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Namba streets and Koya-san in the rain

I’ve had a bit of a break from blogging as it’s been “that” time of year, you know, spring, end of March beginning of April, when everything is happening!! Moving house, new job, family visits! So finally I’ve gotten round to writing this up! Phew!

So when my parents were here, we went to visit my best friend in Osaka. On the first night I enjoyed taking them to Namba and seeing their reaction! For those of you who have never been there, it’s one of the busiest areas in Osaka and is famous for a lot of big crazy signs and some really good places to eat! Now my friends husband actually comes from Osaka and so knows the place very well, and he showed us it’s other side! If you see Tsutaya and a large crab sign clicking it’s claws, you are almost in the right place! You have to look for a tiny tiny alleyway next to one of the restaurants, once you start walking down it, the noise of Namba fades away and you seem to be transported to another time. I felt like Chihiro from “Spirited Away”.

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A tiny back alley in Namba

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A hiddenshrine
A hiddenshrine

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A moss covered Buddha statue
A moss covered Buddha statue

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The next day from Osaka we did a day trip to Koya-san in the rain!! Koya-san is a temple precinct in Wakayama-ken that is built on a table land at the top of a mountain! It’s a very spiritual place and well worth a visit if you are in the Osaka area.  Getting there is part of the fun, you catch the train from Namba Nankai station, and once the train leaves the city behind, it slows down winding through tunnels up the mountains, rivers and waterfalls can be seen down below. Once the train reaches Gokurakubashi (Heaven’s Bridge), you have to transfer to a vernacular that takes you up the very steep side of the mountain to the Koya-san bus terminal.

From here you can catch a bus to the end of the line Okuno-in, a large graveyard in a cedar forest, where many famous historical Japanese figures are buried. As you walk around the forest, there are some signs in English explaining more interesting graves and a some information about the people buried there.  One small wooden structure contains a heavy stone that is said to feel lighter to those without sin, we all tried to lift it and none of us could! Oh no! There is also a well, and apparently if you look at the water and don’t see your reflection you will die within 3 years, we were all too superstitious to try that one! It is a very interesting place though, and certainly as a very mystical feel about it that can’t be really described, you have to experience it!

Okuno-in
Okuno-in

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A gravestone depicting  Fugu (puffer fish), wonder how this person met there end?
A gravestone depicting Fugu (puffer fish), wonder how this person met there end?

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The whole town can be walked in around 20 minutes, and because my family are too impatient to wait for the bus we did that despite the pouring rain!! However when you book your tickets to Koya-san in Namba, ususally a full days bus pass for the Koya-san area is included in the cost of the ticket. Other interesting sights are the Tokugawa Mausoleum and the Garan complex that has a very large orange and white pagoda with some very large Buddha statues inside.

The journey to Koya-san from Namba station takes around 1 hour 30 minutes and you can book tickets at Namba Nankai station. Many of the temples in Koya-san provide lodgings and many people stay there overnight.

 

 

Cherry Blossom reflected in the water

Twilight cherry blossom

So my parents have been visiting me for the last 10 days and we did loads of stuff in that time!! It was such a busy trip for them, but I think most trips to Japan usually are! It was a really fun 10 days!! It also gave me loads of ideas for blog posts as showing them around meant I also got to visit some new places I haven’t been before. We also did a three day break to Osaka, which I will post about next week (bit busy at the mo with a new job and house to sort out!!!).

The most time specific thing I wanted to talk about is that in Fukuoka right now it is cherry blossom season!!!! They came into full bloom at the end of last week, but in other parts of the country full bloom will probably be next week or even much later. And while my parents were here we did manage to fit in one evening where we could go see the trees at Ohori Koen and Maizuru Koen. It was lucky as the weather was beautiful that day, but at the weekend it rained, if there is too much rain the cherry blossom season can be cut very short.

Maizuru Koen is a really good place to go see the cherry blossom as they light it up at night, so if you are busy during the day you can still go there up to 9:00pm or 10:00pm. There are a lot of trees there!! Also right now there are some special areas where you have to pay ¥300 to go in to view more interesting light displays. We went into one area, and although it was cool I would say there are plenty more beautiful trees you don’t need to pay to see, so not sure if it’s really worth it. Those areas are less crowded though.

If you really want to do the full hanami experience you should get there early and bring a tarp or picnic blanket, some beers and food and have a picnic. That is how Japanese people enjoy the cherry blossom!

Anyway here are some of my pictures . . .

