22nd and 23rd April 2023: A date with a dinosaur (London, England, Great Britain)

Since I cannot keep my mouth shut, I offered to organise a trip to London with some people from work. Despite prices skyrocketing everywhere and my ridiculously hectic schedule, I managed to secure a weekend when flying would not be stupidly expensive, and an activity I would really be looking forward to – the Natural History Museum was running couple of things I was very interested in. One was an exhibition on a gigantic dinosaur: Titanosaur: Life as the biggest dinosaur. Well, twist my arm – NHM is much closer than the actual Titanosaur home in Argentina. Furthermore, there was a collaboration with Jurassic Park (‘an adventure 63,000,030 years in the making’ is the motto), and coming back to the museum would give me the chance to purchase the rock I wanted the last time I was over and did not get because I was heading out to Stonehenge on the same day.

In the end, only one person took up the offer, and I figured out that well, London is pretty much always a good idea for a weekend – so I figured I’d arrange myself a date with a dinosaur. Unfortunately, it turned that London Marathon was held that weekend. Hotel prices were bloated for the night and we ended up at Earl’s Court because I wanted to stay close to South Kensington and the other person wanted the cheapest place possible. We left on a red-eye flight to London Stansted which took a long time to land – we spent about an hour circling the airport, and eventually the head cabin attendant said that there was bad visibility at the airport, and that the pilot required all electronic devices to be turned off so he could use the autolanding system. I did not like that one bit – after I visited Santiago de Compostela in 2022, I felt that I had got over the bad-visitiblity near-miss when I was a teen. Apparently not, the feeling of uneasiness is still there. We landed over an hour late, but we were on our way on the first Stansted Express a few minutes after getting on it. After reaching Liverpool Street Station at around 9:30, I asked my companion to take us to Guildhall as part of the incentive of the trip was introducing them to international travel. It was not a good idea. Their phone trolled us and tried to take us to Guildhall… in Stratford upon Avon. The Costa at the station was closed, but at least I had got myself a sandwich and a latte before we started walking.

After backtracking, we were in known territory around 10:15. As it turns out, my companion was only interested in “walking the city” and shot down any activities I had proposed – thus, some things I just imposed in order not to feel that I had wasted the whole day away. By 11:00, I had confirmed that our travelling styles were not compatible. After some time at the docks next to the Tower of London, I wanted to enter the Anglican church All Hallows by the Tower. All Hallows is the oldest church in the City of London – founded in 675 CE, it predates the nearby Tower of London. The parish used to take care of a lot of the prisoners executed there. The building withstood the Great Fire of London (1666), but it was severely damaged through The Blitz – the German WWII bombing campaign against the UK throughout 1940 and 1941. The church was rebuilt and reconsecrated in 1975. Its windows are decorated with symbols from the different London guilds and some families.

Collage of a church. The outer building is brick and it has a tower crowned with a greenish metal spire. The inside has huge windows decorated with guild symbols. The small crypt inside is covered in white stone.

Underneath, there are a few chapels and a small Crypt. Most of the crypt is a museum which chiefly holds artefacts from the Roman period – including remains of an old road. There are other historical items from the Saxon and Medieval times, and the 20th century Crow’s Nest of the vessel Quest, in which Sir Ernest Shackleton sailed for Antarctica for the third time, and where he died.

When we were done, we went to Saint Dunstan in the East Church Garden. I was hoping to use this as a relaxing point for a few minutes, but there was work being done on the parterres. We continued towards the River Thames for some views of Tower Bridge, the museum HMS Belfast and The Shard skyscraper.

We walked by the Monument to the Fire of London on our way to the Sky Garden. The Great Fire burnt inside the Roman city wall for four days after breaking out a bakery after midnight on the 2nd of September, 1666. Though the number of victims is (theoretically) small, the fire destroyed over 13,000 houses (15% of the city’s housing), almost a hundred parish churches, governmental buildings, St Paul’s cathedral, and even some of the city gates.

Afterwards, we walked over to Leadenhall Market, a covered shopping street which can be traced back to a 1321 food market, and marks the centre of Roman Londinium (ruins from the Forum and Basilica are buried underneath). It was given to the city in the 15th century, and in the 19th century, the City Architect Sir Horace Jones designed an iron-and-glass arcade. Today, it holds restaurants, wine bars, varied shops and even beauty parlours.

