Happy new year 2019!

Here we are! 2018 is over and we’ve welcomed 2019! I hope everyone had a wonderful 2018 and I wish you all the best for the coming year!

Last year I had some hits and misses with my resolutions. Some of them I accomplished. I wanted to quit my retail job for something in music and I am pleased to say I am now a piano and keyboard teacher. On the other hand I wanted to lose weight which was a very unsuccessful resolution. Who knows what I’ll stick to and what I’ll achieve this year, but this is what I have in mind:

  1. Lose weight: I said this last year and I didn’t do it. But this time last year I was in a very difference place and my mental health held me back terribly at the beginning, and I let my initial setbacks ruin it for me. But I’ve learned from my mistakes and now the Christmas period has finished and I am overindulged I am willing to give it another, hopefully more successful try.
  2. Learn Japanese: last year I set myself the goal of becoming JLPT N2 level proficient by the end of the year and quite honestly I freaked myself out by setting such a high goal, so I didn’t achieve it. That is still my long term goal but I have a step by step plan of how I’m going to get there, and no time limitations either. Hopefully that will be a better and more successful way to approach it.
  3. Relearn French and German: there was a time where I was near fluent in both of these languages and I’m really annoyed with myself that I let them slide. Once again I wanted to do this last year but I set too high a goal for myself, so I’m taking the same approach to these as I am with Japanese. Baby steps and mini goals leading up to the big one.
  4. Get fit: I specifically have in mind some sports I want to have a go at. I’m a really good swimmer already, I just want to get into the habit of doing it regularly. I also really want to learn how to climb and ice skate. These are more on a casual level and something for fun. The main thing I want to do is walk. And I mean walk for miles. I want to do some charity walks both in the UK and abroad in the coming years and I know I’m going to need a lot of stamina to do it, so I’m going to get good at it. Again I’ve got some mini daily step count goals leading up to my main one so hopefully I can get fit and then start raising money for charity doing it.
  5. Read more: I love reading but I go through periods of months where I don’t read anything. I want to try and make it a daily habit. There’s loads of books I want to read and the list only gets longer so in order to get through my reading list I need to make more time for it. Not only that, but it’s enjoyable and relaxing so it will benefit me in other ways too. 
  6. Blog more: this started well last year. I blogged on a reasonably regular basis but it fizzled out pretty quickly and my last post before this one was in March. Hopefully I will be able to keep some kind of regular posting for longer this time.

So that’s my 2019 plan. I know this time next year I’ll be looking back on some of my resolutions as successes and some as failures, but hopefully there will be more of them I can count as successes. I’ve got a good feeling about this year, I think it’s going to be a good one.

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Travelling to: Kyoto and Osaka

Previously I did two posts on travelling to Tokyo and Nagoya, talking about my experiences from both of my visits to Japan, and now I’m going to cover Kyoto and Osaka. I’ve chosen to do them both in one post as I haven’t visited them for the length of time that I have visited Tokyo and Nagoya and therefore don’t have as much experience of these cities like the others.

I’ve been to Kyoto twice before. The first time was just for the day when I was living in Nagoya. The second time was in last November when I went for 3 days. Osaka I have only visited once last November for 2 days. From my experience there isn’t nearly as many things to do in Kyoto and Osaka as there is in Tokyo, but here are my top 10 things to do in Kyoto and Osaka:

1. Kiyomizu-dera (Kyoto): This is my favourite shrine in Kyoto. I prefer it to the more iconic Fushimi Inari Taisha. It draws a huge crowd of tourists, and it’s a long walk from the nearest train station, but the views you get of the city from the hillside and the shrine itself is well worth the uphill hike.

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2. Fushimi Inari Taisha (Kyoto): This is the most iconic shrine in Kyoto, and even one of the most iconic tourist spots in Japan. It is most famous for it’s lines of torii gates, which you can walk through, and which we did start walking through. We did however decide not to go to the top of the mountain as it was a similar trek to Mount Takao in Tokyo and we decided we didn’t need to do that again. There is a street full of food vendors outside the shrine, and one of the stalls did the best karaage (fried chicken) I’ve ever had in my life!

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3. Arashiyama (Kyoto): Famous for it’s bamboo forest, this is on the outskirts of Kyoto and is also home to many shrines and temples, as well as shops and street food. We had some street food for lunch and went looking around one of the shrines, but we were mainly there to see the bamboo forest, which is stunning.

