Tag Archives: Kyoto

Living in Iwakura

I don’t think I’ve written much about the place I’m staying at the moment, so before I go any further I’ll tell you a bit about Iwakura! Well it’s on the Northern Edge of Kyoto, surrounded by mountains and forrest. It may seem a little far out from the city on a map, but really the subway only takes about 20 minutes to get way downtown to Kyoto Station, and the area is so calm and scenic and peaceful I really couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, especially as a student! It’s far enough away from the city to avoid too much distraction, and the dorm I’m living in is conveniently located only a 10-minute walk away from my university. It has all the essentials, such as convenience stores, grocery stores, parks, home-ware and gardening shops, bakeries, cafes, restaurants (there’s a great Indian curry place near the subway station!), and many more places worth noting.
Here are some photos around Iwakura!

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Just outside the dormitory

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The Eiden line line train runs straight past the dorms and the school.Iwakura_20130410_01057

This little guy and others like him guard the streets. I call them “The Iwakura Watch”.
Iwakura_20130410_013615 Iwakura_20130410_014518 Iwakura_20130410_015321Iwakura_20130410_015422 Iwakura_20130410_015623These were from back in early April during hanami (cherry blossom season). This is the river that runs down to the Kokusaikaikan subway station. I walk or ride my bike past it almost everyday. Such a lovely spot. The crickets have begun chirping at night now too! I feel like I’m living in an anime… The area reminds me of some of the scenes in Niea_7.Iwakura_20130410_016726I’m not a creep I swear! These kids were just too darn adorable!
Iwakura_20130410_017430 Some flowers I found in a parking lot… of all places…Iwakura_20130410_017931 The main business area of the town. It’s always a little busier around here, and there are plenty of restaurants!Iwakura_20130410_018332Iwakura_20130410_018533 Iwakura_20130410_019036

Hey there Iwakura Rangers! Protecting the streets as usual I see!

Iwakura itself is really lovely, but the dorm I’m staying in is a completely different story…
I don’t have enough time or patience right now to explain in detail how horrendous the university dorms are, so I’ll save that for another post. But just to give you an idea… here are some photos I took of one of the windows in the kitchen…

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Yup. Most of those back specks are bugs… You don’t even want to see the floor…

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And my creepy hallway on the 5th floor.
Just last night I discovered a mukade (centipede) just near that vacuum cleaner. Lucky this was only a small one (about 12cm), but I hear they can grow to about 30cm! And it isn’t even summer yet! Time to tape the windows people!

Believe it or not it gets much worse than that my friends.
If you’re planning to study at Seika in the future, I would definitely recommend finding your own accommodation if you’re staying for longer than one semester. Four to six months is about all I would be able to take of this place, possibly a year if I really had to… but it would not be pleasant…
On the plus side though, it’s a great way to meet people, especially if you don’t speak much Japanese. There are always plenty of other exchange students around, and often they put you all on the same floor together (at least they did for me!). It’s like a constant party up here on the 5th floor! I think within the first 3 days we were already getting noise complaints… Oops.

Anyways, that’s all for now. Will update again soon with images from the Aoi Matsuri and a trip I had to Kiyomizudera with three friends from my class. Plus I went to a student-run fashion/music parade, and went back to Osaka a couple of times. Plus I’m going to Tokyo tomorrow… BUSY BUSY!!! Still need to get my Nara films developed as well… damn…
Alright better get to work!
I’ll leave you with some outfit snaps of Emma, Wing and I from our Osaka trip.

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We are oh-so pastel!

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Toji Market Day

Almost a month ago now a couple of friends and I went to the Toji Temple Markets. This flee market is held only once a month, on the Toji Temple grounds in Kyoto, on the 21st of each month. Lucky for us, this time it fell on a Sunday, so we didn’t have any university commitments to attend to! やった!

