Finnish design

This post is for Trish, Jani and Nikki.

I have discovered that Japan is a bit mad for the Moomins. A Moomin theme park will open in Tokyo in 2015 and there is Moomin merchandise in many stores. I have seen many Moomin books, cookies, sweets etc.

And while out for some retail therapy with P some weeks back – I found the perfect answer to my study blues … A Pikku My t-shirt just for me.

My in my pikku my shirt

My in my pikku My shirt

But Moomin is not the only Finnish influence we have noted in Japan. The wondrous and colourful designs of Marimekko have also found a home in Japan. On mobile phone covers, bags, key chains and numerous other places. I had not seen a Marimekko outlet, that is until this weekend. I was in Kagoshima (about two hours flight from Tokyo and one of the southern most points in the main island chain), when out to dinner in the main shopping precinct there it was – the first Marimekko I have seen in Japan. Sadly for me it was after closing time, so I was not able to indulge in any Marimekko design magic. But I still got someone to take my picture!

If only we had got there earlier

If only we had got there earlier

Oh and one final things, you know your great relaxing chair Trish. The wooden one with the fabric cushions (scandanavian/sweedish/danish design)? Well I have been tempted to buy one for us from the local homewares store. The chairs in the apartment are industrial to say the least. Comfort is not a factor they have considered in furnishing this place (nor is upkeep, actually). But only being here for 12 months stops me every time I get close. Maybe I will just have ot get myself one when I get back to Oz.

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Something fishy ’bout that

OMG! Is that Shellie eating fish?

Yes, and no.

Something fishy going down here

Something fishy going down here

A fish, yes.
Fish meat, no.

In Japan there is a really yummy treat called Taiyaki. Its a pastry in the shape of a fish which is basically a pancake batter filled with sweet red bean paste. They were fresh from the grill, and on a chilly day out in Tokyo they were the prefect warming treat.

Sorry for all you die hard meatatarians, who might have been hoping I’d been converted by the amazing cuisine in Japan. Well, the cuisine is amazing, but I am yet to be converted.

Kagoshima day #3

It was morning before I went to bed today. Not a precipitous start to a day in which I needed to be awake, breakfasted, packed and in the hotel foyer by 820am – for a day that would not see me home before 11pm.

But it was the start hat I made for myself. 😦 Sometimes fun gets payback!

We commenced the day with a short drive to get to one of the largest Japanese gardens in the country. They were huge. Built by a wealthy lord on the site of a major factory area that he controlled. The gardens spread down from the top of a hill to the sea with an outlook toward Sakurajima – an active volcano. We had a bit over an hour to walk in the gardens and look at a neighboring museum.  The entrance to the park had an odd underground stone construction, so I wandered over their first, but the rest of the group headed straight off down the path. I fell behind – but was somewhat pleased to be able to take a slow pace on my walk through the gardens.

I meandered, wandering past an ancient, water powered, rice polishing device and then found a path headed upward toward the peak. I commenced climbing. I was steep, but with steps build into the path to help with footing. I paused a few times to get my breath, but kept climbing in the peace of the forest. I passed over bamboo bridges and was helped by bamboo railings – it was a beautiful peaceful spot.

Ancient rice polishing tool.

Ancient rice polishing tool.

Japanese landscapes #1

Japanese landscapes #1

The numbers on the signs pointing to the top were getting lower, indicating I was making progress, but it was slow. I got to a look out point to find some of my more agile colleagues had made it up this path also. we discussed the option of going further, but they had concluded that we were already off the map and thought stopping was a sensible course of action. While we were waiting and enjoying the view, some others from the group puffed their way to the look out. We overheard one of the two who were there when I arrived comment that she thought she was unfit, until she saw the state of some of arriving colleagues. It did take them quite some time to recover their breath!

Japanese landscapes #2

Japanese landscapes #2

I always find it more challenging going down hills, and this day was no different. I just took my time. I got to the bottom and rested to recover my outlook on the world – looking at the steps on the way down to watch my footing had made me a little dizzy – maybe going up the hill was not such a great idea after all. But after a few breaths I recovered.

