re: travelling with friends

A conclusion to Japan.

When travelling with others, there comes an inevitable point where things become a little tense. Personalities clash and even offhanded remarks can touch a nerve. Luckily for us, this was our last day in Japan, meaning we could soon part ways and decompress. However, if this happens in the middle of your trip, don’t be afraid to venture out on your own for a couple of hours or even the day. Providing you’re able to keep in contact with each other and stay safe exploring, it’s a great way to diffuse the situation and make the most of your trip abroad. People are often reluctant to do this, after all, it can be daunting being alone in a foreign place and you planned to go travelling together, right? But sometimes you just have to take time for yourself, be a little selfish and enjoy your time alone!

On a less preachy note, our final day in Japan started in Harajuku, where we treated ourselves to the Monster Café. The interior of this place is amazing, like stepping into a psychedelic Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. There’s four different themed areas that you can choose to be seated in, although it’s worth booking in advance to secure your favourite! Once seated however, you are free to explore the rest of the café, so don’t worry if you can’t get the table you want.

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Food here is more for novelty than taste, you can get rainbow spaghetti or rainbow burgers, but as we had already eaten breakfast, we went for the ice-cream (a tiny disappointing scoop). Our timing was pretty spot on when visiting the café as the ‘Monster Girl’ show started not too long after we ate. It was pretty exciting as I had no idea it was going to happen! It was fun to see the style and make-up of the girls and once the show was over, you were free to take pictures with them. If you’re going to do a themed café, I would recommend this one for its uniqueness and charming design!

When in Harajuku, you must also try the crepes! There are plenty of stalls to choose from, each with a display of 100+ different flavour combinations. The one I always go for includes, matcha ice-cream, strawberries, red bean and mochi balls – I don’t think there exists anything more perfect. To round up the rest of the day, we trekked all the way to Ueno in search for a Japanese souvenir jacket. Finding the shop was tricky, but we eventually stumbled upon it and I nearly fainted at the price! Despite having some money set aside to purchase one, I really couldn’t justify buying one this time around. Instead, I chose to live vicariously through Wesley’s purchase (19,000 yen, roughly £130, dayuuuummm).

Consequently, having quite an ample amount of cash leftover, we decided to go for teppanyaki – a style of cooking that uses an iron grill. The slices of beef we ordered were delicious, the only negative was that there wasn’t more! It was a nice meal to end our trip with, even typing this out now makes me so hungry.

re: soba, so good

cat cafes, fireflies and soba.

Meeting up with my friend Hazel (who chose to study abroad in Tokyo!), we visited her favourite cat café. Although there were many cute, exceedingly fluffy cats (and a kitten!), the space itself was pretty small and so visitors to the café were all politely vying for seating space and attention from the cats. The staff there were super considerate and if you did manage to get a seat, they would often relocate a sleepy cat onto your lap to love forever. With streaming eyes, my visit to the cat café was a short stay, since I was stupid and forgot to take my allergy medication with me.

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It’s like looking into a mirror.

I know I just wrote about having lunch a short while ago, but everyone else was hungry so we stopped by a 100-yen sushi place for second lunch. I love 100-yen sushi and I only wish I ate more of it during my trip! The quality is good, at least much better than the western equivalent Yo!Sushi (second on my list of hated Asian chain restaurants after Wagamama). Speaking of cheap deals, a trip to the 100-yen store resulted in me disregarding my already overweight hand luggage and going a little crazy on stationery – another thing that’s much better in Asia than the UK!

Later in the evening, we took a train to the outskirts of Tokyo for a local firefly festival. Huge crowds surrounded the small stream where the fireflies were released into and having never seen a firefly before it was pretty exciting to spot at least two dancing in the night. Sadly, the festival didn’t culminate in fireflies magically lighting up the vicinity like some whimsical Disney movie, but it was fun to experience the atmosphere of a local festival. Since it was very family oriented and held in a quiet neighbourhood, most stalls, including the delicious looking food vendors, were starting to close by 9.00pm, so we had to catch the train back into Tokyo for something to eat.

