Misty Mountains and Hobbit Holes: Hobbiton!

When I was seven years old, I got a basket for Easter from my grandmother. I remember it was pink, with a chocolate bunny, a couple of jelly beans… and my own paperback copies of The Hobbit, as well as the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I read through Bilbo’s adventure, but couldn’t commit to Frodo’s (“Where the heck is Bilbo? I want more of him!” I thought sullenly) until I was a bit older. Even so, J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories have stuck with me. Am I a hardcore fan? Hahaha no, I’ve never read the Silmarillion and if you ask me to compare the minutiae between the recent movies and the books, you’ll get a quizzical smile from me at best.

But fantasy as a genre is something I grew up loving, and when I learned we could take a day tour to Hobbiton from Auckland, I was completely on board.

We signed up, not through the Hobbiton website, but through a separate tour company. It was a package deal where we could also see the Waitomo Caves in the afternoon, but you and I both know that’s not what you’re here to read about. Or look at.

So let’s go.

Continue reading “Misty Mountains and Hobbit Holes: Hobbiton!”

Milkless tea and a day-long train adventure: The Northern Explorer in New Zealand

During Golden Week, I went to New Zealand for the first time with my parents. With no experience in the southern hemisphere, we scrambled to find out what to add to our Must Do List.

When I suggested the Northern Explorer train, my mother’s eyes lit up, and my father shook his head in resignation. He already knew that this was happening. My mother and I have talked about doing long train rides for ages, from the Trans-Mongolian Railway to The Canadian (Toronto – Vancouver), so this was an inevitability.

The Northern Explorer is a train that runs from Auckland all the way down to Wellington (or vice versa), and slowly winds through all sorts of beautiful landscapes along the way. Today, I’ll share what a day on this train felt like.

…. Hashtag not sponsored.

Continue reading “Milkless tea and a day-long train adventure: The Northern Explorer in New Zealand”

How many roads up Mt. Inari?

I visit Fushimi Inari Taisha at least once a year. Despite its’ crowds, I still find it to be a beautiful spot. And once you go up the mountain a little ways, the crowds quickly disappear behind you so you can enjoy the quiet of the shrine.

This past spring, I decided to hike up Mt. Inari with a couple of friends. We started off the same way most did–walking under the bright torii gates. But it wasn’t long before we got tired of the press of people (we went on a weekend) so we looked around for an exit. Lo and behold, to the right of the main path was a marked hiking trail that said, “Mt. Inari.” We gladly escaped, and had ourselves a little adventure.

After all, while you can have a lovely time following the torii gates up the mountain, you can also explore a few side-trails instead and discover parts of the shrine you might not otherwise have even noticed.

For today’s post, I’d like to share a couple photos of the things we saw that day. I hope you enjoy!

Fushimi Inari 2019 002 Torii above

First, the view from our path above the torii gates. You can see that it was quite busy that day!Fushimi Inari 2019 017 cemetery and cherry blossoms

It was still very much cherry blossom season, so we got to enjoy some spring sakura during our hike.Fushimi Inari 2019 004 Bamboo

We also stumbled across a residential area on the side of the mountain, which included a beautiful bamboo grove. There was almost nobody else around, so we thought we might have walked up the wrong path. We pressed on, however, and were glad we did; we soon found a trail marker that reassured us that we were going the right way.Fushimi Inari 2019 008 Big Rock

Along the way, we found other shrines in addition to Fushimi Inari, including this giant stone. The signs were all in Japanese at this point, and the path was completely quiet save for us and one other woman walking around.Fushimi Inari 2019 010 Gate at the top

As we neared the summit, we spotted one of the torii gates. It had been a while since we’d walked under one, so we were glad to see something familiar. Especially as, during our walk, we’d been seeing a large number of warning signs posted for bears and boars!Fushimi Inari 2019 013 Gates Pretty

I know a lot of people want to get the shot of the torii gates at the foot of the mountain, but I encourage you to go up to the top, if you’re able to do so. You not only get some lovely views of the city, but you also get a chance to snap photos without a hundred other folks in the shot!