I took a short stroll through the museum before we were due back at the bus. The museum mostly housed industrial tools and machines from the factories which had formerly occupied the site.

From here we had a relatively long trip on the bus to reach one of the largest shrines in Japan. It is set in a forest and is a very peaceful location.  A 300 year old tree stands guard just inside the Tori gate (the entrance to the shrine). It stands 38m tall, has a girth of 7.5 m and is project to weigh around 750kg. And right around it were fellow trees of similar dimensions – my what stories that tree could tell!

The shrine itself was quite busy. Many queuing to pray and make their wishes at the shrine. There was a long wall tied with fortunes from visitors – the shrine sells fortunes to visitors. They are pre-written papers which the visitor selects from a lucky dip and each one gives the readers fortunes in many area of life, such as love, wealth, happiness, work etc (somewhat like a horoscope). After reading them, the recipient ties it to the long wall of string waiting to receive the fortunes. The shrines also sell other wishing icons, which people write messages on and tie to another part of the wall. Many of these wished for love, happy life for newly wed couples, or success in upcoming exams – much as might be sought in the prayers made at many other places of worship around the world! We really are not that different, wherever we may come from or whatever religion we might ascribe to.

The shrines are beautiful - this is one of the largest in Japan - I wished good things for you all!

The shrines are beautiful – this is one of the largest in Japan – I wished good things for you all!

Japanese landscapes #3

Japanese landscapes #3

In addition there was another part of the shrine in which families were gathering for what appeared to be specific ceremonies – babes in arms being dressed in beautiful kimonos (perhaps as a naming ceremony), immaculately dressed young couples gathered with older folk (perhaps to bless a new union or proposed coupling), and many more people milling around the outside. The shrine was in full swing on this day.

From here we headed to Sakurajima – it was formerly an island, but as a result of land creation from previous volcanic eruptions, it is now connected to the mainland (although on the opposite side of Kinko Bay from Kagoshima city).

We stopped past a Tori gate which had been almost totally buried in a previous eruption. The shrine to which the tori gate was the entrance was totally engulfed in the lava and is now underground. The tori gate, which once would have stood around 4-5m tall now has just 1m above the ground level – what power the earth possesses! We then went to the viewing walk, from where we could see out to the bay and up to several craters of the islands volcanoes – there is three in total, all still active.  There was not much sign of life as we watched, but there were eruption shelters just in case. The shelters were just like train tunnels (only much shorter), so I wondered aloud what happens if there is a big eruption and lava starts to flow. Needless to say, there was a few moments of concern from some other students. In the air were many hawks, no doubt enjoying the gliding offered by the warm thermal air provided by the volcano.

Japanese landscapes #5

Japanese landscapes #5

Some of the students of YLP 2013

Some of the students of YLP 2013

On the way back to the seaside, we stopped at the highest observation point, but the view was little different from the viewing walk so the stop was short. we reached the seaside and had a leisurely 70minutes before we boarder the ferry to commence our return journey to Tokyo. just as we were getting off the bus at the seaside national park, sakurajima volcano let us know is was still active – letting off plumes of ash into the air. There was much excitement and we rushed to find uninterrupted viewing points. After a gentle walk by the sea, some of us enjoyed a thermal foot bath. One last bit of warmth and spring before we head back to winter in Tokyo.

If you can peel your glance away from the beauties in the foreground, there is an erupting volcano in the background!

If you can peel your glance away from the beauties in the foreground, there is an erupting volcano in the background!

After the open air foot bath

After the open air foot bath

Snowing in Tokyo

We awoke in the dim light of morning. I was tired and so was more than happy to relax on the pillow until the sun came up. No classes to go to that day. I said good morning to P and asked what time it was, and did we have to get up yet. He just smiled at me and said, its not a sunny day today. It was already after 9am! The light was that of pre-dawn. It was going to be an inside day! Glad I did not have to go to school.

