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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. I never wanted to leave.

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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My 5 Favourite Gothic Literature Books

Without a doubt, one of my favourite literary genres of all time is Gothic. I stumbled onto this genre after choosing a class themed around it at university; the reading list looked interesting (Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson etc.), and so I popped it onto my enrollment list for that year.

What I didn’t realise was that, in chosing this class, I would discover an amazing genre to which some of my favourite books of all time would belong. So, today, I though I might share some of my favourites with you. Here are my five favourite Gothic lit books!

 

  1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  2. The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter
  3. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
  4. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

An Ode to Dead Cherry Blossoms

When I moved to Japan in July last year, my major goal was to be able to stay long enough to see the sakura. In March of this year, I was lucky enough to do that.

As many of you know, we went through a lot of ups and downs throughout out time here (especially financially), and there were many times where we didn’t know if we would physically be able to afford to be in Tokyo for cherry blossom season. But, thanks to our hard work, that all paid off …

Only, I was working so hard, a part of me feels as if I didn’t get to properly appreciate it. It was beautiful, no doubt and I’ll cherish those weeks–the weeks from my first ever cherry blossom season–for the rest of my life (honestly, it was like living in a fairy-tale. Everything was pink; everything was the colour of fairyfloss). But, I was exhausted and burnt out. I never got a moment to really, properly stop and soak it in when the blossoms were at full bloom.  I wrote a little piece called An Ode to Dead Cherry Blossoms to explore how I felt.

If you haven’t seen it already, I hope you like it ~

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Happy Tanabata

This weekend was the annual Tanabata (七夕) Festival here in Japan. The Tanabata Masturi is also called the ‘Star Festival’, and comes from Qixi Festival in China. I was told by one of my teaching assistants that it’s an old festival about two star-crossed lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi, who are only able to be together on the seventh day of the seventh month. Everyone prays for clear skies so that they might be able to see each other again across the Milky Way.

Here, people write wishes and prayers on pieces of paper and string them up on trees. If Orihime and Hikoboshi are able to meet, their wishes come true. Most of my students’ wishes were about wanting to grow up and be soccer players or badminton players or comedians, or else wanting a particular toy or other, but there was something really lovely to sitting there helping them write out these things in English on bright orange, pink and blue scraps of paper.

On Sunday, we went out to the festival along Kappabashi-dori, between Ueno Station and Asakusa Station. I have never seen a festival as colourful as this one. It was so, so beautiful.

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The Week I Turned 22

 

IGI turned 22 last week. The day absolutely poured with rain, but it was beautiful and perfect. I spent it with my best friend (who made me choc-chip pancakes for breakfast). I ate sushi for dinner. I bought a yellow skirt with little blue and white houses on it. I spent the day in my favourite city in world.

I find it difficult sometimes to believe that I really live here, that I’m studying my Master’s in Literature and Writing, that I’m getting paid for writing work, that I’m an English teacher to tiny cuties, that I’m healthy, and optimistic and full of so much happiness. I am so lucky, and feel such overwhelming gratitude to the people in my life who have supported me and to myself for working my butt off to be here.

Here is the week of my twenty-second birthday.

This video took an entire week on its own to edit. I worked on it every day, in between teaching shifts, and I’m exhausted but I’m so proud of it. I hope you like it too ~