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4. Kinkaku-Ji (Kyoto): Kinkaku-ji is the famous golden pavilion. It is full of tourists, like most of the famous shrines in Kyoto, but still enjoyable all the same.

4 Kinkaku-ji

5. Kyoto Tower (Kyoto): This is where we got to view the city, and it wasn’t a planned trip. We just happened to come across it and decided to kill some time there. Underneath the tower is a big hotel and shopping centre complex which we had a brief look around, although there wasn’t really anything of interest to us there, but of course we went for the views and they were amazing!

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6. Kyoto Aquarium (Kyoto): we went to Kyoto aquarium because my boyfriend loves sea life, and we had some spare time one afternoon. They did a really good dolphin show, and we just do happened to be going into the dolphin exhibit as the show started which was really good timing.

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7. Umeda Sky Building (Osaka): This was the first thing we did in Osaka and was probably the most scary of all the high view points. I’m not scared of heights, so it wasn’t that that bothered me, but the outside escalators were quite something. It was probably just me being paranoid but they didn’t feel very stable, and it was just pleased to get off them when they were done.

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8. Osaka Castle (Osaka): Of the two castles I’ve visited in Japan (this one and Nagoya Castle) this one is by far the biggest and therefore the most impressive. It’s built in a very similar style to Nagoya castle, but it is surround by a moat and a beautiful park that, at the time of year we went, had some lovely autumn leaves in bloom.

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9. Namba Yasaka Shrine (Osaka): Nambayasaka shrine is a really small shrine which doesn’t take very long to see, but it’s a lot of fun because the shrine itself is supposed to be the head of a lion. When you’ve spent two weeks visiting shrines, it’s nice to see one that’s a little bit different to the rest.

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10. Dotonbori (Osaka): Dotonbori is one of the main shopping districts in Japan, and is aimed at the kind of people who would go and visit Akihabara in Tokyo. The streets in Dotonbori are narrower though and I found it easier to find my way around it than Akihabara.

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I’m definitely very keen to go back to Kyoto, probably only for 3 or 4 days again, but I love Kyoto as you get to see historical Japan right next to modern day Japan. It’s a really beautiful and interesting city with a lot of history, and here are my top 5 things to do next time I visit:

  1. Kyoto Imperial Palace: this is the former residence of the Japanese royal family and is unfortunately something that I didn’t get to see last time. Visitors are not allowed to enter the buildings, but I would love to take a look around the palace grounds.
  2. Kyoto National Museum: I would love to visit this museum mainly to see it’s art collections, but it also houses ceramics, calligraphy, costumes and archaeological relics, all of which I find fascinating.
  3. Gion: Gion is Kyoto’s Geisha district, where you can visit teahouses where the Geisha and Maiko entertain. It is also filled with shops and restaurants, and has a distinct look to it, because of the many wooden houses that line the streets.
  4. Ginkaku-ji: Also known as the silver pavilion, this is somewhere I tried to visit, but wasn’t aware of the amount of travel needed to get there (see the getting about section below for my experience of Kyoto transport) and has always been high on my list of things to do in Kyoto.
  5. Iwatayama Monkey Park: This is something that I missed in Arashiyama that if I knew it was there I would have definitely gone. I watched a documentary once on Japanese wildlife and they talked about the macaque monkeys that lived on the outskirts of Kyoto and I really wanted to go and see them, and I never knew this place was there to do it, so definitely next time!

By the time we got to Osaka on our trip in November last year I think we were both pretty tired and therefore Osaka was a bit of a wind down at the end of the holiday, so we didn’t really feel like exploring much. I did feel that 2 days was enough to see a lot of the city though and I think we did right by not spending so long there, however there are a few things I’d still like to do in Osaka, so here are my top 3:

  1. Universal Studios: If we had more time in Osaka we would have done this on our last trip, but of course this needs a whole day reserved to be enjoyed.
  2. Tennoji Zoo: This zoo houses many different species of animals (230 different species according to their website) and prides itself on “reproducing as closely as possible the original habitats and environments of animals.” I’m very fascinated by African animals in particular, and as it is not possible for me to go on a safari right now, I love to visit as many zoos as I can so I can see these animals and how they live.
  3. Daisen Kofun: this is a burial mound in Sakai, just outside of Osaka and is said to be the tomb of Emperor Nintoku (who ruled in the 4th century). Not much is known about the kofun tombs and there are a total of 161,560 that have been discovered across Japan.

