Slow Poison

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Kava is an unavoidable part of Fijian life. It is used to welcome visitors, on special occasions, and just generally for social drinking – so potentially every night! For the traditional ceremony, you sit cross-legged on the mat floor in a sort of semi-circle. The chief sits at the head and next to him someone mixes the kava and a sever waits to hand it out to people. After the initial spiel, when it is your turn to drink the kava, you clap once and have the bowl handed to you. You say ‘Bula’ to everybody, meaning hello, or good health, or pretty much anything you want it to, then drink. It’s important that you drink the entire bowl of kava in one go. This is difficult for a number of reasons: partly because you’re drinking out of half a coconut shell with uneven edges, leading to embarrassing spillage onto your lap, but mostly because it is one of the most foul tasting drinks I’ve ever encountered.

Kava is a root of a particular plant that is grown here. It’s pounded into a powder and mixed with water. It then acts as a sedative. It tastes like very dirty water with a large amount of grit in.

After you’ve downed this flavour sensation, you clap three times to say thank-you. Once everybody has drunk you have a round of ‘story-telling’ or general chatter. This goes on until somebody calls ‘taka’ (or something along those lines – no idea about Fijian spelling). This always sends waves of dread through me as signals a call for another round of drinking. Just two coconut shells were enough to make me headachey and drowsy.

'Grog' is the local nickname for kava - quite apt, I think.

‘Grog’ is the local nickname for kava – quite apt, I think.

Fruit and Veg market in town. Grog's upstairs!

Fruit and Veg market in town. Grog’s upstairs!

First day at work today – no idea what I’m supposed to be doing – just been sat at a desk and not given anything to do…hopefully things will improve as not a happy bunny at the moment.

P.B. The internet is pretty much a no-goer. Have snuck into a hotel in town to post quickly in my lunch break….I’m afraid spectacular scenic photographs etc are going to be scarce until i find a way to get out of the city for a bit!

Ink

samoa umu

Today was significantly more relaxing. After the usual breakfast spread of papaya and coconut I headed back down into Apia town to the ‘Samoa cultural village’. This is an area in which locals can gather to display their traditional skills and talents to interested visitors. Each fale (thatched roof on wooden posts) houses a different skill. I was the only visitor there for a time so got to know some of the cooks preparing a traditional ‘umu’: they light a fire, cover it with rocks then use the heat of the rocks to cook the food once the fire has died. First though, they prepped the various components – the taro, breadfruit, plantain and coconut milk parcels. I’d never seen someone making coconut milk before so found this particularly fascinating. Vito spent around an hour de-husking then scraping out the coconuts, then he used a fibrous mess, which is apparently produced by the bark of a special tree, to vigorously squeeze large handfuls of coconut chippings to force out the liquid.

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This precious coconut milk was then ladled into a pouch of young taro leaves, sealed with a tougher leaf then eventually put on top of the rocks with the rest. Thankfully a few other people began to arrive at this point as they were persistently trying to make me pick my favourite chef to be my ‘Samoan boyfriend’, dismissing my pleas that I am perfectly happy with my boyfriend back in England!

Check out the tattoos on this guys leg as they layer up the 'umu'

Check out the tattoos on this guys leg as they layer up the ‘umu’

Covering the umu in leaves from the bread fruit tree to keep the heat in

Covering the umu in leaves from the bread fruit tree to keep the heat in

A rather unattractive looking meal of breadfruit, taro, cocunut mild with young taro leaves. plantain and fresh tuna

A rather unattractive looking meal of breadfruit, taro, cocunut mild with young taro leaves. plantain and fresh tuna

One of my favourite fales was the ‘tatau’ area where the local tattoo artist was working his magic. Apparently tattoos originated from Samoa and the word ‘tattoo’ itself is a derivative of their ‘tatau’. Not anybody can become a tattoo artist in Samoa – only by birth. It’s a highly respected and sacred job so reserved, ironically, only for those who have it in their blood. They were in the process of performing the 11th of 12 four hour sessions necessary to complete a man’s set of traditional tattoos. These tattoos, covering the body in ink from the waist to the knees, can only be granted after the man has proven that he can protect and provide for his family. The decision is made by the entire extended family when a man is ready, but he then can choose whether or not he wants to go through this prolonged period of pain. Once he starts – he cannot stop. This would bring irrevocable shame, not just on him, but on his entire family. He might as well leave Samoa. He needs to carefully prepare himself, therefore, before he can begin the process.

