Saturday, 12 September 2015

Last few days & goodbye Japan!

The last few days in Japan were fun but sad- we went to the Moomin shop which was really nice, and bought loads of essential Moomin goods. On the last day we walked to Ueno Park which was very close to where we lived and drifted about a bit. In the distance and down a hill I saw a large green expanse, quite science fiction-y... hard to ascertain what it could be. Was it a pond? It seemed too odd, there was so much of it. And what was growing out of it? It turned out to be enormous lily pads, bigger than I've ever seen.

We also went to a weird folk festival thing, in an open air auditorium. It was really nice, all the performers were like children but not children. It was nice that no one was trying to be cool.

We saw some turtles in a pond, and lots of other wildlife

It was a lovely last day. None of us wanted to leave... 

On the way back our areoplane broke! We had to fly back to Tokyo after an hour in the air and what looked like smoke was coming out of the wings. Oh no! Dan and I thought we were going to die, but Flo was just watching Pirates of the Caribbean and didn't even notice. Haha. We were basically silently praying, but it was fine in the end. We had to wait for another aeroplane and then missed our connecting flight at Dusseldorf. We had to stay overnight and catch another flight via Frankfurt in the morning at 6AM!!!  It was well annoying.

Goodbye Japan! What an amazing trip... I can't really express what a brilliant time we had, perhaps the writing so far is sufficient. Now we all want to go back- to see the cherry blossoms in spring and the flower fields and nature of Hokkaido, the winter festivals- all the things we missed. Thanks for reading our blog- I hope you've enjoyed it. Dan still has a few more posts to write, so there's still those to look forward to. 

Beautiful JAPAN! xxx

Monday, 7 September 2015

Flesh Coloured Horror


This was quite a big day for me. I'd been looking forward to going to the world's largest haunted house for years, after originally seeing it on the Jonathon Ross Japanorama show. It's over 900m of passageways and scares winding through two stories of an abandoned hospital. Just the kind of thing I'd love to experience!

The haunted hospital was in Fuji-Q, the huge theme park at the base of mount Fuji. As we were checking out that morning we decided to bring all our bags with us and stash them in lockers when we got there. We took a chance on whether there would be available lockers and luckily there were, otherwise we would have our suitcases on all the rides...

I left my camera in the bags, so pics ripped from wikipedia will have to do
Fuji-Q itself was pretty amazing. Just as you walk in from the train station you can see one of the world's largest roller coasters as it shoots right by you. On the plane to Japan we all watched Tomorrowland and the huge constructions and things flying about reminded me of that a bit. It was strange though because Japan itself feels like a giant theme park at times, especially somewhere like Tokyo, where there are trains two stories high criss-crossing roads in the air and there's always some adventure round the next corner. In some ways the theme park feels less fun than Japan itself.

We only got to go to three places in the park, mainly because the queues were so big. This was the last leg of our touristic part of the trip and it was a relief to think we would soon be back in normal Japan, rather than being funneled through tourist areas.

The first ride we went on was a log flume and it is probably the biggest one I've seen. When the logs hit the water at the end of the slide it creates a three story high wave that soaks everything. It's like you've taken a shower. There's even a bridge that you can stand on and get hit by the wave. The force of the water as it hits the bridge is pretty astounding.

We also went to Neon Genesis: Evangelion world, which is a small part of the main park itself. It was really odd to be in what amounted to a museum for Evangelion, which is a series I remember watching about 15 years ago. They have a life-size recreation of the head of the main massive robot. You can also sit at the desk that Shinji's father glowers at him over. I though my friend Naadir might enjoy it.

The first thing that was horrifying about the ghost house was the queue. There was a two and a half hour queue to get to the front door (it was the same with the other big rides). It was almost too much, but considering this one of the reasons that I'd come to Japan we decided to go for it. There were loads of funny people in the queue. The kind of "tough guys" that you see in manga and films. Young guys with perms and funny clothes on trying to act like gangsters. There were also loads of foreigners there as this ride is world famous.

Tough guys who (want to, try to) look like this
The front of the ghost house is kind of imposing, with some seriously weedy guys in doctors uniforms hanging around trying to keep order. There is a very specific rule about not pushing in the queue or allowing others to join you, which was flaunted by the "gangster men" (by "flaunted" I mean that a couple of their friends came to join them about 30 minutes into the queue). Luckily they were behind us and besides, by the half way point of the queue pretty much everyone was leaving to go and get a snack or have a wee. The last thing you want when sneaking round a haunted house is to suddenly piss yourself in fear. I didn't envy the doctors, having to stand in the sun all day and watch people push in and out of the queue. They didn't bother to try to stop anyone, which was probably a wise move.

Anyway, we finally got to the front and were ushered in through the doors. At this point I was very nervous. I'd read about this place for years, watched videos, and all of my Japan planning was leading up to this point. Was it actually going to be any good? After all, how good can a haunted house ride actually be? Can it actually change your life? (Spoiler alert: probably not). I can't imagine what Flo was feeling at this point, standing patiently in the baking sun for 2 and a half hours, now walking into maybe the scariest place she had ever been to.

