Dear Diary II – Post Japan

Whoa, so as we leave a day early from Japan, due to the massive 9.0 earthquake and risks of a nuclear disaster, there are a bucket load of thoughts running through my mind. So I decided it was time for a dear diary sequel (well actually a rant, so apologies in advance).

After seeing such catostrophic scenes on television, which looked like they were right out of the movie”2012″ and feeling one freaking heavy earthquake, it puts life into perspective!

The truth is we all bow down to mother earth and in any one second the world could destroy everything that humanity has created! How do you react to that?

Well, if you are a chyk, all of what I’m going to say is obvious, but it truly shows attachment to worlds materialistic possessions isn’t going to ensure you live a happy life…The 500000 homeless people from the tsunami can vouch for that!

Its time to take a fresh approach, and see life as an opportunity… an opportunity maybe not driven by JUST materialistic goals…the house and money are great things, don’t get me wrong…but isn’t living a life of self-fulfillment and enjoyment more important…

I mean how many times do we say “I really wish I could do that” to say either “but I can’t” or “later”. Well this is a wake up call to me anyway…get up and go get what you want…do the things you’ve always wanted to and appreciate life NOW! No excuses…coz you choose the directions you follow in the map of life, no one else does!

This leads me onto the people of Japan, who are without question, some of the nicest people we have come across!

And sometimes when you need help to achieve goals, these are the kinds of people you want in your life to set a great example for all of us.

To give you an idea of what I mean, this is some of things me and Anj, spotted along the way!

1. Whenever on a train, if an older person or people with children come aboard, one of the Japanese always gets up an offers a seat.

Yep I know you maybe thinking we have a seat for that in the UK, but how many people actually do it and show that form of selflessness when the train is busy?

2. They switch their phones to silent in trains, and never take a phonecall on the train. Now can you imagine that in london, where let’s face it we’re addicted to talking on our cell phones!?

They respect other people on the train! And it means you get to chill out and have a good conversation with others with you.

3. Eating on the move is not looked at favourably! If they buy take away, they stop somewhere and take the time to eat, rather than rushing their food as they walk!

WHAT’S THAT? You should take time out to actually relax and eat! Yep shocked me too!

4. Whenever we needed help, someone went out of their way to help us out…doesn’t matter if they couldn’t understand! They simply wanted to help!

And even if you went into a shop, and didn’t buy anything, the store owner still takes the time to converse, smile with you and wish you the best for your journey ahead! So nice!

5. After the tsunami and the quake, so many Japanese went to help their fellow country men.

And there was no looting, but a willingness to help others and share with others what they had, even if it wasn’t much!

Have to say that credit also has to go to the rescue workers from all over the world and those in the nuclear plant, risking their lives to save others!

This attitude, which I summarize by respect for others (others don’t have to EARN your respect, you already should have respect for others feelings and thoughts), kindness, politeness, selflessness and patience is something we all could demonstrate a little more of.

And on top of all that, taking time to savour the life we have with smiles and laughter is important!

That may sound cheesy, but to be honest, I don’t really care if being cheesy isn’t fashionable especially if it means we are living a life of happiness and bringing more happiness to others!

Its not easy, but I truly want to do more selfless deeds, with zero expectation in return!

Yes, even though we may say we already do that, do we really, or do we later get annoyed at someone and list all the nice things we’ve done for them in an argument, or expect that they should have been nicer to you?

That’s for you to decide.

I believe selfless helping will make our world a better place and is something we could all do more of!

Many people will argue against it by saying that they worry people may take advantage of you…well if you’re not expecting anything in return and are doing things for people out of the kindness of your heart, being taken advantage of doesn’t exist!

It doesn’t matter how they act towards you, because you have zero expectations back!

So there you have it, start appreciating and savouring life and what you have. Thank your parents, God, and whoever else you need to, for the life you have! And go out, do selfless deeds and live life to the full!

Coz in reality that’s all we have – the life WE CHOOSE to live!

Let me know your thoughts guys, drop your comments below!

Reacting with the nuclear!

“The nuclear power plants are having a few issues which are fully under control and pose no risk to the public”…. Switch over to bbc.co.uk…. “Experts are predicting that the nuclear situation in Japan is increasingly worsening and could possibly lead to a disaster like Chernobyl if not managed immediately… Only essential travel to Japan recommended.”

