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THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT JAPANESE FASHION!

In Japan one of the first things that you can notice how well everyone here is dressed.There is a certain refined quality to Japanese street fashion, despite the fact that it is very similar to its western counterparts.Many classic western fashion brands are available in Japan, such as H&M, Zara, Nike, Forever 21, along with higher-end brands such as Armani, Louis Vuitton and Ray Ban. Of course, the Japan-original brands and fashion are still selling a western style, as the typical western dress-code has been dominant globally for a long time, but these brands seem to sell earthier tones which rings through to the basis of natural beauty in Japanese culture; embracing natural imperfections as a beautiful occurrence, founded in the deep animism of Japanese culture.Perhaps the most famous Japanese clothing brand is UniQlo. UniQlo is very cheap, very diverse in products, and quite common. It is the IKEA of clothes. . Perhaps the words I would use to best describe the brand are “neat” and “subtle”. Everything for sale feels very presentable, yet quite relaxed. UniQlo even offers to tailor the garments to assure that they fit, which is a step far beyond most western counterparts.There is a sister company to UniQlo known as GU. GU is generally cheaper for the most part, and many designs are very similar. Perhaps the only downside is that I have been told that the quality is not as high. The two stores are often sat side by side, and so a comparison between the two regarding price and durability should be quite easy.I was also recommended to try Urban Research, and it was really nice. If you plan to really just splash out on Japanese fashion, then stores such as Urban Research will be perfect for you; these places have a great balance of elegance and local style, not dissimilar to a Japanese version of American Apparel.Another thing that changes the sense of style is the injection of traditional clothesin Japanese fashion. In many cities –especially Kyoto – you will see people wearing hyper-Japanese Yukata and Kimonos (robes) throughout the year, and they will shuffle through the street on their Geta (wooden sandals), but these clothes don’t really mix too well with western fashion, and so it is a general choice of wearing fully traditional robes, or wearing something else.However, there are still a couple of traditional Japanese fashion clothing items that will change up the style entirely. That includes Tabi (socks with toes), Jika Tabi (boots with a toe space) and Hakama (broad-legged work trousers). Though these were once the sign of field-workers and labourers, and are still worn diligently by both, there seems to have been a fairly recent revival in their popularity, especially with Hakama, which I have often mistaken for a skirt at a long distance. They are unisex, and somehow have a strong masculine aspect in the shape and connotations of laborious jobs, yet an equally feminine sense in the flowing, skirt-like material. For women, I have noticed a stronger sense of using earthy or pastel colours, while men seem to go with blacks, blues etc...From personal experience, the best option for shopping has been re-use stores. These second-hand shops are much more likely to have the correct size for things such as trousers and shoes, as other gaijin sell them as they move around the country.Like in the west, re-use retro is very fashionable, and you will see many people wearing vintage denim, American university sweaters or letterman jackets.The odd thing about the second-hand shops is the price range. One store may sell something for 300 yen, and the same store in another city may have it for 1,500 yen. This probably depends greatly on the general price of the city itself. This is a case where hunting around can really save you some money.Shopping in Japan also includes very specific stores for certain fashion items. Want a hat? Go to the hat store. Want a handbag? Go to the handbag store.On the topic of handbags, you may notice a lot of men carrying what may generally be perceived to be a handbag in the west. Even the relatively masculine guys will carry them, and it may seem a bit odd, but I imagine that they are generally quite useful. However, I think it is unlikely that this fashion will be spreading to the rest of the world anytime soon.

A 3 Day Weekend in Kyoto

Japan's ancient capital, Kyoto (京都), is famous for its Buddhist and Zen Temples, Shinto Shrines and other cultural centres. After Japan moved its capital to Tokyo in 1868, Kyoto remained the country's 'intellectual center' with traditions and cultural practices being kept alive in the city. In recent years, Kyoto has become the most popular tourist destination in Japan - with people flocking to the city every season. And so, not wanting to miss out, I decided to finally visit this historical city in one of the best seasons possible: the early cherry blossom season - where there are far less crowds and the temperature is just starting to become warm. Trigger warning: This video may induce itchy feet.Well, what do you think? Of course there's still much more to enjoy in this wonderful city and every season here is uniquely stunning. So, if you are intending to visit Kyoto then I recommend buying a one-day or two-day travel ticket which can be brought at Kyoto Station or any hotel. This handy ticket only costs about 1200 to 2000 yen and allows you to ride any City Bus, Kyoto Bus, and subway line as much as you like.

