Jamie’s Japanophile Blog – Part 2 – First week in Tokyo

Our first week in Tokyo was action-packed to say the least.

On our first real day in Tokyo we headed to Harajuku: a part of the city well known for its alternative fashion culture, but also for its historical importance.

As we got there early in the day, we headed straight up to the Meiji Shrine. The shrine and its grounds, once the land of a local lord, take up a large part of the surrounding area and comprise of a long forested path up towards the shrine that include many beautiful Torii gates (usually large wooden gates that signify the entrance to a Shinto shrine).

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The shrine itself, dedicated to the Emperor Meiji who was the first modern emperor of Japan and one of the main figures in the modernization of Japan in the 19th century, is an impressive series of treasure houses, shrines, and courtyards.

On the walk to Harajuku proper we bumped into a man who had set up what was essentially a mobile cat café with five cats just relaxing in a stroller. He allowed them to be patted for 100 (about a dollar) yen for as long as you wanted. We of course took the opportunity to get some cat time and take pictures.

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We quickly discovered that Harajuku has changed since its heyday as an alternative hotspot. As with many places, once it got too well known, the crowds of alternative kids have moved on and been replaced with hipsters and American tourists.

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It was still pretty fun to see all the fun little fashion stores around the place, and discover that Japan’s love of crepes has yet to wane. We even saw our first few Japanese with facial piercings and tattoos, which is a change from most of Tokyo.

We quickly moved on to Tokyo proper, which is a huge town but eerily quiet for somewhere so big. At the end of the day we discovered that the lack of people was due to it being a public holiday and so no-one was really working.

As such we took advantage of the quiet and wandered up to the site of the Tokyo Imperial Palace gardens. A massive and beautiful site right in the middle of one of the world’s biggest cities.

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To round off the evening we ventured into Akihabara. This place is true nerd central and home of the famed Otaku culture.

Even on a public holiday, every street is packed with bright neon, Jpop music, young men and women beckoning people into maid cafés and anime stores, and the luring songs of so many wonderful things to look at and buy.

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The next day we headed out of Tokyo for a day trip to Nikko. Partly to see some proper autumn colours and partly to see some of the amazing sights it holds.

And boy did we get colour. The mountain was spotted with deep reds and shining gold in between the evergreens.

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The main and most amazing sight however was up the mountain a little ways. The final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the man responsible for establishing peace amongst the warring clans of Japan for nearly three centuries and paving the way for the modern way of life here.

The complex is incredible and awe inspiring. We were both nearly overcome by the feeling of reverence and importance of this site, so was the impact of getting to walk through something of such historic significance.

During the next day, we decided to go for a run around in Tokyo for a bit. So first off we jumped into the famed Tsukiju fish market. We arrived well after the rush of the morning (we got in about 10am) but we still saw plenty of bustle.

And boxes of octopus…

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After an amazing sushi breakfast we headed south and ended up in the Hama Rikyu gardens. A sprawling garden with beautiful gardens with views of Tokyo through the foliage…

…and friendly cats who are happy to curl up next to you in the sunshine….

…and a wonderful little teahouse where we had proper Japanese tea and sweets with a beautiful view over the park.

And only a few blocks further south we ended up in the Tokyo Pokemon Center. A haven for my inner child who went more than a little crazy buying merchandise from my childhood…

…And going crazy fanboy at the Charizard hanging from the ceiling.

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Our final night in Tokyo was pretty relaxed. We spent a while running around in Asakusa, picking up souvenirs, and getting packed for the next stage of the trip. But we did have one last attraction to get to: Robot Restaurant!

 

Robot Restaurant is not something easily described. Flashing lights, blaring music, robots, costumes, barely conceived stage plots and just insane strangeness combine to make what I now believe to be the greatest show on earth.

We also got to get a photo with a robot and one of the performers.

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Since we were in Shinjuku, I had one final act to perform before we left.

I broke out my Kobo and read the opening line of Neuromancer by William Gibson. This book shaped a lot of the way I see the world, and since it is based in Tokyo, I felt no better way to honour it than to read it in one of the most Cyberpunk places in the world.

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Next up: Kyoto and Osaka!



taylor_god and monstersThe series has, to this point, been fast-paced and filled with questions about what constitutes good and evil, as well as heart-stopping moments that made me cry. Dreams of Gods and Monsters concludes this trilogy and, whoa baby, does it play with your emotions and leave you wanting to give Laini a standing ovation for a job well done.

If you’re reading this series wrap up review and haven’t started this trilogy, you probably want to know if it’s worth your time—the answer is yes. You will not be left wanting to throw the book at the wall. You will be sated and happy. I promise!

Laini’s portrayal of Prague throughout the series is stunning and dramatic. It was so good, in fact, that I have a good friend jetting off to Prague to experience Karou’s environment for herself.