A covered shopping gallery or street, in dark red and beige tones.

Around the market stands a mixture of modern buildings and traditional buildings, mostly small churches. Among the former:

  • The Lloyd’s Building (25 Gresham Street), sometimes called the “Inside-Out building”. It was finished in 1986 and it is consider a great example of Bowellism – an architectural style that maximises inside space by building ducts, lifts, and other structural necessities on the outside. It was designed by Richard Rogers & Partners, and it still maintains the original entrance of the building that stood in its place in 1928 – the East India House.
  • The Leadenhall Building (122 Leadenhall Street), designed designed by the Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. It opened in 2014.
  • The Willis Towers Watson (WTW), designed by Norman Foster, it was finished in 2008.
  • The Scalpel (52-54 Lime Street), which yields to cool reflections along with the WTW, and has a strange sculpture at the entrance – it made me think of several ship wheels fused together. The building was designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox and only completed in 2018.
  • And of course The Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe). It was designed by Foster + Partners and it is the first ecological building ever built in London. It opened in 2004.

The historical buildings we encountered (having survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz) include:

  • Saint Andrew Undershaft Church. It dates back from 1147, although it has been rebuilt several times. The current building was erected in 1532.
  • Saint Helen’s Bishopsgate Church, where Shakespeare himself used to worship in the 1590s. The building can be traced back to the mid 12th century, and it was restored during the Victorian period and later during the 20th century.

Skyscrapers reflected on the glass that covers yet another huge skyscraper

A small church built in Stone in the background with a huge modern high-rise building behind it

Afterwards, we headed towards Embankment on the Tube. There, I was happy to find a Costa Coffee and get my vanilla latte fix. In the area, we saw the Victoria Embankment Gardens and I wanted to visit Cleopatra’s Needle – half of a pair of obelisks (the other one is in New York), originally made and carved in Heliopolis, what is Cairo today. It has inscriptions from the 18th and 19th Egyptian dynasties (around 1450 BCE). It was presented to the United Kingdom by Sultan Muhammad Ali in 1819, and later transported to London in 1877. Two sphinxes and other decorations were added when the Needle was erected, and the plinth under one of the sphinxes was damaged during London Bombings – it was never restored as a tribute to memory.

An Egyptian obelisk standing against a cloudy background

We walked over to the Westminster area to see the Palace of Westminster and Elizabeth Tower. There was an environmental protest there, which made it packed, but at the same time diverted traffic, allowing for new views from the middle of the street. On the way, I encountered an adorable pit bull mix I got permission to pet – coffee and dog pets made everything better.

A view of the palace of Westminster, with the Elizabeth tower on the left

We continued off to Saint James’s Park, home to squirrels, geese, swans, pigeons, mallard ducks, robins… all of them extremely used to people and tourists, and rather unconcerned by dogs being walked. We ditched the marathon fencing and reached Buckingham Palace, but by then my companion was beat. Thus, we had to go to the hotel so they could get some rest. The hotel was better than expected for a London 2*. It was nice and warm, although the bathroom was tiny – it was difficult to stand inside and close the door.

Buckingham Palace and some of the animals at Saint James' parks

A couple of hours later, we were off into the evening to see Piccadilly Circus, the entrance to Chinatown, and Leicester Square. Companion was beaten, so they were not sure they would be up for anything the following day – we arranged to touch base at 9:00 for them to evaluate. Once in my room, I had a shower and booked a free time slot for the British Museum the following day, just to avoid the queues. I thought, even if we did not make it, at least we had assured entry if we did, and I could always cancel and release the ticket.

Central London at night - Picadilly Circus' Eros and entrance to Chinatown

The next morning, I left on my own around 8:00 to look for a nearby Costa Coffee for a large vanilla latte breakfast, and I came across Brompton Cemetery. This had not been on my radar, but since I had time, I decided to explore it a little. Brompton Cemetery, formerly West of London and Westminster Cemetery, opened in 1840, and it has belonged to the British Crown since 1852. It is on of the oldest garden cemeteries in Britain and comprises around 35,000 monuments. I wandered for about half an hour before I had to head back.

