Author - J.Molkenthin

Kurokawa Onsen Village: Birthday Bananza

Another year, another year older, and as is my custom in January, I celebrated this passing with a party. But not by spending the night at a ‘Spoons, hitting on chicks called Sandra that work in HR whilst holding back Ginger Rob’s hair as he pukes, and not by working on coursework with the deadline the next day, but, by indulging in some truly Japanese past times.

Finishing school on Friday, we were off to Kurokawa Onsen Village, an hour Northwest of Miemachi. I love heading out in this direction, as you quickly enter Kuju with its steep, beautiful mountains, and rolling grassy hills. Regretfully the winery pizzeria was shut, so we headed onwards to the Ryokan.

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, with straw-floored rooms and communal bathrooms and facilities, and you can walk around wearing yukata and chat with the owner.

Man in Yukata

A terrifying sight! The Last Samurai?

This particular ryokan was a little outside the onsen village (making it cheaper!) and was built within a narrow valley, with several wooden-construction buildings and the mossy, gravelling paths that fit with the overall wabi-sabi style you expect of Japan.

Checking in and dumping our stuff, dinner was next on the list. Only 2 or 3 of the restaurants we drove to were shut… Eventually finding a little pizzeria that was about to shut up shop, but stayed open for us, the highlight being the cured ham, blue cheese and apple pizza!

Hat, beer & pizza

I think as we get older, it’s important to bring hats into a repertoire

With the night rolling on in, there was nothing to do but make use of the public onsen! At this late hour I was able to use it alone, turning off all the lights so as to lie in the outdoor pool, arse and back in the water, chest and balls being caressed by the cool night air and look up at the stairs, contemplating what my 26th year may bring.

As tradition dictates (and also the allowed onsen times) we were up early and in the onsen a little after 7am. Again I had it all to myself, allowing for this cheeky snap!

Oyado Hanabou ryokan

Sneaky spy shot at the Oyado Hanabou ryokan

This time I could actually see the forest and waterfalls, and wave to passerbys in the distance who could see into the bath house!

No birthday would be complete without a little call to the parents, who hadn’t even stayed up particularly late, as since they both retired they both regularly stay up until midnight! But nevertheless their singing and enthusiasm, despite the hour at home, was most welcomed.

Japanese breakfast

A mix of sweet and savoury breakfast snacks – rice is a given

Japanese breakfast – I think I need a few more of these to adjust my pallette – but it exciting, entering the dining room which was a warren of small rooms, partitioned by the exact image of the Japanese paper and wooden lattice doors you image when you imagine a Japanese restaurant. Plus I got to wear a Yukata as I ate – lucky I remembered to put underwear on!

Winery-pizzeria near Mt. Kuju

The winery-pizzeria around Mt. Kuju – love it!

The schedule was to meet the posse at the onsen village a little after 12, so with some time to kill between that and checkout, adventure beckoned and we followed the river up until its waterfall head, before retracing our steps back to the winery pizzeria – I love this place! – for a birthday lunch, which Sean and Jess turned up to!

Winery pizza Kuju

Rika trying to steal all the pizza

Soon we were united with our crew of 10, and under Becca’s careful lead, we walked to our first onsen of the day.

Kurokawa has a cool system whereby you can by a wooden medallion, good for entrances to 3 onsen of your choosing, and at which you collect a stamp unique to that particular onsen!

Kurokawa onsen village

Kurokawa has worked hard to prevent chain hotels from opening in the area

The village itself looks a lot like a Miyazaki film, with definite hints of Jiufen, Taiwan, with its traditional-feel buildings, built along narrow streets and aged, wood buildings, built in a wandering style.

Our first onsen was the Ikoi ryokan. A set of low buildings, with a complex of corridors and exposed wooden beams that weren’t all that removed from a Tudor building back in England.

Ikoi ryokan

Men’s bath at Ikoi ryokan. Check out the waterfall shoulder massager

The onsen was cosy a courtyard, with an upper and lower pool, with a small cascade that connected them both, a wee sauna that us boys had a wee chat in, without the risk of the girls over hearing.

Yamamizuki ryoken’s onsen was next, reportedly one of the best in the whole of Japan! I could understand why! It was one of the most open, and close to nature onsen I had ever been to! After a quick shower, and a series of small pool just wide enough for 4 gaijin guys, with small windows over looking the river below, we moved on what was essentially a large pond, right next to the waters edge, with views of the waterfall a little upstream. The low lying rocks made a wonderful bed which you could kick back, enjoy the bare trees against the bright blue sky, and relax with the water lapping at your bare gooch – it was so relaxing, and so part of the surrounding nature, that it more than justified the 20 minute up hill walk to it; plus it served delicious soft ice cream!

By this time it was almost 4pm. With one onsen left, and an hour drive home, two of our friends had arrived in Miemachi and were wondering on our ETA… Oops!

Getting back into the central part of the village, we chose to take our guys from the car park to the parking at the final onsen of the day – big mistake!

In hindsight, trying to find space for 5 cars in a small village perhaps wasn’t the best idea! And after getting within sight of the onsen, only to find the car parks full, so began our tour of the onsen village! Leading the pack Rika and I searched high and low, narrowly avoiding the laissez-faire pedestrians who moved like cattle – without a care to their own safety – only to end up passing the first onsen we had visited, exiting the village having to loop back to our original car park!

So our final onsen was chosen to be the one that faced the carpark, Ryokan Nanjyouen! It was small place that told us to be quieter as soon as we entered!

We ventured down stairs after stairs until we ended up a in small changing room, with signs pointing in opposite directions. This one had the air of a Hogwarts common room, I think because the ryokan was situation on a steep hill, so the semi-opaque windows had the light of being high up in the air, like the top of a castle tower!

To the left were 4 showers and a little bath barely large enough for 4 people – I think this added to the bedroom dormitory/Hogwarts feels!

Then downstairs was the “Star-gaze pool”, which was a small garden that had been flooded and converted into an onsen! Complete with mini hot tub at the top of some rickety stairs, and a couple of ‘man caves’ you could retreat into!

Alas, after 4 onsens in a day, I was quite content to go a little quicker this time, merely exploring, before washing thoroughly and heading out. Thankfully everybody felt the same, and we were soon headed back to Miemachi, just in time to arrive for a curry reservation at 7pm.

Dropping overnight stuff at my place before curry, there was still one drama to come as we bundled into Windsor’s car, only for it to refuse to start! After much umming and arring, we went to get jump leads, but thankfully, one last ditch attempt and she jumped to life! We were curry shop bound!

Miemachi's Yumeya Curry

The tribe at Miemachi’s Yumeya Curry House – a dream come true!

No Japanese-style celebration would be complete with a little karaoke, so obligingly we set off from the curry shop, for the 3-hours of karaoke and dancing to close off an awesome 25th birthday.

Peace Bar in Miemachi

Snack time at our so called “Peace Bar” in Miemachi

London: Stranger in Familiar Lands

Christmas 2015 saw my first return to the UK since moving to Japan 17 long months ago – so what did we learn about the UK? Well…

English Only Please

Even at the airport, all signs are in English! It was almost embarrassing! Having spent months reading (I used reading very generously) signs in English, Japanese, and often Korean and Chinese it was most bizarre to only see a single language – surely we should at least have Chinese characters or something?

So much to understand

It’s surprising how little you need to understand what’s going on around you to serve. Guess a couple of meanings from a couple of familiar words on a poster, observe someone’s face, learn from experience.

Drop yourself back in England and you’re bombarded with sounds, people you don’t even know of dying, or talk of traffic ja…m….s….. zzzzz all dull stuff! Then posters! You can understand everything! Why are they sooooooo long? So much information and nonsense!

Japan has definitely been a lesson in minimal communication, thinking about user experience and designing for behaviour – so much superfluous stuff everywhere!

No Special Entry

It took so much longer to get back into the UK than it does in Japan! Despite the electronification of border control, the large queue of fellow Europeans meant this took maybe 15-20 minutes vs the first in line for the Special Entry permit back in Japan – thanks Japan!

Supersize me

OMG! Everybody is so much bigger in the UK! I forgot I’m not actually a giant! Trains feel smaller since every takes up so much space, so many much fatter people – or is it just cos they’re taller they seem fatter – I don’t know! There also seems to a lot more old people – or is it people let themselves go at a lot younger age? I’ve met many a foxy 40 or 50 something in Japan, whilst 30 seems to be some upper age limit here? Does cultural acceptance of obesity (I myself being medically considered overweight!) permit people to assume all hope is loss and fit and maturity and only achievable by the rich and famous?

On the one hand I think, though don’t know directly, that Japan has a lot of pressure to be slim and petite, I also have come across far more active lifestyles, with nearly everybody engaged in some active sports or recreational sport, even into the 60s and 70s. Food for thought.

Mirror Mirror

Seeing men my own age – boy have I let myself go! But so weird to fall back under the pressure of appearance, to feel invaluable and unconfident due to efforts of those around me! To once again feel like I’m competing, and out of place in even my old stomping ground nightclub.

No career, no house, no car – those pressues already feel soul destroying after a week of being back, and at only 25! At least I’ve not fallen under the pressure of marriage and kids, though no doubt that time will come!

Not understanding things

Perhaps a touch counter-intuitive, but it was strange not understanding other languages.

In Japan, you only hear Japanese, and it’s natural not to understand everything going on around you. Coming back, you have the hyper-awareness of everything around you since it’s in English, that is until, you hear a different foreign language! Suddenly there’s a little bubble of language you don’t understand instead what feels like the whole world!

The polite-meter

Getting on the bus, buying a snack, as the bar, it felt very strange to talk so much, and I found I had no idea of how polite to be. My throat rattled as small, everyday sentences climbed their way out of my mouth, against my usually quiet manner in Japan and I felt the nerves of what should I do, what should I say as I interacted with people in the street and those paid to serve me.

