Japan 2010: 0.5 - The Task Ahead

I have returned fresh-ish from a fantastic time in Japan somehow managing to avoid the cursed jet-lag, I can't believe that period just gone was 3 whole weeks, I'm sure I set off just yesterday.

Anyway, as before, I'll be covering my experiences as best as I can through the medium of blog. Some people have asked me why I do this, and I admit freely that self-centredness might be a factor; effectively sticking my entire life up on screen for anyone to read, but it's also the best way I can think of for recording these parts of history as permanently and completely as I can, I just don't trust my brain enough to hold in the important bits.

This will be no small feat, since last time it took the best part of 2008 to sift through all my tickets, booklets and diary scribblings to get an accurate recollection in my head of what I did. Hopefully however this time I will be able to do it a bit quicker. Maybe have it mostly out of the way by the new year.

Instant Conversion

That's it, I am offically a fan of the Japanese Onsen.

After ignoring them first time round this was one of those must do things, and I'm so glad I did. My inaugral experience was at Fukuyu Onsen in Nagasaki, perched high on the hills above the city. The initial English uncovered body embarassment soon slipped away and was replaced by a deep relaxation in one of their communal baths. Half of them were inside and the others were out in the open air looking over the night scene below. There was a 60 degree sauna for when you wanted to sweat it all out, and sun-loungers for when you wanted to just relax and cool down. It was a fantastic way to undo the sore feet of a days' sightseeing and I felt super-relaxed on the free bus back; my legs so spongy after it all that I could hardly walk.

Needless to say I will be going again. I already have my own 'cover your privates but only just' onsen towel.

I'll be proper blog posting when I return to the UK.

Don't Like What I Say?

Well now you can blow a great big hole in it.

Go here and follow the instructions. You can then destroy any words on any site that you don't agree with.

Good for relieving stress.

Underhand Tactics

This may be regional cos I'm in Japan now, but I've just noticed that typing in my URL direct into the address bar today has brought up a 'Mega Site of Bible Studies and Information' page full of guff about godly testimonies and such.

It's sad that somewhere, some repressed and frustrated individual has decided to try and hack my site by redirecting people elsewhere (presumably because of my atheistic postings) rather than trying to debate the points made in those posts, but I suppose that means they implicitly understand how fragile their arguments are.

Greetings from Japan

Just a quick post, I landed yesterday and am now stuck in the torrential rain in Ueno, Tokyo. Massive kerfuffle with checked baggage that didn't take the journey with me yesterday and has only just turned up at the hotel. The last 24 hours have been a massive adrenaline-fuelled worry since if it didn't arrive today, then I might as well wave goodbye to it as tomorrow I fly to Okinawa.

However I did manage to get away for a little bit today; I got my priorities right and went to see the new Studio Ghibli film, The Borrower Arrietty, based on the Borrowers tales. Even though it was in Japanese with no subtitles, it was still very understandable and a lovely film, the art style of the characters and backgrounds reminding me a lot of Whisper of the Heart. I look forward to an English translation, but that's years off so I'm glad I got the privilege to see it while here. I've spent the rest of the time exploring the Yamanote line and smiled warmly whenever I recognized an area that I rushed through in panic last time.

Ja ne, Fancy-plants.

Japan 2010: 0.4 - Sampling the Kewzeen

For my final pre-Japan Japan post, I'll plug a nice little place that I found on the hunt for some authentic eastern nosh, so that unlike last time when I went, I won't be restricting myself to things that look safe and recognisable. At least, not totally anyway.

Japanese restaurants in the UK are quite hard to come by, especially outside London, and authentic, non-commercialised ones even more so. So it was with some excitement and intrigue that I heard about the Apothecary House in Pateley Bridge. It's only open as a Japanese restaurant for two days a week, and is run by Jon and Yoshi, a husband and wife team who met in Japan and came over here to avoid the chaos of the big cities.

They provide a personal service; when you arrange your visit, you specify what you want at least a day before, because Japanese food takes longer to prepare. Being totally ignorant of what was good, I explained to Yoshi my situation and food virginity (and squeamishness towards tentacled food), and asked her to suggest some things, to try and get a good range. That opened the floodgates as Yoshi, who clearly has a passion for her cooking and knowledge of the regional variations up and down her home country. I came away from the conversation not knowing quite what I'd ordered, but it will at least be an interesting and varied experience.

I arrived at an old stone house on the high street. The menu outside was all Chinese food, and as I entered, it looked not especially eastern, and more worryingly, empty. A single table sat in the middle of the room, on which was a 'Reserved' sign and a lit candle.

Yoshi came from the back room and gave me a friendly hello, and shortly after Jon arrived after delivering a takeaway. Both made me feel very comfortable as I settled down and attempted to recall how to use chopsticks. This wasn't a normal restaurant experience for sure, but even though the decor didn't evoke many feelings of the east, I felt they had brought a bit of Japanese hospitality over just for me.

As Yoshi cooked in the back room, me and Jon talked and immediately found much in common. He told me about the places they go to while over there, the complex etiquette of visiting a bath house, and even brought over some CD's and books for me to look over, his passion for Japanese films also providing much to talk with him about. Yoshi occasionally joined the conversation and even helped me with my food notes by translating and suggesting similar meals to what I had, which included a range of sushi, edamame beans (increasingly moreish), miso soup, Donburi (many variations, in this case strips of beef on a bed of rice), Gyoza (pork dumplings - delish), Yakitori (chicken on skewers in a soy/vinegar sauce, which were my favourite of the night), and Red Snapper Tempura (seafood/vegetables in batter).

After finishing, we talked and chatted at length as if we had known each other for years, (it's apparent that Japan and its culture as a passion are like marmite - either you aren't interested or you love it) and we resolved to meet again. There's plenty of opportunity; as well as the normal meals they also do film nights and Japanese hotpot evenings where like minded souls meet and chat. I got my name down on their list with no hesitation.

I left more than four hours after arriving, full and happy into the cool night. I went just for some authentic food, and left with the food and also some new friends. I'll definitely be going again.

You can read a little more about Jon and Yoshi here.