Getting about:

Osaka has an excellent subway line, much like Tokyo and Nagoya, although I found it was easy to get lost in some of the stations. Kyoto on the other hand does not have very good transport links, considering it’s the second largest city in Japan. The nearest train stations to popular tourist attractions can actually be miles away, and when we attempted to go and see Ginkaku-ji, we found out that it was a further 3km away from the nearest train station and we would have to get the bus there from the train station. It did cross my mind if this was to preserve the older parts of the city, but in a country where technology is miles ahead and everywhere is connected I find this hard to believe, and therefore I’m not sure why Kyoto hasn’t caught up with the likes of Tokyo and Osaka.

Food:

As we were getting a bit short on money by the end of our holiday we were less experimental with our restaurant choices and were mainly looking for affordable places that wouldn’t break the bank. However there are some excellent and affordable restaurants in Kyoto station, and we had one of the best meals of the holiday at a tonkatsu restaurant there. There are also plenty of restaurants to choose from at the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka and we enjoyed a lovely katsu curry there which was very cheap. But we mostly spent our evenings in both of the cities eating at the same restaurant that we found close to our hotels. The one in Kyoto was amazing! They did really tender katsu meat, eat as much as you like rice and the tempura was to die for! The food at the restaurant in Osaka was good too, although I wasn’t impressed with their selection of drinks. They only did hot drinks (tea, coffee or hot chocolate) or iced drinks (again tea, coffee and hot chocolate), and their not the kind of drinks I like to have with my meal, but that is my personal preference.

Accommodation:

In my Tokyo post I spoke about APA hotels, and in Osaka we stayed in an APA hotel too, which I would definitely recommend as they are a decent hotel in a mid price range. In Kyoto however we chose to stay in a ryokan which was the biggest mistake of the holiday, and a massive let down, especially considering the price we paid for it. It was advertised as a ryokan, but it was really more of a traditional style hostel. With only 1 shower and bathroom for the whole accommodation (there must have been about 20 of us there) I was not impressed with having to get up at 6am as the only way of avoiding shower queues and the shower itself didn’t look like it was regularly cleaned. You don’t feel very good having a shower in a dirty shower cubicle. The other thing that annoyed me was the paper thin walls which meant that we could hear all the shouting and 2am skyping of the disrespectful guests staying next door. I know it’s not the fault of the accommodation that our neighbours were annoying, but what annoyed me was that this hostel cost the same price as the APA hotels, and I felt like I had been seriously ripped off by it. Therefore I would not recommend staying in a ryokan based on my experience. I’m sure there are good ones out there, but this experience put me right off. We woke up at 6am on our last day in Kyoto and didn’t even hang about. We were in Osaka by 10am, exhausted, but so happy to have a decent place to sleep that night.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard Review

*This review contains spoilers!*

My rating: 5/5

Like the other series I’ve read I was going to wait until I’d finished the whole series to review these books, rather than reviewing them individually. But even though I own the next two and the fourth one is coming out in May I’m going to have to review this one on its own. I’ve mentioned before that my room has been extended and while the building works have been going on I’ve been living out of boxes. Well right now I don’t know which box the other two books are in. They might have accidentally been put in the loft. They might have been transported to my grandmas to save space. I don’t know, but for now I need to wait to finish the series until I can unpack and find them.

I’m actually really gutted I can’t continue the series straight away because I loved this book! I bought this series last summer as they were recommended to me by a friend who is also an avid reader and has a very similar taste in books to me. So I figured if she liked them I’m sure to as well. And I did. I actually wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I do, but I wizzed through this book in 5 days, and that wasn’t speed reading to get through it that was because I found it very difficult to put this book down.

The book starts in a very similar way to The Hunger Games. The human race is divided into red bloods and silver bloods. The red bloods are ordinary human beings whereas the silver bloods possess superpowers. And the silvers rule over the reds, and their regime is very oppressive.

But the oppression is where the similarities end. I’ve read people calling this book dystopian fiction, which I’m not sure I agree with. In my mind dystopian fiction is set in the future of our world, after some kind of apocalyptic event. In books like The Hunger Games there are references to this apocalyptic event that shaped the world as it is in the story. In Red Queen there wasn’t really much about the history of the world it is set in (although there are snippets), and from what I read (and the map on the inside cover) it didn’t look much like anywhere from our world. The way I read it this story is set in a completely different world populated by humans. Maybe the other books will go more in depth about the history of the country these people live in and why it became to be the way it is, and I hope so too because I love reading about the histories of fictional places and the events that shaped the events of the book.

