Another Week of Sun

From the 8th until the 15th November, Isabel and I visited the southernmost of Japan’s major islands – Kyushu. To explore and experience the majority of the island I organised the trip to travel from Miyazaki to Nagasaki via Nobeoka, Beppu and Fukuoka. Again, we were extremely lucky weather-wise and it was sunny throughout our stay.

As soon as we landed In Miyazaki, it felt different to the rest of Japan I had experienced, mainly because of the palm trees everywhere. It felt much more Mediterranean and tropical. The next day we went to Aoshima, where there was a beach and a small shrine on an island. It was wonderful. I could smell the ocean as soon as we went off the train. The town itself is a small little ocean town, the real highlight is Aoshima Island.


The island is surrounded by a rock formation, locally called the “Devil’s washboard”, which looks absolutely fascinating. The walk around the island was very relaxing and as it was around 22°C and sunny it felt like summer rather than mid-November. I went into the water and it wasn’t that cold!


The shrine on the island was small, but very beautiful. Afterwards, I had some Mango ice cream which was delicious. Since Mango is the local fruit in Miyazaki, they have everything mango favoured.

After our trip to Aoshima, we went to Nobeoka. Nobeoka is not that exciting, but it is the best location to take the bus to Takachiho. Takachiho is a small town in the middle of the mountains, most famous for its gorge. The gorge is a 20 minute walk away (and quite a way down) from Takachiho centre and absolutely stunning. There were many people paddling around in the gorge, but we decided to just follow the path and explore the area that way.


Walking alongside the gorge, I could see how the many myths about Kyushu being Japan’s origin came into being (

The next station was Beppu, which is a famous Onsen (hot spring) town in Japan. Our stay there was wonderfully relaxing. The first night we went to one of our local Onsen, Takegawa Onsen, which was a little more rustic but great to relax. The next day we explore one of Beppu’s ‘Hell Ponds’, the Umi Jigoku (Sea Hell). It looked exactly how I imagined Onsen to look like.

Afterwards we went to the Kannawa Onsen and tried their grass steam, which was extremely relaxing.


The next day we travelled to Fukuoka, which for me was a gateway to get to Dazaifu to visit the local academic shrine the Dazaifu Tenmagu. So I did not see that much of Fukuoka, but Dazaifu and its shrine were beautiful (and the local mocha delicious!).

Our last stop Nagasaki, was a rather depressing last stop for our journey, mainly because of it’s connection with the atomic bomb, which fell on the 9th August 1945. Today, there is a Peace park near the hypocentre with many statues and a statue at the centre itself. After walking through the park, we went into the Atomic Bomb museum. It is a great collection of various items which depicts the events leading up to the dropping of the bomb and its aftermath. It was shocking to see not only daily items that were melted in the heat, but also various human remains that have melted with objects. As depressing as walking through the museum and reading the testimonials of survivors was, it is important to remember and learn about these events so that they cannot happen again.

Although the city was almost completely destroyed, within the last 60+ years it has flourished again and was very lively and vibrant.

The trip to Kyushu was a wonderful experience. It was different to the other parts of Japan I have seen and gave us a last bit of warmth before the winter in Kyoto.


The Majestic Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji, or Fujiyama, is the most picturesque mountain I have ever seen. It was an amazing experience to see it in person. Instead of going up the mountain, we decided to choose a location to view it from afar. After some research, I decided that the best view would be from Lake Kawaguchiko, one of the five lakes. Since the best view of the mountain is in the morning and in good weather, we opted for an early bus (7.35 so not too early) and went on our way.

The bus ride was very enjoyable, especially since I could often spy some parts of Fuji. The stop before Kawaguchiko was at Fuji-Q, an amusement park close to the base of Fuji, which – to be honest – sounds like quite a fun thing to go to. Arriving at the station, there were already a lot of Fuji shaped snacks and souvenirs, I even spotted some Fuji shaped Baumkuchen.

We took a bus to the furthest end of the lake, near the Oishi Park, and then we walk parts of the way back from there. It was absolutely breathtaking to see this majestic mountain with your own eyes. In combination with the lake, it was a very peaceful atmosphere.



Since we still had some time before our bus left, we took the train for a couple of stations to go up to the Chureito Pagoda, another good view of the mountain (and one you often find on postcards). It was quite a climb, but absolutely worth is.