Right! Initially we thought that the UK media was blowing the Fukushima power plant situation out of proportion because let’s face it, the worse the situation, the more the interest… So we went along our merry way relaxing in Osaka…

It’s true there isn’t much to see there in the way of sights but it is a fun city to hang around in, eat good food, check out the shops and admire the Japanese youth culture… By that we mean, check out what the girls and guys wear here… Knee high socks are like a uniform and as for what you wear them with, the shorter the better and don’t forget the super high heels or over the knee boots… How disgraceful… I LOVED IT! Lol … To see more of the Japanese fashion statement check out D* (will check name). It was pretty fun here.

Apart from that, we ventured to Den Den, Osaka’s answer to technology town… Far from impressed… And hung around Umeda, the business side of town (well that’s what they said).. We were lucky enough to have booked a super cheap rate at a business hotel in this district, which we eventually found right behind ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ and next door to ‘Girl’s Bar’. Charming! Highly recommend it!!

That night in Osaka, we felt the room shake… Oi, oi, not what you’re thinking.. 3 days since the big earthquake, another earthquake hit near Tokyo but we felt it 12 hours away in Osaka… This was on top of the aftershocks being felt in Tokyo on an hourly basis. Despite me trying to convince Rishi it was probably a train taking a detour underneath our hotel (?!(@? He wasn’t buying it either) we knew that the situation was getting worse. The Fukushima nuclear plant was not doing so well in controlling its reactors either, with explosions unnerving everyone in the early hours of the morning.

Our parents (as well as friends sending messages stating bluntly ‘get out of Japan’) were obviously concerned and suggesting that we do not go back to Tokyo for our flight to China but either change it or just buy new ones from an airport near us instead. There was no point arguing anymore, going back to Tokyo didn’t sound safe (although we really wanted to)!

The hilarious irony was that the next day we were doing a day trip to Hiroshima. Yeup, where the first nuclear bomb was used on humans! The peace park has remnants of a building that was damaged by the nuclear bomb but overall is actually a beautiful park and hard to imagine what it would have looked like when the bomb hit. The museum however has some shocking images and depictions of the effect of that horrendous event. Think the pics below give an indication of how “effective” a nuclear bomb can be!

And this was technology over 50 years ago. I dread to think what new discoveries have been uncovered since then.

Walking through the place, my mind was flitting between anger at the effect of war… No-one deserves to have a nuclear bomb thrown on them but as posters in the museum admit, the Japanese were not innocent when it came to inflicting pain and suffering on other nations in that war either. So what is the need to kill people who probably did not even know what the war was for or sign up to be pawns in these evil game played by the leaders of their nations?… The other part of mind was worrying about the effects of the nuclear explosions a few hundred kms away from us if we went back to Tokyo… In these situations there’s no better solution than the fail safe “Daddy, help!”… My dad had been up since 5am calling the airlines and managed to get our flights changed so that we would leave a day early from Hiroshima instead of risking a trip to Tokyo.

Happy to be safe but sad to be leaving Japan early.

We spent our last day in Kyoto, enjoying the best chocolate doughnut (available in Kyoto station), chilling in our favourite hostel (Khaosan) and visiting our favourite indian restaurant (they had really good chai and kulfi!). (sorry for the funny pic Rish)


Sadly, we are leaving today and on our flight to Shanghai… Booo! Think we have really bonded with Japan, so much so that I feel I am abandoning them, not that I know how I would help. I hope that Japan maintains its beauty, its traditions and fantastic vibe… Without a doubt we will be back some day and next time it will be in cherry blossom season! 🙂

Spending the night.. with monks!

What do u call a temple that serves beer?

Fukuchi-inn


We are not being rude, that was the name of the fabulous temple we stayed at, at the top of Mount Koyasan. The temple village takes 2 hours to get to by train, cable car and the bus from Osaka but is worth the trek to experience a night in an actual Bhuddist temple.