So I bundled up my trusty film camera, dropped a couple of colour rolls into my bag, and off we went!

toji009editUnfortunately it was a bit of an overcast day, and at times it did rain a little, so some of the images are a little grim-looking. But this may have been a good thing, as it kept some of the crowds away! (Also, please ignore the dust on the photos. They were just quick scans)

If you are ever in Kyoto at this time of the month, and would like to visit the markets, I would definitely suggest coming early in the morning! Especially if the market is on a weekend. We got there around 9 or 10am, and by the time we left around 1pm, the crowds were so dense we could barely move, and the atmosphere in general became far less pleasant. (Geez some of these Japanese grandmothers are fierce!)

Anyways, here are some of the lovely foods and goodies we found there.

toji006editDried Strawberries (I got some crystallised ginger from one of these shops. So good!)

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Hand-printed bags (I really wish I’d bought one!)

toji010editClay Animal flower-stands

toji016edit Fat Cat Hangerstoji019edit An array of Japanese antiques, statues and ceramics! Beautiful!toji023edit Traditional Maskstoji030editBeautiful fabrics toji013editAnd of course delicious-looking food! toji035edit toji037editThis place was my favourite. The line was quite long, but they looked so darn good I just had to have one! And they were only 100 yen each!!
Sandwiched between the two pancakes was sweet red bean paste with a small piece of chestnut. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I absolutely love Japanese sweets! So this was a definite highlight for me. A Japanese man even walked past us and tried to explain that these are “very rare” (said in Japanese). I’m assuming this little shop must be quite famous among the locals, as it was the only place with a line!

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There was also a small area at one of the wooden temples where we could pray. People were throwing coins into a wooden box before praying, then before they descended the steps, many people would try to rub the smoke from these incense sticks into their hair, clothes and skin. It was very peculiar to watch. When I asked my Japanese friend why they were doing this, she said “it is good for your head”. She then proceeded to waft the smoke over her, telling me it would be good for her studies. It seemed a little strange, but wanting to experience as much of the culture as possible, I gave it a go too! (Actually it smelt quite nice)

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After battling the crowds for a few hours we finally came to the end of the market. A lot of it was just food and Japanese candies, but if you look hard enough you can find some real gems at these markets! There are heaps of second-hand yukatas and kimonos for only 1000 yen (about $10 AUD), which would be great for anyone looking for gifts, or even for crafters looking for cheap good-quality fabric. I definitely recommend it!

My Trusty Travel Tool

I must apologise to those of you following my blog for my absence these past two weeks. My darling macbook had a little bit of a fit and stopped working on me for a few days (which I suspect may have had something to do with an influx of travel photographs. Oops.)

Anyways, I appear to be up and running again for the moment! I have a bunch of events and projects ready to post about. It’s simply a matter of finding time to write them. I have my first body of work due for Printmaking tomorrow so I’ve been a bit busy trying to pull the whole thing together (the story of which deserves it’s own post).

The final work will be up on my other blog hopefully sometime this week if you’re interested:
http://caseycrockfordphotography.wordpress.com/

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a picture of my trusty pink bike, and a little info on how bikes work in this strange country…

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I bought this pastel-pink beauty at the local hardware store for 8900 yen, plus another 500 yen for registration. The system here with bikes is so different to Australia, and possibly every other country in the world! They are treated more like cars in that they have a kind of license plate in the form of a sticker that you can use to track your bike when it’s stolen or (in my case) abducted by the local police for illegal parking.
If you get caught in this situation in Japan look for a nearby sign from where your bike was taken, with directions to the nearest impound. You bring along your bike key and your ID, and pay about 2300 yen to get it unchained from its sad bike-prison. You also have to fill a form with your name, number, address, etc… This proved a touch difficult for us foreigners, but we managed.
If you want to avoid this, I suggest not parking around train stations between 8am and 6pm, especially on weekends! There is often cheap pay-bicycle-parking at these locations, or you can alternatively find a nearby supermarket or fast-food joint with a carpark and try your luck there. Most Japanese bikes have an inbuilt wheel lock, but to be extra safe I’d buy another loop lock and chain it to a post. According to the Japanese people I’ve spoken to, this tends to deter the police and potential thieves (not that there is much crime in Japan to begin with.)

