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Fabric shopping in Tokyo

There are so many different things that I love about Japan and the shopping is one of them. On the first trip I briefly explored Nippori Fabric Town in Tokyo and, while there are a lot of lovely stores there (Tomato is worth mentioning), my favourite store is called Okadaya. Since I simply refused to leave Japan without re-visiting Okadaya, I got to spend a couple of hours in my own fabric heaven :)

Street view, courtesy of Google Street View. A) Building with sewing material. B) Building with fabrics

Street view, courtesy of Google Street View. A) Building with sewing material. B) Building with fabrics

Finding Okadaya can be a bit tricky. It’s located (in 2!! buildings) in Shinjuku, a ~10min walk away from the huge train/metro station. I find their blue and white sign very modest compared to the neighbour’s and I think I walked past it more than 10 times the first time I was looking for it. In the first building you’ll find 6 floors filled with different kinds of sewing materials. They have a great selection of buttons, ribbons, threads, zippers, rulers, knitting material, you name it! There was sooo many beautiful ribbons and lace on one of the floors that I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wanted to get everything but the rational part of me talked me out of hoarding. This doesn’t mean that I left there empty-handed. I found a very cool black and white zipper (ok, I have no idea what I’m gonna do with it, but I definitely need it!). Then followed some regular hidden zippers. The price on these was amazingly a third of what I usually pay. The blue and orange thingamajigs from Clover are for keeping track of your knitting. At the moment I just use them to see how much I’ve knitted in one evening but I guess you could use them to keep track when knitting after a pattern. Next up is the magical “iron-on seam stabilizer”. I always use this to stabilize and prevent fraying around neckline and arm holes. The tiny clothes-pegs are for materials (e.g. leather) that you cannot pin together with regular pins. An awl may come in handy and the brown little thing beside the awl is a Japanese leather thimble. I’ve been using this kind of thimble for a while now and while it takes a bit of getting used to, I like it more than the regular ones in steel. On the bottom row are some corset supplies. I’ve wanted to make a corset for years and maybe it’s finally time I got started. Another thing that I’ve wanted to make is a recreation of an old bikini (that is falling apart now) and I got the padded cups for that reason. Last but not least, some buttons for a shirt and maybe a future Halloween costume.

The second building (just across the small street) contains 5 floors filled with beautiful and affordable fabrics. On the top is a rather heavy chequered cotton fabric that I intend to make a tight and rather sculptured dress of. The white cotton fabric under is very stiff and should work as a foundation for a corset. The brown/grey knit will become a top for a friend and the bright orange will become my new bikini! I’ve never even seen swim wear fabric in the stores at home so I’m very excited about this.Next up is something red and black that I was thinking of using for a Halloween costume. Can you guess what I have in mind? I this love the texture on the red and black fabric and I was pleasantly surprised to find this silk chirimen (crepe) in matching colours.

The shopping spree was finished with some tulle in black and some odd raspberry colour. At first I thought it was bright red but the lighting must have been a bit wonky. Not really sure what I should make of this but I always think of something.

Okadaya’s webpage: http://www.okadaya.co.jp/shinjuku/

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Ōkunoshima (aka Rabbit Island)

On the second day of our Shimanami Kaidō trip we visited Ōkunoshima, also known as the ‘rabbit island’. The landlady at Sawaki was kind enough to find us a time-table for the ferry that’s departing from a port on Omishima. There was a ferry leaving at around 10 o clock and we were told that it would take around 1 hour on bicycle so we left around 8:45. We made it just in time!