People enjoying Hanami in Ohori Koen
People enjoying Hanami in Ohori Koen
Me posing by some cherry blossom, everyone has to do it at this time of year!! It's like a rule!
Me posing by some cherry blossom, everyone has to do it at this time of year!! It’s like a rule!

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Selfie with mum
Selfie with mum
Dad looking pensive by some cherry blossom
Dad looking pensive by some cherry blossom

 

Fukuoka tower in the distance at twilight
Fukuoka tower in the distance at twilight

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Dad taking a pic of mum posing by cherry blossom
Dad taking a pic of mum posing by cherry blossom

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If you want to get to Maizuru Park and you don’t know the way, take the subway to Ohori Koen and leave via exit 6.  You should see a street lined with cherry blossom in the distance if you turn right down that street and follow it for a little while you’ll see some steps going up on the left side of the street and Maizuru park and all the cherry trees are up there!

Next week I will write a proper post about our trip to Osaka and some nice places to go for a drink in Fukuoka city!

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My Saturday

So I finally feel like spring is coming!!! Today was so beautiful! Ever since I was little, after winter every day the sun was shining I would wake up, put on shorts and my yellow t-shirt and run outside to play on the swing set in the garden, convinced summer was here! Of course I’d be outside for all of 10 minutes before realizing it was in fact still freezing and I should best go put on a jumper! Well today felt like one of those days!! It’s been a bit of a miserable week but today was soooo nice I felt like I had to get up and make the most of it!!

I went for a run along the river this morning, there was a group of people out doing Taiko (Japanese drumming), I didn’t take a picture of that as I was too busy running at the time, when I came back later they were gone. There were also a lot of people up and about exercising and walking their dogs or fishing, I also saw lots of birds.

Good Morning Mr. Heron!
Good Morning Mr. Heron!

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Apparently snowman x 8 = 420
Apparently snowman x 8 = 420

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Then I went home and got changed, I decided it was warm enough to wear a new top I bought from ASOS.com.

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Then I jumped on the train to Hakata and got a late breakfast at Bagel and Bagel in the station underground. I like this place a lot as the food is fairly cheap and really good! The sweet bagels are also really nice, I love the blueberry cream cheese one!

Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Bagel yummy!
Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Bagel yummy!

Then I walked to Tenjin where I was meeting some of my friends later for lunch, it takes around 20 to 30 minutes depending on how quickly you walk. My favourite route cuts through Canal City shopping mall and goes along the river.

Canal City
Canal City
Sun detail inside Canal City
Sun detail inside Canal City
Poppies, daisies and a chap doing some BMX
Poppies, daisies and a chap doing some BMX
Statue in Nakasu
Statue in Nakasu
ACROS building
ACROS building

So I reached the ACROS building and realized I’d never been on the roof and it was such a beautiful day, so why not?? I warn you it’s around 14 floors and there are a lot of stairs, the view from the top is really good though and it’s nice walking through the levels of the vertical roof garden they’ve built.

Possibly a clover mapped out in the park below
Possibly a clover mapped out in the park below
The view
The view
More view
More view

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My shoes, my feet were tired from climbing all those stairs
My shoes, my feet were tired from climbing all those stairs

Just near ACROS is Fukuoka City Hall, and today in the square out front was a fashion market, one event that is part of Fukuoka Fashion Week on until March 23rd.  Some of the jewellery stalls were the same as at the reuse resale event I visited in January, and some 2nd hand stalls too. There wasn’t a lot of choice to be honest. I thought it was interesting there was a bagpipe band on the stage.

I didn’t buy any clothes, I did get a screen print though!

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After that I went to meet two of my friends for lunch and we did a bit of people watching!

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Finally a trip to Forever 21 and H&M to buy some birthday presents, I can’t show pictures of those obviously, but I did also get myself this fetching top!

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Phew! was a busy day and I’m pretty tired but it is Saturday so who knows what adventures this evening will hold! Happy Saturday people!

Daytrippin to Yufuin and Kuju!

It’s been a really busy last couple of weeks so it’s taken me a while to write this post.

At the end of February me and my boyfriend decided to get out of Fukuoka for a day trip. We bought one of these magazines from the local 7/11 to inspire us with some ideas of places to go.  These magazines are great for ideas!! Obviously they are all in Japanese but they have lots of pictures, to give ideas and if you have the know how you can grab the addresses from the magazine and put them into google maps or a car sat nav.