Have you been to Fushimi Inari Shrine? If so, what did you think of it? Are you someone who likes to get there at dawn to avoid crowds, or do you just grit your teeth and push through all the people?

Requisite awkward “It’s been a while!” post

Boy howdy, it’s been a hot minute since I last wrote anything on here.

How’s everybody been doing? I can’t say that I’ve been hit with writer’s block entirely, but it sure did focus on this blog for a while. Which is a shame, because a bunch of neat things happened over the past few months. Thankfully, time is relative and just because I’m not writing about it the very second it happened doesn’t mean I can never mention those things, right? Right.

So! Here we are, on the requisite “What I’ve been up to so you can look forward to reading the deets” blog post. Once we get over this hump, everybody, we can get back to our regularly scheduled “Stefanie, WHAT?” and “Stefanie, WHY?” posts.

Let’s sum it up in bullet points:

  • I went through my annual “Ugh, March” slog
  • I’ve been slowly but steadily pushing through “The Demon of Lonely Isle” by Edogawa Ranpo in Japanese. Very slowly. You don’t want to know what my Kindle is estimating my “finish” time to be.
  • I hiked Fushimi Inari for the first time in ages
  • I went through a bonus “Ugh, April” slog
  • I played some drums at a temple!
  • I found out a thing I wrote will be put into a printed copy of an anthology, and
  • I went to New Zealand

I’m especially excited to share my New Zealand experiences with you, so over the next couple of weeks look forward to posts about things like Hobbiton, the cities I visited, the tours I partook in, and the differences in language I couldn’t help but notice.

Meanwhile, here in Japan it’s already 28 degrees Celsius on a given day (it’s May), and I’m already hearing people begin to practice the Gion Festival music. I suppose now that the Aoi Festival is over with (as of May 15), everyone is gearing up for the next big thing.

For now, I shall leave you with a picture from my hike up and around Fushimi Inari Taisha. Talk soon!

Done in a Day: Tower of the Sun and Osaka Expo Park

There are two types of people in the world: people who rush through art museums, and people who linger for hours. I’m part of the former group. While I appreciate art and all the work people put into it, I don’t spend much time looking at one piece. I will look over it for a few seconds, read the plaque, go, “Wow, that’s cool,” then move on. I’m more of a fan of pieces that are performed, somehow, whether that’s through music or something else.

So it shouldn’t have been so surprising that the Tower of the Sun in Osaka Expo Park struck such a chord with me. But more on that later.

Today, let’s talk about a daytrip that will give you plenty of nature and space and, if you time it right, a cool exhibition or two to check out with tasty food. Let’s talk about Osaka Expo Park.

Continue reading “Done in a Day: Tower of the Sun and Osaka Expo Park”

It’s finally almost 2019!

Hello, all! I’m here with my report from under the kotatsu. It’s chilly outside, I’ve got hot tea and mikan in arms’ reach, and in less than 24 hours we will be in the new year. Can you believe it? I don’t know about you, but I’m very excited about that!

2019 will be the Year of the Pig. According to a friend of a friend, this is a great time to take the plunge on something Big you’ve been planning on for a while, be it a relationship, moving, changing jobs, or whatever else might be going on with you.

So for today, I will reflect on what made 2018 great, and what I hope to achieve in 2019.

Won’t you join me?

Continue reading “It’s finally almost 2019!”

Luck Dolls and Trust Tests

We had quite a week here in Japan; on Monday the Kansai area experienced an earthquake that left several injured and at least 4 dead. I was fortunate in that I live in Kyoto and was not on a train or anywhere near the epicenter when it happened; the worst I endured was a sudden, loud BANG followed by the sudden rocking of my apartment building–though I will say, that left me huddled in my doorway for several minutes after, eyes wide, clutching my phone.

After that, getting out of the house and enjoying things to take my mind off of the potential for aftershocks was a necessity. So when a friend suggested that we go and check out Daruma Temple, I readily agreed to the outing.

Continue reading “Luck Dolls and Trust Tests”