Japan, Kanagawa

Boat Tour of Yokohama Bay

March 30, 2016
Tokyo 097

Squelch-squelch, squelch-squelch.
I could feel water creeping across my socks, slowly drowning my toes.
“Urgh, my feet are all wet,” Ian moaned.
I looked down to see tiny rivers flowing from the seams of his worn-out bluchers, just in time for me to sidestep another, giant puddle.

The forecast for the Saturday of our trip to Tokyo had been intermittent rain, not plummeting sheets, so now we were dodging tiny lakes, unprepared, as we followed Jo-san down to the port to buy our tickets for the Marine Rouge. Why had we thought it was a good idea to do a boat tour of Yokohama Bay in the rain?

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Festivals, Japan, Tokyo

Celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Tokyo

March 25, 2016
Tokyo 148

“I’m pretty sure it will come down this way,” I said to Ian. We’d been waiting on the curb of the tree-lined avenue that runs from Meiji Shrine up to Omotesando.
“That guy asked the official standing over there and I’m pretty sure she said it will come down this way.”
I heard a voice to my right.
“Do you know if it’s coming down this way?”
I turned to find a brunette standing next to me with a blonde guy by her side.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it is,” I said.
“I’m Maria, by the way, and this is Chris.”
“Where are you guys from?”
“We work in Denmark.”
“But I’m Irish,” Chris smiled.
And so there we were – a South African, American, Venezuelan and Irishman – celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Japan.

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Aira, Japan, Kagoshima

Kagoshima’s Art Forest

March 14, 2016
Insiders, Antony Gormley, 1999

Charcoal skies and lime lawns – that’s how I remember my first visit to the Kirishima Open-Air Museum last June. Now, eight months later and in the last months of winter, the landscape surrounding the outdoor art gallery looked somewhat different. As Ian and I chugged up the road that winds around the side of Mount Kurinodake, I kept my eyes peeled for the two, giant polka dot flowers, one yellow and one red, which mark the rabbit hole into the sculpture Wonderland.

Upon first glance, the museum looks like any other modern art gallery: a tree-lined walkway leads to the entrance of a giant 3D rounded rectangle decorated with tall, glass windows tinted a shade of turquoise. Inside, a larger-than-life high heeled shoe, matching in pattern to the flowers at the gates, sits adjacent to a small cafe-come-gift shop. And off to the left, installations are scattered around a small, white hall.

The real attraction, of course, is outside.

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Festivals, Japan, Nagasaki

Nagasaki Lantern Festival

February 25, 2016
Nagasaki 264

WELCOME TO NAGASAKI!  I fist-bumped the air as we drove across the border into Kyushu’s westernmost prefecture – the only one I had yet to conquer on Japan’s third largest island.

Ian, Vidy and I were making our way down for Nagasaki Lantern Festival. The event, now in its 22nd year, draws crowds that make it nearly impossible to find accommodation anywhere near the city center. So we had driven to Saga the night before (Friday), slept over in a hotel, and were now completing the final leg of our 5-hour journey.

When we finally pulled into the park where Ian and I planned to car-camp for the night (Vidy had managed to hustle some floor space in a local B&B), the light drizzle that had followed us all the way from Kumamoto had finally stopped. It might not be the fanciest of accommodations, I thought to myself, but boy do we have a view.

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Japan, Nichinan

Inside One of Japan’s Abandoned Hotels

February 17, 2016

In Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis wrote, “The love of knowledge is a kind of madness.” I must be kind of mad, then, because everyone who knows me knows that I suffer from incessant curiosity. And if you read my blog, you know that that curiosity regularly centres on the morbid. A forest of suicide victims ? A prison of torture? There like a fucking bear.

It sometimes disturbs me – perhaps ironically – how much I am drawn to this darkness. Especially so when I think back to how young I was when I began poring over news articles and books and documentaries on the most gruesome of cases, the most terrifying of things.