We were extremely lucky with the weather. The sun was shining and no clouds were in sight. The next day – it was raining and the view would have been terrible.

All about Tokyo

Tokyo. The world’s biggest city. And yet, after living in Kyoto with all its various temples and shrines, it was slightly underwhelming. Now, don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed my time in Tokyo and there are certain things you can only do and experience there, but overall, I do prefer Kyoto. This is mainly due to the historical and cultural significance of Kyoto and the fact that it just feels more Japanese to me. However, my time in Tokyo certainly was an adventure. As with the majority of our stays, Isabel and I stayed in an airbnb with a Japanese family in the heart of Shinjuku. It was great to interact with Japanese people and ask for tips and advice.

Since we had a lot of time there,our days were generally rather relaxed. On the first day, we strolled through the East garden of the imperial palace, which were both absolutely wonderful.

Then, I went through the shopping district Ginza and in search of the Miyakazi clock, which is a really weird and yet amazing piece.

Afterwards I made my way to the Ghibli Museum. For those who don’t know what Ghibli is, it is a leading animation studio on Japan. Basically the Disney of Anime (in fact Ghibli is now owned by Disney). The most famous movie is either My Neighboor Totoro or Spirited Away. The museum was lovely. The building itself is quite unique and they took good care and put so many details in there that you could spend hours in there just looking at the building interior. It also features many art of pictures of characters and backgrounds, which I simply adore looking at.

In the evening, we met up again and went up the Metropolitan Government Building, which has an observation deck that offers a beautiful view of the Tokyo skyline. Since the lines to get down where rather long, we decided to just have dinner up there.

After our trip to Fuji on the next day (I will cover that one in more detail later), the weather took a turn for the worse, due to an approaching Typhoon. So we set off for Asakusa and the Tokyo Skytree in a drizzling rain. Asakusa is the more historical part of Tokyo and very beautiful. The Skytree was the exact opposite – a modern building and the second tallest in the world.

The next day, the typhoon hit Tokyo and we spend most of our day inside at the Sumida Hokusai Museum.

After the typhoon the weather cleared and I had brilliant weather to go up the Tokyo Tower and walk around the city.

Since we decided to go to Tokyo during Halloween – we got to dress up! We had two kinds of Halloweens. On the Saturday (28th), we went to a bar which had a Halloween themed party going on. We left there after half an hour though as it wasn’t that exciting. Instead we went into a karaoke bar. There were supposed to be street parties through the whole weekend, yet due to the typhoon, the main one happened on the actual Halloween. Before hitting the streets of Shibuya in the evening we went to Akihabara, which is known as the otaku (Japanese term for geek) centre of Japan. There are many shops selling Manga and Anime related goods, such as figurines and cards. Since my costume was rather simple (and could look like normal clothes sometimes), I decided to dress up for the whole day, which was fun! My costume was the character Hanji Zoë from the manga/anime Attack on Titan.

When we exited Shibuya station, the madness began. There were many MANY people. The majority was dressed up in all kinds of costumes: there were a lot of anime characters and many group costumes. Some were dressed up as Barbie dolls, sushi, Disney princesses and a group of girls as strawberries. I also found some people dressed up as Attack on Titan characters, which was fun!

So that was my time in Tokyo. It’s been great and really crazy!

Golden Pavilion and Arashiyama – Monkeys and Bamboo

I’m sorry that it almost took a whole month for me to write a new posts, but in the last couple of weeks there was a series of various circumstances that


First, I was told that I was supposed to have written a chapter for a compilation of essays on Harry Potter. Luckily this coincided with a typhoon, so it was rainy for a whole week which gave me a good excuse to stay inside and write the chapter. Afterwards, the internet went down and barely worked and then it was already time to leave for Tokyo (which I will try my best to cover before we leave for Kyushu in 5 days).


So – let the flashback begin.


At the beginning of October, a friend of mine visited me in Kyoto, and of course we went to some of the most iconic sides, including the Golden Pavilion and the area Arashiyama.