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

Universal Studios is an amusement park located here in Japan, Osaka. Is easily accessible by train so u won't become crazy to find that because the train will take you exactly at the place. The ticket is not that cheap but if you want to visit Osaka I recommend you this place. Is amazing and if you like Harry Potter... oh my.. You really have to visit it! It's a place for children but also for adults, there are an infinite variety of games, from Jurassic park to Minions World, to Hello kitty's world but also things like Horror movies and horror games, The Wizarding world of Harry Potter.. (my favorite) etc...Entertainment is ensured, there are shows at every hour in every part of the park, parades on the streets and the staff is always present to help you.I loved this place but if you want to go I advice you to go there one hour before the opening because is always full of people, and if you can, go on week-days so there will be fewer people in line...!

Hitakaya's Crispy Yakisoba

I'm usually not a fan of big chain restaurants when I have other choices available, but one day recently, I visited Hitakaya for a quick meal.They serve various kinds of Chinese food, focusing on noodles with a few choices of rice and gyoza (as well as alcohol). It's been a while since I've been there, and I was in the mood for something crunchy, so I ordered the Crispy Yakisoba."Where are the noodles?", you might be thinking. The thick ankage sauce covers all the crispy noodles, so all you can see are veggies, loads of veggies, with a quail egg, a bit of pork and some fish cake.Dig for it and you will find the crispy goodness beneath.As I chowed the noodles down, I added some chilli-oil and rice vinegar on the table occasionally to switch the taste up. It was a really satisfying plate and surprisingly healthy thanks to the veggies (though a bit on the salty side). For a 590yen, it's a pretty decent choice when my mood is right.

Ferry to Nakajima: a Reminder of the Magic of Everyday Life on the Inland Sea.