Brompton cemetery, a 19th century graveyard and garden

We managed to get to to the Natural History Museum on time for my date with a dinosaur just after opening. I had my Titanosaur ticket at 10:15, and left off my companion to wander on their own after agreeing to check with each other around noon. The exhibition Titanosaur: Life as the Biggest Dinosaur brings a cast of Patagotitan mayorum to Europe for the first time, along with a few real fossil bones, of a front leg, some teeth, and an egg.

Patagotitan mayorum is one of the largest known animals to have ever lived. It was a sauropod dinosaur – a tetrapod with extremely long neck and tail. It lived in forest regions during the Late Cretaceous (102 to 95 million years ago) grazing on ferns and tree leaves. The species was discovered in Argentina in 2010, and it’s calculated that it could have been up to 31 metres long and weigh over 50 tonnes. It is widely considered the most complete of the South American dinosaurs. The cast that the Natural History museum brought is considered the holotype, and it was reconstructed from the partial skeletons of six specimens.

Titanosaur skeleton. People walking around don't even reach its knees.

The best thing about the exhibit was being able to actually touch the cast, so I kinda hugged my date, I guess. As far as I know, there are only three casts of titanosaur – the one in Argentina (Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio in Trelew), one in the US (Field Museum, Chicago), named Máximo, and this one.

After I had pranced around the exhibition to my heart’s content, and as it filled up with kids, I moved on to reason number two of this visit having to happen asap in 2023. To celebrate 30 (thirty!) years of the 1993 release of Jurassic Park, the Natural History Museum was running a limited-time-only collaboration pop-up shop – the Jurassic Park 30th Anniversary #NHMxJURASSIC store in which I did not even spend that much! I bought a replica badge and a commemorative coin, both limited, numbered editions. The shop had both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World merchandise, especially toys and T-shirts, and a few props, including a life-size sculpture of Blue the velociraptor.

Jurassic Park pop-up shop, with Blue the velociraptor just hanging out

I then headed to the official museum shop to get myself the rock I had wanted – a piece of aura silicon carbide, a shiny mostly-artificial mineral. I also bought a souvenir guide, just because. They did not have anything from the Titanosaur exhibit there, so I backtracked to the exhibition shop to buy a pin.

Whenever I got to the Natural History Museum, I end up in the dinosaur gallery (well, there was that one time I walked through the whole thing throughout a winter day). This time, however, I decided to wander the upper area of the historical building. I was drawn to the Treasures in the Cadogan gallery. I had not been there since it opened in 2013, and my mind was blown. The collection includes a first edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and some of the pigeon specimens that he used to develop the theory of evolution. I also got to see the first-ever-found iguanodon teeth (not the replicas), the first fossil ever found of the Archaeopteryx (the link between dinosaurs and birds), and a skeleton and egg of the great auk, the first confirmed victim of anthropogenic extinction (due to human activity). I was very impressed, these were all treasures indeed – no overselling.

Treasures at the Natural History Museum - ancient bird fossil, extinct penguin-like bird, a book, dinosaur teeth. Whale skeleton.

After wandering the second floor for a bit, I ran into my companion and at noon we left towards the British Museum, where I had booked entry for 12:40. I left them to their own devices again and headed off to the Japanese galleries, which had been closed the last couple of times I was in the museum. I was… a bit on the disappointed side, I remembered them being way more impressive from my early 2000s visits.

Japanese Galleries at the British Museum: Samurai Armour, lion dogs pair, articulated metal animals, a standing Buddha.

I visited the Moai, the Elgin Marbles, the Babylonian bulls and the Rosetta Stone, and I headed off to the shop to get myself a treat – retail therapy is a thing. Eventually, we left the museum and managed to get to Liverpool Street to take the Stansted Express to the airport. Security was smooth, not as crammed as other times, and then, as tradition calls, I got myself some sushi at Itsu.

