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The Bird Fountain

I hate the way gumtrees look. They’re ugly, damaged things with pale bark and gangly limbs that drop at the smallest trauma. There’s nothing orderly or beautiful about them. When I was little, a line of them stood over my house. After a storm, the garden would become a mangled graveyard of leaves and branches cast away by the gums like twisted tails thrown by an army of fleeing lizards. With seven-year-old hands, I would return the torn limbs to the bases of the trees, and wonder how the old gums could cast away their tails, their arms, and remain tall and stoic. I would wonder how, ugly, broken, and missing parts of themselves, they could keep going.

Now, I miss them.

The trees here are small, neat, and so vibrant none of them seem real—it’s as if each leaf has been stripped from its siblings, Photoshopped, and stuck back on its stem. Their intensity, though, is nothing compared to the weather’s. An Adelaide summer is an honest one: enormous, empty blue above, burnt skin, aloe vera oil, and heat so dry and thin you could suck it all up in one go. But here, the summer is one of steel skies, thunderstorms and air thick and sticky: it refuses to find its way into your lungs at all. The moment Dad and I step off the plane at Haneda, the June humidity licks us up, swallows us into its womb and begins the slow, relentless constriction. I feel it immediately.

Dad doesn’t. As we walk through the vestibule and into the airport, he’s almost giddy with excitement. He props his iPad under his arm, puts his glasses on his head and doesn’t bother to contain the grin that’s spread across his ruddy face.

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Goodbye to Our Tiny Tokyo Apartment

I have mentioned before that ‘home’ is a concept that is quite important to me. Being a person who moved house a lot (I’ve lost count–somewhere over 23 times), and especially being a child who moved house a lot, I’ve developed a weird sense of attachment to living spaces.

That is to say, I get way too attached.

Every place I have lived has represented a very defined period in my life. Because of that, when I move house it becomes painfully aware to me that this is another chapter closing … I know, when I hand in yet another set of keys and close another door behind myself, that I have gotten older and I have said goodbye to another fleeting snippet of my life ( … which is not melodramatic at all … )

I’ve never existed in the same building for more than a handful of years, and the smallest amount of time I’ve lived somewhere was less than a day (to be fair, that house had a huntsman spider infestation. No one could have lived there more than a day). But no matter how long I live in a place, I feel an overwhelming sense of melancholy when I leave.

Despite this, no place has ever compared to how difficult it was to leave this tiny apartment in Tokyo.

This has been my favourite place I’ve ever lived. The first home that has ever actually belonged to me. The first home where I have felt truly, and absolutely, free.

I will miss it very much.

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I Left my Heart in Hakone

Since getting home, I’ve been putting off uploading the last few pictures from my Hakone trip. I’m sure everyone is well and truly sick of my going on and on about it, but it was a really influential time and it’s so special to me, so I wanted to share as much of it as possible. (Also, this is the last post, I promise)
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After the first day was over–and I was considerably tuckered out–I checked into the Hakone Lake Hotel. Generally, when I travel, my partner and I say in the cheapest accommodation possible but this was a work trip, so I got to stay somewhere a tad on the fancy side. It was such a treat for me. I felt so special, but, at the same time, I also felt a little out of place with my tawdry backpack and beaten up Converse.

Dinner was something else entirely. Flower petals on the sashimi. Flower petals. All-you-can-eat tempura. The most mouth watering tofu/horse mackerel that’s ever existed. A tiny burner cooking pork-wrapped asparagus. I died like four times eating this meal. It was amazing. And BY FAR the fanciest meal I’ve ever had in my entire life.

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After dinner, I did work for a little bit, face-timed my boyfriend, and then got ready to go in the onsen. It was my first time! I was so nervous I would do something wrong. In fact, the brochure specifically said you could go into the onsen wearing a yukata or plain clothes and change there … I went in wearing plain clothes … I was the only one doing so. Everyone else was in yukata so I quickly raced back to my room and got changed and went back.

The onsen itself was a magical experience. I was in there for over an hour, and would have happily stayed longer if I didn’t need to get up early the next day. The air was cold and crisp, but the water was so warm. It didn’t feel like normal bathwater. There was something magnetic to it. It felt textured in some weird way. I was outside, staring up at the night sky, with the chilly air on my face and steam billowing from the water, and it was one of the most beautiful and peaceful experiences of my life.
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Above is Owakudani, the next morning. The mist was so strong, and the visibility was so low, I’m surprised I even got this shot. The entire mountain was covered in thick fog. I sat watching it in this little restaurant above the ropeway station. The restaurant was closed at the time, and I was the only person in there, eating my enormous katsu curry on the premise that I was the official reporter who had been paid to take pictures of all the things. It was so odd because I hadn’t been told I would get food. And, on this trip, no one could speak English, so it took hilariously long for me to work out if the katsu curry they brought me was supposed to be eaten by me (I wasn’t sure if it was just for pictures … I didn’t want to be a complete weirdo and start eating when I wasn’t supposed to BUT at least I knew enough Japanese to get me through this one…).Processed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 preset

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The Hakone Art and Moss Museum (箱根美術館). It has an absolutely beautiful moss garden, which I so recommend checking out any time of year. The museum itself is petit, but good lord, the view. I’ve never seen a view that was actually *breath taking* before. I grew up around hills and farmland–large spaces are very normal for me. But this–this actually stopped me. I used the picture for the header of this post. I looked out the window and saw expansive mountains clothed in mist. Words hardly do it justice. Pictures hardly do it justice. It honestly looked like something out of a fantasy novel.