Unfortunately it would have been disrespectful for me to sneak a photo of the scene so I will have to attempt to describe it. A typically ‘sturdy’ Samoan man of around 30 was lying on his front with his head turned towards me. He was trying to hide the expression of pain from his face, but let the odd wince through every now and then. His wife was sat above his head fanning his face. Two of his brothers were sat either side of him stretching the skin tight over the back of his thighs and in the middle tapped away the artist. In one hand he held a long wooden implement with a large number of miniscule needles in a cluster on the end, and in the other hand, he held a stick which he tapped firmly and rhythmically onto the other to pierce the needles into the skin. A few onlookers fanned and wiped the leg periodically as the ink spread slowly across the inner thigh. It’s entirely the artist’s prerogative what tattoo the man should get. I could see that going drastically wrong were it to be the practice in western society!

A few other demonstrations included wood-work and creation of the lavalavas (sarongs). Another highlight was watching an elderly lady using her teeth to rip off the bark of a special branch, scrape it for ages with varying shells, pound it with a bludgeon then eventually churn out a ‘tapa’ – a special kind of paper upon which they print traditional designs for decoration or clothing.

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They performed a couple of different dances. This is the ‘Siva’ where the woman is said to tell a story with her hands. They men also did the ‘fa-ataupatu’ where they created a fantastic rhythm out of slapping noises using their hands/feet/thighs etc.

They performed a couple of different dances. This is the ‘Siva’ where the woman is said to tell a story with her hands. They men also did the ‘fa-ataupatu’ where they created a fantastic rhythm out of slapping noises using their hands/feet/thighs etc.

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We were also shown how to weave using the palm fronds. Here you can see a headband I made and a plate upon which to eat the food once it came out from the umu.

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Still relatively early in the day, I wandered back via a little waterfall to relax back at the hostel…I’m not going to attempt to post tonight again as the beyond useless internet will stress me out so this can wait until the morning. I’ve been having to wake up with the sun before 6 anyway so that works quite well J. (P.B. 5:30am and still no internet – will have to wait a while longer) (P.P.B. 8:00am – still nothing. Will have to be postponed until this evening) – Gave up on this. Had to wait to leave Samoa so am now back-posting from the airport.

Waterfalls on the walk back home

Waterfalls on the walk back home

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Surreal modern church in the middle of Apia

Surreal modern church in the middle of Apia

Bright Lights, Bigger City

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As our time in New York draws to a close, I thought I’d focus on two of the highlights of our trip: Central Park and the museums. I must admit, the attempted ‘renaissance style’ of many of the ‘old’ buildings did amuse me a little – purely because I’ve been spoilt by living in Europe. The architecture of the museums was still pretty impressive (if you don’t try to compare it!).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, on the side of the park, was enormous! We particularly enjoyed the Monet, Manet and Degas collections but, arguably, the most unique installation was the 10 B.C. Egyptian Temple of Dendur – that’s right the entire temple has been installed into the museum! Up on top there’s a summer drinks bar with beautiful views of the skyline over the park, but be warned: it has very limited seating.

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Temple of Dendur

Special exhibition - China through the looking glass.

Special exhibition – China through the looking glass.

That iconic Seurat

That iconic Seurat

View from the roof

View from the roof

We accidentally snuck into the Museum of natural history round the back as couldn’t find the entrance… it certainly rivals the London equivalent. For us, the Blue Whale representation and dinosaur collection were the best parts!

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Butterfly dispay

Butterfly display

Next onto the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). This is definitely one not to be missed – the Andy Warhol collection was particularly impressive but the whole gallery was impeccable.

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We ran out of time and money for the Guggenheim but at least managed to admire it’s unusual structure as we walked down the east side of the park.

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The park, in general, was draw-dropping – not just because of its immense size but also due to the beautiful variety. We loved the huge rock structures dotted about the place between the trees.

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We loved watching the little turtles poking their noses out from the algae. Spot the two here that have ventured out to enjoy the sun.

We spent ages eagerly watching the little turtles poking their noses out from the algae. Spot the two here that have ventured out to enjoy the sun.

Belvedere 'Castle'

Belvedere ‘Castle’

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We got very excited watching the various baseball games going on throughout the lawns – it always surprises me how different American culture is to English! Speaking of which – only in America would you get a complementary cake with your meal! Brunch here is apparently a huge thing at the weekends so Katherine and I headed to ‘Friends of a Farmer’ in Greenwich Village for omelette and pancakes with free apple corn cake stuff. Having said that, the portions are not as big here as they had been on the west coast – perhaps we’ve just not been going to the right places; in general we’ve found food to be extremely expensive, particularly fruit and veg. I paid $4 for two apples the other day. FOUR dollars.