Drive Kyushu magazine
Drive Kyushu magazine

At the time the Nagasaki lantern festival was on, we decided to avoid the hustle and bustle of that event and head in the opposite direction to Yufuin and Kuju.

Yamanami Highway Route Info

Yamanami Highway Route Info
Beppu and Yufuin route info
Beppu and Yufuin route info

We drove at night from Fukuoka to Yufuin at around 9pm and it only took us 90 minutes!!! There is a direct train from Hakata station but that takes over 2 hours. Many of the trains to Yufuin require a transfer in Beppu or Oita as well.

We managed to find a cute little pension to stay in overnight, with it’s own onsen, near the centre of town. Which meant we could wake up bright and early the next day to wander around the main street and check out lots of the little shops and galleries. The centre of Yufuin is a really nice place to amble away an afternoon going in cafes and galleries. The Yufuin Art Museum near the centre of town is a really interesting building to look around and you can make your own watercolour postcard there. They also have a fish spa, where you can get the dry skin nibbled off your feet by well you guessed it fish.

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Walking round town I found these stylish ear muffs!
Walking round town I found these stylish ear muffs!
My original watercolour
My original watercolour
Old shot from a previous trip later in the spring of me with the tiny car!
Old shot from a previous trip later in the spring of me with the tiny car!

After exploring the centre of town my boyfriend decided he’d really like to check out a nearby ski resort in Kuju only an hour away. It is an artificial slope, but was pretty good for me as a beginner snowboarder to practice on the lower slope while he as a more experienced skier could go to the higher slopes. I’m not sure how much longer it will be open but if you’re in the area and you enjoy skiing or snowboarding you should check it out. The name of it is Kuju Shinrin Koen Ski.

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On the way home we found a really cute little restaurant, the old couple inside really did not look like they were expecting any customers, as there was no one around!!! The food was great though, I kinda felt bad we disturbed them!  We also managed to fit in a trip to a local onsen using a recommendation from the magazine, before driving back to Fukuoka. We got home before 11pm. Great day trip!!!

There are loads of other things to do in the Yufuin and Kuju areas! Yufuin boasts lots of onsen. Kuju is also famous for it’s suspension bridge and the Kuju Flower park. Included are some older photos from previous trips of other things in the area, including a frozen waterfall from 2 years ago, very Game of Thrones-esque!

Kuju Suspension Bridge
Kuju Suspension Bridge
Kuju Flower Park
Kuju Flower Park
Kuju Flower Park
Kuju Flower Park

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The address for Kuju Shinrin Koen is -

Kokonoe Shinrin Koen Ski Resort
612-1, Oaza Yutsubo Kokonoe-machi, Kusu-gun,
Oita Prefecture

And there website is -

http://www.kujyuski.co.jp/multilanguage/en/index.html

I’ve done research and it seems like the best way to get there is to rent a car.

The address for Kuju Flower Park is -

4050 Oaza Kuju, Kuju-machi, Taketa-shi, Oita

Here are some directions to the suspension bridge -

40 minutes by car from Kokonoe IC on oita Expressway.
Take Route 210 toward Kuju from Yufuin IC on oita Expressway. Turn to route 11 at Mizuwake Toge and go toward Chojabaru.
50 minutes by bus from JR Bungo Nakamura Station on JR Kyudai Main line.

I'm not up to anything . . .

Cats!

So the other day I went to a cat cafe for the first time! I have to say it was a little different to how I expected and was certainly eventful!!! The cafe I visited is called Keurig Neko the Loft, and is on the 4th floor of the Jolis Building near Saizeriya in Imazumi.

There are a large number of cats in this cafe, around 30! The layout of the cafe is nice, with around 10 tables inside and large windows providing a good view of the Tenjin area.  Away from the windows is really the cats true domain, if you go up a couple of steps there is a sofa and some wooden perches for them to sit on and their cages and baskets. From here they can climb up into the rafters and above most of the tables, while we were sitting at our table one very dramatically dropped from the ceiling!!!

You pay for the amount of time you stay there, it starts at ¥380 for 30 minutes and one drink. If you have an alcoholic drink you may need to pay a little more.  There are a range of drinks and some foreign beers such as Hoegaarden, Guiness and Corona. You can also get food but the choices are very limited.  I thought it was a little overpriced.

However the cats in the cafe are actually strays that have been rehabilitated and so you are helping to pay for their care. The cats can also be adopted by the patrons after going through a screening process as well.  It is a little smelly there, but I think this is partly due to the fact that they are being rehabilitated and so are not completely house trained yet. I was peed on within about 5 minutes of walking in the door, lol.   Just something to be aware of.