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The Most Beautiful Tea House: Amazake Chaya

Hidden in the Hakone mountains, a 15 minute drive from Moto-Hakone, is the most magical and otherworldly kissaten that’s ever existed.

Having just eaten lunch and explored Hakone Jinja Shrine, I was excited to head up into the trees and spend an hour sipping tea and eating mochi. What I wasn’t excited for was the journey there. My itinerary specifically told me to take a taxi. I had only taken one single taxi in my life, and that was back in Australia where I knew the driver could speak English. Because of that, I was really nervous. But, thankfully, it turned out well; my taxi driver was absolutely lovely. He didn’t speak a word of English and got way too excited when I tried to talk to him in Japanese. We talked about the rain. And kangaroos. Naturally.

(later, I found out that you could easily take a bus, but anyway…)

The tea house, itself, was astounding.

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A medium-sized cottage with open doors, dirt floors and tables with raw, wooden edges. There was a raised section where you could take off your shoes and sit on the floor beside the heater. I sat in the corner, on a little stump fashioned into a chair.

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To begin with, I though the menu was quite expensive. It was around 1100 yen for the iced green tea and the three-style mochi. What I didn’t realise was that the portion sizes were enormous. I looked at it and instantly regretted eating lunch; the mochi was HUGE. The three style mochi consisted of two sweet styles, and one savory. The far left was covered in a fine, sweet powder. The middle: a less fine, slightly less sweet powder. The last one had seaweed and tasted a little like soy sauce. All I remember regarding the flavours is that one of them was charcoal; I’m gessing it was the last one.

I could have tried the tea house’s famous amazake, too, which is a warm, sweet rice wine. The reason I didn’t go for it is only because I don’t drink alcohol and sake is traditionally alcohol. I found out afterwards that it wasn’t actually alcoholic. BUT I loved my iced matcha, so all was well.

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I settled in my seat, ate my mochi, and watched the foliage beckoning and bowing in the summer wind. It was surprisingly chilly. I pulled out my notebook. I wrote. What was supposed to be an hour of scheduled time, turned into two (I had been ahead of schedule, luckily).

I cannot wait to go back to Hakone and revisit this tea house. The staff were wonderfully kind. The food was amazing. The setting was just astoundingly beautiful. This is now literally my favourite cafe in the entire world.

The Time I Took A Pirate Ship Across Lake Ashi

When I agreed travel to Hakone to write an article for GaijinPot, I wasn’t entirely sure what I would get up to. I thought that I would visit some museums and shrines, take a few pretty pictures, and that would be it. I assumed my transit options would be limited to buses and trains, and other such unremarkable modes of transport. I was wrong. Very wrong.

On the afternoon of the first day, I found myself on board a pirate ship.

But, I wasn’t just on board the pirate ship; I was sitting in the first class section, in a fancy plush armchair, watching the mountains slowly creep past. I had my notebook open in front of me. I scribbled fleeting thoughts and story ideas and notes while the tourist ship sailed through the mildly choppy water. The world was a wash of blue and green and grey like an inky water colour painting, and it was so remarkably beautiful.

My phone and my camera both went flat. The cabin was mostly deserted. I was completely alone, scribbling my thoughts. I have rarely experienced such serenity to write.

(If I could somehow make my future writing room the first class cabin of a Hakone pirate ship, you can bet your butt I absolutely would)

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Snippets of Odawara

I never really cared for Australian hydrangeas. To be entirely honest, I’d never really given them a second thought. In my mind, they were always background flowers; flowers that belonged on the desks of bougie fashion editors or else in the hallways of well-dressed grandparents, but not something to really pay attention to.

Surprisingly, now, they might well be my favourite flower. Every time I see hydrangeas–ajisai (アジサイ ) in Japanese–I get reminded of the day I went to Odawara.

The day I went, the ground was still damp from rain. The sky was grey and mottled, and sat in the impasse between black and white that I so strongly associated with the suffocating humidity of the August before. The air was cool, though, unlike in the later summer months, and the sleepy cicadas chirped in their funny little orchestra the entire way between the Romance car platform and the castle where I had been commissioned to take pictures.

I only got to spend a couple of hours here.  It was just a quick pit-stop on my long itinerary for a work/writing trip. Because of this, I was mindful to be quick. But the second I came into the castle grounds, I was struck by the beauty of what I saw. At the base of the castle, all the way around the walls forming a benevolent moat, was thick dark-green foliage. In that foliage, was hundreds and hundreds of hydrangeas. 

I had expected white walls and grey stone: not a rainbow stippled, sponged and sprinkled in fairy-tale-eque majesty all over the garden. Instead of going straight to the castle as I had planned, I walked slowly around the grounds. I was travelling alone and so I had no one to share it with. In silence, I appreciated all of it. I counted the puffs of colour–of sky blue, lilac, fuchsia, blue bell, powdered blush–and weaved through the retirees with their big cameras and the groups of friends posing before the foliage. I stopped to take pictures, nodded and bowed when I anciently bobbed into the photographs of others, and spent a snippet of glorious time soaking in the bucolic beauty of it all.

An hour or so after that, I was leaving the castle. An hour after that, I was on a train to somewhere else, still holding onto that fleeting snippet of magic that had bloomed from nothing, and had taken me by such astounding surprise, that it’s very well rewritten something I’ve always found ordinary and dull, into being something now find truly enchanting.

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