When we boarded the plane, I had been assigned an emergency exit seat. In order to sit there, you need to be able to take responsibility about opening the exit if something happens. I flagged a flight attendant to inform them that I would be physically unable to do so. I had a new seat in 4.5 seconds, and it turned out to be a window seat. We took off a few minutes late, and landed with a delay of almost a quarter of an hour. Nevertheless, after passport control and all, I managed to reached the parking lot payment machines with a few seconds to spare the overstaying fee – all good!

Balance – The marathon barely interfered with the weekend. I had a date with a dinosaur and hugged them. That was awesome. I got limited edition Jurassic Park and Jurassic World merchandise. I found some Kettle Sea Salt and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena crisps at one of the supermarkets. I got two new books, commemorative coins and a shiny rock. I also discovered new places to explore in the future, and had Costa – twice. Unfortunately, we ran out of time for extra visits on Sunday – so I could not fit in either the HMS Belfast or the Jack the Ripper Museum. Furthermore, the Grant Museum of Zoology is closed for renovation, and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology does not open on Sundays, so in the end I was not really able to scratch much off my list. Whoops!

Souvenirs from London: books, crisps, commemorative coins and Jurassic Park merch

9th & 10th June 2018: Wicked London (England, Great Britain)

This will be the last work-trip, at least for a while. I might change my mind later, but for now I’m done with them (although there’s an upcoming family trip rather soon…). Again, we flew in early Saturday morning, and we went to walk around the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge.

Then we went to the British Museum. I left them for a couple of hours there and I went to visit some of the lesser-seen galleries.

We had booked tickets for the musical “Wicked” in the Apollo Victoria Theatre at 14:30, so we headed over there. Wicked is a parallel story to “The Wizard of Oz”, focusing on the story of the Wicked Witch of the West, who becomes a social outcast due to her tendency to speak her mind and the strength of her magic. I had really wanted to watch this for a long time, so I used this chance and convinced the group to get there. I absolutely loved it ♥.

After the show, we dropped our things at the hotel. The group wanted to get some rest, so we stayed there for a while, then got out again. We took the underground towards London central and we were in Trafalgar Square for a while.

Then, we went to Chinatown for dinner.

Later, we walked around Piccadilly Circus, checking out some shops and so. We even stopped for cake.

On Sunday morning we went to Saint James’s Park, where we got to meet the local fauna, especially a very adventurous squirrel.

Then we dropped by Buckingham Palace. Although we did not watch the Guard Change, we did see one of the relief marches.

We walked from there to Westminster, saw the Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben, along the outside of Westminster Abby.

We visited the Monument to Emmeline Pankhurst and stayed for a while in the Victoria Tower Gardens.

As a final visit, we went to the Natural History Museum.

Finally, we headed off to the airport, and the icing of the cake was that we got caught in a controllers’ strike, so we had like a three-hour delay on our flight and it took forever to get home (;¬_¬). All in all, this was a very… strange trip, and without a doubt the highlight was going to see Wicked, which is something I had wanted to do for a long time, and gave me a couple of hours of enjoyment to myself.

30th July 2017: Tokyo → Yokosuka → Sarushima → Yokosuka → Yokohama → Tokyo {Japan, summer 2017}

We ended up in Yokosuka [横須賀] because D****e wanted to go to a music and book shop called Yajima Record Honten [ヤジマレコード本店], which was sadly closing the following day. The first thing that we did when we arrived, however, was lunch (because we had not gotten up early and we had spent a couple of hours on trains). Yokosuka is known for being an American army base, so it prides itself on being “Americanised”, and the typical dish seems to be hamburgers. This is the avocado burger I ordered.

After this we walked a block north and found Yajima. The key aspect of this shop was that it had a bunch of posters and signatures from old promos from a bunch of J-rockers. It was a bit of a magical place and it is very sad that it is closed now. I took the chance to buy an unopened, brand new copy of Hyde’s Shallow Sleep single, and we took pictures of a bunch of the promos that were still up, some of them twenty or thirty years old.