I hadn’t been to the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) before and was really looking forward to it. It was also the first time I paid to get into a Temple/Shrine, but it was worth it (and we’re planning to go again when the autumn foliage starts). One negative thing up front – it was insanely busy. To get a picture of the perfect view of the pavilion, you had to wait until you found a spot. However, the view definitely made up for it. The pavilion itself is absolutely stunning, but its setting on the lake with the beautiful surrounding heightens that beauty. Once we passed the initial busyness, it was a pleasant walk through the idyllic garden.


The next day, we went to Arashiyama in the North-west of Kyoto. We managed to get lost on our way, as Google Maps does often decides not to work properly here and gives you the wrong bus (or a location where there is no bus stop). In the end, we made it safely to Arashiyama. Our first stop was the Monkey park. You have to climb up for quite some time until you reach a plateau, where there are wild monkeys freely roaming around. The view was spectacular (and the monkeys were fun too).


The next stop was the famous Bamboo forest, where there are hundreds of 30 meter long Bamboo. It was spectacular. But overflowing with people. Nevertheless, the height and amount of Bamboo was simply astounding.


(The picture was taken into one of the side roads reserved for rickshaws).

After passing through the Bamboo forest, instead of going back through it, we walked through the nearby park. On the top of the hill, we had the most spectacular view.


It was simply wonderful to see the mountains and the nature, away from all the crowds (apart from us there were only 2 others).

On our way back, we ventured through the Kimono forest which was small but still a lot of fun!


In the evening, I had my first sushi at a conveyer belt restaurant. It was certainly a lot of fun. Although I did try to stick with the ones I knew or could guess. Since then I’ve been to a couple of places and have even become slightly braver and try to try at least one new fish every time I go.


Oh deer

Nara. Beautiful temples. Majestic scenery. And very hungry deer.

Last week, Isabel and I decided to do a little day trip to Nara. It is about 45 minutes by train from where we are and is a former capital of Japan. Thus, there were many historical sites to see.

However, the main thing I’ll remember from this trip are the deer. So many hungry deer. Since deer are seen as the messengers of the gods, they can roam around freely and won’t get harmed. Therefore, they are used to humans and know that they exist to feed them. Isabel described their behaviour perfectly: they are like labradors who never learned not to beg. If you had food, they came and wouldn’t stop nudging you until you were out of food. Yet, the most entertaining thing was the screaming of the school children in the background as they were running away from the deer or simply annoying their classmates.

The temples and shrines were also really beautiful (although they were overshadowed by the deer lurking everywhere). We went to the Tōdai-ji first and then walked through the park to the Kasuga-taisha.

In Nara I also had another communication experience. Before we went in to the park, Isabel and I decided to have lunch at an Udon restaurant. We were seated on one side of the table and two Japanese ladies were opposite us. First they were just smiling (either amused or appreciative of our chopstick skills). However, at one point we started to communicate with one another. They were asking where we were from and if we were friends. They were both sisters and came from Nagoya. The whole exchange was made in a mixture of English, Japanese and Hand gestures. It was great to interact with some Japanese people as the majority offer a small hello and pleasantries but don’t try to actively engage.


Mountains and a blue pond in Hokkaido

Last week Isabel and I went to Hokkaido. Originally we were supposed to fly out on Monday morning, but due to typhoon Talim our flight was cancelled and we rebooked for Wednesday afternoon. This change of schedule resulted of us only doing our main objectives – the Asahidake in the Daisetsuzan National Park and the Blue Pond near Biei.

When we arrived at the airport in Sapporo we took the train and the bus straight to Asahikawa where we’ve booked our airbnb. In the morning we checked the weather to decide whether or not we go on the mountain that day or the next. Although the weather looked better the next day, we decided that we would go that day as it would allow us to spend some time in Sapporo on the way back. That’s a decision I kind of regretted. But more on to that later.

Since the bus to Asahidake didn’t leave until 10 we set out to the station and have some breakfast in the food court at the nearby shopping centre. I was enticed by the smell of a French bakery and we went in and got a variety of goods. I opted for two sweet goods: an amazingly delicious chocolate swirl and melon pan. Despite its name, it doesn’t taste like melon but is simply shaped like one. The crust was crispy and the inside was soft. It kind of reminded me of the milk bread you can get in Hamburg.