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Final stop: Empire State building. We went up at night to get a little variety from the ‘Top of the Rock’. The view was suitably incredible but I still maintain that the top of the Rockefeller is better purely because you have the iconic Empire State within the view. It’s just like the Eiffel tower in Paris – you can go up the tower but I think better views of the city can be achieved up the Arc de triumph as the iconic structure dominates the skyline, creating views that truly can’t be mistaken for another large city.

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And that’s all for now folks. Been kicked out of the Airbnb so just perched in Starbucks waiting to head to the airport for my two day flight to the South Pacific now!

Empire State of Mind

View from Top of the Rock

Planning a holiday is not always easy. It can be, if you get lucky, but attempting to piece together a fairly ambitious agenda can create complications. I resent travel agents as I find that they simply do a lazier version than what you can do yourself if you screen all of the options on the internet. In addition to this, they tend to charge a fortune purely for the convenience of having somebody else scroll through the options for you. As soon as you attempt to plan anything slightly unusual they draw a blank. Don’t get me wrong, they work fantastically to make a large number of people’s lives ever so slightly easier, but if you’re on a budget of any description or trying something a little off the beaten track then look elsewhere. Anyway, I’ll touch back onto the planning stage a little later. Although the jabs, visas and organising can be stressful, the best feeling is having all of your documents sorted and setting off like a snail with all that you could need packed onto your back.

First stop: Norwegian airways. They have a very unusual new take on long haul flights: pay for everything separately. If you want food, drinks, a blanket or headphones you have to splash out but in return you get a, relatively reasonably priced, direct flight to the states. Fair enough. Certainly better than Ryanair or Flybe! Arrival into JFK New York was not quite so pleasant. After the brain-numbing wait in customs and border protection, I proceeded to get completely blown away by the lack of clarity surrounding the subway system. Without the help of an obliging local I would have seriously struggled: the maps are few and far between in addition to being out of scale and unclear. Around two hours after my flight had landed, 5am UK time, I managed to clamber my way over to Katherine (sister) in the West-side Airbnb flat.

The pond central park

With a jet-lagged early start on our first day we headed out into the big city. They don’t seem to have any equivalent to supermarkets or ‘grocery stores’ and what’s more nobody seems to understand us when we ask about them! Katherine eventually found some cereal – labelled ‘whole foods’/’healthy option’ the second ingredient was sugar. No wonder there’s an obesity epidemic. We were very excited, however, to get our first glimpse of the incredible Central Park: the buildings loom over it around the edges like stilts – all much taller yet much thinner than the skyscrapers we’re used to in the UK.

Saks 5th Avenue

The walk down 5th Avenue was suitably glamorous with the luxury brands dotted down the extensive ‘side-walk’. The wide streets are a novelty: they create a sense of space to counteract the vertical streaks of building so the sun can shine down onto the pavements. It felt like walking around on a film set.  We poked our noses into a couple of the big shops such as Saks 5th Avenue but fairly quickly retreated with $$$ branded into our eyes. Grand central station intensified the feeling that we were stumbling into a film. We packed a lot of sites into the first day: The Chrysler building, United Nations building (relatively dull, I must admit), Times Square, Bryant park and the public library. Struggling with the heat we popped into the delightfully named ‘Café grumpy’ for an iced beverage of some description before heading to a classic deli.

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Deli sandwich with a ratio of mozzarella to bread of around 1:1!!

Deli sandwich with a ratio of mozzarella to bread of around 1:1!!

The queue at the Museum of Modern art for ‘free Fridays’ looped around the entire block so we instead headed to the ‘top of the rock’ observation deck. We used this as the first of three options on the ‘Explorer pass’ we bought to save us a couple of dollars on entrance fees. The timing was perfect as we soaked up the stunning view in full day light then waited for sunset then through to the magical moment when the lights gradually began to flicker on.

Empire State Building

Central Park view

Central Park view

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At this point, fully exhausted, we crawled back via a pizza joint and settled down back at the flat. Busy day!

When The Sun Goes Down

Grand Bazaar Istanbul

Kitten on cushions istanbul

Istanbul was not at all as I had expected. I was taken aback by the religious fervour of the city; with mosques dotted extravagantly around the city and the ezan (call to prayer) blasting from the minarets five times a day, it is clear to see how devoted Muslims are to their faith. I will not get started here on the shock I felt at witnessing the position of women, as this is a debate which far exceeds my limited experiences. I will say, however, that we barely had the chance to speak to a woman throughout the duration of our stay!

