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Gion Matsuri

We timed our trip to Kyoto with Gion Matsuri it is a month long celebration but we wanted to see the Yamaboko Junkō (parade).

The three nights before the parade on the 17th are also celebration nights, the roads are closed, food and drink stalls erected and you can walk around enjoy the atmosphere and see the parade floats up close.

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Be warned – it can get busy!

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The parade on the 17th started at 9am so we got up early to get a good spot.

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We watched the parade for a few hours then retired back to the shade and visited a shrine. The celebrations went on well into the evening at the Yasaka Shrine and along the streets.

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The mikoshi from the parades that house the deity are stationed in spots in Kyoto, there is another procession on the 25th July to return the mikoshi to their shrines.

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All throughout the celebrations there is a great atmosphere you can hear traditional music and drumming, people chanting and police men blowing whistles.
It’s one of the few times where eating and drinking in the street is acceptable and there is a stand selling cold beers every few paces. Festival foods tend to come on sticks – yakitori, okonomiyaki, melon, toffee apples and strawberries, but my favourite is kakigori (shaved ice).
There are also stalls where you can get festival masks, plushies, yukata, palm reading, marbles and fish.

I really enjoyed Gion Matsuri particularly the warm yoiyama nights leading up to the parade. I hope we can go again one day.

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Ueno Zoo

I love Ueno Zoo, it’s famous for its Giant Pandas-infact you will see the panda used everywhere in that district. Signs, mascots, plushies and bakery goods!

The best part of the zoo is the ¥600 entry price which hasn’t gone up in years!

I last visited the zoo in 2007 and remember really loving the red pandas and watching the penguins be fed.

This time the star for me was the polar bear!

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I believe they have re done this enclose since 2007 as there were more polar bears and they seemed agitated. This cutie had the place to himself and it was feeding time! We quickly headed underneath the enclosure to see him up close under water.

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Waa he’s so cute! His paws are so big and fluffy.

We also managed to watch the elephants being groomed (dust off their backs swept with a broom!), sea lions being fed and a baby kangaroo that had fallen out its pouch!

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I wouldn’t say Ueno Zoo is a ‘must see’ in Tokyo but if you have the time it’s a fun and cheap day out.

To finish the day we had a stroll around Ueno Park, an ice cream and rented a rowing boat on the lake.

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Yukata

Having attended Tanabata and Gion Matsuri so far in Japan (with many more festivals to come) I bought a few yukata.

I started with a set from Takashimaya in Tokyo that cost 8800¥ but came with the yukata, ties, obi, pre made bow and sandals.

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Having never worn yukata before we looked up the proper way of wearing it online, J used this guide. The most important rule it seems is that the left side stays on top.

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For a first attempt I thought it was ok but there was definite room for improvement. I did check with the Japanese lady at the place we were staying and she said it was ok.

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Worn again in Kyoto a little better but I think my obi is too low.

At Gion Matsuri I was able to pick up another yukata at the festival for 1500¥ in a sale.

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The second yukata is smaller so there isn’t as much to fold up and seems easier to wear, I much prefer it.

I think my yukata wearing still needs some improvement, I would like to flatten my chest area some more and get an obiita to keep my obi flat and wrinkle free.

Lastly a picture from behind!

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I would reccomened wearing a yukata to a Japanese summer festival, I had some lovely comments from people. Hopefully the locals didn’t mind me joining in as well.

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Happy Memories

The hostel we are staying at in Kyoto is a ten minute walk to the shrine we got married at Christmas Eve 2009. It was our first visit since.

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It was really lovely to go back, the shrine looked a bit different in the hot sun and all the greenery was out. It was also quite busy as there was an arts festival in the grounds.

We said a prayer and thanked the gods for our marriage and safe return to Japan.

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I’m sure we will visit it again soon.

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Tanabata

On the 7th July it was Tanabata festival.

We celebrated not far from where we were staying in Asakusa.

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There were lots of brightly coloured kites and decorations lining the street. There were also lots of street stalls selling beer and food and children’s toys.

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We joined Tanabata quite late in the day but still managed to watch some of the citizens dance parade.

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A lot of ladies wore yukata it was lovely to see. I changed into yukata in the evening as well.

I hope you get to enjoy Tanabata celebrations too.

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Little critters

Since being here I’ve been bitten on my arms, legs and even face by some unidentified unseen mushi!

At any one time I seem to have a constant 13 actively itchy bites.

I decided enough was enough!

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Two days on and I don’t think I have a new bite and my current bites are improving considerably!

The spray can is insect repellant-hopefully the strong chemical kind and the patches are citronella.
The Hello Kitty muhi works really well at treating bites but I have no clue what’s in it. And lastly the tube at the bottom that Ive had for a few weeks I thought was minty gel actually contains a steroid. It didn’t seem to have much affect on my bites though.