As the day tracked on, things got no better. By early afternoon it was drizzling misty rain. P made comments about it snowing if it was a little colder…well by early afternoon he was spot on. There was light snow falling in Tokyo.

I got a call from a friend at school to see if it was snowing here, it was heavier in Roppongi – where school is, but it was still snowing at our apartment. looking out the window, the people on the street were scurrying more than usual with their heads down to keep the snow off their faces. Perhaps now I know why coats here have fluffy trim, it is to catch the snow so that it does not land on people’s faces!

It got heavier for a while before stopping in the evening. Not enough snow for it to settle on the ground – this time.

Snow falling in the forecourt

Snow falling in the forecourt

Snow over the harbour

Snow over the harbour

Me in the snow

Me in the snow

Snowy white

Snowy white

The next day we awoke to bright sunshine on a clear Tokyo day. I was okay that I had to go to school that day.

Fuji from our apartment building

Fuji from our apartment building

Kagoshima day #2

The morning saw us in relative sunshine, and the day was forecast to reach the glorious temperature of 21 degrees celsius. My kind of place.

We headed off at the respectable hour of 950am, after breakfast in the hotel. Typical Japanese brekky – rice with additives and pickles; pickled fish; slow (par)cooked eggs; yoghurt and fruit; french toast; sausages; bacon and scrambled eggs. Needless to say, I headed for yoghurt, fruit and the french toast.

Lunch was to be provided, from preselected options, but as all of these were non-vegetarian I headed to the convenience store to pick up a few emergency snacks (just in case it was a very bad showing when we got to the lunch place).

We started the morning on a very somber note – a visit to the Kamikaze pilots museum in Chiran. It was a bit of a drive, so I settled in with a book that I had packed from Oz and had not yet gotten around to reading.

Chiran was a base for Kamikaze pilots at the end of WWII. The pilots were trained at other bases, and then shifted to Chiran for only the last few days before their missions. It was, I suppose, something of a death row for these young boys. The museum has several recovered planes, uniforms and equipment used by the airforce during this period, stories about the boys who flew the planes, copies of last notes they left for family and friends, a recreation of the bunkers where they slept for their last days and footage of pilots on their missions. It was a very emotive place, and I could see that the Japanese people visiting the museum were very emotional. As was I.

There was enough signage in English to convey the stories of some of the pilots, and to give pause to though about war and all its ills. The pilots were mostly the lesser trained of the air force – the more skilled pilots were too valuable to be sacrificed in such a way. And so of course, they were young. Some as young as 16. Officially volunteers, but given little choice by their commanding officers when the call for Kamikaze pilots was made. Translated from Japanese the term Kamikaze means divine wind – toward the end of WWII these Kamikaze missions intensified and they boys were carrying out missions ‘with the favour of god’ to turn the war for their country. Whether this is really what the young men thought as they took off, we’ll never know. But not all the last letters from boys show this sentiment.

Peace by origami cranes

Peace by origami cranes

 Recovered Kamikaze plane

Recovered Kamikaze plane

Whilst a memorial to these pilots, the museum also has several reminders of the Japanese rejection of aggression in the post-war period. In Okinawa too, we say symbols such as the one in this photo – call for peace among nations and an end to wars. It is an interesting contrast to some of the public discussion in Japan and moves by Prime Minister Abe to amend the constitution of Japan to re enable the development of a combat armed force.

we have seen a few memorials with these sentiments on our travels

we have seen a few memorials with these sentiments on our travels

From here the mood picked up. We took a short drive to an old area of Chiran where many houses from the Edo area (the peak of the samurai period). The day continued gloriously sunny as we strolled through these streets. The scenes were typical of a movie set of old world Japan – rock gardens, sculptures, gravel yards, houses with rice screen walls and tatami mat floors, and pine trees manicured until they bore only the slightest resemblance to their natural form.