But then I remind myself that everyone loves a good train wreck; our propensity for the macabre just manifests in different ways…gory reality TV, courtroom dramas, disaster footage, celebrity scandals, reddit AMAs…

I indulged myself most recently by exploring an abandoned hotel on Miyazaki’s most southern tip.

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Brooklyn, Manhattan, New York, USA

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

February 8, 2016
NYC '15 310

One hour. That’s how long it takes to walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Or Brooklyn to Manhattan, depending on which side of the Brooklyn Bridge you stand. We were on the Manhattan side, at City Hall, ready to make the 1,825 meter trek along with hundreds of tourists who were also taking advantage of the sun. It was the first clear day in a week, and also the coldest – perfect for taking pictures.

My sister began doling out instructions on how to walk across the bridge (read: how to not piss off the locals) as we crossed Park Row. There’s always potential for you to fuck something up as a visitor in New York; it’s like you’re constantly showing up to write a test that you didn’t study for.

“Get out of the bike lane!”

And just like that, I was docked 10 points.

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Brooklyn, New York, USA

Bushwick Street Art: A Visual Tour

February 1, 2016
NYC '15 602

Graffiti is dead. Or so we were told by a woman idling outside a Brooklyn art gallery. Yelled at, is more accurate. She was definitely yelling. “You’re wasting your time! It’s not real! They’re all sell outs!”

Our Free Tour By Foot of Bushwick had suddenly turned into a heated trial; the merciless prosecutor across the street passionately trying to convince us, the jury, that the defendant, our tour guide, was taking us for a ride. Real graffiti hasn’t existed since the 80s, she argued.

Our walk around the working class neighborhood on the north side of New York’s most populous borough suggested otherwise; graffiti, now more popularly referred to as street art, is very much alive and well.

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Manhattan, New York, USA

The High Line in Winter

January 18, 2016
NYC '15 107

“It’s a pity we’re doing this now. It must look so nice when its all green.”
“It’s ok. You know how much I love dead things.”

Danielle and I had just entered the northern end of the High Line, a 2.3 km (1.45 mi) concrete trail built on an abandoned freight railway track that served Manhattan’s industrial center from the 1930s to the 1980s. Today, it is a public park that extends 22 blocks above the West Side, from 34th Street down to Gansevoort in the Meatpacking District.

My sister’s giggle was part delight and part surprise – the way you laugh when you forget and remember someone all at once. It had been a year since we last saw each other, and a year since I had last been in New York.

I’ve never actually been in the city for any other season – marshmallow streets lined with skeleton trees are just how I know it. And even though it was unusually warm for late December with not a snowflake in sight, it was still very much winter. But as I soon came to realise, Manhattan’s most innovative park is a treat in all seasons.

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Fukuoka, Japan

To Give, or Not to Give a Hoot: Japan’s Owl Cafes

December 21, 2015

What if you could offer the comfort and companionship of pets to millions of people who don’t have the space, or are forbidden by landlords, to keep their own? It was this idea that led to the opening of Japan’s first cat cafe in Tokyo in 2005.

Although not a unique concept – Taiwan opened the world’s first in 1998 – it was one that gained popularity fast. The cafes became a hit with locals and tourists alike, with many of the former visiting for stress relief while the latter were drawn to the unconventionality of it all. In just five years, the ‘pet-rental’ business in Japan had grown to include 79 cat cafes alone.

Today, stores offer more than just cats. Customers can spend time with rabbits, dogs, snakes, goats, or – the latest trend – owls.

Almost everyone I know who has been to Fukuoka has visited the Hakata branch of Owl Family, which opened in January 2014 . Intrigued by the idea of getting to see the magnificent birds of prey up close, I begged Mark – who’d already been once before – to take Ken and I for a look after our trip to Nanzoin Temple. But during our visit, the novelty wore off fast.