We selected our temple because you could book it online, they apparently spoke decent English AND they had an onsen… Another Japanese experience which you must do… So I thought we could knock em both out at once! Lol

For the steep prices you pay, you get a vegetarian Japanese dinner and breakfast and a very authentic royakan style room with tatami mat flooring and futons to sleep on. What shocked us though was that on arrival, after showing us to our room, the host asked us if we wanted a beer!!! Kind of didn’t know what to say, so informed them that we did not drink alcohol.. Ye that’s right, I got high and mighty with the temple monks! …

As we had got there pretty early, we thought we’d take advantage of no-one else being there yet and get into the onsen… Now you may be wondering, what of this onsen that I keep mentioning? Well, they are the Japanese hot spring tubs! Sounds pretty tame.. Yes well the main point which I’m shying away from (excuse the pun) is that you have to get in there naked! … The etiquette is that you shower up, very thoroughly, and then get right into the hot tub in your best birthday suit! … It’s supposed to make you more open and friendly to your fellow hot tubbers! Surprising ei? Before anyone asks, men and women’s onsens are SEPARATE! Sorry guys!

Anywho, after that fun experience, we wandered round the really pretty gardens, sat and enjoyed their zen garden before being served dinner in our room. It is a fun experience having a full Japanese meal served to you in your room where you sit on the floor and eat with chopsticks despite not having a clue what the difference is between one dish and the next! The food was surprisingly good but as expected most of the dishes (and there were a LOT of dishes) were composed of tofu. Rishi was in heaven!

Before heading off to an early night’s rest, we tried out a calligraphy class upon Rishi’s request… That was interesting.. Hmm…

The next morning in the early… early, frosty hours of the day, we joined the monks for their prayers… This is obviously great to see especially because the shrine was so amazing in the morning light but we cannot lie… By the end of it, both Rish and I were trying our best to stay awake and warm! Still highly recommend doing this though.

After our Japanese breakfast, we did consider another dip in the onsen, but thought we’d shared and experienced enough so went to wander the town.

The other temples are good to see.. Pick and choose though as there are many.. However they do not compare to those in Kyoto.. My favourite temple, which is the main sight to see here in Koyasan has to be Eko-in (check name)… It is actually a cemetery temple, so after we walked for 2km through the garden of graves

… surprisingly beautiful… we found the temple. The temple is there to protect the tomb of a person who is said to be the only one who will be able to translate the teaching of the next Bhudda to the world. He may be in a tomb, but is not dead, merely meditating. It is a stunning temple with a big gold tables, covered in gold plates and other gold decoration all lit by candles and from the middle you can see through to a gold Bhudda and the tomb. But best of all was the vibe inside which made it phenomenal. We were there when the monks were praying and you could just feel the fantastic energy. Definitely do visit!

 

Snacks and Tsunami

It’s been a while since the last post… I could blame it on the 5th largest earthquake in the world and the consequent tsunami that swept Japan just a few hundred km north of where we were based but I would be lying…Yes, the craziness that ensued from those devastatingly spectacular events did lead to us changing our plans slightly but the truth is we were too busy to write the post because we were loving every bit of this trip.

We arrived in Kyoto in the evening to our fabulous hostel based just off the main shopping area in the city centre. We had booked a twin room as it was cheaper (aren’t we being good backpackers?) thinking it would be two beds next to each other… It wasn’t.. We had a closet for a room with bunk beds.. Still we were happy. The hostel has a big but cosy kitchen/ lounge area which we literally had to drag ourselves from to go sightseeing every morning and the shared bathrooms and heated toilet seats were super clean too! That evening, we had our first taste of Japanese food at a little alley way vegetarian restaurant which I’m sure was breaking several health and safety rules all at once, but it was totally worth it!

Our first full day in Kyoto we visited Nijo castle and the temples in North-east Kyoto including the famous Golden temple (Kinkakuji temple)… All the sights were beautiful with each temple having its own personality and reason for deserving a visit. Our favourite temple on this day had to be Ryoanji with its zen garden..

You actually felt this amazing serenity as you walked into the garden and sat and stared at the 15 purposely placed rocks. The gardens there were also really lovely and we can only imagine how gorgeous the place would look with the cherry blossoms in full bloom!

The highlight for Day 1 however without a doubt was the bamboo forest in the cute little town Arashiyama.. Check out the pic!

