Kinkaku-ji: The Golden Pavillion

At the very beginning of July I took a look at the beautiful weather outside and I decided that I needed to get out of the house and do something. Even after three months in Japan there was still so much that I hadn’t seen. So, I hopped on a train to Kyoto and then decided on where I might want to go. There are hundreds of temples in Kyoto and I had barely seen a handful.

The day was super sunny and because of that I decided I wanted to go and see Kinkaku-ji, the golden temple. I figured that it would be beautiful in the bright sunlight. I grabbed a bus at Kyoto station and I was on my way. Buses are the primary way of getting around in Kyoto. While it does have a subway system, it is not extensive and does not really cover all the sightseeing spots very well. The easiest way to get places is by bus.

The temple itself was very easy to find once I got off the bus. Like many of the popular temples it costs around 500-600 yen to get in. It was well worth it though. Like I had imagined the temple looked amazing with the sun glinting off of its gold coated walls. It was well worth the trip out there in the sun and heat. It is definitely a place I would return to see again.

There was also this fellow hanging out on an island near the temple. It definitely added to the picturesque feel of the temple. I’ve actually seen them quite a lot in Japanese gardens.  IMG_0816

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Blogging is hard…

I came into this blog with a lot of dreams. For years I had read blogs about living in Japan and all sorts of different things. When I moved here I decided that that was what I was going to do. I’ll admit now that so far I have been a disappointment to myself and probably to the family that eagerly awaits these posts.

It’s hard to keep up with this kind of thing. It’s not that I don’t have things to write about. I do. I have had some amazing experiences over my year here. But I guess I’ve been too busy living to take the time to write things down about it. Life gets away from you. There are always other places to go and things to do. Or if you want to be a little more truthful, there is always something new to watch on youtube. Or a writing challenge that you signed up for. A myriad of things. What it boils down to is laziness in a lot of ways.

I’m hoping to change that from now on. I won’t make promises because I doubt I could keep them but I do intend to keep posting things and writing about my adventures in Japan. Until I catch up, the post will probably be about things that happened months ago but I’ll do my best to catch up soon.

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This picture was from last April at Kiyomizudera. It’s been almost a year since then. It doesn’t feel like it.

The Pros and Cons of Staying at a Japanese Manga Cafe

If you are young and traveling or living in Japan and on a budget then you have probably heard people tell you to stay at a manga or Internet cafe instead of finding yourself a hotel or hostel. It’s cheap and easy to do and if you give in a Google search you will probably find quite a few guides telling you how to do it.

But is staying in a manga cafe the right choice for you? It’s definitely not for everyone and depending on what you are looking for it can be a great choice or the worst decision of your trip.

So, without more ado, here is a list of Pros and Cons of staying at a Japanese Media Cafe.

Pros:

  • Cheap! This is definitely a choice for people on a budget as you won’t find many cheaper places to stay, especially not without booking ahead. Prices vary depending on the location but in general it can go from around 800 yen for around 3 hours or up to 3500 for 10 hours.
  • Location, location. Media cafes can be found all over the place in Japan and that can be a really awesome thing. Not done exploring an area? Partying so late that you missed the last train? There is probably a media Cafe close by that you can crash at without going too far at all, or paying for an expensive taxi.
  • Entertainment galore! Whether you want to peruse the larger manga library, watch tv or movies, or surf the net, these are all things that are typically included in a stay at a media Cafe. Even if you can’t find sleep you’ll still have plenty to do for the duration of your stay.
  • Shhh! Quiet! If you haven’t noticed yet Japanese people tend to be a lot quieter than most westerners. You’ll find that media cafes are very quiet places, the only sounds you’ll here are people moving around every so often and the occasional snore or person having a midnight snack. Obviously this is going to depend on who is around you, so it is pretty variable.
  • Free drinks and even showers! That’s right, a lot of these media cafes will offer extras like a drink bar(non-alcoholic) and even showers and tanning booths. Now this is not every place so check what kinds of extras places might have when looking around as not every place will be the same. The drinks bar is actually pretty awesome and affects a variety of drinks from different sodas to hot drinks like coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. The showers and other amenities are often for a price( a few hundred yen) but if you are the kind of person who feels like they can’t go without a shower then that is definitely a positive to look for.