It was already incredibly hot outside and a blue haze shrouded all the islands in the distance. With the blue sky and the almost green water, it was very beautiful. After a short trip with the ferry we arrived at Ōkunoshima and was immediately greeted by a lot of bunnies! They didn’t seem the least bit scared as they approached us and the many children, looking for food. The children, and their parents, had come prepared and started handing out carrots and lettuce. We hadn’t prepare anything because I had heard/read that you could buy bunny food on the island. That was NOT true. Our first stop was the visitor’s centre in search of some food we could buy. With some very basic Japanese combined with English, I tried to explain that we wanted to pay for bunny food. Unfortunately my first attempt failed as they tried to explain that “we don’t eat the bunnies here”. Oh the horror! :) After making my most horrified face and explaining that “no, no, I love bunnies!”, they understood that we wanted to feed them instead of having them on the dinner table. They took us out the back and handed me a huge bouquet of bamboo for free. The man said that they didn’t really sell any rabbit food but that I could feed the bamboo to the little critters.

Before we went on a tour around the island we decided to visit the local museum just next door. Ōkunoshima isn’t famous only for its many rabbits but also for its poison gas factory during World War II. Most of the information is in Japanese but there are some short descriptions in English that provides visitors with the most important information. When the allied Occupation Forces disposed of the toxic gas, they also destroyed many of the buildings but the ruins still remain.

The island is quite small and you can find ruins from the factory almost everywhere. From the tennis courts, a small trail leads up into the ‘woods’ and up on the mountain. Feeling a bit adventurous, we decided to go for a small hike. Right at the entrance we saw something in the bushes, a tiny snake! “Oh, I wonder if it was poisonous” I said as it quickly crawled away from us. Then we turned to the trail only to see the huge spider webs hanging over the path. By this time we’ve gotten quite used to seeing the ~10cm large black and yellow spiders. This time, however, an even bigger red/black spider was greeting us. Feeling a bit nervous about this new colour of the spider, I bent down and quickly sneaked passed it under its web. My husband was quite uncomfortable on our way through the forest. Why you ask? Well, the spiders have all adapted their webs to the hight of Japanese people. This means that Japanese and short westerners such as myself can pass under the webs without much effort. My husband on the other hand will end up with a facing-hugging spider if he doesn’t crouch :)

A potential black/yellow face-hugger.

A potential black/yellow face-hugger.

Above the trees, the view was absolutely amazing! Because of the heat (now probably around 35°C), we didn’t linger for too long but continued on the path. With the low fern like bushes, it felt a bit like we were in a Jurassic Park movie. Only difference was that instead of velociraptors, there were rabbits. Suddenly we came across some suzumebachi and the reference to Jurassic Park got a little bit too real. Just the body on this giant hornet is ~5cm! To my knowledge they’re not the most friendly creatures and getting stung by one can actually kill you. With this in mind, we bravely advanced in the direction we came from. When we were almost out from the spider infested woods, we passed a mother and daughter feeding a rabbit. Then we saw it, a huge snake! And when I say huge, I mean huge. It was at least as long as I am tall (1,6m). I alerted the mother who picked up her daughter and the four of us went out of the woods while making as much noise as possible. Who knew a trip to the rabbit island would be this exciting? :)


Onomichi and Shimanami Kaidō

From Osaka, we continued our journey westwards to Onomichi. Onomichi is a coastal town quite close to Hiroshima and is easy to access with the Shinkansen train station being just a 10min taxi drive away from the city center. This is also the starting point for the Shimanami Kaidō, a 60km long road that takes you from Japan’s main island Honshu to the island of Shikoku while passing six smaller islands. The road is famous for its beauty and a popular destination because it’s “bicycle friendly”.

We arrived at the Green Hill Hotel near the harbour in Onomichi some time after lunch. This gave us plenty of time to explore the little town built on a hillside near the sea. We picked up some tourist maps over the Shimanami Kaidō at the bicycle rental shop and a map over the Onomichi temple-walk and headed out in the heat. The streets are narrow and it wasn’t always easy to follow the instructions on the map. It wasn’t really a problem for us if we missed a temple or two since there are a lot of them. But if we really wanted to find a specific one that wouldn’t have been a problem since the locals are quite curious about, and eager to help the tourists.

Halfway through Onomichi we spotted a ropeway that took people to the top of the hill. Of course we had to ride it! On a clear day like this, the view was absolutely amazing. At the top of the hill, we enjoyed the local satsuma flavoured ice cream while watching the sunset.