There is a second branch of this cafe in Daimyo as well, I will post both addresses at the bottom of this post, along with links to their website, all in Japanese I’m afraid. But first pictures!!

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I'm stuck!
I’m stuck!
Up in the rafters
Up in the rafters
Sleepy kitty
Sleepy kitty
Feeding time
Feeding time
The culprit!!
The culprit!!
Oh noooo not my skirt!
Oh noooo not my skirt!

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I'm not up to anything . . .
I’m not up to anything . . .
Rarrrrrrrr!!!
Rarrrrrrrr!!!

So here is the link to the website for Keurig The Loft -

http://theloft.nekocafe-keurig.com/

And the address in case you want to type it into Google Maps -

福岡市中央区今泉1-22-21 Jolisビル 4F

And the link to the original Neko Cafe Keurig -

http://nekocafe-keurig.com

And the address -

福岡市中央区大名一丁目10番15号 WATTビル1F

Finally I plan to visit the original Neko Cafe Keurig at some point in the future, in which case I’ll do an update. Also an owl cafe has just opened in Nakasu!!! That’s next on my list!!!!

Car team's finished sushi

Kazari Sushi

While I was waiting for my Japanese class to start on Saturday, my teacher came over and told me about an event that was happening in the afternoon, as she knows I like cooking, to see if I was interested to attend.  As my other plans for the day ended up getting cancelled, I thought, why the hell not!

The class was run by the Master Instructor of Kazari Maki Sushi, and was a lot of fun! Also all our sushi came out looking really good, which is credit to her easy to follow directions and clear recipes.

There was 8 of us in the class, and half made “car” shaped sushi and the other half (my team) made “peach blossom” shaped sushi.

Master Instructor Yukari
Master Instructor Yukari
Car team preparing their sushi
Car team preparing their sushi

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Yukari sensei's Peach Blossom sushi
Yukari sensei’s Peach Blossom sushi
Me with my creations, they didn't turn out half bad!!
Me with my creations, they didn’t turn out half bad!!
A close up shot of my sushi
A close up shot of my sushi
Car team's finished sushi
Car team’s finished sushi

Finally the class ended with a demonstration by Yukari sensei making 2 types of sushi, a square pattern with purple and orange seasoned rice and some fabulous Setsubun Oni (demon) sushi! I think they look like the Studio Ghibli Totoro character!!! Overall great class, I would really recommend it!

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Setsubun Oni Sushi (AKA Totoro!!!)
Setsubun Oni Sushi (AKA Totoro!!!)
Group shot!
Group shot!

Check out the Kazari Maki Sushi website here!

http://kazari-maki.com

It’s all in Japanese, follow the tab labelled “イベント” to see dates of upcoming events.

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やった!!!N3合格しました!!! I passed JLPT N3!!

Woohoo!! I passed N3!!! I really really didn’t think I was going to pass, I only just passed by the skin of my teeth, but a pass is a pass, woop woop!! For those of you who don’t know the JLPT stands for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and N3 is the intermediate level exam! My goal is to pass N2 and so far I’m on the right track!

I passed!!!
I passed!!!

The N2 advanced level exam has a bit more of a focus on reading, than the tests that precede it, and as my ability has improved I find that naturally I want to read more and more!! 

Both Maruzen in Hakata Station and Junkudo in Tenjin have a good selection of English Language books and Japanese study materials. I find Junkudo has a bigger selection and that is where I found the “ask” Japanese Graded Readers. They are packs of short stories containing 5 books and an audio CD, where all of the language used is at a certain level. I find these have really helped me to increase my reading speed and also learn more about Japanese culture, the books being abridged versions of famous Japanese folk tales, stories and also some non-fiction. These packs of books can also be bought off the white rabbit website - shop.whiterabbitjapan.com

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Also I have just bought a book called, “New Penguin Parallel Text Short Stories in Japanese” , which contains short stories by Japanese authors, with the English translation on the left hand page and the Japanese translation on the right. So far it’s very interesting and I’m looking forward to reading more when I have more time.

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But first . . . I gotta finish reading “Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami! I don’t know why I never picked it up before, but I’m halfway through and it’s brilliant!!! But this one I’m reading in English!  If you have any suggestions for other books by Japanese authors or extra study materials, please let me know in the comments.

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Musings from Fukuoka

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