Ok, Rishi is looking at me as I write this and saying, “don’t you mean it was the cake roll or the best mango ice-cream” (with real mango bits in it!!)? And he is probably right, my snacking throughout Kyoto MAY have taken more importance than the sights!! But how can you help it when there is a new random dessert concotion at the entrance to every new temple?! It’s rude not to try the local treats!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anywho, thinking we’d seen some very cool temples, day 2 we set out to follow the Lonely Planet Southern Higashiyama walking tour… The first temple, perched on top of a hill was cool (Kiyomizu). There was a ‘game’ there where you walk with your eyes closed from one stone to another and if you make it to the second stone and touch it, it means you will have find love with ease… Did we reach the other side? Did I touch the stone? Did Rishi touch the stone?… I’ll leave you guessing! 😉

The walking tour is good mainly because of the village streets you walk past and the opportunity to Geisha spot (I’m pretty sure our Geisha’s were dressed up tourists, but we got some pictures which is all that really matters, right?!)

Overall though, we wouldn’t say the walk is a MUST do… It was made more appealing though because we chanced upon a ‘snackerie’ (my name for it) which had hot buns with ice-cream inside them. This served well as my snack for the day.. Well until our next snack of pizza crepes (see snacking pics above)!! Yuummy…

As it was an early end to the day, we went back to our hostel thinking we would do our laundry but instead spent the afternoon chatting to other travellers and anihilating a full pack of biscuits with tea in the space of minutes!! CooookiiiIiieeee muuuuunsstttaaa… Nnnnom nnnnooom nnnoooom!!! I think it’s the times when you sit around doing hardly anything except meeting and talking to random people from across the world that actually makes journies like ours that extra bit special .. And fun! 🙂

Templed out by now? Don’t be silly, Day 3 was Philosopher’s Walk.. Again, what else can I say except it really is so beautiful. You walk along a cherry blossom lined canal and along the way there are tea houses and some temples.

The first temple (Ginkakuji) housed Rishi’s favourite gardens. We also enjoyed exploring Nanzenji where we wandered into a factory behind the temple and also found a mini temple on top of the mountain…

Little did we know but at this time, an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 on the Richter scale had shocked the peace in north-eastern Japan and triggered a tsunami roaring on to its shores… It was only after we reached Fushimi shrine, a very different type of temple most famous for the hundreds of red tori-gates lining a path up into the mountains, did we realise what had happened as we bumped into a lady from our hostel who told us the news…

This may sound odd, but from around 3 o clock through to our time at this creepy temple, which has growling dog statutes and crows in its gardens, we felt this peculiar, restless feeling… Whether that has any meaning I don’t know but it is certainly coincidental.. I’ll keep that open..

Thank you to all those who messaged us to check we were ok! …To be honest, we thought it was just another earthquake. There had been a smaller one (7.7 on the scale) in Tokyo a week earlier but you wouldn’t have known as everyone carried on life as if nothing had happened. We assumed this would be the same… However, watching the devastation and destruction on the news (as I’m sure everyone saw around the World) you could only be mesmerised by the sheer power of the seas and be thankful that you were not at its mercy in this situation. Despite being in Japan you felt helpless, there was nothing we could do to aid those suffering from the onslaught of the seas, so we sat with the others and just watched!

[Will try to add video of tsunami coverage]

We were still in Kyoto the next day and it did take us some time to psyche ourselves up for exploring given what we were hearing about the number of missing in the north and the constant aftershocks taunting Tokyo. However, we eventually got ourselves out and visited Sanjyu sangendo, which Rishi had been ooon about the whole time.. It is a totally different temple. It’s in the city centre so the gardens are basic to say the least but inside the temple there are hundreds of gold statues, many of them with sanskrit names as they are apparently taken from Indian culture!! The Bhudda here is most likely the nicest one we have seen (as yet)…

Spurred on by the beauty of this temple we decided to leg it to Nara (a nearby city), armed with our lonely planet and a sumptuous chocolate doughnut. (Mouth watering).. This is a popular day trip destination because it has the largest Bhuddha statue in Japan. It really is huge.. And also most of the historical grounds are set in a deer park.. The deer wander freely with you… So Rishi fed them biscuits, one by one…awww… My attempt was slightly less elegant than Rish’s, in that I screamed, ran away and threw the biscuits to the floor.. Still counts as feeding, they ate them!! (see videos!!)