Cons:

  • Itsy Bitsy Living Space. If small spaces aren’t your thing then this might not be for you. While it is generally more spacious than say a capsule hotel it’s not by much. There are a variety of different cubicles available at many media cafes and you can pick the one that suits your needs best. The smallest rooms are ones with just a general computer chair that doesn’t recline, this are usually the cheapest but if you can’t sleep sitting up then they probably aren’t for you. Other common room types are ones with a fully reclining computer chair and flat rooms which have a padded floor. If you need to sprawl out and lie down to sleep then go for the flat room. There are also options with couches if you are with friends and want to share. These are generally karaoke booth type rooms and a little bigger. Comfort is also not top priority in these places so if you are looking for a super soft bed then look elsewhere.
  • Privacy. If you need to feel like you have entirely your own space then this isn’t the best choice. Height wise the cubicles are maybe around five and a half feet tall so unless you are a rather short person you would easily be able to peer into other cubicles when standing. So, don’t go standing as this is generally considered very rude. While no one may be looking in on you, you still won’t be able to escape that open feeling as you stare up at the large open ceiling space above you and listen to the faint movements of everyone around you.
  • Speaking of noise, if you need absolute quiet to sleep then bring some ear plugs. While media cafes are indeed quiet there is still a lot of ambient noise going on constantly. There might be background music playing quietly and the sound of people shuffling around or even coming down on some chips at 4 in the morning. This might be highly dependent on the location though as I have read about some places turning off the power from midnight to six to allow for sleep.
  • More expensive then you might think. That’s right, even though the cheap price made it into the pros list there are definitely some price factors to think about if you want to stay at a media Cafe. The shorter you stay, the cheaper it is. If you are out partying until 2am and just need to crash somewhere until the first train of the morning then this is a wonderful option. Or if you need to be up for an early flight or event(like the fish market in Tokyo which starts in the wee hours of the morning before trains run). If you are looking for a full night’s stay then the price can go up dramatically, to around 3500 yen. Now, this is still very cheap for a night’s stay somewhere but if some of these other cons seem like they might be a problem for you then you can probably find a room at a hostel for around the same price.
  • Keep an eye on the time. The different packages available (3 hours, 6 hours, etc.) are definitely convenient but be aware of which one you pick. Many place will not let you change afterwords and they usually charge around 100 yen for every 15-30 minutes you stay over your time, which can really add up. They will come let you know your time is up too, so if you pick a 3 hour package at 3am after your done partying, be prepared for a 6am wakeup call.

There are obviously a lot of good and bad points about staying at a Japanese Manga Cafe. In the end it is really up to you whether or not this is an experience that you just have to try. As for me, I’m not sure it would be my go to choice if I have time to plan ahead. If I even miss the train then sure but if it’s a trip I’m planning ahead for then I’ll probably find myself a hostel.

If you are looking for a media Cafe to stay at in a busy area then check out the people standing around holding signs. These will many times be for media cafes or karaoke places. Be aware that the price on the signs may not be what they seem, as they are usually for the cheapest option possible and not the reclining or flat rooms.

Overall, staying in a media/manga/internet cafe in Japan is definitely on the list of cheap and unique places to stay in Japan. If you are traveling or living in Japan on a budget definitely don’t discount this as an option!

Golden Week pt.2

So, the three days of Golden Week ended up being hot and not half as rainy as it was supposed to be. I started the Tuesday off with every intention of just relaxing for the whole day but instead Japan came knocking on my door and telling me to come out. What do I mean by that? Well, when you are chilling in your room and hear the sounds of a festival just up the street I take that as a sign to get out and see things.

I ventured out of my apartment and came across a small local festival. I have no idea what it was for or what it was about but it featured kids pulling carts with shrines on them around the neighbourhood. I must have seen about 6 or 7 different little parades in total. I was also spotted in the wild by some of my students for the first time but they were really happy to see me and came up to talk, as did some of the parents. I hope I made a good impression.