I cannot imagine having the power to end a series. To write the words that finalise the material element of characters and allow the audience’s imagination to take its place. Authors talk about how having a book published is akin to sending your child off into the world to experience what they will. I would imagine finishing a series would be similar. What now? They will live on in our imaginations, effectively playing out in fan fiction.

Suffering from withdrawal symptoms? Laini has a short story in a Christmas anthology as of October 14, 2014. It’s called My True Love Gave To Me, and she writes alongside David Levithan, Holly Black, and nine other bestselling authors.

 

http://www.lainitaylor.com/

Paperback, UK, 613 pages

Published April 17th 2014 by Hodder & Stoughton (first published April 8th 2014)

ISBN 1444722735 (ISBN13: 9781444722734)



Mandy Wrangles_2_tnNEW YORK & HAWAII

Well, we’ve been back home in Australia for a couple of weeks now, and it’s taken me that long to find my blogging feet again. All up, we spent four weeks in America, stayed in seven cities, caught ten flights (including the teeny-tiny plane to the Grand Canyon), too many buses, cabs and shuttles to count. It was, without doubt, the most incredible trip of a lifetime. Our kids are now pretty seasoned travellers, and already asking where the next holiday will be to!

NYOur last stop in mainland USA was New York – a very long way from sunny California! Two of my foodie ambitions was to check out a fair-dinkum NYC hot dog, and of course the pizza. Believe me, we had plenty if both! There are, of course, hot dog stands on every corner, but this one struck me as typical New York City; about a block from the Twin Towers Memorial site, on our way to walk along the Hudson River and wave to the Statue of Liberty. I got to have my New York Hot Dog, served with the lot. It was delish! (Until I grubbed ketchup all the way down the front of me…)

NY-1On our walk back to our hotel, we stopped into a pretty grubby-looking cafe on the edge of a construction zone for our kids to use the restroom. Being the polite kind of people we are, we decided to stay for hot chips and a milkshake. It was only once we were seated that we noticed the temporary wooden sign spray painted with the words ‘Medi Centre’, and the photographs and hand-written RIP messages pinned to the walls showing the horror and chaos of September 11, when that very cafe we were sitting in was turned into an emergency medical facility. A very emotional experience for all of us.

On a lighter note – PIZZA! My all time favourite food! We ate A LOT of it in New York. A lot. A few doors down from our hotel was a take-away pizza shop selling slices for 99 cents each, or $10 for a whole ‘pie’. Now I’m not talking average sized slices, either. These were the massive-one-slice-will-fill-you kind. We could easily feed our whole family of five for $10, with leftovers for the fridge. Win! We went back more than once.

 

Hawaii 1On our way home to Australia, we stopped over in Hawaii for three nights. Bliss, bliss and more bliss! What a contrast to the crazy-busy city of New York. We stayed at the simply amazing Hilton on Waikiki Beach, and it was there that I finally got what I’d been craving for weeks – fruit. Check out my seasonal breakfast platter, served with a gluten-free ‘bread’ (more like a sweet cupcake, but hey, I wasn’t complaining!) Banana, melon, star fruit, berries, pineapple and dragon fruit. I ordered the same thing every morning, with a side of bacon. Because protein. And really, no one does bacon like Americans. Or pizza, or hot dogs, or cheeseburgers, or waffles, pancakes, clam chowder or super-sized buffets…yeah, you get the picture.

Thanks, USA. We had a blast!

 

 



george_nowhereBel:

Cover

The book I borrowed from the Library is split into three horizontal strips. The middle strip has a partial profile of a girl we imagine would be Becca and the bottom strip is the silhouette of forestry. The title and author’s name are in hues of purple and before you read the book, it really doesn’t seem to refer too much to the story within.

Characters

Elizabeth George is quite skilled at creating characters you can relate to. You can even feel some sympathy for the queen of nastiness.

Favourite

Hayley. Yes I know this one is from left field. She’s dealing with stuff in the best way she knows how, and I love a girls who isn’t all ‘poor me’.

Least Favourite

Jeff Corrie. Scum of the earth is above him.

Beginning

Jeff Corrie is using Hannah for his own devices and his greed comes to a head, which would be fine except Hannah can hear whispers (read minds), and what she reads from Jeff’s mind is enough to have her mother and her on the run lickety-split.

Storyline

Hannah, now known as Becca, is sent to Whidbey Island to wait out her mother finding a safe place to hide. She finds the most popular kid in school close to death at the bottom of an incline in the forest and staying off the radar becomes her number one priority.

Ending

This series continues on, so I guess there technically isn’t one here.

Thoughts

I munched through this book in about 24 hours. Talk about hooked. I felt off kilter almost the whole way through, and it didn’t matter how many guesses I made throughout the book, I didn’t guess the outcome. The characters evolve and their relationships are cemented, which is excellent, because I will certainly be searching for the rest of this series.