Angry Eyebrows

So many aggressively plucked, aggressively shaped, pointy eyebrows that just made ladies look angry – please sort this out, along with…

Oompa Loompas

When did it become acceptable to ACTUALLY be orange? Not tanned, but orange, as orange as an actually flipping oompa loompa.

Fashion

Britain, get your act together! In Japan, it’s clear what’s in fashion – soft hats and camel coats. It gives the place a nice coherent look, like an event where every adheres to the dresscode, that makes the place look tidy.

The Rolling Hills of Home

Britain is barren in winter ain’t it? From frost nipped fields, to naked hedgerows and trees that look like they’ve been turned on their head, when did every part of the countryside become as bleak as Wuthering Heights? The evergreen hills (and dare I call them mountains?), coupled with copious bright sunshine – the kind that reminds me of break times spent in primary schools lying on the ground and looking at the sun with me eyes closed (just me?) – makes even winter feel a bit more like an eternal spring.

I think I saw the sun once in 17 days?

Final Thoughts

So what was it like being a stranger in my own land?

It was bizarre feeling such a stranger in somewhere that should feel so much like home. I spent the past 17 months calling London the best city in the world, but there were moments where it felt as foreign and unsafe as the Nairobi of my gap year.

I learnt that London is most definitely not the season to spend in central London, wherein the greys of the skies mirror a little too closely the dull greys of the buildings and the grey of the ennui of those passing through, broken only by pockets of illumination and merriment.

What I think Japan has given me is a much greater appreciation for the countryside and such pursuits, but then again I’m quite sure I will speed up and adapt back to London life – I guess time will tell.

How2: A Brit driving in Japan

Many people are oftern concerned about driving in a foreign country. Luckily for British people (and many others) Japan has made the right decision of driving on the left hand side of the road.

Similaries

  • We both drive on the left hand side of the road!
  • By virtue of this, you won’t embarrass yourself like your American friends and try and get into the driver’s side, when you’re the passenger.

No the similarities end, and the differences begin – 頑張って下さい!

Roads in Miemachi

Uptown Miemachi

Differences

These range from trivial, to down right strange – but who’d want to traverse a country easily? Maybe you should just stick to trains?

Indicator and windscreen wiper

“Shit, left! NO! Windscreen wipers – We’re gonna have to loop back round”

Easy to deal with when everything is going smoothly – a nightmare in a panic.

Everything is automatic

That one friend who got an automatic license – the fool! Unless you’re in Japan, then that’s fun. I think I saw one car with a manual gearbox. The downside is I’m sure my left leg has gotten a lot skinnier in the last 18 months…

Kei car vs regular car (and boxiness)

Japanese Kei car

My little Kei-car, River Phoenix

Not content with ‘cars’ Japan has two classes of car; the super-weak, squarest thing you’ve ever seen Kei-car, and the Toyota style Car-car which we know back home.

The Kei car is cheap, lightweight and cheaper to send for the MOT equivalent. They are pretty low-powered, hideously fuel-inefficient at more than 60kph, and will struggle up hills.

No round-abouts

“Pa-papa-paa paa…”

No magic dogs to see here! Yep, that most British of road-invention is (practically?) non-existent and instead is replaced with…

Red flashing light/Orange flashing light

American style flashing red and orange lights. At this point in time, I believe;

  • Red = You must completely stop for a few seconds
  • Orange = You must slow down and look

And you maybe pull out in order of who arrived when? Though sometimes it feels more like people going straight have right-of-way – proceed with caution.

Crossing train tracks

You must stop, completely, before crossing the tracks.

“But what if I can see for a kilometre each way and there are not trains?”

“You must stop”

Because Japan!

Police traps

One officer hides in a bush, or behind a sign with a speed camera, whilst another waits a 100m up the road to pull you over.

They can also park they’re car back from a junction, behind a hill or bush and watch people not stop at the ridicously far back stop line, from where you can’t see any cars coming, but must stop any…

Manned Petrol stations/No shop attached

Something your grandfather might remember next – manned petrol stations, they’ll even clean your windows and offer you a dashboard cloth. Remember it’s “man tan” for a full tank!

Self-service also does exist, with uncanny parallels to self-service tills in supermarkets in the UK (which certainly don’t exist in the inaka of Japan). They’re touchscreen, offer a number of options, from which I can pick out ‘cash’ or ‘point card’. Weirdly though, to get your change you take the receipt to a machine, and it scans a barcode on your receipt!

Cyclists

A law unto themselves, they cycle where they please – on the pavement, in the road, or most harrowingly, on the road, towards oncoming traffic. I’m pretty sure a cycling proficiency test doesn’t exist here.

Pedestrians crossings

Like some of our European siblings, pedestrians crossing on a green man need still be warying of cars turning left or right onto the road. Equally, just because you have a green traffic light, doesn’t mean you can happy turn onto a road, but have to look out for stupid children, or worse, people wearing all black on a dark autumn night.

Zebra crossings

The pedestrian’s rock to the driver’s scissors. An island of safety for pedestrians in the UK, where they have God-like power to command cars to stop. In Japan, it’s an opportunity to cross a road where there are no lights, but without committing the felony of jaywalking – God I hate jaywalking laws – gives us some credit for being able to safely cross the road!?!

In Conclusion

Driving in Japan is the same, yet very different! What are some differences you have noticed, did I miss anything big? And remember, driving is a serious business, so use some commonsense!

Yakushima: On a Quest for Princess Mononoke

Cut off a wolf’s head and it still has the power to bite.” Apparently, but alas I was unable to test this hypothesis during my recent trip to Yakushima, aka, the scenic inspiration for studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke/もののけ姫.

Setting off from Oita city with my travel companions, R & L, we didn’t depart until nearly 1830 – with a 4.5 hour drive ahead of us! We were traveling the length of Kyushu, from Oita down to Miyazaki, across towards Kumamoto, and sweep back down to Kagoshima. From there we’d take the ferry in the morn to Yakushima. Arriving around 2300 L made great time.

Saturday – Oh we’re going to Yakushima, da da da daa da da!

Awake at ridiculous o’clock, we packed and in the car with over an hour to spare to the ferry departed, so stocked up on snacks and headed down to the port.

Using my best Japanese we located the car entrance to board the vessel, but poor L had to remain with the car as R and I headed into the terminal. A cheeky ticket raffle saw me win a free draught beer on the ferry – what a good omen!

The ferry is the cheapest way to Yakushima, with the alternative sea-based alternative costing near double, though in half the time. So we stuck with a 4 hour ferry that departed once, each way, a day.

Despite having an onsen, it was out of service, so mucked around on deck, made friends with a German couple and took sweet-ass photos!

Kagoshima/Yakushima Ferry

All aboard to Yakushima!

Coming into port was easy and soon we were on the hunt for some grub, before setting off round the island anti-clockwise.

It’s a pretty small island, 132 km in diameter and so we endeavoured to loop the entire thing during the weekend. It was still early afternoon, so we set off, stopping and exploring everything of interest we saw en route.

Eventually we crossed the threshold into UNESCO World Heritage park on the West slide of the island – suddenly it was darker, the roads narrower and monkeys and deer were every few hundred metres – not a good thing when you need the toilet!

As evening pressed in, no day would be complete without a lil onsen! We checked out one built into a luxury hotel built on a short headland, with large windows that looked out onto the darkening sea, it was pretty cool.

We rocked up to the hotel around 7, lucky we weren’t much later, as the reception come konbini was closing and god knows how we’d have checked in.

We had conveniently arranged ourselves to stay on the East side of the island, since this was closest to the start of the trail head.

Sunday – Old Grampappy Jomon

Of course this wasn’t a convenient trail head, oh no! We awake around 0430 and head down to the Sugui (Cedar) Museum, the meeting point for catching the bus to the Arakawa trail head. These buses only run between 5-6am, and since it was within ‘the season’ there was no public access to the roads.

After a short nap on the bus, we arrived around 0630, just as the sky was quickly lightening. We hurriedly pooped and peed, and set of along the train tracks.

12358052_10153197029160667_1905265806_n

Oh what a beautiful morning! Near the start of the Arakawa trail

The first hour of the trail follows along the old rail tracks. What were the tracks used for? I don’t know! But it offered high up views of the valley below, and criss-crossed over wide gorges gouged out by rushing torrents and populated with such giant boulders, that between spending so much team watching your feet on the tracks and looking out at the view, the sense of scale was entirely lost, and I could no longer adjust my eyes to take in the entire view without feeling a lil nauseated. So bizarre!

12348747_10153197029170667_864391368_n

It’s as if someone just decided to dump all these rocks here!

We passed by the stone remains of a former school that had been used until the 1970s, shortly after which the rail tracks began to fade out.

What we eventually learned was that the whole area had been home to a logging industry, the cedars in the area having grown old and tall due to their difficult accessibility. Up until around the 1600s, logging had been largely unnecessary, thanks to the cedars natural  longevity and immunity to insects, as fallen trees could be harvested and the wood used for building.

Those running the business had set up shop with a long term perspective.

They would harvest an area, bar a few select ‘mother’ trees, would would then go on to seed their surroundings. Many of the new trees would go onto grow up on the stumps of the previous trees, resulting in cool looking trees, stacked a bit like wedding cake, and twisting root formations.

Logging official stopped in 2001, with all products made from sugi nowadays coming from trees fallen in typhoons or from age, making them domaiboku, or buried trees in the ground.

From here the next highlight is Wilson’s Stump. Whilst I had hoped someone had gotten lost, and carved a home from a giant tree stump, it turns out the name is simply because Ernest Henry Wilson was the first person to introduce it to a Western audience. But with its 32m diameter, there is plenty of room to throw down a bit of tatami, lay down a futon and make a comfortable little home.

Getting here around 10am, we were quite hopeful we’d be at our goal, Jomon Sugi in no time!

We were wrong.

Following the path away from Wilson, it didn’t look far at all on the map, and we set off at quite the pace. The steep mountain steeps soon put pay to this.

12348276_10153197029190667_190789407_n

Up and down we went – thankfully somebody had the foresight to build stairs

The rain set in, causing mist to wipe out whatever view there was between the tress, and we continued our uncertain walk/climb with and down, in and out of gullies and between trees, briefly pausing for lunch in a nice ravine.