Japanese gardens

Japanese gardens

Peaceful moment

Peaceful moment

There were some samurai swords at one of the houses, where a very famous warrior family had lived. Needless to say there was a few sward duels amongst the boys!

Samurai warriors?

Samurai warriors?

From here we made our way to a volcanic sand bath or flower garden – depending on your inclination. I took the sand bath option, but no photos as I was buried under the sand! Those of us who sand bathed, got a few minutes to run through the flower garden when we met up with the rest of the group again. Ahhh, spring is a wonderful time, and it was definitely spring in these gardens.

It was spring in the flower park

It was spring in the flower park

 More signs of spring - if only spring could come sooner to Tokyo!

More signs of spring – if only spring could come sooner to Tokyo!

And then we headed to the sea shore for some mountain and sunset viewing. We all enjoyed clambering over the rocks, and looking at the deeply crevassed outline of the Japanese coastline. The mountains in this country have wonderfully photographic silhouettes, made all the more captivating by the setting of the sun over the sea.

It could be the Pillbra in this light! But its not.

It could be the Pillbra in this light! But its not.

Another beautiful Japanese mountain

Another beautiful Japanese mountain

Hello from Kagoshima – Day #1

Well another break from Tokyo this weekend. I am in Kagoshima! Minus P, unfortunately.

Kagoshima is in the south of Japan on the island of Kyoshu. We flew for two hours and we then spent much more time in the bus over the next three days. I have a few pics to share with you all, so I think it best to split this into a few blogs – that way if you have had enough, you can just skip over these blogs!

This is the first of our compulsory school trips and at the end we have to write a report. Always with the creative writing at this school – but enough of that for now. Let me take you through some of our adventures.

Firstly, booking a cab in a country where you don’t speak the language. Why did I manage to get stuck with this one! Me and my blood big mouth. Oh well, I managed it. After some searching i found a cab company that has an English language booking centre – so in all not that hard. But made a bit more stressful by being left to the last minute. I booked the cab at about 845pm (after finishing my final presentation at uni), on the night before our flight. We had to be at the airport by 730am.

The flight was uneventful – but check out what we saw out the window from the plane.

Fuji from the plane

Fuji from the plane

It is a magnificent mountain!

It is a magnificent mountain!

As I said, there was much time traveling on this day. My bus mates decided that this was not a “field trip” but rather a “bus trip” – all in all we spent maybe 5 hours in the bus, in addition to the flying time. A big day.

After arriving at the Kagoshima airport we headed to some very uneventful places, which I will not bore you with. But eventually we found our way to the Izumi crane park. There is a few other greenies in our group so we were collectively looking forward to this. Cranes are after all one of the icons of Japan. Unfortunately it was a little disappointing, in that it was not quite the natural and wonderfully close scene that some of us had imagined for a crane park. But we did see the cranes – who came all the way from Siberia. Never know, maybe the cranes thought we were a bit disappointing too!

Izumi crane park - these guys migrate from Siberia (don't blame them really?!)

Izumi crane park – these guys migrate from Siberia (don’t blame them really?!)

Cranes in the distance

Cranes in the distance

The next port of call was a nuclear power plant – I will also avoid boring you with dull pictures. But all the time in the bus did allow me to finish another beanie. #3 now.

Oh, but at dinner that night, one of the students did partake in the fairy floss that was part of the all-you-can-eat buffet!

Even grown ups enjoy fairy floss - I though it was a brave move to take fairy floss in the company of ones potential future diplomatic contacts

Even grown ups enjoy fairy floss – I though it was a brave move to take fairy floss in the company of ones potential future diplomatic contacts

The next adventures

Shortly P and I will head off on our next adventures. But this time we are heading off separately. I have a school field trip which is compulsory, and so P is planning with some of our friends to head off on a ski trip.

I am bummed that I will not be able join the skiing trip, but I am sure there will be another opportunity before the winter is over in Japan.