For a society that uses bikes as such a key form of transport, the road-rules surrounding them are surprisingly vague… and are rarely enforced. It seems bikes count both as pedestrians and vehicles here, riding freely on both the footpaths and roads. I still don’t understand who has right of way at an intersection, so I tend to only cycle on the quieter streets now. Some rules such as not being allowed to cycle with an umbrella or headphones or intoxicated all seem to be ignored, and even more shockingly no one wears helmets! Children under a certain age are required to by law, but after that age you can cycle as fast as you like with as little protection as you want. It’s a little scary if you ask me… but at least I won’t have to worry about helmet hair!

Food Adventures!

Since arriving in Japan I’ve been eating out a lot! Every new friend I make seems to result in another lunch date or dinner date. Some of the girls in my printmaking class have even been making food for me, which has been absolutely lovely!

Most of these foods, however, I’ve already experienced to some degree in Australia, such as sushi, katsu curry, udon, etc… The basics of everyday Japanese cooking. But there are also the slightly stranger foods…

Here’s the beginning of my Japanese food Adventures:

1. Deep fried Chicken Gristle

Yep. You heard right. Gristle.
I had this out one night with a bunch of the other exchange students and 3 Japanese people from our school. They took us to this really cool bar just off Shijo-dori where the walls were covered in posters and drawings, and you had to take your shoes off to sit down (a fairly common occurrence in Japan). As the menu was entirely in Japanese, we let the 2 Japanese guys order for us. The first thing that comes out is some simple tofu with spring onion on top. Fresh and delicious – a nice start to the meal. Next came out this delicious looking plate of battered deep-fried morsels – looking somewhat like KFC’s popcorn chicken. I was correct in assuming it was chicken… but not a part I would’ve expected… When we asked the guys what it was they didn’t know the correct word, so they just kept saying “joints”, which made us first assume it was bone marrow of some kind. Then we ate it… It was very crunchy, but still with a slightly gummy texture (which made it very difficult to break down), and we very soon realized it was not marrow, but the actual joints at the end of the chicken bones – the slightly transparent white bit everyone throws away. In all honesty it wasn’t that bad. The flavor of the batter was great, but the gristle didn’t taste like much, and the texture was not exactly pleasant.
My rating: 4/10

Here’s the bar.
(I apologize for this terrible photograph. Didn’t have my good camera on me)

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2. Uni (Sea Urchin Roe) sushi

Everyone I’ve talked to who has tried sea urchin has only ever had negative things to say about it, so when this was ordered for us at a sushi place and I finally realized what it was, I’ll admit even the iron-stomached Casey was a little apprehensive… And I began to suspect our two new Japanese friends were playing a bit of a practical joke on us. But having never been the kind of person to turn down a meal, Nea and I looked at each other… counted down from 3… and took a bite.
At first it seemed a little slimy – kind of like melted butter – and as I chewed I kept waiting for a hit of some strong flavor to invade my taste buds. But it never happened. Sea Urchin really does have a very subtle flavor, and is not fishy at all like I was expecting. Really I think it’s more of the texture that people here enjoy, the buttery creaminess of it, and of course the rarity of it. It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you are going to eat it I suggest making sure it’s as fresh as possible. From what I hear this is supposed to be incredibly important. The sushi place we went to was particularly good in my experience as well, so I’m assuming the uni I had was above average in quality.
My Rating: 7/10

Here’s a photo of our new friends at the sushi place. I wonder what they’re gonna make us eat next…
(Once again I apologize for the dodgy photo)