Shortly after 12 we made it Jomon Sugi, and its viewing platform.

Jomon sugi is estimated to be between 2000 and 7000 years old, depending on your testing method, but it definitely made it our sempai! It sits on the north face of the tallest mountain on the island, at an elevation of around 1000m, and no matter what route you take, it’s still a 4-5 hour hike to reach it!

12325318_10153197029205667_1977891222_n

He’s small for his age. Clearly dangerous since we couldn’t get up close to it

After posing for a number of photos, it was time to head back the way we came! Ever-conscious that the buses only ran between 1500 and 1800, we headed down the trail, and made it back in good time and we back to the hostel before 1800!

What else was there to do but check out an onsen!

This time we checked out the local onsen, a short distance from the premium onsen of the previous day, though it felt more like a world away!

The onsen was a large room, with a few taps and stools around the edge for you to wash, with your own soap, and a large bath that was little under half the room. Along the floor were a number of older Japanese men, contorting their bodies into a variety of shapes along the floor, presumably stretching.

The bath was extraordinarily hot, but after a number of sharp, short breaths I was submerged, and trying to stretch under water, before abandoning all hope and getting dressed. I’ve never finished in an onsen so quickly! But at least I was able to watch anime as I waited for the girls.

For dinner we checked out a lil sushi bar around the town, then being so tired, decided we ought to get a relatively early night.

Monday – To see a Princess

Choices had to be made, and we sacrificed visiting the tidal pool onsen in order to visit the heavy-moss covered forest of Princess Mononoke fame. This in turn afforded us the luxury of lying in until 7am, and then setting off around to the north of the island, and thus completing our tour of the perimeter of Yakushima!

Arriving at the tourist centre, we had survived the scaling, dizzying heights of Yakushuima’s mountain roads, and sought to traverse the 2 hour walk to the Mononoke Hima no Mori in about an hour.

Success! We were soon at our destination – it was ridiculously green and moss covered, but definitely looked like the film!

12358099_10153197029225667_1171576828_n

If you look carefully, you might be able to spot a Kodama, or tree spirit

The walk back we took a lil slowly, giving us time to play by the river crossing, and take in the nature, before heading back to our comparatively urban lifestyles.

Back on the ferry, the time passed a little more slowly – alas no free beer this time for Molkie, and I spent most of the return on my back, feet on the wall, like a baby, thankful that somebody had designed the ferry with carpeted sleeping areas, because, Japan!

Thanks to Labour Day, we had been able to cram our holiday into a 3-day weekend, and so the girls needed to head back before school on Tuesday morning.

I, however, had taken an extra day off to allow me to visit Kagoshima, and so we parted ways in down town Kagoshima, just as the clouds parted and a torrential storm hit.

Instincts kicked in, and as a Brit, naturally I headed to the nearest pub. Online, labelled as an Irish Pub, the name Big Ben, coupled with Union Flags said otherwise, but all I remembered is that they did a lot of beer, including a good Guinness, and that Justin Bieber had A LOT of tracks in the UK Top50 as MTV played in the background.

After a good 5 or so hours, I set out with new bartender friend Luke for a night of adventure. Unfortunately Japan wasn’t so ready for us, it being a Monday night and all.

Unperturbed we set off from the pub and onto the streets, where by luck or design, we bumped into the very same German couple we had seen on the ferry on the way TO and FROM Yakushima, and suddenly we had a party on our hands!

After asking a number of drunk Japanese business men, we found ourselves a snack bar, and I introduced my new friends to the joys of Umeshu, shochu and my singing for a full 90 minutes.

When the show was over, I was still left the task of negotiating my way to my Tatami Time-share bed I had requested (a JET run network of people offering beds to fellow, but travelling JETs). Thankfully she had left the door unlocked, I crawled into my futon and welcomed some rest.

Tuesday – Home James, and don’t spare the horses

Obviously my host had school the next day, and so I was up at 7am and out the door not long after. What a prime opportunity to capture some sunrise photography I thought to myself as I sat in Starbucks munching on a panini.

On the itinerary for today – the Museum of the Meiji Restoration. This covered an interesting period of Japan when it was uncertain of its future as westerners forced Japan to open its doors to the world, bring with it new ideas and methods. That being said, this was still a turbulent Japan, with political and social tensions and divisions, merely added to by the adoption and rejection of foreign ideas.

Next stop? Kumamoto! Home of Kumamon!

This 170km journey would be completed in under an hour thanks to the ridiculously expensive, but oh so cool shinkansen! With its spacious seats it sure beat an aeroplane!

Turns out Kumomoto is a lil quiet and empty – either that, or the shinkansen stops a bit outside the main town – i’m not sure… But there was a temple!

Final leg of the journey was the 170km from Kumamoto back to Miemachi – an easy 2.5hr ride… WHY?!?

And back in time for curry!

Oh what a strange and beautiful holiday it was!

How2: Konbini Design

Konbinis are the lifeblood of Japan. Seldom can you travel more than a few miles without seeing one, and so common are they that in towns and cities you can often stand outside one and spot another in the distance.

They offer food and drink, emergency supplies like spare underwear, electronics and magazines, as well as hosting ATMs, taking delivery of your amazon buys and act as a place to pay for bills and buy tickets. Most are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

And they are all laid out in the same way – seriously!

There is even a chapter in an English textbook that talks through the rationale and reasons why…

All Konbinis are the Same

Outside

A lovely array of bins – occasionally moved inside in particularly busy or urban areas.

Inside

Around the entrance sit many services; like the hot water heater for cup-ramen, photocopier, ticket machines and ATMs etc.

Inline with the entrance is the counter, perhaps to give would be shoplifters a harder route of escape? Or simply to make you enter more into the store, like how…

Drinks are ALWAYS at the back/furthest corner

What do people buy more of than anything else in a konbini? Why drinks of course! Hence why a wall and a half is given over to cool fridge displays, with booze being in the very furthest corner.

Consumers have to walk past a number of other tempting goods on the way to the drink and to the paypoint.

Along this wall often the freezer section with bits of food, ice cream, and somewhere here lives the toilet.

Toilets in Japan

Firstly, you can never be sure if you’re going to get a squat toilet, a plain sitting loo or a fancy, musical butt washer. Second, they can be a single mixed toilet, separate toilets, and some even have a single small room with a urinal!

A nice thing in Japan is that toilets are considered public spaces, ie. you can use the facilities even if you’re not buying something! Though perhaps this is why they are at the far end of the konbini – so that you have to pass lots of tempting goods!

First Aisle

Magazines are always displayed along the external window wall – why? So people can watch people read the animes in the window? I don’t know! But this will occupy the full length of the window row N combined with chester freezers with on-the-go ice creams.

On aisle’s other side are a number of medical/hygiene goods – special recovery drinks, toiletries, clothing things you might need if you’re a busy salaryman who didn’t make it hope last night!

Second Aisle

Electronics are kept closest to the counter – presumably because they are high value items. These consist of charger cables, charging blocks, batteries, alongside other household goods products. Facing these are on-the-go meals – cup ramen, canned goods.

Third Aisle

Your nibbles – Crisps, potato snacks, popcorn, some chocolates, biscuits, cookies cake line either side of this aisle. This can also house some liquor or drinks that don’t need to be or aren’t drunk cool. The pay counter at the end of this aisle is the one most commonly opening, if the konbini isn’t so busy. Why? To pull consumers looking for drinks down the snack aaisle and pick up some en route.

Forth Aisle

What could probably be described as baked goods/fresh-ish food is sold here. One side is refrigerated, stocking coffee drinks, fruit juices, some fruit and vegetables that gives way to salads, sandwiches, ready meals, before hitting the bento boxes, onigiris and hot drinks as we move closer to the counter.

The other side has dessert-bread goods, meaty bread goods, weird burgers and sandwiches that don’t need to be chilled goods. Closer to the counter there may even be a desserts section!

The Pay Point

A minimum of two counters, between which sit the hot foods – fried chicken, sausages, chips, Japanese delicacies simmered in hot tea all day… Some on sale items sat in front of this.

Behind the staff live the cigarette stands, with their marketing campaigns on colour screens, and promo boards with cool looking graphics.

Many konbinis offer cafe style drinks, made with fresh-ish coffee beans, and often soft serve icecream!

Predictable, yet Unpredictable

So finding your favourites in the konbini is easy, right?

Well, Japan, with its belief of Wabi Sabi, the appreciation of impermanence and the transitive nature of things, you’ll often find that something new and delicious is only available for short, limited run.

Or that things are seasonal – when it reached the end of winter – no more Lawson lasagne for me!

So even an enterprise as commercialised as konbinis, with their psychological games and manipulation, has running through its veins, a thread of Japanese philosophy, that is hundreds of years old.

Language: Twelve English tenses and a Partridge…

Sounds like the end of that Christmas song; the one with the Partridge, yet English has twelve, yes 12 distinct tenses.

In essence they are quite simple, with 3 temporal periods (Past, Present and Future), doing a great job of lumping together 4 different temporal meanings.

However, there is some complexity! The ‘present’ particularly complicates things, since the present is so fleeting or arguable non-existent! The 4 temporal meanings in each period mostly allow us the opportunity to put events in chronological order in a continuous sentence, and without adding extra words.

There are over simplifications may not appear to fit with a particular tense, but with gentle massaging and some mental gymnastics, a round peg can be squeezed through a square hole; after all, language is the oral putty to sculpt ideas in others’ minds.

Using the immortal words of Lizzy Barrett- Browning;

O English,
How complicated is thee?
Let me count the ways…

I think that’s how it goes.

The Simple Tenses.

Past, Present and Future Simple tenses are rooted in a moment;

I walked I walk I will walk

They refer to a moment, describing neither a beginning nor end and are the bare minimal you need to know for communication. The present tense, I walk is particularly vague, and seldom used in this sense, more commonly referring to an habitual action.

