Behind the Scenes
This little latte on the go was both delicious and adorable in its glass bottle. It’s always interesting to stop by the local stores and shops in countryside towns; you can find locally produced food and drinks that are difficult to find in the city. Some of them are wonderfully retro-looking, like this cafe au lait!
Meet Dōmu! He is a national Paralympic Dressage Champion and also, number one in my heart. He was an extremely good boy and we had a lot of fun trotting around so he earned four sugar cubes as a treat. Then he scratched his head against me which was adorable but I’m not too sure Dōmu realizes how strong he is. He almost knocked me over! 😆
I used to do horseback riding for many years but sadly, it’s something I rarely get to do anymore, and most definitely NOT in front of an Olympic Dressage Rider! Kiichi Harada was very kind and chatted with us in between breaks. He even showed us a bit of his practice and you could really see the expertise of a professional rider. Beautiful!
… and she disappeared into the horizon. Not really! 😆 As much as I would have liked to spend more time hanging out with my new friend, duty called! I’m thankful for all the opportunities this project has given me and I can’t wait to keep discovering more host towns with everyone. Hope you’re in for the ride (pun very much intended).
Kurashiki city is a hidden gem in Japan’s Inland Sea. Walking through the Bikan Historical Quarter is like peeking into the past due to its centuries-old buildings and shops! Although Spring and Summer are best for visiting, it’s very much worth a visit all year round. If you can, rent one of their unique denim kimonos and make your experience even more special.
This shop in Kurashiki could be the dream of any Japanese Stationery aficionado. Hundreds of washi tapes with any imaginable patterns and finishes can be purchased here! Washi tape originated in Kurashiki, Okayama prefecture. I got two beautiful bunny-pattern ones, but honestly, I wanted all of them!! I’ll just have to buy some more next time I visit!
Kurashiki is the mecca of Japanese denim, with high quality denim clothing and materials produced right here in the city. I was super surprised to come across a denim mask vending machine, featuring lots of cute designed masks! One of them even had a Demon Slayer design from the popular anime. Many of the locals were also wearing denim masks!
You probably know dango 🍡, but have you ever tried Okayama’s very own kibi dango? Kibi dango is a type of wagashi snack that takes its name from Kibi-no-kuni, an old province that would be today's Okayama Prefecture. It’s sweet, slightly crispy and very addictive! You can customize it with toppings too!
So many spots in Japan are effortlessly beautiful! Especially when you get to explore smaller towns, you feel like you’ve been magically transported to a different time. Traveling with the Host Town Relay project has been such a wonderful adventure and I’m so happy it took me to Kurashiki city this time!
Getting taught the basics of archery by a professional was awesome - what wasn’t as great were my sore muscles after carrying around the (heavier than it looks) bow! I was really impressed by how naturally my teacher would get ready, shoot and hit the bullseye. Me? I did my best but I think I will leave it to the pros. Phew!
I love how host towns help connect countries! Kōka city is a host town with Singapore - they come together in their love for archery and para-archery! It’s amazing how sports can give a sense of unity and belonging to people across the world, regardless of language or geography. ♥️I think this goes for the love of Japan too. Right?
I didn’t choose the ninja life… oh wait. I think I did! 🥷.
Koka city in Shiga prefecture has a Ninja village in which you can learn the shinobi ways - for fun. Get dressed in darkness - there were actually plenty of outfit colors to choose from - and get ready to sneak into the ninja world. Just be careful with the shuriken!
Koka in Shiga prefecture is very well known for its long ninja history! How cool is that! Many ninja warriors used to live in Koka and to honor their memory, Koka has a popular Ninja Village where you can experience your ninja dream by learning some history while dressing up and trying out the obstacle courses!
We had a ninja guide us around the village for the day! Walking through the forest area, dressed up in this outfit made us feel so immersed in the ninja experience. The ninja park was quite big and had several different spots to do training, such as shuriken, walking around a wobbly wooden plank and even a water activity!
I think it’s really cool that Japanese castles are so well taken care of and you can visit them! Going inside really gives you a look into the past, but it comes with a cost: I have never seen a Japanese castle that didn’t have super steep stairs. They are a little adventure- you really need to pay attention when going up or down. You will be rewarded with beautiful views, though!
Spring is the queen of seasons when choosing the time to visit Japan, but do consider fall as well for your next trip! Japan is well over 60% forest and that means beautiful autumn colors basically everywhere! I was a little late to see this Japanese Maple Tree with fully red leaves, but still, how gorgeous is it? Hikone Castle is also surrounded by Sakura trees too!
A bit of cool, a bit of cute. You probably know that the love of mascots in Japan knows no end, often accompanying businesses, cities and historic spots; and Hikone Castle is no exception! This is Hikkonyan, the samurai lucky cat, and you can see from whom he borrows his kabuto (hat). I love finding kawaii things in my travels- never fails to make me smile.
I never get tired of eating soba. Warm in winter, cold in summer, always with a side of perfectly crispy tempura. Did you know, Soba is regarded as a “healthy noodle”. It’s made of buckwheat and one cup of soba noodles has 21 percent of the daily recommended manganese value. Manganese is important for bone and metabolism health, and helps support the nervous system! ♥️
The best way to drink green tea in Japan is having wagashi with it! Since green tea can be a bit bitter, alternating sips of it with a bite of a sweet wagashi makes the experience even better. This wagashi that I’m enjoying in the picture is coated with traditional Japanese refined sugar and they are made with only five ingredients! (Bonus: they are vegan!) 🌱
When we visited the castle, it was also great timing because the clouds came down over the mountains, which looked so beautiful and at the same so ominous. Shiga is surrounded by mountains, and is quite chilly during the autumn and winter seasons, so it’s best to wear lots of layers to stay warm! If you’re lucky, you might even get to see the castle covered in snow!
I found a bunny friend at this little oasis in Nishi Tokyo: Ikoinomori Park! ☘️ Come during autumn for a cozy stroll filled with colorful leaves ( mid-end of November seems to be best but do check in advance!), or just enjoy a bit of fresh air whenever you are in the area. I love finding parks, gardens and other bits of nature whenever I’m exploring the city! It’s so interesting seeing them in different seasons, too. What about you?
Edokiriko is an ancient Japanese technique that produces brightly colored, incredibly shiny glass with different patterns and drawings.✨ I keep discovering more and more arts and crafts in Japan, and I’m always in awe of the dedication and passion they seem to carry. I really hope all this knowledge gets passed down onto the next generations so we can enjoy crafts like these many years more! Did you know about Edokiriko? ♥️
Almost too cute to eat (but I wolfed it down anyway ?) these “pan” sandwiches are all you can dream of: fluffy, delicious, satisfying and with many different fillings! ♥️ The one in the picture is one of their sweet options -cream cheese and sweet red bean paste- but there are many more. The one with crispy fried prawns was definitely a favorite of mine. Ah! I’m getting hungry. I should plan my next visit to Adachi Ward!