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3. Yuzu Marmalade

This one has been on my bucket list for sometime now, and I’m very happy to say I can officially cross it off. For those of you who don’t know, Yuzu is a citrus fruit grown mainly in Eastern Asia, that tastes somewhat like a mixture of lemon, grapefruit and mandarin. It is practically impossible to find in Australia, as it doesn’t keep very well during travel, and as of yet there are only a couple of small growers in Australia that I can find. Pretty much if you want it in Aus you have to grow it yourself, or buy the tiny bottles of juice for exorbitant amounts of money.
How I came across this was last week we had a welcome party in my class for new students (me and two other students), so our classmates brought heaps of treats for us! My good friend Ririko made an amazing sweet-potato cheesecake (which I wish I got a photo of), and another girl made what they call “Dry Curry” – like a fried rice but with little bits of meat and curry absorbed into it. It was all very delicious! But sitting there quietly in a little jar was homemade yuzu marmalade, made by the mother of Atsuko, another friend from my class.
Now yuzu is quite bitter and sour, so instead of just eating it on its own, Atsuko suggested putting some chocolate spread (also made by her mum) on a biscuit, then placing a small amount of yuzu on top.
All I can say is it was a fantastic combination, and I was not the only one who thought so.
Atsuko was so happy to see how excited I was she gave me the rest of the jar! And the chocolate spread along with it! I wanted to cry I was so happy. Been snacking on it ever since. It is definitely my favourite food discovery so far. (Atsuko also told me how to make it into a drink. Will be trying that one next time)
My rating: 10/10

And now for a decent photo! FINALLY

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Kyoto City – a place where humans and nature collide

One thing that strikes me every time I come to Japan is the way the people here have managed to maintain a strong appreciation for nature and tradition, while living in such a fast-paced modern society. It’s something a lot of foreigners notice while traveling through Japan, and is perhaps at it’s most noticeable in Kyoto – the previous capital city, which has become a tourist hot-spot in recent years for it’s beauty and rich history.
This small city is filled with temples, shrines, vending machines, computers, trains, bamboo forrests, earthquakes, bikes, pachinko parlours, etc… You may be walking through a busy street downtown and suddenly find yourself inside a temple with incense and praying visitors. It can be quite surreal standing in front of a place like this, knowing that on your way out you’ll most likely be greeted by a vending machine, eagerly awaiting its’ next customer.

Now this all sounds a little sad, and I thought so too in the beginning. But in the three weeks I’ve been here I’ve been noticing just how carefully these things are navigated and arranged, and just how much the Japanese enjoy keeping a little touch of nature and tradition in their lives. For example, when you go to a temple, normally the vending machines are tucked away in their own separate buildings, or are only viewable on the way out, so as not to ruin the atmosphere. I’ve also noticed a lot of flower shops around the place, and small apartments covered from head-to-toe in pot-plants.

For my first project here in Japan, I’ve been documenting these small understated places and moments. Here are a few I’ve got so far:

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Note: These are all digital shots, but I’m waiting on the film versions to be developed. Hopefully they work out!

Let me know what you think! Suggestions are always appreciated.

A very strange cafe and an even stranger restaurant…

Japan is known for it’s weird and whacky themed cafes and restaurants, so it was only natural that I go to at least a few during my stay here! I’ve only been here two weeks and already I’ve been to a Neko (cat) Cafe and the Ninja Kyoto restaurant. As these places tend to be tourist hot-spots, I assumed they would be severely overpriced and likely of bad quality… But I thought I’d give them a shot anyway…

And oh boy am I’m glad I did! The neko cafe was warm, clean and inviting – 800 yen to sit with the cats for one hour, and 200 yen per beverage (and apparently you can find even cheaper places than the one I went to!) The only real downside was that the cats weren’t particularly playful… and instead of stroking them or scratching them we were advised to hit them on the backside, and not softly… which was possibly a little too strange for some of us neko-cafe-newbies to handle. But on the plus side, I got some pretty adorable photos!

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Oh, and at the end of our stay they handed out little business cards to us that were PERSONALISED TO EACH OF THE CATS. That way if you had a favourite you could remember it for next time. Genious!