When we returned to the hotel after dinner, we packed the backpacks and planned the three-day bicycle trip in more detail. The hotel kindly agreed to keep our luggage while we were cycling and the nice woman working in the lobby recommended that we visit the Kosanji temple and the Dolce ice cream place. Since it was crazy-hot outside, we also asked her if it was ok to go swimming in the ocean. I was mostly concerned about currents and if there were any poisonous animals and she said that there might be some jellyfish. And besides, she said, the water’s rather cold. Since the air temperature was over 30 degrees, I was quite curious about what temperature she believed was too cold for swimming…

Here is our planned route with one colour for each day. On the first day (green), we planned on cycling the longest distance in order to get to Sawaki, a ryokan on Omishima. On the second day (blue), we planned to take the ferry from Omishima to Ōkunoshima (also called Rabbit Island). On the third day (orange), it was time to go back to Onomichi and just in case we were tired from all the cycling there was the possibility to take a ferry from Setoda Port.

Our 3-day Shimanami Kaidō route

On the next day, we set out at 9 before the heat really kicked in. The recommended route was to completely ignore the first bridge and take the ferry instead. Who were we to argue with recommendations? And besides, the boat looked like the top of a pagoda and for that reason alone it was worth ignoring the bridge. On the temple ferry, we met a nice American couple that was cycling the Shimanami Kaidō for the second time. They said we would probably love it and wished us a pleasant trip before speeding off on their racing bicycles.

The Americans weren’t wrong, the road was fairly flat and the scenery lovely! The ice cream place called Dolce was well worth a visit and it wasn’t hard to find since it seemed like all the cycling tourists stopped there for a snack. Also the Kosanji Temple was a pleasant surprise. It was like no temple we’re seen before, and we’ve seen quite a few. Forget red/orange and brown wood as the only colours, entering the temple area was like walking into a colour explosion. Like many temples, this too was placed on a mountain side but the top of the mountain was like no other. Pathways of white marble lead up to the top and everywhere you looked there were beautiful sculptures made of the same marble. To complement the stone, the pathways were lined with bushes in different shades of green. The white marble, green bushes and the blue sky created an almost surreal feeling.

After our visit to the temple we decided to go straight to Sawaki in order to make it to dinner time. Before we passed the bridge connecting Ikuchijima with Omishima, we stopped to admire the satsuma cultivation. The area is famous for its citrus fruits and you’ll find them growing on most hill sides.

When we got to Omishima, we took route 21 to Miyaura Port. What we never suspected was how tough the 4km uphill slope would be. It looked like nothing when we started, but near the top I abandoned ship. After a couple of minutes rest we continued on foot. How wonderful it was to be greeted by the staff at Sawaki and have a quick soak in the onsen before they served us dinner.

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During our stay in Osaka, we went on a two-day trip to Koya-san, a Buddhist temple complex in the Kii Peninsula. It’s nr 7 of the top 25 places to visit in Lonely Planet’s guide-book and I wasn’t disappointed. Even the travel from Osaka was very pleasant and a bit of an adventure in itself. First, we hopped on a train on the Nankai Line from Namba in Osaka. To my great surprise, we discovered that the train tickets were pretty much exclusively written in kanji (Chinese characters) and I’ve only learned the kanji for 1,2 and 3 (which is pretty easy since it’s only 1, 2 and 3 horizontal lines).

I felt a bit distressed about not knowing when and where we should leave the train so I asked the obāsan sitting next to me for some help. She must have had some kind of dialect because I had more trouble understanding her than I usually do. However,  she didn’t let a minor detail like that discourage her. Since she wasn’t going to Koya-san herself, she couldn’t guide us herself. Instead she found a lovely couple that was going the same way and asked them to take us. It turned out that in the middle of the train ride, we had to switch trains. If not for the help of the nice lady, we could have missed the second train.

Why can't I have this view from my bus stop at home?

Why can’t I have this view from my bus stop at home?