Luckily, Hazel knew of a cheap soba place open 24 hours so we all headed there and even though there was only 7 of us, we filled the whole restaurant. I’m not sure if my perceptions were skewed by hunger, but the soba was amazing! Costing only 530-yen for a bowl of soba, rice and some sliced pork belly (there are even cheaper options), this was the most inexpensive and satisfying meal I’ve had in Tokyo so far. Keep a look out for the small unassuming restaurants!

Apologies for the lack of photos in this post, I went on a massive purge through my photo library a couple of months ago and it seems nothing was deemed worthy enough to keep. Why do I do this to myself.

re: Kyo-two

Final day in Kyoto.

Our itinerary to round up Kyoto began with a visit to Kinkaku-Ji. Waiting for Wesley to arrive, my breakfast was the amazingly traditional choice of green tea sundae. (It had cornflakes at the bottom, so it counts right?) Kinkaku-Ji was 500 yen to enter and very crowded. It’s a beautiful attraction to visit, but I’m not sure it was worth the price of going in since you were only allowed to view the temple from outside. We also purchased some charms here, but later found the same ones 300 yen cheaper at Kiyomizu-dera! I was naïve in thinking that they were special to that particular location and not some mass produced tourist souvenir. Disappointing!

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I would advise finding a location to eat before heading to Kiyomizu-dera. The food around the area is a little overpriced compared to other locations, but I guess it’s natural with the amount of tourists it attracts. Out of all the sights I’ve visited in Japan, the immediate area of Kiyomizu-dera is definitely the prime location to dress in yukatas! There’s so many people in traditional Japanese dress, you probably stick out more by being in normal clothes.

Attracted by the small cluster of tourists coming out of an unassuming temple, we were intrigued and paid the 100-yen entrance fee to go inside. The idea is that you enter the womb of Daizuigu Bosatsu, become a new born again and spinning the stone at the end grants you a wish. It was the weirdest thing stepping inside as it’s totally pitch black. Sometimes in the dark, you can make out faint shapes, but here it was impossible. It’s quite an unsettling feeling, but made amusing by the sounds of other people bumping into one another (there’s a rope to guide you round the inside).

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Feeling a little disorientated as we stepped back out into the light, we headed towards Jishu Shrine, a place for the romantics amongst you. There’s two love stones here that come with a special challenge. Upon touching the first one, you close your eyes and attempt to make your way to the other. Doing this successfully means finding true love! It was sweet to see a group of school children helping out a classmate by shouting out hints and a group of girls also helped a stranger find her way to the other stone. Unfortunately, Wesley failed at this task and was condemned to never finding his true love.

Not to be overlooked, Kiyomizu-dera itself provides a lovely viewpoint to see Kyoto in the daytime. Seeing photographs on Google tells me it would be an even more spectacular sight during cherry blossom season. Not to mention autumn. Or winter. Wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to return seasonally and observe the changes?

re: Fushimi Inari-Taisha

an accidental hike.

It was a race against time when visiting Fushimi Inari-Taisha. Although there’s no official closing time, the light of the sun is crucial for taking pictures! Being in such a rush I ended up leading us onto the rapid train, taking us three stations past our desired stop. We got there as the sun was setting, sprinting past the other late comers in our haste to get a good photo (i.e. no one in the background). It’s amazing, not only the sheer amount of gates, but also the sizes! Starting off small enough to touch the top, you don’t feel that sense of amazement until you delve deeper into the maze of the gates. In fact, following the lines of torii gates, it wasn’t until halfway through that we realised we had started on the hike up Mt. Inari. Never one to back down from a challenge, I was determined to make it to the top, much to the chagrin of my friend. It was dark when we reached the top, but there was a great view of Kyoto from its peak. While I think it would have been fun to visit Fushimi Inari-Taisha in the day, going outside of peak times proved for a memorable experience!

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The climb back down was easy and quick (surprisingly well-lit too), partly driven by hunger and the need to pee. But we made it back to the station and found a restaurant serving Wesley’s food of choice, omurice. A Japanese dish that doesn’t really appeal to me much, so I got the rice and burger instead (not that great either). This pretty much ends our first day in Kyoto, one packed full of events, but a perfect way to tour Kyoto’s landscape on a time limit!