Here are a few pointers for visiting a neko cafe such as this:
1. Take off your shoes before entering. Normally they supply you with a locker to put your other possessions in so don’t worry – your goods are safe! Just don’t let one of the cats swallow the key…
2. Wash your hands at the supplied basin before entering, and then again after exiting.
3. Do not wake sleeping cats or pick up the cats! If they don’t want to be patted don’t force them too much. You just need to relax and enjoy their company.
4. Do not speak too loudly in the cafe! It will depend on where you go, but if it is a quiet room please try to maintain the peace. Many people come to these places to relax, so it’s nice to be as respectful as possible.
5. Feel free to take photos if the place allows it, but do not use flash. And be aware that chunky cameras can look rather intimidating to the cats, so don’t overdo it or they may avoid you.

Ok, that’s all for the neko cafe! Now onto the Ninja Restaurant!

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I had been to this place once before on a school trip to Kyoto a couple of years back, and I always had fond memories of it. Some friends and I at the time simply stumbled upon it one night, and we were lucky enough to get a table!
First thing to know is that there’s three dining options here. There’s the buffet to the left, the a la carte restaurant in the middle, and from what I could gather a shabu shabu dining area to the right (with black ninja crepes!!). The main attraction here I believe is the a la carte option, which we went with. The names were just too crazy to resist! And the staff were just too adorable in their ninja outfits!

Out the front of the restaurant:

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The food: (Seriously you’ve got to read the menu!)

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Us and the staff:

Ninja Pose! (me above and emma below)Around Kyoto_20130415_00199 Around Kyoto_20130415_00188 Our super-cool ninja magician (kids would love it here!)

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Something that must be said about this place is how amazing the staff are. Sometimes their English isn’t the best, but they always apologize and try their hardest to give you an enjoyable experience. The lady in the image above even ran half way down the street after we left the store just to show us this scroll. I just wanted to give her a hug it was so adorable! And actually the food was very affordable considering how much service you get, and it was darn tasty too! I’m not sure how I feel about mayonnaise on pizza though… but it was certainly an interesting experience and definitely one you should try for yourself! I think all up we got an alcoholic beverage each, shared an entree, had a main each and then a dessert each and it only cost 3500 yen each. (In Australia you pay that kind of price for a main and a drink!) Although we didn’t do it this time, I would recommend doing a course menu, in which you get a sample of many of the dishes on offer (minimum 2 ppl). It seems to be very good value for money, especially if you’re catering for a group. (This place would be amazing for birthday parties! Lots of privacy with you own booths too.)
I will definitely be going back before my exchange is over.

The Journey Begins…

For the next four months I’m going to be studying as an exchange student at Kyoto Seika University. Coming from Australia with little knowledge of the Japanese language is going to be difficult enough, but this will also be my first time living independently of my parents. It is going to be quite an adventure, with many challenges to tackle along the way. Hopefully my experiences will help others looking to travel here or participate exchange to this wonderful and wacky country…

Ready to explore Kyoto!

Ready to explore Kyoto!

I’ve only been here 4 nights and already it’s beginning to feel like home. There are heaps of other foreign students here and so far they’ve all been lovely. I’ve already met a couple of my classmates in the printmaking department at the university, and even though their English wasn’t great, they tried their absolute best to help me out and get to know me. I hope everyone will be like this when I start classes next week!

Fellow exchange student Emma. She's from the UK.

Fellow exchange student Emma. She’s from the UK.

In the meantime I’ve been exploring my local area with the other exchange girls from my dorm. We’re staying in Iwakura, in the Northern region of Kyoto. It’s a very scenic place, with cherry blossoms and bamboo groves everywhere. Actually there’s a mountain out the back of the dorm building and a path that leads through the forrest to the university. It’s absolutely beautiful! And apparently there are monkeys!

The river near my dorm

The river near my dorm

I’m still trying to settle in properly at the moment, but when I do I’ll try to blog more.
And if there’s anything you’d like to know about Kyoto, Japan, going on exchange, etc… Please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’ll help if I can!