Afterwards we walked to the pier to catch a ferry to see Sarushima [猿島], which hosts a few old timer army bases and wartime ruins, aside from some very nice ocean views. It would have been nice if we had managed fewer people around, but alas, we all came by ferry so we all arrived at the same time. Sarushima is the only natural island in Tokyo Bay, and geologically it seems to be a continuation of Futtsu cape on the opposite side of the Bay. Although the name means “Monkey Island” there is no monkey there except in a legend that says that a white monkey guided Saint Nichiren through the fog in Tokyo Bay to the safety of the Island. Sarushima is a World Heritage National Historic Site.

Afterwards we went back to Yokosuka Pier and boarded the Mikasa [三笠] warship which was used as flagship in the Russo-Japanese war (and sank after the war because she blew up. Figures). It is now a naval museum where you can VR the battle. I got VR-obliterated. There is a reason why I did not pursue a military career.

Afterwards we diverted our way to go to Yokohama [横浜] and get nikuman for dinner in Chinatown. We sat on a park bench and ate nikuman and drank bubble tea. Afterwards we walked down by the harbour and through Yamashita Koen [山下公園] and looked at the sunset/night skyline. Finally we caught a train back home.

19th July 2017: Nagasaki – the perseverance of nature and the pride of man {Japan, summer 2017}

My Nagasaki [長崎] day was the worst weather I’ve ever experienced in Japan. There was a storm mid-morning which caused the atmosphere to become so heavy with water vapour that even breathing was difficult.

I started the day getting a tram pass and a map, and I first set on my way to see the Heiwa Koen [平和公園] or Peace Park, in order to be done with the ‘heavy feelings’ and then do other more relaxing stuff. I saw the Peace Fountain and the Peace Statue and snooped around Urakami cathedral outskirts, but it was being cleaned / renovated, so I did not walk closer. Then I looked at the Hypocentre of the Atomic Bomb. It made my heart heavy, thinking about what humans can do to each other.

After the Peace park I really wanted to see the one-legged torii of Sanno Jinja (山王神社), located less than a kilometre away from the blast site (the problem was that following the Nagasaki tourist map and signs, I had to take a huge detour). The shrine was destroyed in the blast, but the second torii did not completely collapse. The right leg and half the front remained standing, albeit, albeit rotated 30º. The torii still stands and now Sanno Jinja hosts the kami of two camphor trees that were scorched in the blast, but they survived and are now covered in leaves.

After that I took the tram towards Chinzei Taisha / Suwa Shrine [鎮西大社 / 諏訪神社] and as I was getting to the tram stop, the storm broke. It was not the rain as much as the asphyxiating heat what made it hard to breathe, even much more to climb up the stairs to the shrine.

After that, once the clouds had lifted and I had drunk a whole bottle of coke in pretty much one go, I headed off to an area called Teramachi [寺町] where two prominent temples stand. The first is Kofuku-ji [興福寺].

The second is Sofuku-ji [崇福寺]. Both of them are Chinese origin temples that at the moment feel more like tourist attractions than actual temples (entrance fee and all).

As I had taken down such a detour for Sanno Jinja and underestimated the distance between Kofuku-ji and Sofuku-ji I was running a little behind schedule, so I decided to change my original plans. First, I made a brief stop by Megane Bashi [眼鏡橋] (the Spectacles Bridge) over the Nakashima River, which is the oldest stone arch bridge in Japan, built by the same Zen master who established Kofuku-ji.

After this, even if I was a step away from Chinatown, I took the tram to the Nagasaki Koushibyou / Chuugoku Rekishi Hakubutsukan [長崎孔子廟 / 中国歴代博物館], aka Confucius Shrine and Historical Museum of China, because I wanted to be there before it closed. That was really and quite unexpectedly cool.

Again due to timing, I backtracked to Dejima [出島]. This is / was a small artificial island in Nagasaki bay established in 1634. This served as the opening of Japan to the Western world through trading with Dutch merchants. The recent renovations have restored the buildings in the island and established a museum to show how the Westerners lived. One of the things that grabbed my attention was the skeleton of a cow which had apparently been used to grow vaccinations. And there was a stamp rally, which only added to the fun. As a matter of fact I have to say that most of Nagasaki was more interesting and fun than I had expected, especially after the Peace Park and the heavy heart it caused.

I finally could backtrack to Nagasaki Chinatown (Chuokagai [中華街]) in Shinchi Machi.