The entrance to the haunted house.
This picture must have been photo-shopped to remove the immense snaking queue.
The first thing you are told to do when you get in there is sit and watch a short horror movie that they've prepared as an introduction. The movie reminded me slightly of the Guinea Pig series of horror films (worth reading about), but not quite as nasty. The dilapidated hospital setting was also reminiscent of Silent Hill, though I'm uncertain whether that came first or not. I won't spoil the end of the movie for you, but let's just say that it would fit in with the other Guinea Pig films in the same way that you get one of those short films before a Pixar movie.

Flo didn't seem to be too fazed by that, so we proceeded on to the next bit, which was an "x-ray". Here are the results....

The funniest bit of the whole haunted house was the door before the x-ray room. The lady tells you to go in and you just know that you are going to get jumped as you walk through the door, so you cautiously poke your head through.... only to be greeted by a smiling lady who's there to give you your x-ray. It's more disconcerting than the horror bits as it's so unexpected.

After the x-ray we were in the haunted house proper. There are sounds of water dripping, heavy breathing and flickering lights in the darkness. You get given a torch and told that if you want to leave because of extreme terror you can use one of the special emergency exits, cue..... "Mum, I'm scared, I want to leave right now!" We were literally 30 seconds into the haunted house. The combination of scary movie and scary atmosphere must have gotten to Flo (to be honest this was the scariest part of the whole thing, when you don't know what's coming up next).

This is one of those situations where someone has to take the bullet and unfortunately it had to be Emma. So right at the very start we were down from three possible survivors of the horror house to just one. I was all alone. I don't blame Flo as I think I probably would have had the same reaction when I was nine. It was a real shame though, because I think this ride is best experienced as a group. I was really looking forward to seeing their reactions at all the scary bits and it was kind of deflating to have the fun end so abruptly.

I think it'll be hard to describe the actual inside of the horror house. I'll sum it up here, but if you ever want to go then perhaps you shouldn't read this next paragraph.

There were many twists and turns. Metal gangplanks that suddenly partially collapse unleashing a startling burst of sound and light. Mutant babies and internal organs in jars. Burnt and sliced up corpses. Mad doctors who burst from nowhere and scream at you. A hallway in which you have to walk past a shuffling zombie who suddenly wakes up as you pass and almost manages to catch you. I won't deny that this must be the best haunted house ride you could ever have.

But it's still just a haunted house. I think I had to go and visit it because I had heard so much about it. I'm glad that I did. I would recommend it. But don't go during the summer holidays and get there before it opens if you can.

One of the best parts of the haunted hospital was following a doctor zombie as he trailed behind another group. It felt like being led around by a deranged butler. I think the other group was meant to turn around and get a scare from him, but they didn't look behind them once. It made me think that there were probably a load of scary things in there that it was easy to miss.

Overall Fuji-Q was good, but in many ways it was too much of a good thing. The queues were so big that we only got a chance at a few rides. It was fun to walk around and just be there though. As we got on the train back to Tokyo I couldn't help but feel relieved that we were leaving the hyper tourist zone and going back to a place where people actually lived.

We were going back to Tokyo and our first night back was going to be at a capsule hotel!

The Tokyo Museum of Modern Art

So nice to be in the stillness of a gallery after our crazy few weeks. After going in here I felt like my brain had been taken out and washed. I was surprised at how many important pieces of work they had here- including Rodin's Thinker and also Marcel Duchamp's Fountain. But what was really great was finding out about some Japanese artists such as Yamashita Kikuji and Iwami Furusawa. I also really recommend Taro Okamoto, and there were countless others which stood out also. There was a whole section on war paintings that was incredible- Dan bought a book. Fujita Tsuguharu's depictions of battle were especially striking. I also saw Monet's Waterloo Bridge and I couldn't stop looking at it. It felt like I was being sucked in. Good Job TMOMA.

There was a hole on the other side, where you could see his eye

Flo is famous

This kept us entertained for quite a while 

Flo says this looks like me

This reminded me of the suicide torpedo from day one

There was a good view 

Aimitsu's 'Landscape with an eye'

Detail of a painting. Flo tried to count the parachutes.


Yamashita Kikuji's 'Tale of Akebono Village'. I was very taken with this-  Google the whole of it

Flo and I stared at this for ages. It is Iwami Furusawa's 'Starveling'

Taro Okamoto

Taro Akamoto

More Taro

Don't think I noted this one down. But it is very lovely isn't it


Robot Restaurant

We went to the Robot Restaurant and all I can really say is that it was completely mental. I didn't really know what was going on, but it seemed as if the story was about some tribe having a battle with invading robots from another planet. None of that was important though, as there were loads of sexy ladies riding on beasts and robots which had lasers coming out of their eyes. Also there was no food. Japan is the best.