Right, anywho, while we were in Nara there was a massive festival happening to bring good luck to the new year ahead. (Spring marking the start of the year).. So we stood for 3 hours, out in the cold so that we could watch a monk light a humongous broom stick (that’s what it looked like to me!) And run with this broom across the top balcony of the temple spraying the firey bits onto us watchers… Hmm… Ok quick positive perception of the 3 hour agony.. Uh, we will take from this the appreciation of the Japanese culture?! … Lol 🙂

Unfortunately, our time in Kyoto was up and the next day we were heading down to Mount Koyasan…

Reading back on the above post, there is still so much to add, like the rice balls we ate from the street stalls and the disney world style monorail through the city plus the indian thali restaurant not to mention the toast and tea breakfasts we made by ourselves in our hostel!! I knoooo!! Hmm, does seem to be very food related… But my point is that I don’t think I can fully summarise the little things that we did or saw that made this part of the trip so much fun… The vibe is so phenomenal here and throughout Japan that you can’t but have a great time…

Emails from Takayama

We try to blog our experiences, but it can be less personal than other forms of communication.. So for this blog post, I took bits of an email to the girls, summarising how I’ve experienced the last couple of days!

Day 1 Takayama
After 3 days in Tokyo, which is very similar to London actually with signs in what look like pictures and more lights being the main differentiators, o ye and more Japanese people, (Doh!) We have come to a little town called Takayama in the mountain area… And the temperature here is -1!!! That’s right, there is snow in parts of the town!! Additionally I have left my thermals aka my leggings in Tokyo and my cheapo sneakers don’t quite cut the mustard in these temperatures… Oooh and to add insult to injury, I had to put my own bed linen on the bed, have a shared shower, which actually is an area in the laundry room and lets just say the shower curtain does little to protect your shame! Lol…

Despite the above or maybe in spite of the above, we are having a good time… Having a backpack is actually pretty good, we move around faster and the ones we have make them pretty easy to use like a suitcase… Only thing is every little bit of shopping adds to the weight, and I went shopping in Tokyo!! Eek, worryingly I think I’ve bought stuff I have at home or vvv similar… But I couldn’t help it., its not even much but backpack is not spacious enough.. May need to post it back… ok will deffo have to! Apart from that, trying and hopefully succeeding in appreciating what we see and experience…  The people here have been very friendly, the sights have been beautiful and we are healthy! So can’t complain!

Day 2
I am now on a train to Kyoto… This morning it was snowing where I wass!!! I wore trackies under my trousers, 2 socks, long sleeve t-shirt, sweatshirt, jacket, hat and scarf, gloves and was STILL cold!!! Lol… Taking it as a different experience in a different land, and moaning my ass off to Rishi. Lol…

We did go see some old school houses with thatched roofs… Although very interesting, think my favourite part was getting an ice-cream on the way back while waiting for the bus back to town… (That was the only way we could stand inside by the big heater).

Also went to the markets, as Rishi LOVES markets and insists on seeing all possible markets… The one here only had 3 or 4 stalls, it was actually quite funny… Hmm, you had to be here… The town is super quiet, may have something to do with low season, or could just be a sleepy little place… Its supposed to be a MUST-SEE location… Hmm..

Ok enough moaning about this place, it does actually look very pretty at night particularly around the bridges and the old merchant homes… The scenery on the train journey to Takayama and the surrounding Japanese Alps are absolutely stunning too.. Being so cold, it’s pretty spectacular to see the frozen waterfalls on the mountain sides…

And we did manage to eat a very good Italian meal last night plus the best cheese on toast EVER today, which means I have been fed well and thus am happy!

I pretend to moan, but in reality I think it will be hard to come home, still unsure of my life’s bigger plan… No spurts of wisdom from heavens have arrived yet! Lol… 3 months to have an epiphany, hoping it does! Got a mini ‘fortune-telling’ thing at a temple we went to in Tokyo and mine says ‘Reflect on whether you know your situation’… ‘Your business is for the sake of the world. Please stay with your work.’… Greeeeat! Lol, while Rishi got some excellent luck stuff!!!