Anyone have any more tips? I got some useful information here, and here.

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Climbing Mt Fuji

They say your a fool if you don’t do it, but twice the fool if you do it again!

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J and I set out at 12ish on Wed planning on an overnight stay and plenty of time to get to the top for sunrise.

We took the Yoshida Trail from the 5th station.

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The very beginning of the trail. J with his Mt Fuji climbing stick.

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Workmen fixing the path.

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The path definitely got harder to walk on some was volcanic rock that had a loose top layer so you sunk and slipped around. The rest was solid rock as above and you had to clamber over it.

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After a hour and half we started to pass the stations there are several 7th and 8th stations along the way. Here you can get your stick branded, buy some sake or go to the facilities (for 200yen of course).

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We soldiered on heading for the 8.5 station.

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As it was early on in climbing season the paths weren’t too congested, just the occasional organised tour made it seem busy. It was mountain etiquette to say hello to everyone you passed and give occasional words of encouragement.

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We finally reached our bed for the night at 6.30pm just as the sun was setting.
It cost 6500yen each to stay in the luxurious sleeping bag, but it also included a hot meal (curry).
Whilst we were there NHK were filming, some of the women were fawning over the female presenter I imagine she was the Japanese equivalent of Holly Willoughby.

I had the worst nights sleep and eventually 2am came around and it was time to get up. We joined the path and started the final 2 hr slog in the dark to the summit.

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4.30am and what this was all for – sunrise from the top of Mt Fuji!

It was incredibly cold at the top and none of the shops or facilities were open yet. We took a few pictures and J went to look in the crater.

Just after 5am we started to come back down. I found the descent much harder mostly because I was tired and had barely any sleep but also because the descent impacted hard on my knees and hips. The usual descent trail was closed following the recent typhoon so we had to use the ascent trail.

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We eventually reached the 5th station at 10.30am.

Although I’m really proud we got to the top it’s not an experience Im in a hurry to replicate!!!

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My first week in outfits

Seeing as we are backpacking for a few months I only had room for two dresses and one pair of shoes among my walking boots and electrical goods.

26th June
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Harajuku

27th June
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Meeting friends

30th June
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Meeting My Melody @ Uniqlo Ginza and then hanging out with the International Tokyo Lolitas group

29th June & 1st July
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Hama-rinkyu Gardens and Yoyogi Park in the rain! (Wish I had a nicer full shot in this dress!)

2nd July
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Harajuku and Yoyogi again :)

As you can see I bought a few new things :)
The cake dress is Emily Temple Cute and perfect for this heat! The hat is Liz Lisa I got in the sale and the cream
head bow Innocent World. The last dress in my new crush <;3 Baby, The Stars Shine Bright Love Letters to Juliette…(or something!) it was a steal at Closet Child as the waist ribbon is missing.

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Keitai for foreigners

So before I came to Japan I did some online research into what phone plans were open to foreigners in Japan. Most information pointed to SoftBank and that a 3000yen/month prepaid sim was available.

Great I thought I’ll pop it into my iPhone and be ready to go!

Wrong.

The Japanese mobile phone system here is quite complicated and I don’t fully understand it. From what I gather you pick a network and a corresponding phone and are then tied into the two for at least two years. Your email address is also tied in with your phone and provider. I am also under the impression you give the phone back at the end.

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On Sunday I went to SoftBank Omote-sando store where a nice young man with American sounding English explained it was not possible for me to put the sim in my iPhone. I needed a Japanese flip-phone. He issued me with a ticket and I had to wait about 20minutes to be seen and taken downstairs.

To obtain a Japanese phone you have to prove you are staying in Japan for more than 3 months. (You need your passport with your visa in for this!) You also need a Japanese address, I used my hotel address and this was fine.

The only options I got were – black or white?! White of course :)

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The handset itself cost about 2500yen, the charger 1500yen and 3000yen for credit.

The nice lady activated it for me, set it to English and put my credit on. To activate data (email) you need to call 1400 and follow the options in English, it costs 300yen to do this and expires after 30days. Calls cost an extortionate 100yen/min!

I signed a piece of paper and she showed me my number. And then I was on my way.

You get a designated email address something@softtbank.ne.jp and you can easily change the bit before the @ either on your phone or at SoftBank.jp
To access SoftBank.jp you need the 4 digit pin number from the paper you sign.

The great thing about having a Japanese keitai email address is you can get purikura sent to your phone (well actually a link to click to download them).

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The phone itself is very basic. I find it so hard to use after 5years of iPhones. It has a 2MP camera, alarm, music player and calendar. However it is really cute and I always wanted a Japanese cell phone!