The one exception was our visit to a traditional Hamman – there are many to choose between in the city – we opted for Cemberlitas Hamami as it seemed to be relatively reasonably priced (they’re not cheap!). Essentially, you are paying extravagantly for somebody to wash you. A lady would lather up the most enormous soapy clouds and scrub you with a mitten before dousing you with water from the taps at the edges of the heated marble room. The interior was very unusual, with the entire room made out of marble and the domed roof having holes to let the light in which gave the appearance of stars in the roof. Although it was slightly ridiculous, it would definitely be worth going for the ‘traditional bath’ over just the option to go into the heated room alone – was certainly an unusual experience!

Kittens Istanbul

Blue Mosque

Dervish dancer, spinning and spinning with that unusual 'mushroom' hat.

Dervish dancer, spinning and spinning with that unusual ‘mushroom’ hat.

Blue Mosque

The city was certainly full of character. We were taken with the exceptionally kind way in which the local, apparently stray, cats were treated. Instead of being kicked and spurned they were often fed affectionately! The blue mosque, above, lived up to it’s iconic position as the key tourist attraction. Inside, however, was not quite as I had imagined. I guess in comparison to the beautiful Buddhist and Hindu temples of the far east, I had been a little off mark with my expectations. There was an incredibly intricate Iznik tiled roof (slightly less ‘blue’ than the name would suggest, perhaps), but the mosque itself was very stark inside to provide space for salat (prayer).

Blue Mosque roof

The best places to get views of the mosque and, indeed, the city itself, are the roof top bars and restaurants. We tried out the ‘Blue House Hotel’ and ‘Panoramic’ restaurant. Both had incredible views over the city and we went up to these spots to wait around for the sunsets each night. The lengthy call to prayer at the moment that the sun falls below the horizon helped to create an all-encompassing dramatic atmosphere

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Baklava and turkish dessert selection whilst we waited for the sun on top of the Blue House Hotel

Baklava and Turkish dessert selection whilst we waited for the sun on top of the Blue House Hotel

Blue Mosque at night

The Hagia Sofia museum, neighbouring the blue mosque, is also worth a visit, although don’t expect a typical ‘museum’: it is, essentially, the interior of the building as it was when it was an imperial mosque. It didn’t take us too long to look around so this visit could easily fit into any day.

Interior of Hagia Sofia Museum

Interior of Hagia Sofia Museum

Of course, the Grand Bazaar is certainly worth a visit. Yet again though, it did not live up to my expectations. I was picturing a scene similar to the souks in Marrakech. The Grand Bazaar seemed rather more ‘up-market’. The individual stalls were shops rather than the kind of stalls you would expect in a traditional market. Unfortunately haggling was also significantly more difficult than we had expected! Due to the huge number of tourists crowded around the market it is difficult to try and push the price down significantly as there are so many alternative buyers flocking around! We did eventually find ourselves a few trinkets to take home as mementos. I personally preferred the Spice Bazaar: it was just as colourful yet much less busy and we happily wandered around the Turkish Delight stalls sampling the different flavours!

A display of Turkish Delights in the Spice Bazaar.

A display of Turkish Delights in the Spice Bazaar.

Mosque outside the spice bazaar where we were given free copies of the Quran

Mosque outside the spice bazaar where we were given free copies of the Quran

Traditional Turkish tea

Traditional Turkish tea

Spice Bazaar Istanbul

The food, in general was very interesting. To end on a funny note, we were very confused when presented with the following at a restaurant:

Turkish Bread

We’d placed our order and were swiftly given this along with the comment ‘enjoy your meal’. Anna thought they might have taken our order wrong. I thought our meal might be inside this enormous thing…like a weird pie. It turns out it was merely a dramatic air-filled flat bread and that the ‘enjoy your meal’ comment was merely a misunderstood English phrase which we were showered with after each dish was delivered.

Have You Fed The Fish?

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“Flowers… are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last day in Tokyo 😦 I headed out in the early morning to the Tsukiji fish market, following a recommendation from my lonely planet guide book. It was incredibly easy to find, all I needed to do was follow the locals with their large empty baskets, bikes and lorries! It is absolutely gargantuan, undoubtedly the largest fish market I’ve ever seen (and by quite a considerable amount). There were the most bizarre sea creatures for sale in the dingy light including sea cucumbers, urchins and many things that I couldn’t recognise. Men were carving up enormous tuna steaks with what looked like swords and live fish and shell fish scuttled about in every direction. Many stalls had sashimi for sale at quite a price: could only be fresher if the fish was actually eaten whilst alive. Not really my cup of tea!