       My fascination with the Seto Inland sea first began five years ago after reading Donald Richie's epic travel memoir 'The Inland Sea'. Back then I was living in Okayama prefecture and the book inspired me to make a silent vow to myself to see as many of the 3,000 Seto islands as possible (although at that the time , I didn't realize that there were 3,000 of them). As an ALT working in Okayama I was perfectly placed both in terms of location and schedule to explore many of the Seto islands that lie off Okayama, Kagawa and northern Hiroshima prefectures. I used my only six week summer vacation there to experience as many of them as I could.By the time I moved back to Osaka a year later I'd stepped foot on 17 Seto Islands; a tally that remained in tact until my recent Golden Week multi island hop which raised my count to 20 (only another 2,980 left to visit).For those unfamiliar, the Seto islands are a group of 3,000 islands that stretch from Ehime prefecture all the way over to Northern Kyushu. It's the diversity of the islands that capture the imagination of travellers like myself who crave the magic of exploring something off the beaten track. Some of the islands such as the much famed Miyajima off Hiroshima and the ultra arty Naoshima off Takamatsu are more touristy and well-trodden than others. Some such as Honjima also in Hiroshima prefecture are merely residential islands, where as others are uninhabited, but every island is different and each island has its own unique feel and atmosphere; which is what makes exploring them so special. Physically, the majority of the Seto islands are framed with deserted white, sandy beaches and are usually lined with either forests, low lying mountains, various fruit groves, rugged villages, abandoned buildings and off the beaten track shrines and temples dotted here and there - some islands such as Nakajima and Shodoshima boast all of these things.It is however,  not just the physical characteristics of the Seto islands that make them so alluring, it's also the simple magic of everyday life that happens everyday both on land and in the ever enchanting inland sea that surrounds them.When you live your daily life on the mainland in a city like Osaka (as I do) with regular trains and everything so closely and conveniently connected it's difficult to imagine life going on at sea everyday, but it is happening and when you see it in real time it's a really beautiful thing; which really gets you wondering about what daily routines must be like for islanders, and the people whose job it is to keep the Inland sea moving (the ferry captains, the ship managers, the coast guards and the ticket vendors.)These were just some of the thoughts I found myself contemplating as I sat with a can of coffee on the outside deck of a Nakajima bound ferry on the last day of golden week 2017. As I looked at the small handful of passengers around me, it soon became obvious that I was the only person taking this ride for the first time. On the table behind me sat a family of three (Mum, Dad and son) with food shopping bags. While Nakajima is home to one supermarket most of the Seto islands (including the three that our ferry made brief stops at at en route to Nakajima) do not. This means the that the only way for many islanders to do their weekly shop involves hopping on a ferry to either Nakajima or to the mainland; the family behind me had clearly gone with the mainland option.Behind them inside the main cabin sat a lone high school girl; who back at port had confidently strolled on to the ferry as soon as it docked; clearly signifying that the ferry ride was a part of her daily routine. Some of the Seto islands such as Gogoshima are home to Elementary schools and Junior High schools, but high schoolers generally have to factor taking a ferry into their daily routines . The high school girl in the cabin disembarked at the first island we stopped at and was replaced with two sisters of elementary school age; the younger of the two was carrying a cake tin of some kind which she would later eagerly present to her grandmother who enthusiastically welcomed them on land with excited waves as she waited for them to arrive at port.The family with the plastic shopping bags left  the ship at the second island we stopped at and were replaced with a man ( who was probsbly) in his thirties, smoking a cigarette while chatting into his cellphone; he had all the confidence of someone who made this journey regularly, and dark blue overalls he was wearing suggested that he was heading to Nakajima to work.My curiosity to catch a glimpse of what was going on at sea increased further as we glided closer to Nakajima and ever deeper into the Inland sea. At this point I took the decision to stand at the ships right side facing balcony, and with the amazing feeling of the sea breeze in my face I looked out to sea, where I witnessed fishing boats, a coast guard boat, and a boat of divers engaging in what looked like some sort of class - what an awesome way to spend a Sunday, I thought..The ship made one final stop before arriving or Nakajima's Oura Port; suddenly viewing it as a good opportunity to get a bonus glimpse into  life on an island that  I wouldn't be visiting (at least not on this occasion), I walked over to the other side of the ship where I  observed an elderly man just riding his bike around the port area while watching the ship dock, and a couple of cyclists embarking the ferry.By the time we arrived on Nakajima 10 minutes later, I felt refreshed (possibly from my dose of canned caffeine), and brimming with inspiration and wonder - definite side effects from having just witnessed simple everyday occurances in a world which although close in distance, is very different to the world I experience  here on land everyday.Note: Top image thanks to Bernard Gagnon on Wikipedia Creative Conmons.

How to Eat at a Bakery Shop in Japan

In Japan, there are little French style bakeries in most stations and shopping areas. For a country that doesn't eat very much bread or sweet foods, they keep a lot of these bakeries in business. It isn't limited to Japan. I know Paris Baguette is on every corner in Seoul and in several locations in the US. Most likely it's because of the culture to be rushing off somewhere and need something inexpensive to go, or to meet with friends for a light meal. Bakeries are a nice option if you aren't in the mood for a fast food burger, or for a bigger meal, but they serve the same function as a fast food restaurant. It's tasty and relaxing to enjoy some bread with a coffee, maybe a sandwich or slice of pizza. The uniquely Japanese breads like 'melon pan' and 'anpan' are also excellent choices. So just how do we do this? It's not difficult at all. First get yourself a tray and your very own tongs near the entrance. Next, take a look around, maybe even try a free sample, and decide what you want. Items should all be labeled with prices, in Japanese, sometimes also in English or French. Use your magical tongs to pick up anything you want and put it onto the tray. Leave your tongs on your tray. At a more high end bakery, there may be a case with cakes and items to be kept cool. You'll have to ask staff for those, and they'll be put onto plates or into to-go bags for you. (The same goes for the omiyage shops like Ishimura that sell cakes in addition to local sweets for your gift needs. These sometimes have small seating areas with complimentary tea and coffee as well.) Finally, go to the register and pay. You'll have an option to eat in most stores, or get your baked goods to go. If you opt for to go, the pastries will be individually placed into small bags, then into a bigger bag. If you eat in the shop, your items will be put onto plates and some cutlery might be added along with napkins. Some bakeries have a refrigerated section of drinks you can pick up (usually milk, coffee, juice, etc.) and some have a coffee machine, usually 100 yen or less for simple coffee drinks. Others will have more of a coffee shop availability for coffee and tea, so if you want a drink, you'll order it while paying for your bread at the counter. The only thing left to do is enjoy your selections and then find the area to return your tray when you're done. One thing to note is that unless it seems very busy or you go at a crowded time, you'll notice no one minds if you take your time and sit a while. This is a great way to refresh yourself when you've overdone it while shopping and need a place to sit for a while. You might notice that bakeries are often full of women, enjoying a chat with friends, or taking a break from a shopping day.

