Those of you reading this that know me, will know that my time in Japan this year was sadly cut short. This was purely due to some bad luck and is nobody's fault. Had I known how quickly I was going to end up back in England, I would have posted another blog far sooner!
This blog will be pretty much what it was going to be while I was in Japan, a recount of the last few days. It just so happens that these actually were my last few days and the end of the blog will tell of my flight home, rather than what would have been coming next.
So let us start at the beginning of last week and the place I was so excited about visiting; the seaside!
It was a fairly early start, 6am, but that didn't bother me in the slightest as being by the sea is one of the few things on this planet that gives me pure joy. We were picked up by Junko's friend Ito-san, a very kind and lovely man who was happy to offer to take us, if only so he could have a 'family' day out. He sadly lost his wife and daughter some years ago, but you could tell how excited he was for us all to spend the day together.
After about an hour and a half I could see the coast and couldn't contain my whoop for joy. We stopped off at a large building from which we were able to view the whole area, it was incredible, but all I wanted to do was get in that sea!
Unfortunately, it was time for an early lunch (to beat the crowds), so I would have to wait just a little while longer. We found a lovely little place with good food at incredibly cheap prices. I was lucky enough to shoot off a load of photos just before an ENORMOUS family with about 300 children under the age of 5 came and sat next to us.
After the food, it was time for THE SEEEEEEA!!!! The moment the car stopped I was out of the door and in the water like the child I really am. The area reminded me so much of the beach I used to play at while my Nanna lived by the sea, I felt completely at home. Searching for life in rock pools, climbing among the rocks, feeling the pebbles push between my toes, it's just the most natural feeling in the world for me.
The starfish at the end of this video was totally fine, I just panicked, like I always do!
There were lots of these pretty blue starfish.
Yuki and Junko collected seaweed for us to have with dinner later, Ito-san wandered around just enjoying the area, I sat on a large rock, legs in the sea, a serene grin on my face.
Then, woe of woes, it was time to move on. We got back in the car and drove a little way until we noticed there was a festival happening in a nearby temple, of course, we had to go and take a look! At first I was startled by the beautiful flowers, the kind you expect to see recreated in kanzashi form in a geisha's hair, not in 'real life'. I took a few photos around the temple and then went to see what all the noise was about. I crossed a bridge to find several young people lifting and walking around with a mini shrine. I say mini, but the things actually weighed 500kg. The participants have to get incredibly drunk before starting the ceremony and every year someone dies either during the festival or during the practise. These ceremonies happen in hundreds of temples all over Japan, the fact the death is so closely linked to it makes the event all the more worthwhile for the participants. At one point during the video below, you will see a man dancing with a large picture. The picture is of one of the members who 'didn't make it' to the ceremony.
After we had seen enough of this (it went on for some time), we got back in the car and went to check out a famous bakery that was very near by. This bakery only sells one thing, bean paste buns. I wasn't very hungry, but by all accounts they were delicious, and the shop owners had no problems with me taking photos while they were working. It was a lovely place, so rustic, it was totally stuck in the 1960's. I have encountered quite a few cafes and restaurants like this, I wonder why I never see such places in movies -they are perfect sets! This was our last stop for the day. We got back in the car and made a start on the journey home. I slept the whole way home, something I very rarely do, must have been all the sea air... ;)
^ Making bean paste buns! v
Next up was the Doll Festival. Yuki's friend had a stall there and had kindly offered me some space to test the Japanese water for my friend's awesome t-shirts. (www.genkigear.co.uk)
It was a fairly strange affair, thousands upon thousands of people walking around carrying their dolls as if they were children. Men did it as well, straight men, some in business suits, some in crappy clothes, but all of them holding their dolls with such care and making sure these dolls were comfortable and able to get a good view of the whole event. Age, sex, style and race were irrelevant here, as long as you loved your dolls, you were welcome.
I'm not often thrown by anything, I find the fact that I have such an open mind to be one of the strongest areas of my personality, but this doll loving, I just don't get it. Perhaps it's because I had a massive fear of porcelain dolls as a child, or perhaps, despite loving He-Man and Transformers, I grew up in a world where boys just didn't play with girls toys, where girls who carried on playing with dolls after the age of 10 were immature and a little stupid. Either way, these people seemed to be very happy and content, and I certainly would never take that away from them.
The next day a trip to Ueno was planned. The point of going to Ueno? To get my new dog Flynn a dog protection charm from the same place Harry's came from ...of course!
Yuki was feeling a too unwell, but insisted I go anyway and meet up with Izumi who I met on my first day of this trip. We had a GREAT day, one of my favourites to be exact, which makes me so happy because without knowing at the time, this day would be my last proper day in Japan.
We met at Ueno station and promptly went searching for the temple I had to get the dog charm from. On the way there we stopped at a couple of smaller temples and then found something rather incredible, a flame. This wasn't just any flame, this was a flame taken created by 2 nuclear bombs, one which fell in Hiroshima, the other from Nagasaki.
