sewing · travel

Japan Adventure – Fabric!

I was very excited to browse Japanese fabrics. I mean, Tokyo has a Fabric Town. How amazing is that? And I had heard online about Tomato Fabrics, which sounds like five floors (plus sister stores) of heaven. As luck would have it, we went to Fabric Street on Health and Sports Day so a lot of stores were closed. Including Tomato Fabrics ;_;

I was still blown away by the shops that were open. There is so much gorgeous Japanese fabric. And a lot of it is really good value (from an Australian perspective at least). I had packed a minimal wardrobe to ensure room for purchases but I was mindful how quickly fabric can add up and I did also want to visit Kitchen Town (again, amazing! I seriously regret not buying more things there) so I tried to set up rules to stop me from getting carried away and Buy All The Things.

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In Takayama we managed to stumble across a fabric store by accident. It was geared more towards making yakutas and selling made ones to silly tourists. Which leads me to the issue of hand gestures. A British couple asked the shopkeeper how many meters they needed to make a kimono and the woman responded with “six” and gestured in the Japanese style – one finger resting on the open palm of her other hand. Seven would be two fingers on an open palm, eight would be three fingers etc.

The couple interpreted this gesture as five. I guess they thought the woman was pointing to her open palm? Regardless, there was so much confusion that the couple ended up leaving with 4 1/2 meters…I just don’t know how that happened…

Anyway, I was very torn by the small selection of fabric on offer and ended up getting a nice one with a print called San Go, which corresponds to the number of vertical and horizontal lines (three and five). And I got a few pre-cuts that I thought might be nice to make into bags (except I haven’t made a bag before so now I’m not so sure…).

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We had time at the end of the holiday to revisit Fabric Town and check out Tomato Fabrics. To describe it as overwhelming was an understatement. There was so much fabric that my brain shut down. I found so much fabric that I wanted…but then couldn’t find them again…I set out to get stripped knit and ended up walking out with a dotty knit…It is a common issue that the more choice you’re given, the less capable you are making any choice beyond walking away with nothing. So I guess I should be amazed that I got anything, right?

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So there we go – over 20 meters of fabric for 18715yen (~$235AUD). Now what to do with them? One of the first things I did after arriving home (after napping of course) was to go through my pattern stash and pull out anything that felt suitable for my new fabric. Only four patterns stood out, two oldies and two I haven’t tried yet.

The other fabrics will take a bit more thought. Lander pants? Morgan boyfriend jeans? Any suggestions are much appreciated.

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food · travel

Japan Adventures – Food!

Ah food. Good food makes me so happy. And there was plenty of it in Japan! My mouth is watering just thinking of it all.

Let’s start with breakfast. We chose to have a breakfast buffet at our first business hotel to help make life a little easier. The food was a mix of western and Japanese and the western was very odd. Gem potatoes, too-sweet pasta, “pizza” toast…is this how the Japanese perceive us? It wasn’t very nice. The Japanese options were much better. I’m sure the business hotels are pretty much the same among them so I would say that it isn’t a good idea to eat at them for an entire trip.

For the most part we had breakfast at three different fast-food chains: Sukiya, Nakau, and Yoshinoya. I preferred Sukiya but both offered decent cheap breakfast sets, about $5AU. You couldn’t get much for that price back home. I discovered that I like raw egg in rice but don’t like natto (fermented soybeans).

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We also had breakfast at our Ryokan (traditional inn) in Takayama. Yum! Each day offered a slightly different meal but we always had bacon and eggs and hoba miso, which is a region speciality. I wish I could have stayed entirely in Ryokans and had their breakfasts.

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Hoba miso is what happiness tastes like. It involves cooking a sweet miso mixture on a dried magnolia leaf (hoba) and is so delicious that one day I stole the hoba miso from the table next to me after the people had left (I can’t believe they didn’t eat it!). I’m going to have to experiment in the kitchen to see if I can make a suitable substitute.

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Our goal was to try a wide range of foods and I think we were reasonably successful. We stumbled through making our own okonomiyaki and later in the week watched an expert make it in front of us (I also watched in horror as a European asked for our kewpie mayo bottle and added some to his brothless ramen…). Our mind was blown when we dipped tempura into a matcha salt (why oh why don’t they do that here?!). We waited an hour for over-hyped pancakes. We discovered that cold soba with doing sauce is actually delicious. We sampled a German Bakery that wasnt even remotely German (but had a yummy pudding bun). We even tried a 7-Eleven meal and it actually wasn’t bad.