After Chinatown I walked up to the Former Chinese Settlement, or Tojin Yakishi [唐人屋敷], where I saw Dojin-do [土神堂], Fukken Kaikan Hall (main gateway and Tenko-do) [福建會館], and Kannon-do [観音堂] which are remaining Shinto shrines in the area. Tojin Yakishi is the area where the Chinese merchants were confined, much like Dejima was for westerners.

To end up the day I wandered around the Seaside Park, Nagasaki Mizube No Mori Kōen [長崎水辺の森公園] and backtracked to the station to head off to my next destination. All in all, I got the feeling that unlike Hiroshima, Nagasaki is trying to move on from the bombing and cultivate everything that it has to offer.

11th & 12th June 2017: Highlights of London (England, Great Britain)

As part of my day job, I took a group of customers on a trip to London. Not the best decision in my life, but one that I would repeat a couple of times before I had enough. This was a short getaway – we took off on a red-eye flight on Saturday and we came back on Sunday evening.

Our first stop was The Tower of London, officially called “Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London”. The main Tower, “White Tower”, was built in the 11th century, and additions to it were made up to the 1400s. It was designated Unesco World Heritage Site in 1998. The Tower holds an armoury, some treasure, documentation offices, a few shops and the Crown Jewels of England. And, according to the legend, quite a few ghosts.

After the Tower, we took a moment to see the Tower Bridge.

We had a hotel basically at the end of the world, and we decided to go to drop our things off before we continued on the visit. We saw the Wellington Arc in Hyde Park on the way to the royal palace.

Then we fooled around Buckingham Palace.

Finally we went to Chinatown to have dinner…

… and rounded up the day at Piccadilly Circus.

The next morning we headed off to the British Museum. We had breakfast outside because of course it was one of those times when it’s all warm in London. Waffles = ♥

The British Museum was established in 1753, and opened to the public, in its current location, in 1759. It focuses on human history and art, having branched the natural history items to the Museum of Natural History and all the documentation to the British Library. The museum holds the awe-inducing number of 150 million of artefacts from dozens of cultures of the world, both ancient and modern, with amazing Grecian and Egyptian collections (albeit having disputed ownership…)

Inside the British Museum we separated. I left them to have a walk around the most important areas and I walked into my favourite spots (although the Japanese galleries were still closed. I also got a ticket to see the Hokusai – beyond the Great Wave exhibition, which presents a number of Hokusai’s works organised in series or topics. One is waves, and it shows how Hokusai experimented with textures, shapes, swirls and foam until he found the “perfect” wave – his most famous work, the Great Wave. There is a series on people, another one on mythology, and another one on himself and his family.

After I was done and we had met up again, I helped them found some stuff that they had not seen but still wanted to. Then, we headed off to the Westminster area to see the Big Ben, and although there was some scaffolding already visible, we managed to see the whole thing.

Finally, we headed off to the airport to get back home.

1st January 2017: Hatsumode {Japan, winter 16/17}

Hatsumode [初詣] is the Japanese custom of visiting a shrine or temple within the first three days of the year. Some people – like we did – actually wait the New Year to roll in the temple grounds. After the 108 (fast!) gongs that signal the entrance of the New Year, you are allowed into the shrine grounds to say the first prayer of the year in Hie Jinja [日枝神社].

After the prayer you can buy good luck charms, arrows which are ammunition for the kami to protect you (or something alike), enjoy some sacred sake, get your shuin, and once you’re outside, buy food and drinks. In my case I got some fresh takoyaki and ate them alone because apparently they’re stinky 。゚( ゚^∀^゚)゚。

Then we headed off home, and I got up at 8 am to have 12 grapes with Spanish TV as it has been my custom all my life. Then I went back to bed.

In the evening I headed off to Minato [港] to see Tokyo Tower [東京タワー]. Zojo-ji [増上寺] and Shiba Kōen [芝公園] were packed with Hatsumode parishioners and I had never seen such a line to go up Tokyo Tower. Thus I did not climb up, but I did take pictures of all the illumination around.