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Fukuoka, Japan

The World’s Biggest Bronze Statue (Probably)

December 10, 2015
Fukuoka 023

Having your own little Kei in the inaka of Japan is gold – they’re cheap, easy on petrol and, like all cars, you can jump in on a whim and go wherever the road takes you. The downside? They aren’t really built for frequent, long road trips. This, I was reminded of as I opened my eyes and let them slowly adjust through the polka-dotted window onto a grey, misty parking lot. “Where are we? What’s wrong?” I asked, looking around trying to get my bearings. Mark laughed nervously, “The engine’s overheated.”

I had been taking my role of backseat passenger (read: napper) very seriously, while Mark drove and Ken navigated us to Fukuoka. Our first stop was supposed to be Nanzoin Temple in Sasaguri Town, just outside of Hakata. But now it looked like we might not make it. When we stopped again at a petrol station further up the road, the attendants agreed that  something was very wrong. “There’s a car shop off the next exit.”

The Honda service station was in a place called Asakura, 50 min from the temple. The mechanic confirmed our worst fears: the engine was, essentially, fucked.

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Festivals, Japan, Saga

The Saga International Balloon Festival Fail

November 16, 2015

“We’re going to miss the balloons.”
“Stop being a Negative Nancy.”
“I didn’t drive 4+ hours to miss the balloons. If we miss the balloons, I’m going to be pissed.”
“It’ll be fine.”
“I see a balloon.”
“No you don’t. Where?”
“Behind that house. You can’t see it from where you’re sitting but I see a balloon.”
“Where? Oh… there. I see another one!”
“There’s four now.”
“At least six!”
“We’re missing the fucking balloons.”

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Hita, Japan, Oita

Ontayaki Pottery Village

November 11, 2015

In the final months of my last year at university, I took a trip to Hogsback, a small village in the Eastern Cape, to meet a potter named Anton. He agreed to be the subject of a soundslide I was producing for my portfolio and was kind enough to let me shadow him for a day. Tucked away in the forests of the Amatole Mountains, his studio overlooked a carpet of tree tops and was filled with the chirping of the forest’s louder residents.

There must be something about potters and the woods, I thought to myself as I watched the road disappear from the back of Conor’s car. He, Mark and I had spent the morning exploring Hita’s historic merchant district and were on our way to a nearby village in the Kyushu Mountains dedicated entirely to the pottery craft.

Much like Hogsback, Onta is surrounded be dense woodland and far removed from the bustle of the modern world. The soundtrack is different, though. Churns and splashes and thumps echo throughout the small settlement – the distinct song of the karausu that line the river and powder the clay.

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Hita, Japan, Oita

Oita’s Old Merchant Town

November 6, 2015

Simone! There’s even more back here! Come look,” Conor yelled from the other room. We were in the Mamedamachi district (豆田町商店街) of Hita City, browsing through what I thought was your average soy sauce shop, when we discovered a secret museum with (literally) thousands of dolls on display.

These hidden gems are part of the charm of Hita’s oldest merchant town; you never know what you might find walking in to one of its many shops, or at the end of its many alleyways and side streets.

Mark and I had finally made the trip up to see our favourite Irishman, which we had been promising ever since Conor was transferred from Miyazaki to Kumamoto, and after spending the night in his new town, Yamaga, we were off exploring in the neighbouring prefecture of Oita.

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Japan, Tokyo

A Quick Guide to Tokyo’s Book Town

October 19, 2015

The ever-so distinctive smell of old books is a Floo powder that transports me to my childhood: the water heater in primary school that I spent most winter mornings propped up against, chasing like a second Timmy after Julian, Dick, Anne and George through hidden coves and mysterious lighthouses; my grandmother’s couch, where I lost entire Saturdays exploring the Enchanted Wood and the Faraway Tree; the back seat of our family’s car, where I dedicated long car rides out to the Magaliesburg helping Nancy solve clues; and the most magical place to exist outside of those pages: The Boskruin Library.

It was a wonderful thing, being raised by a mom who loves books as much as I do. I’d get to spend almost every day after school maxing out my library card and weekends nosing through new and used book shops. Which is why, when I read about an entire neighbourhood dedicated to books in Tokyo, I had to go check it out.

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