One thing I highly recommend is Kaiseki restaurants. Kaiseki is haute cuisine so is certainly not cheap but some are cheaper than others and lunch is cheaper still. I do so wish I could have give to the high-end ones. Such care was put into the two lunches we did have, I can only imagine what the others have to offer.

Our first Kaiseki restaurant was Inshotei in Ueno, Tokyo. I can’t quite remember but I think I chose the most expensive set meal on offer (3600yen). I don’t know what we ate but whatever it was, we were not disappointed at all. It was all so beautiful and delicious. And so well balanced. Such a contrast to the banquets we have at home.

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Top was made using New Look 6286

We also went to Kodaiji Manjiro in Gion, Kyoto. Unfortunately we arrived late in the service hours and was restricted to choosing the smaller sets. It wasn’t quite as good as Inshotei but it was still pretty amazing. I did not except salmon roe in rice would taste so good but it really did. I want to eat it again (and asparagus jelly…).

One of the highlights was lunch at Sakurajaya in Takayama. The chef studied in Germany, which has influenced his restaurant to create a lovely blend (and caters to vegetarians too). He opened it 13 years ago but didn’t get tourist visitors until about 3 years ago and now he is so busy in the evenings (with only his mother to help him) that reservations are required. Lunch is the ideal time for walk-ins, as only one other couple was there with us. We all sat at the bar and could watch the chef prepare our food, which I absolutely love.

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The other couple asked the chef a lot of questions, which lead him to showing us how to make one of his soy sauce blends. Then after straining the blend, he used the leftover bonito flakes to make us delicious onigiri free of charge! This is the kind of theatre and hospitality that doesn’t happen at home.

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After sampling so much good food, we spent our last day doing a little cooking class. It was such a lovely way to finish our holiday.

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Japan Adventures – Jidai Matsuri festival

My three weeks in Japan have been absolutely amazing. I am so grateful that I was finally able to go and experience so many wonderful things. That said, I’m ready to return home.

Our visit to Kyoto coincided with the Jidai Matsuri festival (the Festival of Ages) on Oct 22nd. It involves a long parade of authentic costumes seperated into historical ages as well as portable shrines carrying the spirits of the first and last emperors of Kyoto.

We had reserved seats at the Imperial Palace. Which I am grateful for as the sun was very intense and the parade was two hours long. The parade wasn’t as musical as I was expecting but I absolutely love the costumes.img_20181022_1233324201027485131.jpgimg_20181022_12350440813982162521.jpgimg_20181022_123650199102095807.jpgimg_20181022_124352020235740400.jpgimg_20181022_1247594061446131657.jpgimg_20181022_1258168982098515702.jpgimg_20181022_125838989_hdr1940405740.jpgimg_20181022_130424209505046240.jpg

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Japan Adventures – the usual suspects in Kyoto

We have already spent two days in Kyoto, with three more to go. I feel like we have already crammed a lot in.

Fushimi Inari-taisha is very impressive. Walking through the many torii was magical, despite the crowds (and there were a LOT of people). The crowd does thin out the further along you walk, which I much prefer despite the strenuous sweaty climb. I didn’t realise that the torii gates very in size. I love the non uniformity.

I was also very impressed by Nijo-jo. We were kind of thinking we’ve already seen two castles, do we need to see another? The answer turned out to be yes we do really need to see this castle. The opulence and detail in Nijo-jo is amazing. And walking on the nightingale floor was fun.

The Bamboo Grove is quite nice as a path to Okochi Sanso Villa and Tenryu-ji but otherwise I don’t understand its popularity. It seems like it’s little more than a chance to take photos of yourself and brag to your friends. Bonus points if you have an interesting or romantic pose.

I much prefer the gardens of Okochi Sanso Villa and Tenryu-ji are much more worth the visit. I think Okochi Sanso Villa was the better of the two and also the more expensive one (though a Japanese sweet and a cup of matcha is included in the cost).

Kinkaku-ji (aka the Golden Pavilion) is one of the top Kyoto attractions and was full of people. But I was very nonplussed by it. It’s a building. It’s golden. I took my tourist snaps and left. And as for nearby Ryoan-ji rock garden…I guess it’s not my thing because I was really unimpressed and couldn’t be bothered trying to appreciate it.

Top was made using New Look 6286
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Japan Adventures – Takayama and Kanazawa

This part of the journey wasn’t so well planned. From Toyama we travelled to Takayama, where we spent three nights. Then we endured the replacement bus again (landslides closed the rail line) to spend one night in Kanazawa. Even without the transport difficulty, it probably would have been better to go to Kanazawa first and spend two nights at each place. We live and learn.