I am headed to Kagoshima area which is the southern most point on Kyushu island. Tripping with 21 other students and 3 of the school faculty is not my idea of a good trip, but we will see some interesting things at least. The itinerary includes a peace museum at the location that many of the WWII kamikaze pilots were trained, an active volcano, hot sand baths, Edo period houses, nuclear and geothermal power plants as well as some Japanese gardens. The guy who designed the itinerary is mad keen on hot springs, and this area is a hot spring mecca in Japan – but he says that there is too many students in our class for him to take us to the nice small hot springs. So sand baths instead. It’s a part of Japan we would not have headed to ourselves so I suppose that is a benefit. But the drawback is that I am sure we will need to write a report about the trip – not so good.

The plan for P is to head to Niigata, which is one of the closest skiing areas to Tokyo. It will be a boys weekend, with 4 continents represented – Aust, Europe, Sth America and the Middle East. They haven’t finalised how they will get there as yet, but I am sure they’ll have a weekend of fun!

Our next together plan is to get ourselves to Hokkaido, where the winter is deep and snowy. We keep hearing that the snow in Hokkaido is amazing – so once we survive the next adventures (and get over this week of final exams and assignments), that is likely to be the next joint adventure.

Another beanie on the loose

I finished another crafty project over the new year break. But things have been so busy at school that I had not seen its recipient until yesterday.

But finally I succeeded in finding Tomomi, my Japanese friend, and was able to hand over the goods. She was very pleased – as this photo shows.

Penguin pose in beanie

Penguin pose in beanie

You might be wondering about the strange look on Tomomi’s face and the stance … Well, when Tomomi put the beanie our Korean lecturers said she looked like a cartoon penguin (Pororo) which is really famous on Korea.

What do you think? I am not so sure I see the similarity.

But I might have to make a yellow beanie with ear flaps for my Korean lecturer (as a payback for her comment).

Pororo - the little penguin

Pororo – the little penguin

I am really keen to watch a Pororo cartoon now.

Thanks for the sweets Okinawa

The Japanese have a tradition called Omiyage. This is when returning from holidays they purchase packages of local food products as gifts for family and colleagues. I can’t describe for you just how massive this is. The entire airport (even the small provincial airports) are filled to the brim with boxes of beautifully packed goodies.

In Okinawa, the big focus for omiyage is either beni imo – a locally grown and nationally famous purple sweet potato -, the tropical fruit grown in the tropical climate of the islands, or the black/brown sugar grown and processed on the islands.

Fruit pretty self-evident. But to elaborate, there a packaged boxes of pineapples, bananas, mangoes, passionfruit, and citrus. There is also an array of dried fruit, fruit flavoured biscuits, and candy.

As for beni imo – there is an eye popping array of sweets. Beni imo is cooked into almost every type of sweet I could imgine – biscuits, pies, cakes, jam, drinks, brownies, crisps, candy and even as ice cream!

The black/brown sugar is just unrefined processed sugar. All the molasses is retained in the final sugar, giving it the dark colour and a deep caramel flavour.

Well, we could not overlook this tradition and we wanted to bring back a thankyou gift for the couple who were looking after our houseplants, so we too joined the throng. We returned to Tokyo with the following goodies: Shikuwawa citrus jam, beni imo crisps, a bag a black sugar and some fresh island passionfruits.

Our favoured way to indulge in beni imo was however, as ice cream. As we could not transport the beni imo ice cream back to Tokyo, we made do by consuming large amounts of it while in Okinawa.

Beni imo ice cream

Beni imo ice cream

This post today was inspired by an Okinawan afternoon tea – ummm passionfruit.

Thanks Okinawa

Thanks Okinawa

Crunch time

Just thought I would let you know it is not all sushi and kimono spotting for me over here…

Tomorrow, I have 11 hours of classes and an exam. Anyone want to swap? Wish me luck.

[but there is good news, friends from Oz are in Tokyo this week, so there is a plan to catch up with them after my horrible Friday!]