Ginzan Onsen in Yamagata-- A Great Getaway for Golden Week (or any week)

    If you're in Tohoku and looking for a little break from the daily grind, a little road trip out to Yamagata may be just what you need. There, on a rushing river of clean mountain water, sits the little town of Ginzan.    According to Japan Guide, the little town was once home to a silver mine, hence the name "Silver Mountain", though now it has more of a reputation as a fantastic spot for onsen. There are accommodations available at the timeless ryokan that line the little strip of river, but they do tend to be expensive. It is possible to enjoy many of the onsen as part of a day trip with no reservations or intent to stay at the hotel, but plan your time accordingly. We spent so much time on the road driving out there that we had few options aside from eating a nice soba lunch and heading out for our afternoon engagements elsewhere.    Even with our limited time, the experience was more than enjoyable. Many of the ryokan have little cafes attached with wonderful views of the stream and buildings opposite, all seemingly trapped in another time. Our choice for restaurant was superb, as the hand-made soba delighted all, including the fussy toddler among us.       I ordered a coffee out of caffeine-related necessity, unsure of how it might come out. You never know with little, out-of-the-way places. The resulting beverage might be fantastic or atrocious, depending very much on information that cannot be gathered without a thorough observation of the kitchen equipment or first-hand knowledge. Soon, my little cup of cafe late came out in a traditionally-crafted cup, and I was thrilled with the results. The milk-froth was perfection, with tiny bubbles that popped on my lip.    Also surprising was the bathroom condition. Most little towns I go to offer little in the way of comfortable potty-going, especially for women with children. To my surprise, there were many stalls, all well-maintained, and the one we wound up in even had a fold-down changing table. If you've done travel with toddlers outside of major cities, you know what a special find this is.    Travelling to such a secluded area can be tricky, and many of the roads that lead there may not be usable in winter due to weather-related difficulties, but there are also buses from Oishida Station (1,660 yen and 2+ hours from Sendai with a transfer at Uzen-Chitose) that take an additional 40 minutes to get to a bus stop a short walk from the main area. If you drive, you'll be parking a little bit further away, so bring walking shoes unless you have a room and parking spot reserved at one of the onsen-hotels. Part of our downhill walk from the public parking area to Ginzan, which took 10 to 15 minutes with a three-year-old.    The crowd may be bigger on national holidays. Our trip occurred during a particularly nice pre-golden week weekend and, while we didn't have the town all to ourselves, getting pictures without any other tourists was hardly challenging. This is the view from the footbaths and you can see some of the wooden bench seating on the left.    Even if you don't have a reservation at one of the hotels, you can definitely still enjoy the free foot bath, open air and in full view of the river. We found the water a bit too hot to enjoy for too long, and make sure to bring a towel if you're looking forward to this part of the adventure.       There are also two public baths, open for small fees and a number of little souvenirs offered in many of the cafes and shops. The cafe we went to had postcards, tea, soba, coffee, and other locally made treats. If you're looking for that perfect postcard picture of yourself in historical Japan, a little shop at the front of the town even rents kimono to tourists for reasonable hourly prices. So if you're looking to walk into a little Tohoku history, come out to Ginzan.

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