The journey to Asahidake was long, but the scenery was amazing so the way was rather enjoyable. When we approached the rope way station for the top I could already see the clouds covering the view. Nevertheless, we’ve came that far. So we went up the ropeway on a lift (similar to a ski lift). The view from there was great! You could see some of the mountain ranges, but after a certain point it was all covered in clouds. Up on the mountain my first thought was that it was cold. So very cold. Yet, we went outside and were rewarded with a magnificent landscape. There were several lakes up on the top and the volcanic opening was absolutely mesmerizing. We’ve also spotted some autumn foliage, which apparently is the first in Japan. Although it was cloudy (and also partly misty) it was a fantastic experience) and I can only imagine how great it must be with a clear view.

Since we were both still rather cold and also hungry when we returned to Asahikawa, we went to a local ramen restaurant (of which there are plenty as it is a local specialist). I’ve ordered the local soy sauce based ramen, which is apparently the local ramen type for Asahikawa, and it was delicious. One of the owners of the restaurant approached us right away and asked where we are from. After saying Germany (doitsu) and England (igirisu) we showed us her various guest books where she collected remarks from all her customers. She was really prions that she already have had a German and a British customer to show to us.

The next day we got up early to take the bus to the famous idyllic blue pond. It was a 1 1/2 hour journey on the local bus, and – since they were only going there 5 times a day – we planned on spending around 15 minutes at the pond and take the same bus back. Yes, it was crazy. The pond itself was really idyllic, yet more turquoise than the fantastic blue you seen on other pictures. Maybe it was because of the weather or something else. Still I don’t regret going (although I do feel sorry for dragging Isabel with me).

After a brunch at the French cafe and some food shopping (I got pumpkin Baumkuchen and some matcha chocolates), we took the bus to Sapporo. Sapporo appears more modern than Kyoto (or at least the areas I’ve been to). There are more high rises and the buildings and the structures are more westernized. Also there are way more cars and the streets are wider. As we didn’t have that much time in Sapporo we just went to the clock tower and to the Odaiba park, both of which were lovely.

We then went to Sapporo station to get some Shiroi Koibito (translated into white lover) which are thin white biscuits with white chocolate in the middle and are apparently rather famous. Together with these I also bought some chocolate covered dried frozen strawberries which were delicious.

The next day we left relatively early for the airport, which has a huge shopping mall and food court. There was a world of chocolate -a chocolate museum and a look into the machinery of Royce’s chocolate. That was definitely fun! I also finally managed to get a Sapporo ramen, which is miso based.

Overall this trip was definitely worth it (although we did spend an insane amount riding buses).


Of Kimono, Dragons and Torii Gates

A lot has happened these last couple of days: I rented a Kimono, attended a Dragon Festival and walked through many Torii gates to reach the top of the Fushimi-Inari Shrine.


Let’s start with the Kimono. I’ve always wanted to wear (and have) a Kimono. For me, this is the Japanese outfit. And yes, I am aware that not many people here wear them. However, if there is one place in Japan to acquire and wear a Kimono it is Kyoto.

On one of the first days in central Kyoto, Isabel and I went into a Second-Hand Kimono shop near the Nishiki market. The first time we went in, we spend about 2 to 3 hours in there without realising. They have everything there; from Yukata, traditional Kimono, Kimono dresses and of course the gorgeous Wedding Kimono. Since they were Second hand, they all cost a fraction of their original price. Needless to say, I fell in love with one and had to buy it! Yet, I still don’t know how to properly put it on (this will require many hours of practice …)

Initially, we wanted to wait until autumn to rent and walk around Kyoto in a Kimono. Yet, we found a place where you could rent a Kimono for 2.900¥ (around £20) so we decided that this would be a good way to interact with the Japanese culture. The shop we picked was near Gion (the Geisha district), which is not only close to older buildings, but to a beautiful Shrine and garden, which were ideal to take pictures. When we arrived at the shop (, both of us (I especially) took a lot of time picking a Kimono. Then I went into the room next door where, I picked a bag and was dressed up in my chosen Kimono. One thing to notice is that there are overall three layers to a Kimono – the undergarment, a sort of under kimono and the actual Kimono. Also, they put a kind of plate under the obi, so that after a while it gets a little harder to breathe (I guess this is the Japanese equivalent to a corset). After I was dressed, they made my hair and put a kanzashi (a decorated hairpin) in it.