The remaining tenses add depth, allowing us to temporally place events relative to each other, and whether an act is currently happening finished or on-going.

Continuous Tenses.

As suggested by the name, these are actions that started at some point, continued for a period of time, and do not define a finishing time.

I was walking I am walking I will be walking

They all contain a conjugated ‘to be’ with a present continuous verb, the ‘-ing’ form.

In the past tense, you began somewhere in the past, and may have finished in the past, but may also still be doing the action.

In the present tense, you must have begun at some point in the past, whether minutes or days ago, are doing the action, and will continue to do the action into the future – which may be seconds, minutes or years!

In the future tense, you may have started in the past, or have started in the present moment, or will start in the future, but you most definitely will be doing the action for a period of time in the future.

This tenses leaves many unanswered questions, which can be filled in with other contextual words like yesterday, this morning, and next year.

Perfect Tenses.

These are for completed actions. When the action began isn’t stated, but the action is 100% true.

I had walked I have walked I will have walked

They all use a conjugation of ‘to have’ followed by the past participle (-ed) of the action verb.

In the past tense, the action began and was completed in the past.

In the present, the action began in the past, and at the moment of speaking, is 100% true. I have walked 10 miles.

In the future, the action may begin in the past, the present, or also in the future, but at some point will become true and completed – isn’t that just perfect?

So we’re covered 9 tenses so far! Three SIMPLE tenses that encapsulate a moment; three CONTINUOUS, with ambiguous starts and ends; and three PERFECT, true tenses wherein the action is definitely ended.

‘Moment’ events; ‘Undefined start/finish’ events and ‘Finished’ events – that leaves only… ‘Started’ events. Events that definitely began in the past, and have an unclear end!

Perfect Continuous.

These are events that are both true, since they began in the past; and are continuous – they are still happening in the present moment or into the future

I had been walking I have been walking I will have been walking

They use a conjugated ‘to have’, the past participle of ‘to be’, “been”, combined with a present continuous verb, a perfect combination of the previous two tenses – has English ever been more simple?

Past: An action that began in the past, and ended at a point in the past.

Present: An action that began in the past, and is true at this moment, and will continue.

Future: An action will have begun in the ‘past’, and will be continuing in the future. (Here the past is relative to the ‘continuing in the future’, so may have start tomorrow morning, but will definitely at a certain point).

Conclusion

As mentioned at the start, with some mental gymnastics, nearly all sentences can be thought of in the aboves terms, by either thinking conceptually, or relativistically.

The inherent ambiguity in the tenses needs removing with time phrases, this morning, next week, last year. These deeper, compound tenses are normally only used in conjunction with other tenses – why complicate things unnecessarily? But together they give a far richer image, relating events to each other and relate the experience far more realistically.

Examples

All Simple Past

I walked for several days. That day I walked several miles. Then I saw it.

A monkey smoked a joint.

All Past Tenses

I had been walking for several days (Perfect Continuous) and that day had walked several miles (Perfect) when I saw it (Simple).

A monkey was smoking a joint (Continuous).

All Simple Present

I walk for days, and walk 3 miles more. Now my elbows shake!

All Present Tenses

I have been walking for days (Perfect Continuous), I have walked 3 miles today (Perfect), and now my elbows are shaking (Continuous)!

All Simple Future

Next month, I will hike some Aztec ruins. I will hike for 3 weeks, and I will climb 1708ft in order to find the brass monkey nuts. Then I will rest.

All Future Tenses

Next month I will be hiking some Aztec Ruins (Continuous). I will have been hiking for 3 weeks (Perfect Continuous), I will have climbed (Perfect) 1708 ft in order to find the brass monkey nuts. Then I will rest (Simple)!

Kyoto: A Step Back in Time

Kyoto – The cultural capital of Japan. Spared by the Americans during the bombing of Japan, today it is a throwback to traditional Japan and home to thousands of shrines and temples.

From Mie to Oita, Oita to Osaka, Osaka to Kyoto took nearly the whole day! It was funny running into the other Oita Jets heading off on holiday for ‘Silver Week” – a 5 day holiday caused by 3 consecutive National Holidays.

Our hotel was a little house down some back streets in Western Kyoto, but well connected by buses, trams and trains!

Walking around, what struck me most was the low-ness of everything. There was not a skyscraper, or massive apartment blocks or hotels. Nearly everything around the hotel was no more than 2-3 floors, and even in central Kyoto, buildings were still nowhere near as tall as Tokyo or even Oita.

Around the hotel most houses were kind of old looking. Thinly constructed, looking as if from the 80s/90s, much like the buildings in Mie, only much dense. In fact, dense is a great way to describe Kyoto; low-rise, but dense.

As we walked Eastwards into Kyoto, thoughts turned towards drinks and dinner, which obviously gave rise to the thought of finding an Irish bar! And boy! There were about 6 to choose from.

After a few pre dinner drinks, we made it to the bar, ordered fish and chips, and as always, as the drinks flowed, so did my French with Solene!

Thankfully, a well connected hotel, combined with 4G mobile internet meant we had no problems getting away back to the hotel via the tram!

Tourist Trap: Sunday

Our first day’s plan was to hit the big tourist spots and to ‘get them out of the way” before going AWOL off the beaten track for the following 2 days.

We journeyed a little further west to check out the Bamboo Groves of Arashiyama, and to head into the Tenryu-ji Temple. You’ll have seen the bamboo forest on the front cover of Lonely Planet Japan (2013). It was super cool beneath the bamboos, and pretty despite the flocks of tourists.

The temple offered a beautiful lake and landscaped garden, and made great use of the unimpeded views of the mountains behind – aka ‘borrowed scenery’ as it was translated frequently in every temple! I think Japan invented ‘landscaping’ in the ‘Groundforce’ kind of way.

12067894_10153099919195667_805202187_n

The lake at Tenryu-ji Temple was stunning

Next up was Gio-ji Temple. Not one of the main sites, but a delightful little temple 20 minutes walk away! En route were number of golden rice fields, people in two wheel carriages being pulled by men and more delightful 2 storey houses, around in complex and dense layout, right up against the sides of the roads – personal gardens clearly not a big thing in Kyoto/Japan.The temple was so cool, and damp, and the floor was just covered with moss, it looked and felt like fur!

Gio-ji was a super mellow place to visit

Gio-ji was a super mellow place to visit

Kinkaku-ji – The Golden Pavilion

Kinkaku-ji

Despite how the photo looks, this place was SUPER busy

Ah, the Golden Pavilion, one of the most iconic spots in Japan and used in so much media that you probably know it without realising! Originally a garden or something, it was then given to monks which made it much more important. Then something like after it accidentally built down, they rebuilt it, and gold-leafed the 2nd and 3rd floors – or at least the outside of those floors – but you don’t care – here are the pics!

Kinkaku-ji

Cheeky backside

Ginkaku-ji Temple – The almost as popular, Silver Pavilion

The Silver Pavilion is unfortunately not covered in silver-leaf, so the name I don’t understand. It does have a massive stone-raked garden, and a carefully shaped gravel mound that represents Mt. Fuji? I don’t get it either. Here are the pics;

Ginkaku-ji

Ginkaku-ji has some beautify grounds to it

Ginkaku-ji

More trees

The Path of Philosophy – Or is that Philosophers?

Well, maybe it doesn’t matter since we missed about half of it – lol! Damn google maps and its efficiency!

Eventually our back lane lead onto the path, and we walked along the stream in the glowing light of the lowering sun, to Nanzen-ji Temple.

Nanzen-ji Temple

Looking North-West over Kyoto

Nanzen-ji Temple: What a massive san-mon! You could even climb to the top of it! (For a small fee) It was delightful having the setting sun warm us up and the evening was starting to cool, and you could see out over Kyoto.Next was to the cafe inside the temple that offered a beautifully meditative view of a waterfall – oh wait, it was shut – noooo!

The temple had a small, walled, stone garden, behind which the mountains grew steeply upwards.

Outside of the temple stood an impressive aqueduct, which only now do I know hides an awesome, hidden waterfall view – thanks Frenchie for saying there was nothing there!

We began walking back into more central Kyoto, keeping an eye out for interesting things. One such thing was a 7-eleven with setting outside of it! I even got id’d as we bought beverages – nothing like showing off your Japanese driver’s licence!

Kyoto 7-eleven

Why was the car park shut? Why were they tables and chairs? We may never know

We found a delightful stream, into which a number of enterprising individuals had built small platforms out to, and were offering various tea and drinking parties for small groups, and in one part, crafts fold appeared to be cleaning out long, linen banners in the flow of the stream.

Kyoto Gion stream

Such enterprising individuals!

More wandering, and as we approached Gion, we were met with charmingly rustic, low level buildings, with swooping willows, and filled with people in traditional clothes. As the sun was setting, everything was lit with a golden seam, and it was magnificent!

Gion Kyoto

More traditional Kyoto

Beer Garden

Now the hunger was setting, so Frenchie decided to check out the Beer Garden we had spotted the previous night by the river.The view was incredibly! Kyoto looks truly European, with its lack of high-rise skyline, and set along the banks of the river.

Beer garden Gion

Rooftop beer garden in central Gion

Beergarden Gion Kyoto

Looks so European with its lake of skyscrapers

Naturally the beer garden offered nomihoudai (all you can drink) and a set menu, for 2 hours – we took it! Too little food, and lots of booze meant the French and Japanese babbled from my mouth once again, and after some interesting chat, we found ourselves heading towards the Irish bar again.

Brit and Frenchie in a Beer garden

Thankfully they remove the empty glasses!

But wait? What’s this place? The thought took us into a small, empty snack bar a few floors below the Irish pub – be rude not to. So we serenaded the poor bar girls with bad English and Japanese songs, and some even worse French songs.

Naturally it was time for a nightcap in the Irish bar. Coming back from the toilet, Frenchie had made friends with 2 Japanese girls! The evening was spent conversing in Japanese, French, (and a little) English, whilst the night cap turned into burger and fries alongside the Guinness.