Afterwards I met with D****e and K***n. to go to Yokohama [横浜], to have dinner in Yokohama Chinatown, as Chinese people have their own New Year, they would be open to business as usual. It was my first time in Chinatown at night, too, so it was interesting seeing places like Kanteibyō / Kuan Ti Miao Temple [関帝廟 / 中華会館] in a new light.

On our way back we tried to see Shiodome [汐留]’s Winter Illuminations but they were off. We’re not completely sure of why…

26th August 2015: Kobe – the calm before the storm {Japan, summer 2015}

Before setting off to Kobe, there was one stop in Kyoto I had to make: Kyoto [京都]’s Seimei Jinja [晴明神社] which enshrines the soul of Abe no Seimei, reportedly the most powerful onmyōji Japan has had. He lived in the mid Heian Kyo as was the main actor in the union of the Shinto church and the state. He has been widely used in fiction as his figure seems to be half historical – half fictional anyway (Note to self: you’re still missing the Osaka Seimei Jinja). The shrine is built where he lived in Kyoto, quite close to the Imperial Palace itself. I am quite happy I got to go there alone, because the level of fanbying I achieved in that place might be embarrassing ^^”

After taking pictures to my heart’s content – getting the shrine’s seal, an omamori, and getting a free sticker because I was a foreigner, I went back to the station and took a Shinkansen to Kobe [神戸]. Kobe is one of the most important ports in Japan, and in 1995 was hit by a major earthquake which displaced areas of the city up to 6m to the sides. It is quite a new town, and it was very calm for what was about to happen. The next day, the most important yakuza gang in the country, based in Kobe, was about to split into different syndicates.

I wandered Kobe for a while, saw the clock flower and the eternal flame to commemorate the deaths from the quake and eventually made my way back to the harbour and Meriken Park. A part of it has been left as a memorial, never to forget the destruction caused – the Memorial in Meriken Park [メリケンパーク]. The Meriken Park Earthquake Memorial is eerie somehow.

After seeing the memorial, I could already scout the Kobe Port Tower. I got a combined ticket to see the Tower and the adjoined museum – Maritime Museum and Kawasaki Museum. From the Tower I got quite a good view of the whole city and the harbour. It is quite humbling to think about that nature did to the city, and what could happen again any time. No pictures allowed in the Maritime Museum though, so I just bring you some pictures from the top of the tower.

After Kobe Tower, I made a stop in Sannomiya Jinja [三宮神社].

Then I headed off to have a look at the local Chinatown and the local shopping street/gallery – Motomachi Shopping street [神戸元町商店街].

Chinatown had mostly food stalls, and I was not hungry – and I have already tried Kobe beef and know that I can’t afford the real good stuff, so after wandering around for a bit, I decided to head off to Ikuta Jinja [生田神社], the most important shrine in downtown Kobe, and quite in the lovey-dovey date couply future prayer. Not for me, but very very beautiful shrine.

And then I headed to check in the hotel and start a bit of a train nightmare that I won’t write about in hopes to forget eventually. Thus tomorrow we shall start with the arrival in Sendai.

12th August 2014: Yokohama & friends {Japan, summer 2014}

We headed off to Yokohama [横浜] to visit Chinatown.

Our goal was an early lunch and then a division of forces – either temples or Panda shops. I was on Team Temple, as nobody will be surprised to hear – Kwan Tai [関帝廟] and Kanteibyō / Kuan Ti Miao [関帝廟 / 中華会館].

Then we walked around the seaside park, Yamashita Koen [山下公園] and looked at the bay.

After a visit to (yet another) Book Off stop, we headed back to Tokyo [東京], where we had arranged to meet a few Japanese friends in Shibuya [渋谷].

The first plan of the afternoon was meeting at Hachiko’s sculpture in Shibuya, because that is what you do when you meet in Shibuya. Then we headed to Bic Camera to check out the special promo that they had running on the 4K audiovisual set. The promo featured the trailer of the L’Arc~en~Ciel’s concert at the National Stadium earlier in 2014, which will be released in October.

One of our friends had to work that afternoon, but as this was the only day we could see the three of them before they went home for Obon, we decided to surprise her and drop by the cafe she works at to keep her company. This was the day when I discover that Japanese people actually flop on the floor when they are surprised, for real.