There are lots of twists and turns to the plot which is why this book so difficult to put down. You could never be sure what was coming next. You’re introduced to the main character Mare, a pickpocket and red blood who is destined to join the front lines of a nearly century old war, and the story starts with her trying to escape conscription with her best friend Kilorn. But after she ends up as a servant to the royal family, she is accidentally revealed to have powers of her own, which she should not have as a red blood. She is then hidden in plain sight by the royal family who portray her as a long lost daughter of a silver noble. But there is a terrorist group threatening rebellion and attacking silvers with bombs and shootings. And the biggest twist is a huge betrayal amongst the group, which is actually pretty shocking and completely unexpected. One of the phrases that gets repeated a lot throughout the book is “anyone can betray anyone” and to be honest I still don’t trust that some of the other characters are all that they seem.

Another reason I love this book is because there isn’t a love triangle that’s central to the story. I get a bit sick of love triangles, especially when they’re overdone, but because of the twists and turns it’s hard to know if anyone is really who they say they are. At one point it was even a hint of a love square (if that is even a thing). But even though there are hints they are just hints and it’s not painful to read about, and where the first book ends Mare is realistically not wanting to be with anyone at that stage. Whereas in other books with love triangles, the main character can tend to toy with who they want to choose, even if there are more important things to think about. I like that Mare has her priorities straight.

If you love fantasy fiction, superpowers, injustice and revolution I would definitely recommend this book! I loved this book! It exceeded my expectations and I’m glad I read it!

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins: book review

*This review contains spoilers!*

Books reviewed in this post and their individual ratings:

  • The Hunger Games: 5/5
  • Catching Fire: 4/5
  • Mockingjay: 4/5

The Hunger Games trilogy has taken me a long time to get through. It’s a long story which involves having to pack my books away into boxes while my room was being renovated and losing Catching Fire to one of these boxes for months meaning I couldn’t finish it, and has nothing to do with the quality of the books themselves. If I didn’t have that mishap I probably would have read through them all in a couple of months which is pretty speedy reading for me, as I don’t get a huge amount of time to commit to my books.

I had seen the films before I read the books, so I had a good idea of the story beforehand. If I’ve seen the film before I read the book that it’s based on I find it best to go into the book with an open mind and block out any pre-conceptions the films might have on my reading experience. Books are always a lot better than their film adaptations, and films often miss out key plot points that only the readers will be able to experience. I must admit I was surprised with how much I enjoyed Mockingjay, because I was very disappointed in the film and it put me off reading the trilogy for a while (even though I’d already bought the books). It’s a perfect example of how a film really does not do justice to its source material.

The Hunger Games is primarily considered to be Young Adult and dystopian fiction. This label to me seems pretty accurate. In the first book we are introduced to the country of Panem, and the division between the Capitol and the districts. The people of the districts live in poverty and squalor, providing the people of the Capitol with their natural resources (a different resource per district) and the people of the Capitol live rich and comfortable lives.

It’s a theme common in most young adult books. The oppressors and the oppressed. But this book isn’t just about the people from the Capitol vs the people from the districts. This book is about The Hunger Games, a form of sick entertainment created by the Capitol to further oppress the districts. Two children from every district (one boy and one girl) are selected to compete in the games (called tributes) and it is a fight to the death. Only one child will survive each games.

The books follow Katniss Everdeen as she becomes the district 12 female tribute in the 74th Hunger Games and her role in creating an uprising and eventual revolution amongst the districts, rebelling against their Capitol oppressors.

Like I said it’s more than just the oppressors vs the oppressed. Once you delve into a world of glitz and glamour set against a backdrop of child murder you’ll be enthralled yet disgusted in equal measure, and I think this is the exact reaction Suzanne Collins wanted from her readers. These books are designed to entertain but they’re also designed to make you think, and they achieve just that.

I must admit I was more impressed with the first book than I was with the other two. All of the series is great and I would recommend them all, but the first one is just so well done in terms of plot development, character development and describing the relevance of Katniss Everdeen’s story within a 75 year history of this fictional version of a futuristic (and post apocalyptic) America. Katniss of course leaves the Hunger Games a completely changed person, as I think anyone would, but I feel like this is where the character development ends. Despite another Hunger Games and a war the characters remain relatively unchanged in development throughout the 2nd and 3rd books, and while the stories were excellent, this lack of character development means the other two books lose that some of that sparkle that the first one had.

