagram you know I am galavanting at present.

I will be back soonish with some posts about Japan (which was absolutely amazing) and maybe one or two about Crete (currently sitting at a rustic wooden table in an old fisherman’s cottage enjoying daily sun and sea quotas).

I have to say the time away has been great. Not constantly checking what my stats are, not comparing, not feeling inadequate when I just don’t get around to doing all the posts I have imagined.

In the meantime if I could ask a little favour. As mentioned I am working on my dissertation and I would be super grateful if you could fill out this survey. Also if you could get your parents and/or partner to do it would be great! I am aiming to get at least 500 respondents and it is a ways to go.