Flo being the most pimp that she has ever been in her life
Some of these floats came so close you had to duck
The first of many pretty ladies

Psychedelic butterfly robot 

Enormous reptile. You probably think it doesn't get any cooler than this. You are wrong.

I couldn't stop laughing the whole way through

Warring laser robot. Nature vs Machine

Dan in his element

The monsters just kept getting bigger and louder

The ladies kept getting sexier

Dan didn't know where to look 

What is happening now? 

Oh, it is an enormous glowing smoke-breathing snake 


We got quite Brits Abroad at the end, it was just all too much

Verdict: Japan got as crazy as it is ever going to get. If you are in Tokyo you must go and see this.

Thursday, 27 August 2015


We had all been looking forward to going to the Ghibli Museum, Dan had got the tickets at an inflated price as they were all sold out, and we had to go and pick them up from a strange flat where I nearly got locked in the toilet. Because of all this, and also because we all love the Ghibli films so much, it was to be an important day out.

We walked through Inokashira Park to get there, which was really nice- we saw a great temple and also managed to see a Kingfisher which was being photographed by a man with a telephoto lens as if it were some kind of celebrity. We also saw more carp, their mouths coming right out of the water. Flo also nearly got run over by an old man on a bicycle- he could clearly see her but sort of ran into her on purpose which was a bit strange, perhaps it was something to do with respecting your elders but Flo couldn't have really moved out the way due to the size of the path. Perhaps he was just a git.

I think we were all a bit grumpy really, which is strange because we were also excited- perhaps the pressure of getting there at the exact time (they are very strict about when you get there as they have designated slots, and they only let 100 people in at a time) affected us, or maybe being together constantly just makes you a bit pissy, whatever it was we managed to get there early and then found the best cafe in the world (I feel I have been overusing this phrase a little on the blog- I can't help it) to wait in.

It was a bird cafe and had cockatiels flying about in the window. All the food was shaped like birds, look:

It was basically the perfect cafe to go to before going into Ghibli world. But it was soon time to go and see the main attraction- which you weren't allowed to take photos at. It was sort of a relief to be honest- it's nice to just experience things without needing to archive them some way, and it seemed important to just enjoy the museum for what it is, and to be fully involved. 

Well, that's what happened. I can't really describe what it was like walking into the magical building, everything is so beautiful- every fitting and lampshade and window has been thought about, it is like walking into a Ghibli film really.

Then into one of the permanent exhibition rooms 'The beginning of movement'. I had a very weird reaction to it in the form of bursting into tears, not uncommon for me really as I tend to cry at pretty much everything, but I was very affected by the brilliance of the exhibits, and couldn't stop crying the whole way round. The things which affected me most were the two zoetropes, one of the robot from Castle in the sky, which was spinning around with his arms lifted up and birds were flying up and around him like he was a magician (it was something to do with the angle of his arms really, I know that sounds a bit abstract), and also the Totoro 3D zoetrope which had characters from all the films also spinning around and jumping and dancing. They were both incredible, and you got the feeling that the people who had made them really wanted you to understand about the ingenuity and possibility that the museum represents- in every new room we come to there was something more magical than the last:

The good thing is that it has been designed with children in mind, there are tiny staircases that adults just have to deal with, and a maze and secret nooks and crannies for kids to hide in, but more than that, it has been made to inspire you- you really do feel as if you can do anything when you come out- that you should spend your life making magical things for other people to enjoy. Miyazaki seems to be a master of so many art forms, painting, animation, model making, a glance at a reconstruction of his office and also his actual scrap books shows you that he has spent his life improving on what he does, whether it is through reading or sketching or collecting shells and books on architecture.

I suppose the truth is that we can all work harder. I have spent the last six months writing my book, copies of which I found waiting for me when I got home from Japan- and this seems like a feat to me, an achievement of some kind. The difference is that this guy would have illustrated every page, and made a short film of every poem, probably in the same time. I wonder if he ever feels a sense of achievement, or if that even drives him? Making other people feel wonder is the real prize. If I can do this with even one poem I'll be happy, but I have a lot of work to do. 

I have thought a lot about why I cried that day, it seems a little over dramatic or something (I think Flo was very confused by it) but Dan said he also found himself crying and I think I can guess the reason. Walking in to the museum is a lot like walking back into your childhood, where most of the stuff is good and pure, if you're lucky. If you ever had a dream about a magical world when you were little then this is basically it, even down to the cafe which has massive strawberry cakes and smiley waitresses. 

It is a reminder that there are lots of brilliant things in the world still to learn and to work at. The whole of the Japan trip felt a little like this- it might sound a bit life-changing experience but it's true. Losing my Mum this year was such a difficult thing, I still think about her every day. But Japan was a wake up call as it is a place where everything is full of hope. We're so lucky to have gone.