Off the beaten-track: Monday

Day 3 saw us go a lil more off the beaten track, picking out some of the less touristy temples, for a more, spiritual experience.

Kyoto Kitsune

Spot the fox! Or kitsune, the messengers of the gods

Shoren-in Temple was stop one, out on the east side Kyoto, it used to be a residence, so has more of a villa feel – it was pretty cool! Nice to just enjoy the pond for a bit, even if I got told off for lying down!

The Entoku-in Temple I was super tricky to spot, but as we back tracked, it turned out to be having a special event day – meaning it was packed with tourists, but had free entry! There was a small market inside the building, promoting local goods and food, which we skipped past, and began what would turn out to be a warren of small, traditional corridors.

They turned and spun every which way, giving views of other gardens, the backs of kitchens, and eventually led to a gravel garden, and room in which a dozen people were taking tea. When we left we had ended up a considerable distance from where we’d gone in! Walking down the lanes of Ishibei-koji, we spotted a small market up a few more steps, and once we reached there, we realised there was a whole plethora of tents and marquees higher up the hill! We’d found a festival full of delicious foods and booze and a little live music – it made from a great lunch time stop!

Somehow the day was starting to get away from us – off to Yasui-kompira-gu Shrine then!

On the outskirts of Gion, I felt the guide lied to us by describing this place as ‘off the beaten track’. The small shrine feels more like the intersection of two small streets, in the middle of which sits a shaggy looking, white, 90’s cartoon character.

As it turns out, it’s a relationship rock, with a hole through middle. Crawl through one way to end a bad relationship, the opposite way to tighten the bonds of a relationship – don’t get the directions mixed up! Then you glue a piece of paper with your name to the rock! The massive queue seemed to suggest there’s something to this!

Blue mountain screen at Kennin-ji

As lovely as this is, turns out it’s not the special centre piece of the Kennin-ji temple

Final stop on today’s itinerary was Kennin-ji Temple. It had bit of a lacklustre free garden, but on the other wise was a lovely complex of buildings and gardens, which contained oddly cool, painted screens.The highlight was the painted ceiling piece, the Twin Dragons. A comparatively new piece (2002) to mark… some kind of anniversary (800th anniversary of the temple). This was the final stop on the itinerary, but we still had one more place to see this day!

Black screen mountains

And neither is this one special – but I like it, so, whatever

Kennin-ji Temple garden

Garden on the inside of Kennin-ji Temple

two dragons by Koizumi Junsaku

Painting of two dragons by Koizumi Junsaku, marking the 800th anniversary of the temple

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha streets

Making our way to Fushimi Inari Taisha

The shrine of 10,000 torii gates, famous thanks to its appearances in movies, it had to be done! But before we even got to the shrine, how could we say no to a cat cafe? Way better than the one in Oita since we could actually touch the cats without them all running away from you!

Sunset at Fushimi Inari Taisha

Sunset at Fushimi Inari Taisha

The shrine was tiring, and sweaty, as we raced up to watch sunset (stupid cat cafe). We stopped part way up for a bit of a look – from here Kyoto didn’t look to be the prettiest city!

Side shrines at Fushimi Inari Taisha

The creepy off shoots of the main path

With heavy hearts we continued up to the top, and without realising it passed the summit! We’ll never know exactly where the top was… But climbing down in the dark was cool, if not a little creepy, with lights strung between every few torii gates, and shadowy shrine graveyards leading off to the left and right.The other thing left for the day was to have a traditional Indian curry! Which after a walk along the river, we eventually located – it had nothing on Mie’s curry house Yumeya!

Manga Madness: Tuesday

Our final full day on holiday! We checked out and headed into Kyoto station to dump Frenchie’s suitcase and spend some time in the down town area. Well after a disasterous 45 minutes trying to find an empty locker, we changed tack, headed out to a smaller station and managed to find a locker. To Nishika Market!

A ‘traditional’ market, I can’t help but feel a large part of it caters to a tourism market. I find places like this become a lil jaded to the live-in-Japan gaijin, with the shock value lessened by the weird things I’ve eaten since arriving here, but we did find sangria and somewhere to write postcards!

Manga selfies

Manga selfies – Manga artists can turn you into a cartoon!

Next stop was the International Manga Museum. Situated in an old elementary school, it is home to thousands of Manga, with a small number of displays, and one large exhibition that provides an overview of manga – its history, origins, relation to anime and its relation to the whole brand of a series – it was really interesting! However, this is much more of a  library than a museum. Awesomely, there were manga artists who would draw you in a manga style – an excellent likeness I think!We settled on a plan to head into Osaka for the evening so as to be closer to the airport in the morning – so adult was this plan that it even meant not going out with our fellow JETs in Kyoto!

Of course before we could do any of this we nipped into an Irish pub for a quick Guinness and fish and chips!

It took a wee while to get into Osaka, and it was dark when we arrived. We stuck our shit into yet another locker, and ventured forth into the night.

Christmas love hotel in Kyoto

Did somebody mention Christmas?

Christmas love hotel in Kyoto

In this little corner of Japan…

Osaka is a world away from Kyoto, with its high skyline, and cacophony of bright, in your face alleys of shops vying for your attention! We wondered for a bit to embrace the sights, came across the legendary Christmas themed love hotel, and settle don finding a pub to while away the ours. Around 10 o’clock it was time to find a bed for the night. We must have spent an hour wondering around the streets of Osaka looking for a hotel. Too crappy looking, too tacky looking, too expensive each place was.

We checked out a hotel called Buckingham Palace, ran out when their was a person on the reception, only to walk back in via another entrance, with a one way door and had to timidly was past the lady we had just seen in reception!

Eventually we settled on the early mentioned Christmas-themed hotel, and began a session of karaoke in the room.

Christmas love hotel in Kyoto

… everyday is Christmas!

Final Farewells: Wednesday

Awoken in the dark by the alarm, we set out early to catch a train to the airport for Frenchie’s flight at 10. It was weird how’d we both be setting off to different places, one to France, the other to Oita, perhaps even a touch sad.

Kyoto shrine

One of thousands of small shrines in Kyoto

But having said our goodbyes, I went to the bookshop to buy Attack on Titan (進撃の巨人) and Assassination Classroom (暗殺教室) in manga form – next level Japanese study, here I come!

 

Tokyo: Conquering Mr. Fuji

For the final instalment of my adventurous Summer holidays, it was time to climb Fujisan! Famous from its appearance in  ukiyo-e block prints, its a iconic status can only be matched by anime and crazy Japanese electronics.

Thursday: Arigatou Mr Robotou

Always a joy to shorten the work week, I woke up at 0515 on a Thursday morning, and caught the first train out of Mie, enabling me to get the bus to Oita airport at 0655.

I love domestic flying! Within 5 minutes of arriving at the airport, I was through security and sat waiting. Landing in Tokyo, I was messaging Savvy arranging to meet up (she was flying home in 48 hours – forever!) and we agreed on meeting at Asakusa station, to then take Rob and Becky to Senso-ji temple nearby.

Struggling to get in contact with Rob and Becky, Savvy and I headed off and… bought Dominos pizza – yum yum YUM!

Eventually we met up, dropped R&B off for sushi and we ate the dominos.

Senso-ji was busy! And coming from Kyoto, R&B were pretty templed out! So we didn’t stay too long, and walked over to the Sky Tree – boy was it expensive! After trying to figure out how high we could get without paying (not very…) we walked across to another building and got a 21st floor view of Tokyo – it sufficed!

By now we could check in, did so, and headed out to the ROBOT RESTAURANT!!!

Zoom, zap, zap! Pow, boooong!

What a weird show! From scantily-clad, taiko drummers, snakes and dragons to robots and bikini clad robots! Even a fight between aliens and forest dwellers -so weird! Not to mention the Daft Punk inspired lounge band!

Next we joined Savvy for dinner, with some of her Tokyo friends, at a Nabe pot restaurant – it was tabehoudai, all we can eat!

Finally we got back to the hostel around 2230 – still to shower and pack for Fuji.

Friday: Ain’t about what’s waitin’ on the other side; It’s the Climb

Another morning of waking 0515, Rob and I quickly set off to the station to rise to Shinjuku and the bus stop. Becky had decided not to join us for the full pilgrim walk, from Fuji station to the top, saving herself 4 hours of walking.

From the station, we made our way to the Kitaguchi Fuji Sengen shrine.

Surrounded by the straightest trees in the world, the grand, red tori gate is almost as thick as the trees themselves!

11238958_10153020587295667_6466634257430606616_o

The Tori gate at Kitaguchi Fuji Sengen shrine

The lower part of the walk was through general forest. Unfortunately for us, the whole area was covered in mist, and would continue to be misty right until the 5th station, and persist even as we went higher than that.

Weaving through the forest was fun, though undermined by knowing there was a smooth, easy to walk road only a few metres away, and we tried not to dwell too much on the numerous watch out for bears signs…

After a time we hit a cafe, and knew the longest stretch of walking was over, and that the time between landmarks was diminishing.

Getting towards the 1st station, things began to get much tougher. The incline began to increase very quickly, and into the path, were cut surface water run-off channels and dams, presumably to channel melting snow off of the walking paths. The route began to consist mainly of 12 inch or higher steps, which started to take their toll on my knees.

The sun was getting closer to being over head, but still the mist persisted, and it gave the forest a strange defused lighting, like a photo studio. In clearer parts, you could see the mist roll and wash over us – really cool! Like a Narnia, or it reminded me of childhood days at my aunt’s house.

11893823_10153020587400667_5054181585509912837_o

The mist moved so fast, and was so thick

The old 4th and 5th stations were pretty dilapidated, collapsing on themselves and creating some wonderfully atmospheric feeling, like nature reclaiming space back from man.

Finally we hit a road, and knew we were near the 5th station – it wasn’t even 1200 yet!

Alas, the station was still a kilometre up the road from where we were! Off we trudged to find Becky.

After 20 minutes of no luck, we headed in for a bit of food before hitting the main ascent to our hut for the ‘night’.