Quote

“People usually hate because of a despair they can’t let themselves feel.” ~Dianna, giving words of wisdom to Becca.

 George_nowhere 2Krista:

Cover

My cover was the same as Bel’s The island the book takes place on does have a lot of forest landscape, but the main character Becca is explained to have heavy makeup on. I would have liked to see that on the cover.

Characters

The story takes place on a somewhat small island, a place where everyone knows each other. So there are a lot of characters that are coming in and out of the story. We get different point of views throughout the story, which I always enjoy. Becca is the main character and she is abandoned, scared, and lonely but seems to make friends easily.

Favourite

Diana: it seemed that everything this woman said was insightful, and she always has this caring air about her that was comforting.

Least Favourite

Jenn. It seemed like she always had to say something negative. She obviously didn’t believe in the saying “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Beginning

Running for their lives, Becca’s mother drops her off at Whidbey Island to be taken care of by a friend (to hide her from her step father). But when Becca gets to the friend’s house, circumstances have changed. Now she is stranded not knowing anybody who can help her and out of contact with her mother.

Storyline

Hiding from her step-father in fear for her life, Hannah is left in the care of her mother’s friend on Whidbey Island. As soon as she arrives everything falls apart, and now she has nowhere to go and doesn’t know anybody to help. After meeting a few people, she finds a place to live and she starts school. When a boy is hurt in the forest, things take a turn for the worse.

Ending

This is another first book in a series, so the ending leaves some unanswered questions and intrigue for the next book.

Thoughts

Even with a mixture of characters, I felt that the author did a great job in having each one rounded and their emotions jumped off the page. Their reactions were very real and raw. This made me really hate and really love different characters as the story progressed. I also loved the scenic mountainous setting of Whidbey Island; very much a place I would love to live in.

Quote

“Sometimes, we can’t see a reason for what happens, so we try to find one because it’s easier to do that than to go through the pain of recovering.” -Diana



Jamie MJamie’s Japanophile Blog – Part 1: To the land of old and new

Japan has always been on my Must-Go list. Over a decade of being exposed to Japanese culture through language & cultural studies, not to mention that all the anime, manga,and Japanese friends I’ve had over the years have built up my desire to go to an almost fever pitch.

So at 10pm on the 31st of October 2014, a mere decade after making the decision that going to Japan would definitely happen, my girlfriend and I boarded a flight to the rising sun– an adventure that we could hardly believe was really happening.

At around dawn we woke up, peered out the window to see Japan rolling into view. Just past the coast was something that explained more in one viewing than all of my research into Japanese mythology than anything else: the forests of Japan, swathed in morning mist.

jamie-japan

Suddenly I found myself taken back to the stories of forest spirits and demons and lonely samurai wanderers. An instant reminder that I wasn’t in Sydney any more.

Japanese bureaucracy is beautifully efficient. Have your documents sorted, make sure you’re in the right line, and you’ll be through in no time. What was expected to take us a good hour just waiting for customs and immigration to get through with us was done in about 20 minutes, including the time to get our bags, and, after a bit of a wait to get our rail passes, it was off on the first of many…many….MANY trains we would take during our stay. Getting anywhere requires a bit of planning. Getting from A to B can be a chore when you look at just how many different lines each train rail company runs.

Japanese trains are amazing. I never thought I’d be praising public transport but I love it. While walking from platform to platform can be a bit of a slog, the trains themselves are very regular, punctual to an almost unsettling degree, and full of quiet and polite Japanese people who are far better than we Westerners are at realizing that personal space is a purely mental thing.

jamie-japan 2

My girlfriend and I are staying in Asakusa (pronounced asak-sa) in Tokyo for this leg of our Japan trip, then back there again at the end of the month. We chose the location for a few reasons: great-yet-cheap hotels, very tourist friendly, close to pretty much everything, and more dripping with history than an encyclopedia.

No more than two blocks from our hotel  is the Sensoji temple complex. This includes two incredible entrance gates, Sensoji Temple itself, and a beautiful five story pagoda that overlooks it all.

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Despite the heavy rain we were quickly approached by a group of students wanting to practice their English by taking us on a tour of the temple complex. Explaining the history of each structure and their mythological basis. We gave them each a couple of Caramello Koalas as a thank you gift. I think we made some friends here already.

Later that night we hit up the Shinjuku district for dinner and a wander through the night life. Shinjuku is everything I imagined and more from a night-life district in Japan; strange, alive, crazy, and pure Cyberpunk. I feel like I’m walking through the opening chapters of Neuromancer around here.

jamie-japan 5

All in all a pretty packed first day in Japan.

Stay tuned for the week one round up.

 

 

 


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