The Mr. Happy cafe is located in Shibuya and is something akin a non-profit which is affiliated to a children’s character. We had amazing milk shakes and mini smiling sponge cakes (lemon and caramel) and took pictures of them, of course. As we were leaving, our friend presented us with a mini box of berry sponge cakes per person! They were very kawaii and delicious, too.

For dinner we went for yakiniku again, although this time it was something quite more posh / expensive. We ate a lot, but I felt that there was too much smoke to be completely comfortable there.

16th July 2012: Umi no Hi! {Japan, summer 2012}

Monday 16th was the third Monday of June, and thus Umi no Hi [海の日], The Day of the Ocean, and it started great – the sky was super clear. That means we were able to see Mount Fuji, Fuji-san [富士山]! I had not seen him since I was here, not even on my way to Osaka because it was cloudy. It is difficult to see Fuji in Summer, so I was really happy to catch him.

The summit of Mount Fuji peering up through the clouds at the end of a downhill street under construction

The morning, however, was to be spent in Yokohama [横浜]. The first stop was Chinatown, where I got to meet an old ‘friend’ of mine, whom I had been craving to see for a long time, in one of the temples. But that is its own story. (Basically: I got to see a dragon sculpture I loved).

The entrance to Chinatown - an ellaborate gate with Chinese characters, decorated in bright colours - red, blue, gold, green...

In Chinatown we visited Kwan Tai Temple [関帝廟]

An ellaborate temple with guarding dragons on top, over a flight of stairs. The colours are very bright, but the stairs are white.

And Kanteibyō / Kuan Ti Miao Temple [関帝廟 / 中華会館].

An ellaborate temple entrance, with lots of peaks and lanterns behind it

We had lunch in one of the many Chinese restaurants in the area.

Chinese food - rice, dumplings, soup, pickles

Afterwards we moved to the Port of Yokohama to see waves!! the famous skyline and the Yokohama Bay Bridge, along with lots of pretty ships which were open to visit in celebration of Umi no Hi.

Stairs that disappear into the ocean

Yokohama skyline

By 5pm, however, we were back in Tokyo because we had tickets to the theatre, more particularly GACKT’s Butai “MOON SAGA ~Yoshitsune Hiden~” at the Akasaka ACT Theater.

Being guionised by CLAMP, I expected a high body count [Spoilers from here] but I was surprised. The play is prepared as part of the whole Moon Saga project, so it does not focus in GACKT, who has surprisingly little stage time playing Yoshitsune. The play has all the elements of a CLAMP story – tragic love, honour debt, child with preternatural power, a few deaths, a character who randomly changes sides but in his heart he still belongs to the original side, main character forced to kill a friend, lots of angst… The butai tells the story of a group of fighters as they embark themselves in a war against the evil mononoke who are destroying Japan. Yoshitsune’s character himself is a half-oni or has an oni inside him, something along.

As I said, GACKT did not have much screen time, and to be completely honest, his spotlight was completely stolen by Saotome Taichi, a barely legal actor who plays Kage (Shadow), one of the good mononoke and who has a beautiful CLAMPian on-stage death.

Yoshinaga, one of the original companions, loses the love of his life, changes sides and tries to kill Yoshitsune, awakening the demon in him. GACKT flies through the stage during the fight and in the end Demon-Yoshitsune kills his old friend. The curtains fall soon after GACKT desperately cries over Yoshinaga’s body. Very sad. Very CLAMP.

The actors come back onstage, they are ovationed. The curtains fall again, the lights remain off. The curtains are drawn, and we are back to the beginning, the companions are alive and well, has it all been a dream? A foreshadow? Is this the companions’ destiny? But no, they are not companions… they are family…

Moon Saga board, showing singer and actor Gackt staring upwards, his eyes are red

[End Spoilers] It seems that when GACKT talks of the Moon Saga project, it means that you need to know all the pieces of the puzzle to understand the story. Each of the pieces seems to be part of a great jigsaw that will come together to form something absolutely amazing.

Well played, GACKT, well played. Now shut up and take my money, because this is going to be EPIC.

After the play, we had some curry at CocoCurry House.

A pork cutlet, breaded, with curry sauce and rice around it