Completely dressed up, we went on our way to the temple. At first, I felt rather awkward and felt the people stare at us, but after a while I got used to the smiles and honestly it was a lot of fun to walk around in a Kimono. We too many pictures at the Yasaka Shrine we went towards the Maruyama park, which is the place where many people come in March-April to watch the Sakura blossoms. As it was around 27°C outside, we looked for the next ice cream place and got some shaven ice. Of course, I chose a Matcha flavoured one. On our way out of the park, we got stopped by a couple of Chinese tourists who wanted to take pictures with us. This was probably the most fun encounter I had in the Kimono.


The next day we went to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple to attend their blue dragon festival (Seiryū-e – It was a lot of fun to see them walking around with the Dragon and to hear the sounds they made. It wasn’t a huge festival, but it the atmosphere and their energy was mesmerising. Also, I really like dragons and therefore was bound to enjoy myself immensely.

Now to the red Torii gates. The place we’ve got through Airbnb is rather close to the famous Fushimi-Inari Shrine and I have often looked and marvelled at the pictures of the aligned Torii gates and wanted to visit as soon as I could.


Yet, due to various circumstances, I did not manage to go. However, as the weather was clear this morning, I decided to get up early – around 6am – and head to the Shrine. And yes – it was as incredible as I hoped it would be. There were thousands of gates leading up to the very top (which was quite a climb). Since I came there that early there was almost no one there and I could take great pictures and enjoy the scenery by myself. Or so I thought. Early on in my climb I met a nice American from Chicago, we walked up to the top together. She is travelling through Japan in three weeks and we exchanged tips and talked our way on top of the hill, where I had this amazing view:


So, these were my last couple of days (with some quiet time in between). I’ll be heading off to Hokkaido tomorrow and rather excited to go (after our initial flight was cancelled due to the typhoon Talim).

When language doesn’t matter, or how an old Japanese man gave me sweets

There has been a lot going on here recently which kept me busy, but now that I’ve got some time I thought I share this particular experience (others will follow in the next couple of days).


It was a couple of days ago. Isabel and I were still settling in and hadn’t really been in downtown Kyoto yet, which made me a little restless (then again, we have three months here!). So, I decided to go to the nearby Buddhist temple, called Imakumano-kannon-ji, which is also located in an area full of other Buddhist temples, the more famous being the Sennyū-ji temple. It was a lovely – yet steep – walk up there and absolutely beautiful. There were barely any people around, and the ones who were there smiled and nodded. I wandered around, taking pictures and getting stung by mosquitos (which I only realized once I got home). The silence and tranquility of this place was indescribable.

I left that temple area to explore the other areas. I didn’t go inside the Sennyū-ji temple as I didn’t want to pay for it. I heard the autumn foliage is supposed to be fantastic in that temple so I will return and pay for it then. I then went toward the main road and stopped at a small temple, Kaiko-ji, and took some pictures. Then a small old Japanese man approached me and wanted me to follow him inside. I tried to signal to him that I was only interested in looking, but he insisted so I followed him. As is the custom in temples, I took of my shoes and went inside to see the ten meter Buddha statue, the old man wanted me to see. I must admit it was really impressive. I took some more pictures from the outside of the temple, all while being watched by that man.

When I turned to leave he gestured that he wanted to accompany me, since he had to take the bus. Thus, I went with him. While walking he was constantly smiling and gestured that he worked on some trees yesterday (at least that’s what I understood). He then took out some kind of snack and gave it to me, followed by two ame-chans (bonbon) which he gestured were good for the throat. I didn’t feel I could refuse these since he appeared to be delighted to give them to me. A couple of passerby looked at us, as I imagined we made a rather odd couple. I walked him to the bus stop where we said goodbye. He took my hand smiled and nodded and I thanked him again and said goodbye (sayonara).

I went home smiling the whole way as this was such a nice and unique experience. I felt happy having some company also for giving him company (even if the conversation was pretty one sided). It gave me enthusiasm to not only engage with the culture but also with the people around me.


First impressions

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when you dreamed about a place for a while, you will most likely be disappointed because it won’t live up to your fantasy. However, for me and Japan this is not the case. It might not be the glorious and polished country people imagine it to be, but I never had these fantasies – I knew what I was going to encounter. And I must say, I’m more fascinated by the country every minute. It has a unique mixture of old and new, conservative and freaky.