I would definitely recommend reading the Hunger Games if you like dystopian fiction. I’ve seen the series compared with the likes of the Maze Runner and Divergent as being very similar. I can’t really speak for Divergent as I’ve only ever seen bits of the first film and I haven’t read any of the books for Divergent or Maze Runner, but I have seen the Maze Runner films (and the books for both are on my list to read). From what I’m aware it’s very easy to pigeonhole a lot of dystopian and young adult fiction as being much of the same, but don’t be put off by people saying if you’ve read one you’ve read them all. While there are common themes across the genre (as there are any genre) The Hunger Games is a very original series with a premise quite different from the likes of Divergent and The Maze Runner and well worth the read. I would also recommend it for those who like the fantasy genre, as while there may be no witches or fairies or goblins, the fictional future that it’s set in I think would appeal to fantasy readers too.

Duke’s Wine Bar gig photos

Last Thursday I performed at Duke’s Wine Bar in Princes Risborough. The gig went very well and I really enjoyed it. A lot of my friends and family turned up so I had overwhelming support and the rest of the crowd seemed to really enjoy themselves, so overall I think it was a huge success.

Here are some photos from the gig, mostly taken by my sister, but some taken by a friend as well.

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Travelling to: Nagoya

I have been to Nagoya twice now, like Tokyo, but my experience of Nagoya are completely different, as the first time I went to Nagoya I stayed there for 4 months.

Firstly I would say Nagoya is not a tourist city like Tokyo or Kyoto are, but it’s still great all the same. The second time I went to Nagoya I only spent two days there, and two days was enough to see the main things in the city, however there are many things that are outside central Nagoya that are worth seeing and that I would like to see.

Here are my top 5 things to do in Nagoya:

1. Nagoya Castle: this is located in central Nagoya. It is by no means Japan’s biggest castle, but that certainly doesn’t make it any less impressive. Inside the castle has been transformed into a museum detailing it’s history and the history of Nagoya and how it grew into the city that it is today.

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2. Oasis 21: this is a small shopping centre (small by Japanese standards) with a viewing platform on top. There are lots of different things to buy here, and last year I bought myself a Totoro calendar from a Ghibli shop. It’s definitely worth a visit for some nice views of the surrounding area and a bit of souvenir shopping.

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3. Nagoya TV Tower: Even though Oasis 21 has a viewing platform, this is where you get to view the whole city. When we went last year it wasn’t very busy either. We were actually the only ones on the viewing deck for a good half an hour. So if you want fantastic views of the whole city, Nagoya TV Tower is the place to get them

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4. Tokugawa Art Museum: I actually went here on my first trip to Nagoya with the other exchange students, and the university arranged for us to try on Japanese armour at the museum, which was a fun experience. The museum has many examples of art from the Tokugawa period, and even details on how the paint was made from different stones, which I found very fascinating.

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5. Meijo Park: Meijo Park is the park where Nagoya castle is located, but I’ve included it as a separate item on the list because it’s a beautiful place in it’s own right. It’s a perfect place to relax, and if you go there at night you get some great views of the castle, as they light it up when it gets dark.

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There are more things I want to see and do in Nagoya. Despite there not being a huge amount in Nagoya itself compared to Tokyo, there are some great things to do and see in the surrounding towns that are accessible by public transport from Nagoya, so here are my top 5 things I want to do next time I’m staying in Nagoya:

  1. The Totoro House: In Nagakute, east of Nagoya there is a replica of Satsuki and Mei’s house from the film My Neighbour Totoro. I was a bit disappointed to only find out that this house existed after my first trip to Japan, so I put it on the list to do last year when we went. However we couldn’t find any good transport links online to get there from Nagoya. I know there must be some, because other people have done it, but I need to do more research into it so I can go next time.
  2. Inuyama Castle: Inuyama Castle is special in that it’s one of only 12 original castles in Japan. A lot of Japanese castles have had sections or the entire thing rebuilt but this is the original dating back to 1440, which I find incredible. Inuyama is not far north of Nagoya and accessible from Nagoya Station, so this is a must see for me.
  3. Gifu: Gifu is probably somewhere you could spend a few days with, and would make a great holiday on it’s own, but if you’re looking for a day trip from Nagoya, Gifu is only about an hour away. If I was to head there for a day trip I would definitely visit Gifu Castle and Mount Kinka, but there are other things to go and see there if you fancy a longer trip.
  4. Kiyosu Castle: Kiyosu is located to the north west of Nagoya and it’s castle looks stunning. I love Japanese castles and shrines and could visit them all day every day on a trip to Japan.
  5. Kosho-ji: this shrine is actually in Nagoya but on the outskirts, and its grounds cover the Nishiyama and Higashiyama mountains. As I said before I can’t get enough of Japanese shrines, and I love mountains too, so this would be a perfect place for me to visit.