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Striking buckets full of huge tuna heads, can’t quite get the full scale here.

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After stopping at a bakery, to munch on a rather more appealing steamed chocolate bun made into a bear face, we headed out to Shinjuku in an attempt to find a novelty goods store (mainly thinking of Karl Pilkington’s ‘crisp picker’). We tried out ‘Tokyu Hands’ which, similar to ‘the Loft’ which I tried out in Shibuya, is like a department store which starts to hint at the crazy novelties that we were after. Llama mascara, anyone?

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Looking for bedside table decorations? Jellyfish in a jar should hit the spot. This one's upside down and looking incredibly sorry for itself.

Looking for bedside table decorations? Jellyfish in a jar should hit the spot. This one’s upside down and looking incredibly sorry for itself.

Mount Fuji fancy dress...

Mount Fuji fancy dress…

Final stop of the trip was the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. It didn’t disappoint. Stacked full of the later blooming kind of blossom, it was simply breathtaking. The highlight has to be the traditional Japanese style part of the garden, with a couple of tea houses:

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Trimming the shaped trees

Trimming the shaped trees

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Man staring in disbelief at a cat...quite amusing.

Man staring in disbelief at a cat…quite amusing.

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After a fantastic last day I’m now sat wasting time in Beijing airport…home soon!

 

Last supper (actually breakfast) in Tokyo Haneda airport - finally found some edamame beans.

Last supper (actually breakfast) in Tokyo Haneda airport – finally found some edamame beans.

Bring it on Down

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“I’m on a diet, so I had only five extra helpings.”

– Gagamaru, Sumo Champion 2010.

It seems bizarre to invent a sport that requires its competitors to become clinically obese to stand a chance against their opponents. One of the professionals in this stable was a whopping 192kg.  It was, however, fascinating to watch. Our guide was a lady called Noriko, who takes tourists to watch Sumos in their early morning practices in Ryogoku. There are fairly strict rules that you have to follow in order to watch the practice including complete silence and not moving off the cushion on the floor for the full three hours: Fair bit of pins and needles engendered, as you can imagine. It was incredible how elaborate and ritualistic the practices are, starting with training of the lowest ranking members of the ‘stable’ then working up to the professionals, in white Mawashi (pants).

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Cleaning up the sand ring in between sessions

Cleaning up the sand ring in between sessions

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Surprisingly flexible!

Surprisingly flexible!

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Being back in the Ryogoku area, where we stayed the first time we were in Tokyo, we couldn’t resist visiting our favourite bakery down the road. Was just as fresh and delicious as I remembered. Here’s a bean cake and raisin bun.IMG_7128

With only a couple of days left we then decided to whiz off to Asakusa, one of the top tourist areas of the city with the ‘sky tree’ tower attraction and Sensoki temple. It was however absolutely rammed full of people and not nearly as spectacular as the Kyoto temples, in my opinion.

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Here you can see the sky tower and some bizarre piece of architecture which sort of resembles a gold-plated dog turd...

Here you can see the sky tower and some bizarre piece of architecture which sort of resembles a gold-plated dog turd…

 To cap off our busy day we headed to the Roppongi district of the city, where we had a long awaited reservation at Sukiyabashi Jiro. If you haven’t heard of Jiro before, he is an 88 year old sushi master, who’s spent his life perfecting the art of sushi, now running a three Michelin star restaurant underground in Ginza. Unfortunately, after many failed attempts, it became apparent that booking reservations for Jiro Ono’s own restaurant is next to impossible unless you’re local. (Much Thanks to Sheena for all her help with the attempted booking!). We instead made a reservation for his son, Takashi’s two Michelin star branch of the restaurant in Roppongi. Here’s a link to an advert for the film made about Jiro’s life’s work: ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi‘.