As a teenager I was incredibly anti-bomb, in 1995 the French President Jacques Chirac decided it would be a good idea to test nuclear bombs, I was overcome with anger. Anger at him for even thinking that such a weapon could be used in the future and at myself for being too young to do anything about it. So, I reacted the only way I knew how and did a huge art project about the effects of nuclear bombs. Of course, almost all my inspiration came from the photographs and footage of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks. Seeing such images every day, drawing them, painting them, I grew incredibly close to the subject matter. Even though I was just 15, I still consider the final piece and the work leading up to it some of my finest art, because it was created with so much passion, emotion and understanding that it was as if I was actually there -of course, a highly visual & over-active imagination also helps!
The memorial in Ueno is a very fine way of reminding the world of the devastation a nuclear bomb can cause, and if you are ever in Tokyo I urge you to take the time to visit it and spare a thought for those who fell and those who still suffer.
After the memorial Izumi and I wandered into the Peony Garden. It was so beautiful, even on such a grey day. All the flowers had their own private umbrella to protect them from the elements, be they snow or sun. So much care had gone into keeping these little flowers happy and beautiful, it really was a joy to see.
Finally we found the right temple for picking up the dig charms and as we did the heavens opened and well, didn't actually close again until late that night. It poured, and poured and poured some more. I got the charms, and we tried to dodge the raindrops on the way into downtown Ueno. After a little browse there we went on to Asakusa where we found some adorable little shops that sold trinkets etc made out of kimono material. I didn't buy a thing, no matter how much I loved some of the pieces. I am still very proud of myself! After a delicious lunch we decided to head to Shibuya, just because I hadn't had a chance to really give it some time *read as 'Visit The Loft'*. We stopped by Shibuya 109 first as I had never been there and was slightly curious. It's tall building with many, many small shops with clothes specifically for the Shibuya Girl. I am NOT a Shibuya Girl, I am a Harajuku Girl, the two don't tend to get on. I certainly didn't feel comfortable, I felt totally out of my area. Even though I was not born and raised in Tokyo, I know the areas where my kind (Loli/Otaku-types) are more welcome, and as such, I am more likely to frequent such places. Shibuya is great for shopping, but if you are just hanging around and wearing black, it doesn't go down well. I remember the last time I was here I wore clothes that subtly showed my Loli-allegience, I was practically stared out of Shibuya by a bunch of Ganguro. Despite staring back just as hard, I knew I was the one out of area. Sad really.
Once we left Shibuya 109, we made a B-Line straight for The Loft. Oh The Loft, how I love you... It's a huge department store with a massive stationary floor, an awesome toy floor and so many floors of joy in-between. I found a stationary soul-mate in Izumi. I think she will have tgo back me up on this, but we may have spent an hour on that one stationary floor alone. The Danger Floor. So named because of the danger it can cause to your purse. So. Many. STICKERS!!!!
After managing to escape the stationary floor (with purchases), we started making our way up, stopping on each floor to look at things we wanted but couldn't buy, things that served no real purpose other than to look really cool. Like the glowing large reeds of 'grass' that blow like read grass when a fan is put near them. Or the huge cuddly bear pillows that will hug you right back. We finally made it to the top floor, the toy section, where we found the most awesome fancy dress hats! I am a HUGE takoyaki fan (octopus dumplings) so imagine my joy when I found a takoyaki hat! Izumi and I tried on various hats, stopping for photos each time, but the takoyaki hats remained a firm favourite for us both. Before I knew it, it was time for me to depart and make the long journey back to Narita. I was very sad because it had been such a fun day ...and I had left my ipod at the house that morning.
We decided there can be no hat better than a Takoyaki Hat. Thanks for a wonderful day Izumi!
Due to reasons beyond anyone's control, I had to spend the next day packing in preparation for my early departure from Japan. Yuki had become very ill and my wonderful friend Hiroko, who I was due to spend the remainder of my holiday with, had dislocated her shoulder. I wish them both speedy recoveries.
I flew home the next day, Friday 8th of May. That morning I was woken at 4:20am by terrific thunder so loud and so constant that I couldn't tell if it was an earthquake or just weather. I didn't go back to sleep and instead just lay on my futon listening to nature do it's thing and thought about some decisions I would have to make when I got back home. Storms always help me to put things into perspective.
Skip ahead a few hours and I have just purchased my new flight, had to remove most of my clothes in order to get past security (but also told by 3 members of staff that my things were really cool, of course, I know... :P), bought a giant novelty box of Pocky, and am sat on the runway for the next hour due to bad weather.
There were just 76 people and 13 staff (inc pilots) on my Friday morning post-Golden Week Virgin Alantic flight, a sign of recession if ever there was one. Finally we were able to take off. I caught some good movies (If you haven't seen Milk, please watch it!) and yet again, ignored my own advice and watched Flight of the Conchords (and then Family Guy -what was I thinking?!). I didn't sleep. The flight seemed much shorter than before, strange as I was on the plane for well over an hour longer than my previous flight. I guess by that point I really just wanted to be at home with my family and pets.
This was a great trip, and I will always concentrate on the fun times I had before I had to come home early. This certainly won't be my last time in Japan and this won't be my last blog either. The blog was originally set up to document my time there, but I will be continuing to post when I can, be it thoughts on certain events, things I want to share with you all, or even my photography. For now though, I will leave you with a parting gift. A video, of the greatest most pointless toy in the land. My Gloomy bear.