The rest of Tuesday I spent relaxing for the most part so that I was well rested for Wednesday’s adventure. After training a Facebook group was made for our training group so that we could stay connected. Some of the others from other cities in the region wanted to head to Kyoto to check out Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. Since Kyoto is just around the corner I decided to jump on the bandwagon too.

Wednesday was hot and sunny and very, very busy since Golden Week is a prime vacationing time for Japanese people. It was probably the busiest I have ever seen it so far. What can you expect going to one of Kyoto’s most famous shrines in the height of Golden Week? But I don’t really mind a big crowd.

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I met up with everyone else at the front of the shrine and as soon as we were all there we headed up. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is known for it’s thousands of bright redish orange (or according to Wikipedia, vermilion) torii gates. At Inari Shrines, this one being the main Inari shrine, the gates represent success in business and have been bought by various donors. And there are quite literally thousands of gates at this shrine. The shrine is located at the foot of a mountain, with the main shrine at the base and then paths of gates spreading all the way up the mountain. There are several restaurants and rest spots along the way up but it is definitely a hike! So far, I’ve found that Japanese mountains are actually quite tall and steep, even if they don’t seem like it at first.

We decided to climb all the way to the top, even though it was hot and we were not proficient hikers in the least. The nice thing was that the further up you went the thinner the crowd got. Sadly, the top itself was a little disappointing but at least we could claim victory of making it there.

After we trekked back down and headed on to the train back up into the main part of Kyoto. We wandered around and found a burger place to eat at, though I don’t think they appreciated our noisy crowd of nine foreigners. After that we wandered around the shopping streets before heading to a bar for a drink or two with some more people. Then we split up even more and I went with a few people to check out the animate(anime store) and other geeky stores before heading home.

**On a side note, I am sorry for the super late posts everyone! Life is way busier than I thought it would be. Summer vacation is fast approaching though and I will do my best to keep you up to date on my adventures!

Golden Week Adventures Pt. 1

Well, it’s Golden Week here in Japan and it’s time to go on some adventures. On a budget of sorts since I’m running a little low on cash right now. Anyways, Golden Week is a set of national holidays in Japan on April 29 and May 2-4. Usually this means you get around a week or so off. This year I have to work in the days around it which makes it a little awkward.

So, to start off my adventures on the 29th I headed into Kyoto to meet up with some other ALT’s. We mostly just explored around the Gion and Sanjo areas of Kyoto, which is the main shopping and entertainment area of the city. They have a large maze of covered chopping streets that we had a good time wandering through. There was also a cool Cat and Owl Forest inside these shopping streets. Another ALT and I decided to check out the Owl Forest which was really cool. The owls were super soft and friendly. Some of them were super tiny too! I was having a bit of a Harry Potter nerd moment while I was there because of a couple of the owls.

On the Saturday I adventured back to Kyoto in the morning to check out a show with some other ALT’s. There is a very famous Geisha performance every spring called the Miyako Odori that runs from April 1-30th. So, we managed to get tickets for the last day. The Miyako Odori is the oldest and longest running public performance done by Geisha in Kyoto, it has been performed since 1872. The dances were quite beautiful and featured around 40-50 geisha dressed in beautiful kimonos. Sadly there were no pictures allowed but it was a really amazing experience that I would highly recommend.

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Later that evening it was back to Otsu for the Shiga Welcome Party with the other interac ALT’s. It was held at a local place called Round 1, which is a complex that includes a large arcade, a sports area, a movie theatre, karaoke rooms, and more. We spent time in the sorts area which includes bumper soccer, roller skating, batting cages, table tennis, karaoke rooms, an arcade, and more. It was super fun and only cost us about $25 a person for around 4 hours. I am definitely planning on going back there some time because there was just so much to do.

Sunday I spent recovering from the fun weekend and now I have three more days left to adventure. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet though. I would love to travel and explore more but money is a little tight till the end of the month. Oh, and it’s supposed to rain for 2 out of 3 days. I may just spend the time relaxing and recovering from my cold.