I really liked Takayama. It was a lovely rural town with the constant peaceful sound of water running down the open drains. The were a few streets covered densely with tourists (but also enough free samples that you can skip lunch…) but beyond those areas was nice to wonder around.

We stayed at a Ryokan (traditional inn), which was absolutely charming. We were given yakutas to wear around the inn. So lovely! And it was really nice to soak in the public bath at the end of the day. This Ryokan was one of the cheaper options so I would love to see what the higher end ones are like.

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We visited Hida No Sato (Hida Folk Villiage), which was much better than I expected. It contains many traditional buildings that were relocated to the site. You could walk inside most of the buildings (though easy-to-remove shoes are a must!) and there were good descriptions of the buildings and the tools on display within. Traditional craftsman are scattered throughout and the woodworker was particularly stunning (sorry, no photos. Just trust me). We took the 1 hour path but ended up spending hours there. I did feel like I was in a video game villiage…

The Festival Floats Exhibition was a disappointment. The floats were impressive but I didn’t realise that only four of them were on display.

There was also a man at the entrance who made us pose for a photo, telling us that it was a free gift. The free gift turned out to be a thumbnail size photo and we would have to pay 1100yen for the full sized version. No, you can’t have more of my money.

There wasn’t so much we could do in Kanazawa with only one night and the closed rail line eating much of our time. It would have been nice to see the more distant sights but there wasn’t still plenty to see wondering about. We saw so many black kites flying around and calling. I think it’s amazing to see birds of prey in a city.

We visited the reconstruction of Kanazawa Castle (it has burned down multiple times). It wasn’t that exciting after seeing Matsumoto Castle but it does showcase the complex joinery used without nails, which is pretty impressive.

Next to the castle is Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s to gardens. It was very very impressive. Such care goes into maintaining the garden. I loved the moss ground cover.

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Japan Adventures – the alpine route and Toyama

From Omachi we traveled across the Tatayama Kurobe Alpine Route. We planned our trip to avoid the route on a weekend though it was still busy when we went.

The mountains were shrouded in cloud, which was both good and bad. The clouds at Kurobe Dam and Murodo created a magical quality. Whereas the view from the ropeway was white nothingness. A little disappointing but the entire experience was wonderful.

Most people left the bus at Bijodaira and made a bee-line to the cable car. We chose to spend an hour walking down a forest trail. It was muddy in places and there were a few parts I had difficulty with but it was a lot of fun. The forest itself was stunning. Taking the alpine route was definitely worth it!

We stayed one night in Toyama, where our luggage had been forwarded to. In the morning we visited the Toyama Glass Art Museum. The permanent exhibition contained breathtaking works from Dale Chihuly. There was also a temporary international exhibition which also contained beautiful works (though sadly photography was not allowed). Glass really is a beautiful medium for art.

The afternoon was not what I envisioned. We had been planning our train trips using Google maps and sadly it failed to mention that our train line was closed due to landslides in August. The lady in the ticket counter had a useful diagram that explained the replacement bus service but it did significantly increase our travel time. And for some strange reason there are less replacement services compared to the usual timetable so we had to hang around for an extra hour. This also meant we just missed the last bus to our accommodation 😦

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Japan Adventures – Matsumoto and Omachi

On my birthday we left the hustle and bustle of Tokyo for the quiet alpine region. We had a brief stop-over at Matsumoto to see the castle.

Matsumoto Castle is very very impressive. But also crazy steep steps. I don’t know how warriors defended the castle without falling over and breaking their necks. Definitely not a place for people with mobility issues.

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My dress was made using Butterick B6168

From Matsumoto we moved onto Omachi, where we stayed in Ochicochi Villiage. Not only was it a beautiful, traditional place but the owners were lovely and very generous. We were picked up from the station and taken to the supermarket so we could buy breakfast and supplies. For dinner they prepared a delicious meal (which was wasted on the British boy who was also staying there). Then we were taken to the local onsen.

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I had been looking forward to visiting onsen but I must admit that my first experience made me a little anxious. I have absolutely no problem with the nudity. The problem was that I was on my own. I didn’t really know what I was doing so was worried that I didn’t pre-wash correctly and was being rude. The indoor bath fogged up my glasses so I moved outside, which was delightful. The difficulty was there was no clock outside (and I couldn’t see inside) so I had no idea how long I had. We had an hour until closing time so I secretly watched the other women and left when the majority had left. I thought that would be a good indication of closing time but it wasn’t actually half an hour XD

All in all, it was a very special birthday.