I know that everything is as you perceive it, so I’ll have to think of a inventive way to perceive what my fortunes suggests me to do! ..

Anyways, all about the now …so next stop Kyoto… Whoop, whoop! Or should I say Chooo Choooo…?!

Tokyo calling

“This is the last call for Mr Rishi Raja and Mrs Anjali Raja on Flight AX321 to Tokyo.. ”

Aaah, that’s us… Shit, ruuuun…

… Sorry we’re late, sorry, sorry.. Phew… Cannot believe that we nearly missed our flight to Tokyo because I was too busy looking for books to read! Hehe, jokes, at least we made it, but dammit didn’t even buy a book!

… We arrived in Tokyo at 10.30pm and I realised that if we don’t get to our hostel by 12, they lock the doors and count us as no shows.. Getting through customs and baggage claim took us till 11.25pm and the subway to the city centre takes an hour… This wasn’t looking good… Despite the help from the airport information desk, no-one was answering the hostel phones.. All we could do was turn up there and hope for the best… O wait the last train to our station has left,.. ‘Grr, guess we’ll have to take a cab’… as we made this suggestion to the staff at the train station, he looked at us in panic and told us to get on another train, get as close as possible to our hostel and then take a cab…. I understood why when we got our cab at 1am from Ueno station, 2kms from our hostel for which we paid £12!… You DO NOT take cabs in Japan… Literally as we arrived the hostel night staff was leaving… What an eventful welcome to Japan… Sign of things to come? … Naaah! Don’t be silly!

Someone had told us that arriving in Japan feels like you’ve landed on a different planet, and in some ways we certainly felt that… We’ve seen posters with Japanese writing and seen movies showing parts of Japan but being here and seeing every sign in the Japanese language really did make you feel like you’re somewhere very different.. The way the buildings are used is pretty nuts too.. You may pass what looks like an office block, but that 7 floor building may have restaurants on all seven floors so you have to check signs all the way up to find what you fancy! I had to restrain myself from taking photos of every little alley way we passed despite the signs and shop fronts making each turning look like a new work of art.

We spent our first 3 days in and around Tokyo and what a cool city it is too! Rishi and I both fell in love with it.. Lost in translation indeed!… Everything from the red light district in Shinjuku which has an equal number of boys for ‘company’ as women (hmm!) to Asakusa; the old school suburbia on the outskirts of the city.

We were totally sucked in by the fun vibe of the city and the evident love of fashion. It did mean we interspersed our sightseeing with quite a bit of shopping… Alright, alright, we interspersed our shopping with some sightseeing?! … Don’t judge, you’d do the same!!

I personally think we were shopping to compensate for the difficulty getting veggie food in Tokyo! We did manage to find an indian restaurant with a potato and bamboo shoot curry… No that was not a typo.. Was surprisingly good! And the rest of the time we ate pizza and pasta… Such a traumatic experience for me, all those who know me well, know I am very averse to such unhealthy foods! 😉

We did see some culture too! We watched the Hare Krishnas… Lol, yes I know in Tokyo!! They were on our way to xxx temple, a beautiful zen temple in the city.. Also we went on a worthwhile side trip to Kamakura, where you can see a different, more relaxed and beautiful part of Japan with many temples and the second largest Bhudda statue in Japan!

Tokyo is less about the sights though and much more about immersing yourself in the culture and lifestyle… You cannot beat a walk down Harajuku on a Sunday to catch the punks, knee high socks clad teenagers and tourists socialising, shopping and gobbling some delicious crepes! Or sitting in one of the little fast food style restaurants, ordering a ‘lunch set’… Or, you could just ride the Yamanote line (aka circle line) and just people watch. (Fyi, trains are on time here!)

Whatever you do, I dare you to try not to love this place and the amazingly friendly people.

There are so many places you go to and you know that if it wasn’t baking hot with the sun shining down, you probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much… But here in Tokyo, it has been COLD, I mean leggings under trousers cold, and yet it has been soo much fun… (Ok we were lucky that the sun has been out, but trust me it rocks)…

Definitely Japan is already leading the way as our most favourite place so far!!

Anyhow, next stop the mountain town of Takayama… We are taking a Shinkansen bullet train… Looks very cool!!