We arrived a little early for our reservation time and were the only people in the restaurant. Takashi then proceeded to cut, shape, paint with soy sauce and present to us 19 courses of individual pieces of sushi. These ranged from ‘needle fish’ to sea urchin. My favourites were the medium fatty tuna and, much to my surprise, the giant clam which I was fully expecting to hate. It was bizarre how things which I would normally not even dream about eating were made perfectly palatable, such as roe and sea eel. With only two (and eventually another two) people joining us in the restaurant it felt like a private interview with Takashi who prepared the course, watched us eat it then prepared the next pieces. The sushi is served at the perfect temperature for each individual fish and you’re not supposed to add any soy or ginger. I made the heinous mistake of trying to add a little ginger to the octopus, being pretty squeamish about eating it, and Takashi actually said no and picked off the ginger himself. Overall, yes, It was incredibly good, and it did make me try things that I would otherwise never have tasted but in all honesty I really don’t think it’s worth the absolutely ridiculous price tag. On this occasion I was extraordinarily lucky enough to be treated to the meal, though, so obviously can’t complain! Would definitely NOT recommend this for a budget trip I’m afraid. Certainly a fascinating experience though. Only at the very end did Takashi break his rather stony, serious exterior and come out for a photo with us and to shake our hands.

A rather inconspicuous exterior in the middle of the otherwise highly ostentatious Roppongi hills shopping mall.

A rather inconspicuous exterior in the middle of the otherwise highly ostentatious Roppongi hills shopping mall.

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Sea Urchin

Sea Urchin

Whole shrimp

Whole shrimp

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Salmon Roe

Salmon Roe

Medium fatty tuna

Medium fatty tuna

Song To A Seagull

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“The human tongue is like wasabi: it’s very powerful, and should be used sparingly.”

― John Green, Paper Towns

It is absolutely freezing here in Matsushima: Really arctic winds making you constantly wish that someone would invent some sort of nose warmer. We headed out to wander about the area, noticing the complete lack of tourists and, therefore, English. Menus yet again became some sort of guessing game. Last night I had the weirdest array of different types of seafood including some sort of fringed grey thing and a yellow mollusc, I presume, which looked (and tasted) disturbingly like an ear.

We took a trip around the bay in a boat, the highlight of which was the hilarious translation on the hand out we were given:

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It says “It becomes troubled of other customers, and never never put out the customer of a pet taking from the cage, please while embarking.” … Right. That’s clear then. No taking the pet from the cage.

Another amusing moment was over lunch where we eventually managed to order some tuna rolls (following much pointing and miming) then literally were brought to tears by the amount of wasabi jammed into the little pieces. Hot doesn’t seem quite the right word. It feels more like some sort of acid explosion right the way up through your head to your nose and eyes. I have actually acclimatised a little to the Japanese way of sushi: I couldn’t stand wasabi or ginger before, now I’m partial to a little wasabi and there’s never enough ginger. This was far too much however. I left feeling as if my sinuses had just had some sort of toxic probing.

Here's the inconspicuous culprit. Little did we know that little atomic bombs were hidden in each little gem.

Here’s the inconspicuous culprit. Little did we know that atomic bombs were hidden in each little gem.

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We later took the bright red bridges out onto a couple of the islands were elaborate caves and Buddhist shrines have been carved into the sandstone. We also popped into the Masamune museum, Masamune is widely recognised as Japan’s greatest swordsmith, reaching legendary status. I’d never actually heard of him before.

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Finally, the seagulls are worth a mention. There are the most ridiculously large number of them packed into such a small area. And they’re all incredibly vocal.

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(Nothing But) Flowers

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“The earth laughs in flowers.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

This morning we headed back out through the Osaka subway system and the Japanese Rail bullet train to Kyoto where we wandered about the temples and parks of the South Eastern part of the city. Due to the Sakuri (blossom) the festival of Hanami (flower viewing) was in full swing in the city, with women getting out their traditional kimonos and fairs popping up in all the parks.

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We headed to a little traditional tea parlour called ‘En’ were we watched a 45 minute tea ceremony. I couldn’t help thinking about Karl Pilkington banging on about how someone can make such a big deal out of a cup of tea. This kept me chuckeling whilst the lady careful folded and refolded her napkin numerous times to ceremoniously wipe and present each utensil before carefully preparing the matcha green tea with, frothing it up with a bamboo whisk. The matcha green tea is ground up young tea leaves which have been carefully grown to reduce the amount of sunlight they get to keep the taste sweet. It has a surprisingly large amount of caffeine in it as it’s not just the leaf being infused in the water, you’re actually drinking the leave itself.

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Kneeled on the floor, we then drank and enjoyed little Japanese sweets, of which they are completely obsessed here, with sweet shops every 5 metres. Then, with the sun starting to set we headed out to Maruyama park.

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It’s been bitingly cold so I’m actually really looking forward to getting back to the company of 30 odd naked women at the Onsen.

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Organised Chaos

“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.” – Carl Jung Apologies in advance for the incredibly extensive post today – everything’s just so novel that limiting it to include just a couple of highlights … Continue reading