The first encounter with the country obviously started at the airport. We flew to Osaka (Kansai International) as it was closer to Kyoto. After clearing customs (and confusing the immigration officers with our working-holiday Visas), we used the luggage forwarding service to send our big suitcases to our place in Kyoto. Since the trains in Japan are usually packed (although so far, I haven’t seen that yet), we thought it would be wiser to use this service, which we managed thanks to the help from the patient woman at the desk who translated everything into Japanese characters (and everything arrived at the time stated as well!). After a forty-minute bus journey into central Osaka and a 10-minute walk we reached a Capsule Hotel, which we planned as our first accommodation. I must say I was intrigued, but also rather nervous about staying in it. I’m not claustrophobic, but it still sounded odd sleeping in a relatively confined space. I shouldn’t have worried at all. It was clean, comfortable and absolutely perfect to simply spend a night. We checked in, dropped off our bags and then went to get some dinner, since we (or at least I) were tired, but also rather hungry. So as a comfort-food type dinner, we choose a nearby Ramen restaurant. Since none of us speaks that much Japanese, I was glad that the menu mainly consisted of pictures to which you could point and say ‘Kore o kudasai?’ (Can I get this please?).


There are some customs which are distinctively Japanese. The most commonly known one is that you have to take off your shoes when entering a house. This also applied to the Capsule Hotel, were they provided small lockers for the shoes. You also put on designated slippers to enter the toilet (even if it is tiny). For the traditional Japanese bath, you completely scrub yourself clean before you enter the bathtub shared with others. Although it was awkward at first, I quickly got used to it and the hot bath at the Capsule Hotel really helped relax the tense muscles from the journey.

The next day (after acquiring a SIM card), we set off to our primary location: Kyoto!


We managed to get the tickets relatively quickly and somehow managed to communicate with the Japanese information desk were the correct platform is. Instead of taking the faster local train, we obviously managed to get the slower one, which takes 45 instead of 30 minutes. However, it was lovely to see the landscape and the houses rushing by. After arriving at Kyoto station, I made my friend wait for about 10 minutes, as I saw an advertisement with an Anime/manga character I am rather fond of and I wanted to know, what is was about. While I was waiting for the advertisement to be repeated, Isabel had a laughing fit with people just staring at her.


Kyoto Station itself is marvellous. It not only has the various trains, but a huge shopping and food area. I’ve known about the realistic plastic food displays, but seeing so many was absolutely brilliant.


We went to the supermarket to grab some snacks (various flavoured rice balls, edamame and matcha sweets) and took a taxi from the station to our Airbnb. Luckily for us, Kyoto has introduced tourist friendly (meaning English speaking) taxis which was helpful, otherwise we would have simply shown them the directions and the address provided by our hosts. The place we are staying in is an old traditional house in a residential area. Having the sliding doors and sleeping on a tatami matt will be something I have to get used to, but it is absolutely fantastic so far.

Why I decided to start a blog, or how my lifelong fascination with Japan became a reality

It’s been on my mind for a while now (and several friends of mine have suggested it) to start a blog. However, I only really started to consider it now, because I’ll be on my to Japan tomorrow. So, I’ve decided to start this blog mainly to do document my upcoming journey to Japan.


Since I was about thirteen I always wanted to go to Japan. That was mainly caused by my obsession with anything Anime and Manga related. Unfortunately, I was the only one in my family with this affinity, and it stayed a far away dream. Then all of this changed last year, at the farewell party of an Australian friend of mine, where I met Isabel, who has already been to Japan and told me how amazing it was. Before that I’d mostly been told by family members that I should go to Japan to get this fantasy out of my head. Thus, it was encouraging to hear that Japan is that amazing. We exchanged numbers and decided to meet up again. That meeting not only consisted of talking about Japan, eating many sweets and watching movies, but also putting on Yukatas. After that, months of us fantasizing “what if we’d live in Japan for a couple of months” turned into “well technically we could do it”, which then turned into us booking the flights. That was 99 days ago, and I’m ready for it (although I still can’t believe I’m doing this).


So that’s how I got here. I’ll try to update as much as possible, documenting my impressions and experiences in Japan (and maybe previous travels).


Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll enjoy it!