After we switched trains, the tracks started going up in the mountains along the steep mountain sides and it felt a bit like being back in Hakone. The view from the train was amazing and the nice weather just enhanced the whole experience. At the train end station, a cable car was waiting to take the visitors up the steep hill. After the cable car ride, there were buses waiting to take the visitors on the winding road that leads to central Koya-san.

In the cable car, looking down from where we came from.

In the cable car, looking down on the track where we came from.

When we got off the bus, we went straight for the lodging of the night. This time we hadn’t booked a hotel or ryokan but a room at an actual Buddhist temple! The temple in question is called Fudou-in and is located quite central and a 10-15min walk to the Oku-no-in graveyard. The monks were very nice and they spoke excellent English (something I did not expect?). The room was beautiful and the futon was actually one of the better ones we had on the trip. I usually sleep under a warm down bed cover all year around so I was ecstatic to find the fluffiest and warmest down bed cover I’ve every had the pleasure of sleeping under :D

This was our room at Fudou-in.

This was our room at Fudou-in.

Before it was time for dinner, we went out to have a look at the town and all its temples. An interesting detail is that everything is owned by the temples. And when I say everything, I mean everything. Even the restaurants and fire department is owned by the temple! And they don’t stop at the fire department, I reckon each respectable Buddhist temple town should have at least one giant pagoda and Koya-san didn’t disappoint. Just look at that huge building! The people look like ants in comparison.

Out of all the temples to choose from, I liked the Kongobuji temple the most. The rock garden was amazing and in a way it reminded me of the ocean with the rocks looking like small islands. If you’re going to visit one temple here, make sure this is the one!

While the temples are nice, the main reason why people travel to Koya-san is to visit the vast graveyard called Oku-no-in. The main path is lit up by lanterns and it leads the visitors through a place where ancient cedar trees and tombstones compete for space. At the northern end, there’s a building called the lantern hall. It’s filled to the brim with thousands of lanterns that’s been donated by worshippers. A stone’s throw away from the lantern hall are the Jizo pyramids. Perhaps you’re wondering about the red bibs? I was too, but an acquaintance explained that the bibs are placed on the statues to ensure Jizo’s protection of dead children.

After spending the night, we woke up early to attend the morning ceremony at the temple. It was very interesting but to be honest, I found it a bit repetitive. Strangely enough, the hour practically flew by and the ceremony was finished with one of the monks telling us a little bit about Koysa-san and how it was founded in 819 by the monk named Kūkai (also known as Kōbō-Daishi). After the brief history lesson, we headed off to the dining room where breakfast was already waiting. Just like the dinner, the breakfast was vegetarian and absolutely delicious! I sometimes feel that I hesitate to eat some dishes in a kaiseki dinner/breakfast because sometimes they tend to serve stuff that is a bit too exotic for my taste. Take snails for instance, that’s a little bit too out there for me. But when it’s all vegetables I really don’t have to think about what I’m eating. In a way, it’s easier to enjoy the food.Since a typhoon was supposed to move in during the evening we decided to go for a stroll before taking the train back at around 11-12. First we went to the museum which was a bit so-so since they didn’t have much information in English. They had some really beautiful statues, paintings etc. on display but I would’ve liked to know more about them. Leaving the museum, we headed for the huge gate to the east that used to be the main access road back in the day. Just a stone’s throw away was a small path lined with torii gates that looked very inviting. What better end to the trip than a nice mountain hike? After a mere 200m or so, we found a sign warning us about bears. We decided that meeting a black bear wasn’t a nice way of ending the trip and then we bravely advanced in another direction.

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Zombies dancing at Universal Studios Osaka

The zombies I talked about yesterday didn’t only scare people, they also entertained the crowd with some fancy dance moves! One minute, the zombies seemed to wander aimlessly and the next, all of them were spread out along the street evenly spaced. Then, as the sirens and gunshots stopped and “Thriller” echoed throughout the park, the zombies began dancing.

I apologize for the bad quality but the camera battery had just died and all I had left was my phone.