11951729_10153020587620667_7905150589276134031_o

Our first view of Mt. Fuji at the 5th Station

The previous path had been pretty empty, we’d overtaken maybe 3 groups of 10-15, and a few couples, but on this path, there were so many people! So many groups in bright coloured jackets and trousers, round foreigners huffing up the hill with their poles and rucksacks, then Rob and I in tee shirts and shorts!

The first part was dull. The clouds were tight to the mountain, so we had no idea of how high up we were, or how high the mountain was. The mist rolled along the paths, and we simply zig-zagged up the hill, the earth of the mountain held back by huge metal barriers and cages – as if we were in a post-apocalyptic war, storming the alien stronghold.

We passed Becky pretty early on, leaving her with her new-found American friends.

Perhaps an hour in, and we began to hit the 7th station huts. By now the price of drinks and food was increasing substantially! 400 yen for a water, instead of 100 or less!

Rob and I found that by far the quickest way to climb Fuji is not to follow the person in front of you, but using the full width of the path to get round tour groups. My god! The groups are slow, pausing every few stretches and just climbing slowly. No wonder it says it takes so long to climb fuji! They’re especially slow as it begins more of a climb than a walk.

By 3 o’clock we’d reached our station for the ‘night’ – it had barely taken 2 hours! But now what to do?

11893863_10153020587705667_8048547158574141950_o

Our accommodation for the ‘night’

We took off our stinky clothes, and changed a little, and took a nap to wait for Becky!

About an hour later she had arrived! Yay! We’d been worried she’s just walk past!

With the gang reunited, we waited for our dinner! As we waited, the clouds cleared and we could see the view above and below us! We were so high up! Thank goodness! We’d walked so hard without seeing the fruits of our labours!

Dinner was a light affair of mackerel and curry rice, with a lil cake, and they gave us our breakfast – boil in the bag rice!

Nearing 7pm we decided to call it a night!

Saturday: Sunrise on Fujisan

Waking at 0000 to a cacophony of alarms, we clearly weren’t the only ones to have read about leaving at midnight for the sunrise!

After having dressed, and eaten breakfast, we left at about 0030. We were at the bottom of the 10 or so 8th station huts, so we had a lot of people to overtake and beat to the summit!

It was a race to the top! Headlights illuminating the way, we had many tour groups to get past, taking risks climbing on the outer edges of the path and sneaking our way up the hill, whilst trying not to get too sweaty!

As we finally got above the tour groups, the lights ahead began to diminish, and the occasional head touch began to merge in with the stars above us, whilst below there was a snake of blue-hued lights illuminating the entire path up here, and disappearing into the clouds.

Out beyond the mountain, the nearby towns twinkled through the cloud, and help provide some hint of how far Rob and I had walked that day!

At the 9th station, little more than a hut, was a man asleep in sleeping bag – had he been there all night?

Through a tori gate, and then bam! A stone pillar, that read (in Kanji) Fuji Summit – very proud of my Japanese there!

So it was 0215 – 3 hours until sunrise!! Luckily there are seats at the top, so Rob and I took position at the front, surrounded by less than a dozen people. Time for jumpers, jackets, trousers and waterproof trousers – it was gonna be a cold night!

Forty-five minutes later Becky turns up, joins us under our blanket and whips out… her tablet and we watch the Amazing Spider-man! Which turns out to be a great distraction as you freeze your ass off!

After a long wait, the first rays of light broke out from the clouds, and we began the sunrise.

11952779_10153020587950667_5834107304310962499_o

A sea of clouds as the sun teases us on at the summit of Fujisan

It was a beauty! The double clouded sky framed the sun wonderfully, and watching the hills and lakes below arise from the darkness really emphasised the height we had scaled – about 3700m.

11895011_10153020588125667_8773191067888894938_o

Adventure Time… The sole reason I made this hat

11951529_10153020588220667_5462478475221680978_o

Conquering of the sky

The way down was far better than the climb up! The weather held nicely, giving a great view of the base of the mountain, but also a double layer of clouds above and below us.

The path was mostly loose shale, on a shallow incline zig-zagged path – no rocky faces to climb. It was almost laughable how regularly and clearly you could see the route down the mountain below us, but pretty easy on the knees.

We set off around 0545, and were at the 5th station by 0745 – super quick! Our bus wasn’t even leaving until 10am!

Time for breakfast – american pancakes – and postcards to right and send (with the official Fuji postoffice stamp!). We managed to get onto an earlier bus, 0930 back to Tokyo and were back in before midday – and Becky had been so worried she’d miss her 9pm flight – ha!

The group split up, and Rob and I headed to our capsule hotel for the next two nights, over in Shibuya. Split over 10 floors, there were a number of bedrooms, a lounge, locker room and onsen. This was a problem for us, and we spent a lot of time going up and down trying to sort out laundry, changing for onsen, finding the onsen was closed etc.

But after a couple of hours, we were off exploring Shibuya!

First stop was the Shibuya Crossing made famous by the film “Lost in Translation”. I read in Timeout magazine that it was the best attraction in Tokyo as voted for by visitors.

Jesus!

I mean, it’s a crossing, it’s busy, and you cross from many points at once, but it is just a crossing in quite a small area.

We then checked out the highly mentioned Shibuya 109 mall – I mean, it’s a small-based, tall mall, for women with waists the diametre of my thigh… Not so good for Rob and definitely not good for me!

The day was passing, we chose a restaurant to check out, and munched. It wasn’t enough so we hunted down a Dominos pizza, walked there via a small temple surrounded by towering blocks, and munched it on the side of the street.

Having been up since midnight, we took the night pretty easy and got some much needed shut eye.

Sunday: Anime in Akihabara

After a nice lie in, and after discovering that the capsule hotels have porn on the built in TVs, we headed out to Taco Bell!!!

It wasn’t as good as I remembered in Korea…

Off to Akihabara to indulge in otaku culture!

Akihabara is the home of anime and video game culture in Japan. The streets are lined with shops selling anything and everything related to any and every anime and manga, from figurines, to outfits to trading cards and memorabilia.

We mostly went there for the arcades, and after exploring for an hour or so, headed into one. After 2 or 3 floors of UFO/ the claw machines, we made it into the games section. There was a super cool pokemon stadium game, were you actually played your moves in real time, and reacted to the opposition! Super cool!

On the next floor we found what we were after, and jumped into a 2 person Transformers shoot’em game! We sucked, throwing in yen after yen after yen! Then next was an immersive fighter pilot game – it had a massive curved screen that filled your vision and made me a lil sea sick…

Finally we finished off with a game of air hockey – though a version with a weird multi-puc mode that allowed me to win! 🙂

Off to the AKB48 cafe for some drinks! AKB48 are a band, with rolling membership, but what really differentiates them is that they have a permanent performance centre. Every day of the week you can go in and watch a performance. This gives fans permanent access to the band, and to counter exhaustion, they have nearly 50 members from which they choose a few to perform each day. And the name? An abbreviation of Akihabara > AKB, thus spawning a splurge of sister groups based in other areas of Japan.

11888135_10153020588425667_2940520327613151854_o

AKB48 Cafe next to Akihabara station

It was a nice enough cafe, but the music video of all the members performing on the beach in bikinis was a highlight!

A whistle stop visit to the Anime centre (little more than a room, but a fascinating seeing loose line work turned into fully inked manga panels/anime cells) lead to us checking out the 3331 Art centre.

The 3331 art centre is set in an old junior high school, with the classrooms rented out to different business, artists and exhibitors. A cracking idea in principle, but a lil empty on a Sunday, or perhaps it hasn’t taken off yet – I’m not sure.

Next we headed to Shinjuku. Like Akihabara, it was strange exploring these places I’d been to the previous year, back when I was completely green, totally lost and had no idea of the geography of Tokyo.

We walked amongst the illuminated signs that screamed for our attention, that scrambled and clung to every vertical surface, and informed us that all 10 floors in every building had something to offer us (though what it was offering I had no idea!).

We went in hunt of ‘Drunk’s Alley’ and ‘Piss Alley’ and eventually found both, or so thought…

We definitely visted Piss Alley, I’m almost sure of it, its description as a small network of alleyways, next to the tracks departing from the northwest side of Shinjuku. Two short streets lines with tiny little restaurants.

The other area turned out to be the Golden Gai. A piece of traditional Tokyo that managed not to be burnt down by the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia), it is now a favourite haunt of people with artistic tendenacies, and with its ‘Patrons only’ mentality, is pretty niche. It’s a much larger area of alleys – perhaps 6 street – with bars located in the basement, first floor and second floor levels. It looked pretty cool, but perhaps not at 8pm on a Sunday night.

Ultimately we headed back to the capsule hotel, taking aboard some ramen at a nearby eatery. Capping off Rob’s Japan experience in a truely japanese way – by buying your ramen by ordering from a vending machine.

Hong Kong: Reunion

My second vacation during the Summer Holidays saw me visit Hong Kong, and reunite with my best friend, Ginger Rob!

Friday 7th August

So after a stressful morning of having my yearly medical, of being told I shouldn’t have eaten, and may have to rearrange my medical that afternoon, I was aboard my 1207 Miemachi train and on my way to Hong Kong to meet Ginger Rob!

As always, the trains ran fine, and in no time at all I was through security and waiting to board the plane. Three hours passed and before I knew it, it was night and I was wondering through Hong Kong airport, passing customs and out the other side.

And who was there? Why Ginger Rob of course! Handmade sign to boot, to welcome me to Hong Kong!

He is sooo ginger!

#AdventureTime

#AdventureTime

After collecting my free Hong Kong rubber duck, we tried on our adventure time hats and headed out to the airport bus – and boy was it hot outside!

Only discovering as we attempted to board the bus that you had to pre-buy tickets at a special counter, a short ride later we were in Tsim Sha Tsui (TST), the Southern tip of mainland China closest to Hong Kong Island. Thankfully I had watched the hostel’s “How to Find Us” video, and we soon debagged, beer in hand overlooking Hong Kong from the balcony; it was like nothing had changed in a year!