Until next time everyone!

Surviving your first Japanese Concert

What can you do when it’s a rainy day and you’re on the Internet? Maybe buy a concert ticket? Well that is what I decided to do when I was bored one rainy day.

Now, buying a concert ticket in Japan is not an easy thing to do. Especially if you live outside the country. I luckily live here and so it’s a little bit easier. The hard part is navigating the ticketing sites, which don’t always respond well to google translate. So, after signing up for an account on one of the ticketing sites I was able to slowly navigate my way to buying a ticket to the concert that I wanted. This process was slow and required extensive use of the google translate app on my phone. Eventually though, I bought the ticket. The cool part? I hadn’t actually paid for it yet. Japan has a pretty cool system in place where you can pay for things at the convenience store. You just select the store you prefer and then head there and show them your number and they’ll print it off for you and you pay for it there. It’s super convenient if you don’t have a Japanese credit card, which are notoriously hard for foreigners to get.

So the ticket was bought and paid for, and all that was left was to wait for the concert that weekend. What concert? Well, in the past year or so I have become a fan of a certain anime that features male idol characters, and has a ton of songs to go along with it. The cool thing is that the voice actors, called seiyuu, are the ones performing all the songs. So because of that show I became a fan of several different seiyuu. Now, not only do these seiyuu do the voices in various anime and video games but many of them also have singing careers and have their own bands or singles. The concert I was heading to was for a favorite voice actor named Morikubo Showtaro. He has some pretty awesome music, I would totally recommend checking it out, and I was really excited to see him.

So the concert was at a pretty off the beaten track place in Kyoto, at least in terms of touristy areas, and it was pretty small. Kyoto isn’t exactly the go to place for concert, unlike Tokyo or Osaka. So this concert was standing room only and maybe only 800 people. Now, I’d looked up online when the merchandise booths opened and I arrived a little early to check out what kinds of merchandise there was. I was surprised at the amount of fans I saw there with merch from previous shows. So I bought a few things and then checked my purse into the coat check since you aren’t supposed to bring large bags and things into the concert. After that I intended to get some food but halfway there I realized that I’d left my ticket inside my checked bag like an idiot and so I had to go back and get it.

Because I bought my ticket last minute I ended up waiting until almost last to get in to the concert and so I was standing at the back. Thankfully, being just over average height here has its advantages as I could easily see the stage even from the back.

The show itself was great! There was a ton of songs, with little breaks for Morikubo to talk to the audience in between. As for the concert itself, the fans are defiantly more reserved than concerts that I went to back in Canada. They mostly stay in one place and there is no real dancing besides some serious arm waving. The exception to this was the group of girls at the back of the concert who where full on head-banging the whole time, whipping their long hair around like crazy for most of the songs. It was odd and I was hit by their hair more than once but at least it was a bit of a breeze?

All said and done the concert was super fun and an experience that I am so glad that I had, especially in my first few weeks of being here when I was just sitting around most days. I am really looking forward to getting to see more concerts this summer and the rest of the time that I am in Japan!

 

Welcome to the Neighbourhood

Well after the week of training it was finally time to head to my home city of Otsu, in Shiga prefecture. It was a very busy week with moving in and I had to get all sorts of things sorting like buying things for my apartment and getting a cell phone. My apartment is small but I quite like it. It is just enough space for me right now. We’ll see how I feel about it in a few months.

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I really like the neighbourhood that I am in as well. It is very much residential and like a suburb but it’s quieter than some places. I am also a very quick walk to trains and groceries. Also, to one of my schools. I am hoping that won’t be too much of a problem if kids find out where I live.

In my first week I did a little bit of sightseeing around my neighbourhood and Otsu but I mostly took it easy and worked on making my apartment home. I did go down and check out the lake briefly though.

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I also made a late afternoon visit to Omi Jingu shrine. It was very cool and I was nearly the only person there at the time. I look forward to going back there in the summer because they have a cool festival that involves horses and archery that I want to check out.