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Okayama's Quint-essential Farmhouse Getaway.

    On its very own the word 'winter' tends to unleash a multitude of synonyms and feelings related to warmth and coziness and the idea of waking up on a futon, in a warm tatami floored room somewhere in the middle of the Japanese countryside on a cold winter morning sounds like something right out of dream; a dream that can very easily be transformed into a budget-friendly reality with a stay at the International Villa in Hattoji once it reopens on January 1st following three months of renovation work on its symbolic thatched roof.One of only two remaining survivors of a five piece cultural project (with the other being the Shiraishi Villa, a beach house located on nearby Shiraishi Island) set up several years ago by the Okayaman Government in an attempt to entice more foreign tourists and travellers to the region, The International villa is a traditional Japanese farmhouse that comes complete with four tatami bedrooms, a goemunburo (a cauldron shaped traditional bath); a tatami floored common area, the centre piece for which is an irori open fire place - the ideal spot for snoozing, writing, reading, listening to/ playing music chatting, and just general coziness. The village of Hattoji itself is set deep within the heart of the Okayamen countryside and is a former hub for Shintoism. You won't find 24 hour convenience stores or other such amenities here, but the village's historical legacy together with its remote, rice paddy surrounded, countryside position means it boasts an array of unique and interesting places to explore; the sorts of places that will leave deeply engraved imprints on your heart, and leave you feeling like you have really experienced a big slice of the Japan that not everyone gets to see.Dotted around the village is a remote shrine, an old water mill and running parallel to the villa itself is a Buddhist mountain lined with various shintoist remnants. For those of us who live in Japan it's the perfect way getaway from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and for those visiting it's the perfect way to sample rural Japan.For more information:As mentioned previously, the villa is currently undergoing repair work to its roof, but is all set to reopen on January 1st 2017. The villa's website remains up and running and open for bookings:

School Lunches in Japan

If you work at a school in Japan, you'll get to see how adorable kids' lunches can be. :D  I don't remember seeing anything so adorable when I was growing up, from the kids' adorable containers to how their food is presented with cute toothpicks and rice shaped like animals.Anyway, have a look at how much attention to detail is put into children's school lunches, whether it's prepared at school or at home.  The utter cuteness will make you smile. :D me on social media, and don't be shy to give me a shout anytime! :DFacebook - - -

Japanese Bridal Kimonos

This week's Photo Friday post on my blog, Trekking with Becky, is about Japanese bridal kimonos.  I've been asked often growing up what Japanese brides wear, and of course, they're not interested in hearing about the western style wedding dress.  However, they're horrified to hear that they usually change into a hideous, ridiculous cupcake dress afterwards.Anyway, I was lucky to come across two Japanese couples who were having their traditional Japanese wedding portraits taken in Okayama's famous Korakuen.  I was also lucky to have the opportunity to just put the outside layer of wedding kimonos on for quick pictures when I went to see the most amazing Hina Matsuri doll display a few years ago.Here's the link for more - me on social media, and don't be shy to give me a shout anytime! :DFacebook - - -

Hina Matsuri (Girls' Day) Dolls

As you probably know, yesterday, March 3rd, was Hina Matsuri, or Girls' Day.  If you're lucky, you might have seen some doll displays in stores, hotels, or in people's homes.However, I only really got to see them and learn about their history and significance when I went on a bus tour to Mie a few years ago.  In a small city called Kaneyama were displays of dolls from the Taisho, Meiji, and Edo periods, but in Kojima, a district of my city, Kurashiki, in Okayama-ken, was the biggest, most beautiful display of dolls I'd ever seen.All of these displays were FREE.  Although families usually take them down right after Girls' Day, lots of places keep them up well into March; I actually saw all the dolls featured in the posts below at the END of March.Below are 2 links to blog posts I've written.  The first one is about Hina Matsuri itself, and the second one is my latest Photo Friday post featuring the dolls.  Enjoy! :D me on social media, and don't be shy to give me a shout anytime! :DFacebook - - -

A Cave Trek in Japan

With about a month left before I vacate my apartment and 2 days later, leave Japan, all the unique experiences are coming back to me, hence the little burst of posts lately.Today, for some reason, my cave trek came to mind.  In Niimi, which is a small city in Okayama-ken, there is a massive cave called Ikura Do - 井倉洞 .  It's the first time I've ever been inside a cave, and it was absolutely mind-blowing!It's 1,200m long and 240m high, and it was created from limestone erosion.  Inside, the temperature is 15°C, so it's a great way to cool off in summer. I completely forgot about the expensive ¥1,000 admission during my first few steps.The cave is a short walk from Ikura Station; just follow the signs. :DFor photos and more details, check out the post I wrote a while back about it for my blog's Photo Friday - me on social media, and don't be shy to give me a shout anytime! :DFacebook - - -

FREEBIE - Shurakuen in Tsuyama

I've been to a lot of Japanese gardens, but only this one in Tsuyama was FREE. :D  Gotta love freebies! :DDon't get me wrong...there are tons of other gardens I've paid to see that are wonderful and definitely worth seeing, like Korakuen in Okayama and Suizenjikoen in Kumamoto, but Shurakuen in Tsuyama is unique with just as much history as any other Japanese garden.What captivated me about Shurakuen was the beautiful water lilies.  I've never seen so many.Anyway, don't miss this wondrous FREEBIE in Tsuyama.  It's close to the historic Edo period Joto Street and to the ruins and partial reconstruction of Tsuyama Castle. :DCheck out the photos and blurb I wrote about Shurakuen for a (past) Photo Friday post here - me on social media, and don't be shy to give me a shout anytime! :DFacebook - - -


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