Saturday – Kayaking in Sai Kung

Not ones to dilly-dally, our first day involved a 0630 departure to get to our Kayaking meet point of Sai Kung. The best the site could offer as guidance was a bus number and MRT station to get to. We managed this much, buying ourselves Octopus cards (think super useful Oyster cards) and arriving at the MRT stop, buying breakfast and lunch en route.

Ignoring the website’s (incorrect) directions to the bus stop meant we eventually found it, and attempted to board the minibus at the stop, only to discover it was full, and the queue at the bus stop was actually waiting for the next minibus of the same number.

Heading to the back of the queue red faced, we waited inline, and were soon being whisked out to the countryside.

Many of the buses in Hong Kong are actually minibuses, designed to carry 16 passengers, and thus run pretty frequently given the few people it carry. What is most convenient is that though (they seem) privately run, they do in fact take Octopus cards as payment 😀

We arrived with time to spare, and so had the opportunity to explore the area.

As whenever abroad, the issue of getting money reared its ugly head, and Rob’s money card was not complying! Thankfully, for once I didn’t have an issue and so we could at least survive.

Survive we did and much more! Buying super awesome hats to protect our faces and sausage bread things for breakfast!

Unfortunately, just because we had arrived on time, didn’t mean others would, and it wasn’t until after 9am that we headed out to the kayaks via a speed boat – luckily our cool new hats had handy strings to keep them on our heads!

Docking at a small island, on side was the pier, the other a beach with kayaks laid out on the sands. After a quick lesson on kayak technique – the front person’s the engine, the back the steering, and paddle on the same side together – we were on our first jaunt to a nearby beach.

“Not too bad this kayaking malarkey” I thought to myself, and to be honest, I was right!

After a bit of splashing and posing for photos, we were back on the kayak’s and heading across more open water to the next beach. The open water made it much harder to paddle in a straight line, but we kept ahead of the pack, kept off the coral and landed the boat onto the beach, allowing us to watch the others, especially the family with children, get forced over the coral and along the rocky shoreline before getting onto the shore..

After a few snacks provided by the company, we hiked up through the low, densely back shoreline forest, and up the rugged hills to the small peaks on the top of the island, receiving a cool breeze for our efforts, and some stunning views down to the rocky waters below.

By the time we returned, the sea was now full of party boats – apparently many of the big companies have boats its employees can hire out, and so expats often have parties on these.

The speedboat then took us out to a sea arch a bit too far out and open to kayak round to, and we posed for the obligatory photo in front of it.

The final leg had to most exciting part to it – kayaking through a sea arch! After what felt like an age of paddling, and being pushed into the rocks by the sea, we reached the arch!

We were the first pair to go through. We lined up, and were told to time it so that the swell would carry us through the arch…

Whether we actually did that, I don’t know, but we paddled away, entering the cool, echoey sanctum of the arch and watched the water rise up and build in front of us. We paddled hard trying not to get to washed back out, only to then have our speed boosted as we rode back down the swell. Approaching the rocky side at speedy, I had to rudder and turn the nose of kayak to the left, then the right, narrowly avoiding the sides of the arch, and then we were clear, and back into the heat of the sun – we’d done it!

Thankfully, the return journey was in the speed boat and we shortly back on the island and ready to board the boat back – at least Rob and I were.

Turned out we had to sit in the restaurant for over an hour, as the others in the group dined in the restaurant and the guides cleaned out the boat.

By this time it was late afternoon and we headed straight back to the hostel, ready for the BBQ in the hostel that evening.

Beers in hand, we sat in the small common room, beers in hand and chatting to our new hostel friends. Come 2030 we were wondering were the BBQ guy was to take us to it – turned out we hadn’t confirmed our places early enough and it had been cancelled!

Gutted, but enjoying our company, we headed over to Lan Kwai Fong (LKF) on Hong Kong island, an area dedicated to bars and restaurants, for a night out.

What we hadn’t anticipated was the beer festival.

The lines of stalls along one side of each street created a bottleneck and slowed a mass crowd to a snail’s pace. Within 30 seconds the group had gotten split in two, with the others never to be seen again!

After a sandwich at 7/11, and a thorough explore of the area, we gave up! Finding neither a dance floor, or anywhere sufficiently cheap enough to drink – all in all, the famous LKF had been a let down, and we finished the night with a cheeky Maccies.

Sunday – Peak and Party

Taking our time to rise, we grabbed some food from a local cafe, before setting out to Hong Kong island to board the famous tram to Victoria Peak.

Victoria Peak was formerly home to the colonising elites, who chose it for its cool breezes and lower temperatures than the rest of the island and neighbouring territories. Due to the heat, these elites didn’t like to climb the slopes of their home, so employed people to carry them up in sedan chairs. Eventually in the 1880s Alexander Findlay Smith began construction and opened the first tram up to the peak, helping to speed up the area’s development and popularity.

Today it takes tourists (and maybe some locals) to the Peak and the two shopping malls located there.

On top of the World!

On top of the World!

Whilst the history is interesting and the ride fun, it does feel kind of empty to be let out into an airconditioned mall, filled with restaurants, and a DC shop – slightly surreal!

Heading back down into more central Hong Kong, we’d heard that Sunday afternoon is a great party time in Hong Kong, since all the employed house staff are required to leave their employers houses on Sunday, many of the choose to party.

And so at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon, we found ourselves transported to 1am on a Saturday morning, dancing to an eclectic mix of Western, Indonesian and Filipino music.

After getting a good sweat on dancing, the club began to empty out, and as we picked up drunken takeaway food, it was about 7pm – surely it was bed time though?

Back to the hostel, we spent a few hours on our devices before hitting the hay, feeling worse for wear.

Monday – Exploring TST and home foods

It was time we took to the streets of Hong Kong, so phone in hand we followed a route of the TST area, and learnt about its more opulent and glorious past as the gateway between the island and mainland, and the buildings that welcomed its elite.

We hit up the Avenue of Stars, a gangway that juts out over the waters, and is perhaps the Asian equivalent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame – a series of plagues, many of which with hand prints of named star, and a few statues here and there. To be only honest, I recognised 3 names – have a guess who they were…

Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Bruce Lee!

Next we found a delightful French bakery that had a turkey and brie sandwich on artisan bread (it had nuts and honey) and I nearly cried it was so good. Then I nearly cried when I’d finished it.

As I’ve said before in other posts, leaving Japan is a time when I get to enjoy home food, be that a pizza hut, pub grub or a good sandwich! But in Hong Kong especially, this idea of ‘local’ food vs ‘western’ food is exceptionally blurred, given 150 years of British history in the area.

We then headed up to the Science museum – it’s super cool! We spent a good couple of hours doing their fun puzzles, life science and experiments, the mirror world and many other things!

Lunch had come and almost past, so we headed to Pizza Express for a much needed pizza fix – OH MY GOD it was so good! I’ve missed it so much! So pizzary and the base is dry, with normal toppings! Again, I nearly cried!

Finishing up the tour took us past some former school, and through a park next to the hostel. Walking around we came across a really nice supermarket with cheap fruit (compared to Japan) so I bought tons and gorged myself!

As the late afternoon drifted into night, we set up going to the Temple Street Market – after all, it’s in all the tour books!

What a disappointment!

I should have learnt from the famed markets in Taiwan. The market was just some stalls in the street selling stuff for tourists – leather wares, electronics and jewellery. Even the ‘delicious’, ‘plentiful’ street food was lil more than a few restaurants on the side of the street, food served on plastic bowls under harsh fluorescent lighting. It was a sharp drop from the joys of lunch, and cost almost as much – I do wonder how the tour books can advertise these markets and something extraordinary? Perhaps the only extenuating circumstance was that it was a Monday rather than Saturday evening?

Tuesday – Beaches, beaches, beaches

With the weather looking hot and sunny, it was beach day. What neither of us had realised was that… we are not beach people. Between burn and boredom, there was no real reason why we would be beach people!

Setting off we caught the bus round the island to the first beach, Deep Water Beach Bay, swam to the platform in the water and then ran back for the shelter of the trees.

We walked around a platform/gangway to the next beach, Repulse Bay, and to our relief, it was much more developed and had shops! After exploring the streets, we picked out a Cantonese restaurant on the beach front, and enjoyed a lunch of noodles, BBQ rib rolls and Chinese donut roll – the last item was very strange – a donut wrapped in the white translucent ‘paper’ of a spring roll. Followed down by a (very expensive) cocktail in a shop further down.

After crisp sandwiches (I was still hungry!) we set off for South Bay beach on the hunt for the bio luminescent algae that lived in the waters.

Unfortunately, it was still about 5pm when we arrived, and so we had to wait out the sunset. We do so with a lil swim, some smoothies and a number of handstands as the sun was setting.

11873723_10152992205315667_1866360979515809841_n

Handstands at South Bay beach

Yet even in the dark, we saw no glowing algae, and eventually had to admit defeat.

Thankfully for us, as we showered in the beach washrooms, we got talking to a Malaysian guy who lived in Hong Kong, who offered a lift back in his Mercedes, and took us all the way to the Star Ferries port!

It was most surreal driving around Hong Kong, the fast and strong contrast between dark hills, then towering buildings gave it a real video game quality!

Crossing on the ferry gave us the nighttime panorama of the Hong Kong island lights, again upr surreal.

Our final aim of the day was to hit a guidebook restaurant! So in our finest swim shorts and vest tops, we followed the guidebook to a cheap cantonese restaurant, into a mall, up the escalators and into a posh restaurant filled with men in shirts and women in dresses…

Shit!

Vastly underdressed, but if the staff were bothered, it didn’t show, and we ordered a feast of dumplings, and noodles. They were delicious! My beef stew full of flavour, and tender chunks of beef – a good food day!

Wednesday – Riding the Dragon

On top of the Dragon's Back

On top of the Dragon’s Back

We’d been putting it off cos of the heat, but today was the day we’d tackle the Dragon Back ridge. It was another bus jobby, popping out of a station on the island, and catching a bus round towards the bottom of the island.

Why is a dragon back? I don’t know. Why is it a ridge? Again, I don’t know, it was particularly steep on either side. Was it a good idea to do it in near 40C heat? Probably not, but thankfully it was pretty short!

The initial climb is up some rugged terrain, exposed to the sun, and continues that was until just after the main peaks. The peaks over views of Stanley to one side and the SOuth China sea to the other, oh, and a golf course!

Compared to Taiwan the previous week, the hike was really nothing, but did offer contrasting views of nature against the sprawl of urbanisation.

The latter half of the trip is spent in the shade of trees, winding their way back down the hill, then round to Big Wave Bay. By the time we reached the bay, we had been hiking for maybe 2.5 to 3 hours.

Big Wave Bay is far more european than the beach we went to, with a number of small shops selling refreshments and hiring beach equipment, and the beach had many more sunbathers and people in bikinis and speedos than elsewhere we’d been. After a dip and drying off, we headed back into the bustle of central Hong Kong and to the escalator street.

Called the mid-levels, it’s a strange area, with a number of outdoor escalators that take you up (and not down) the streets, and on which are a good number of restaurants and bars.

Capitalising on happy hour, we got some wine and beer, before looking for somewhere to eat.

After trying to get served in the Butcher Club burger house, and being ignored, we ended up a wee bit further up the street at Cochrane’s Bar & Grill, which not only served us, but gave us free monkey nuts and came with fries – deliciously pleasing.

Thursday – History of Hong Kong

A slow start saw us heading to Pizza Hut for a brunch – and boy was it fancier than I was used to! With a full menu, not a whiff of a buffet bar and nicely furnished but… the pizza did taste like McDonalds though :/

We had planned to go Macau, but looking at the options, it was going to be expensive, so we had to cobble together a plan.

The Hong Kong History Museum was that plan. Funnily enough it was next to the Science Museum, and annoyingly, had been free on Wednesday! Oh well!

The museum was well put together! Covering Hong Kong history from well over 340 millions years ago, right up until 1997 when Hong Kong was handed over to China when the 99-year lease ran out.

It was fascinating to learn about the 4 ‘native’ peoples of the area, and traditions, and the insight into the effect of British and Japanese rule. The museum has full sized replica buildings that house the exhibits and displays – great for keeping the kids entertained imagine – it certainly kept Rob entertained!

Finishing up at the museum, we decided to get a drink, and spotting a tea house on a second floor, headed up. It really was a tea house! You bought dry tea, boiled your own water and made your own tea!

Weirdly, you had to buy tea per person… And let’s say it worked out a lot more than a Starbucks!

The Phoenix Tea House

The Phoenix Tea House

I don’t think I’m a tea person :/

Our final night in Hong Kong required us to celebrate in style – Korean BBQ style! We visited a few restaurants, before settling on one and pulling up our seats at a lil BBQ table – it was just like being back in Korea! We chose some garlic skirt meat and chicken to BBQ, and some pork rice to go with all the sides we got – it was pretty damn tasty!

We took a quick trip to the Irish bar, Delaney’s, as it was celebrating it’s final last call (it was shutting down permanently), but it didn’t even have diddly-diddly music, so we didn’t stay long.

With the free time we gained, we went back to Temple Street, only a different part which we hoped would be cooler – it wasn’t. But we did get cool friendship bracelets, then headed back to the hostel.

Friday – Back to Japan

Wanting to get to the airport with a fair amount of time to spare, we hoped to check out of the hostel at 0900, get breakfast and head off at 0930. Only, the cafe front of the hostel had its shutters down! With the hostel taking my driving licence as a deposit, we had no choice to wait around, then find some wifi, then ring the hostel.

Finally they showed up and we checked out. Thankfully, it was a quick couple of trains and we were at the airport, messaging our friend Becky about our evenings plans in Fukuoka, and when we were to meet and what we were going to do.

Friday night fun in Fukuoka

Friday night fun in Fukuoka

Language: #100DaysofKanji – Failed!

So the standard deck of Kanji stands around the 2000 mark. Using the Remember the Kanji technique, I”ll learn on average 25 new kanji each day until I Remember the Kanji come Monday 7th September!

Kanji is the great barrier of entry for the willing Japanese student, making both reading and writing anywhere near native level an absolute nightmare.

Notice how I didn’t say speaking or listening? So the limits of this project is that I shan’t be learning the various pronunciations of the kanji, only a single meaning that is most frequently associated with this kanji, and to be able to draw it from memory.

In doing this, I will have a great groundwork for later learning the pronunciation and wider meanings, but will be able to get a much better idea of what the fuck is going on when reading! And bring my writing up to speed later on. In essence, I’m working to become like a Chinese learner of Japanese, in that I’ll have a meaning, and be able to draw the character, but will still need to learn to ‘Japanesify’ it.

I”ll be keeping a short log of progress here, and highlighting my favouriate Kanji each day on my instragram feed at here!

Day 80 – So having been away in Taiwan and Hong Kong, my Kanji Anki deck has hit over 500 reviews, I’m still only on 700 kanji, with 30 days left in the project – time to throw in the towel! I still plan on hitting about 1000 kanji by the 7th September, before concertrating my efforts back to WaniKani and speaking Japanese. I feel as if my everyday Japanese communication and suffered from the project and look forward to getting back to communication level, but it has been enjoyable to transalte chinese characters on station maps in Taiwan and Hong Kong! 2015/8/17

Day 48 – 680?

Day 41- 637/29% Up to needing to study 27 words a day to finish on target, 393 behind schedule… It’s getting close to the tipping point, and seems unlikely I’ll fit study for all 2200 into a hundred days… Still, let’s see how many we can do! 2015/7/08

Day 34 – 586 What an atrocious weekend – incredibly fun, but did nothing for my Kanji, and left me with a ton of reviews!!! 264 off the initial schedule, and need to average 25 each day to complete the project in its entirity… so doable, but with 2 weeks of holidays coming up, I need more discipline! 2015/7/01

Day 28 – 530 Whoop! 500 mark smashed! Plus I added an extra 11 to make up for some lost time.

So time for a big review to check my recall. Hoping for at least 70% when I do, but it’s going to be slow work drawing out each Kanji! Shame my busiest work days are Thursday & Friday. Though I have found this project is coming at the expense of my speaking since I’ve less time to review vocab, grammar and practice, but I hope it’ll be worth it in the long run! 2015/6/25

Day 27 – 491 Back on track! New Kanji learnt! Almost at the 500 hurdle! 2015/6/24

Day 26 – 463 Another 200 reviews, combined with compiling exams and prepping for my Japanese class so no new progress, but I got the reviews in. 2015/6/23

Day 25 – 463 As always, the weekend took its toll and I missed a day, making me a short of my 550 (25%) target for the day, but at least I got one full review done on Saturday! Then I got my reviews done, but learnt no new Kanji – 200 reviews got to me! 2015/6/22

Day 22- 435 Desperately trying to get to 550 for day 25! Haha, so going to have to work hard over the weekend to maintain it and get there! Looking forward to being able to cross off my first 500 😀 2015/6/19

Day 21 – 400/18% I’m a little confused as to how I’m only on 400! So Day 20 should have seen me hit the 440 mark in order to remain on target. So I’ve pushed my daily learning up to 30 a day, and have begun revising as soon as I wake up in the morning – hopefully that will get me back on track, and then I’ll sit a test to check my knowledge of the first 500! 2015/6/18

Day 18 – 350 :S Another difficult weekend to fit in Kanji learning. Though I spent a couple hours on Saturday studying, working through the due cards took up a lot of time, and learning the new ones sat in the back of the car took so long as I wan’t able to concentrate! 2015/6/15

Day 15 – 300. Finished Remember the Kanji 1 – Part One! In the 6th Edition that puts me on 300 Kanji. From here on in I’m using the 4th Edition Book, but a 6th Edition Anki deck. I’ll use the book to subblement the Kanji. This puts me into the number of Kanji a 4th Year elementary schooler is learning, however they learn it in a different order. Maybe I’ll do a blog about the differences of learning as an adult vs. child soon. 2015/06/12

Day 14275! Anki has caught up with me, and together we’ve busted the next 25 cards. I’m going to give it a few days for the number of reviews to drop off, then start hitting 28 cards at a time, for 10 days to make up for some the last few days (Luckily I’ve already factored in some time loss!). 2015/6/11

Today’s favourite, 告 – revelation; “The cow’s mouth dropped to the floor when he found out what was in the hamburger he was eating”.

Day 13 – 11%! Still working on planting the first 250 kanji. Using an Anki deck now, but I’ve had to spend time pulling it up to the 250 I’ve studied so far. New cards tomorrow I think! (Now 75 behind…) 2015/6/10

Day 12 – In a car park last night and spotted this, in which I recognise all the kanji, and can draw an approximation of “Extinguish fire utensils”, which pleased me greatly after a difficult Japanese class! 2015/6/09
11418518_10152842424210667_2077558473_n

Day 11249 Kanji reached! Though the weekend has slowed down progress. Time to spend a day taking stock and ensuring everything is cemented in place! 2015/6/08

Day 8 – Not a bad effort, need to pull my socks up a bit! 2015/6/511419778_10152838183495667_793378746_n

Day 6150 down, though some issues remembering some! Enjoyed 器 with the image of a St Bernard being tied down to the table and 4 hungry mouths waiting on utensils to begin eating him. 2015/6/03

Day 51252015/6/02

Day 4 – Slacking day – went to the beach in Saiki with Savvysan and ate curry. Fitted in some revision though! 2015/6/01

Day 3100 – Especially enjoyed 召 – seduce – to hold a knife to a lover’s mouth! 2015/5/31

Day 2 – Studied on the way to a volleyball game – up to 75, including 負 – defeat. 2015/5/30

Day 1 – Took on the first 54 kanji (since these included many I’ve previously learnt!). 2015/5/29