In my last post about Tokyo I talked about what is was like getting around, and what was on offer in terms of food and accommodation. To be honest Nagoya is pretty similar, so I won’t bother writing it again (see my Tokyo post for more information). I didn’t stay in normal holiday accommodation the first time I was in Nagoya as I rented an apartment, but the second time I stayed in a hotel in the Sakae district called Smile Hotel, which is probably the best hotel I’ve stayed in on my visits to Japan. I would definitely go back there again. And across the street from this hotel was a curry ramen restaurant, which we loved so much we went there twice (we stayed there for two days so curry ramen both days!) and that was probably without a doubt up there with the best food I’ve ever eaten.

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The subway is extremely well connected, like in Tokyo, but we found that between Sakae station and Nagoya central station (which we travelled between a lot) was always extremely busy, to the point where even at midday it was like travelling in rush hour. You can’t avoid this route if you want to go and see some of the top sites in Nagoya, but I wish I was more prepared for how busy the subway was in Nagoya, because 4 years ago when I first went it was never that bad.

Nagoya itself as a city has grown in the last 4 years, not in size but as a tourist destination. The first time I went there you barely saw anyone who wasn’t Japanese, and usually if someone wasn’t Japanese they were there on business. You didn’t see many tourists about. However last year I saw lots more tourists enjoying the city, and I spoke to my friends there about the differences I noticed and they agreed with me that it’s becoming more popular. I would say Nagoya is one of Japan’s hidden gems but if the tourism keeps growing there the way it is it won’t be a hidden gem for much longer.

Tonight: Duke’s Wine Bar Gig

So tonight is the big night! My first paid gig! I’m very nervous actually. Not about playing the music but about having the stage for the whole night. I’m very used to the open mic or festival set up where you get 15 minutes to half an hour and then it moves on to the next person, but with this we are playing an hour and a half on our own. It’s a lot of music and it’s very tiring, but I hope it goes well.

Below is the set list we plan on doing. It’s split into set 1 and set 2 because we’re performing two sets of 45 minutes.

 

Set 1:

  1. Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash Cover
  2. Good Friends – Original (my song)
  3. Error of Your Ways – Original (Alex’s song)
  4. Monster – Original (my song)
  5. Future – Original (my song)
  6. Return to Bedlam – Original (Alex’s song)
  7. On My Own – Original (my song)
  8. Poison – Original (my song)
  9. Artificial Desire – Original (my song)
  10. City Lights – Original (Alex’s song)
  11. The Judge – Original (my song)

 

Set 2:

  1. Summer – Original (my song)
  2. Pushing Forward – Original (Alex’s song)
  3. Starman – David Bowie Cover
  4. Broken – Original (my song)
  5. Retired – Original (Alex’s song)
  6. Learning to Fly – Tom Petty Cover
  7. In the Dark – Original (Alex’s song)
  8. Bad Education – Original (my song)
  9. Reckless Dream – Original (my song)
  10. Poles Apart – Original (my song)
  11. Isolation – Original (my song)

 

As you can see a lot of the set list is made up of my songs. That’s not me being selfish my boyfriend considers this to be my gig, as I got the offer before we even met, and eventually booked it even before we started playing together. He has also never sung live before, so he wants to ease himself in by only doing a handful of songs, which is fair enough. I understand his fear of singing as I used to have it myself.

My next post in this part of the blog will be written after the gig is over, so I will tell you all how it goes then.

Travelling to: Tokyo

I have been to Tokyo twice now. Once in the very last week of 2013 (I spent the new year of 2014 on a coach on the way back to Nagoya where I lived at the time) and the second time last November for a whole week. I’ve visited many places, but here are my top 10 things to do in Tokyo:

1. Senso-ji: being the oldest temple in Tokyo, this is truly an incredible shrine. First you enter through Kaminari-mon (one of the most famous sites in Japan) and then walk through a shopping street called Nakamise before you reach the main temple. It’s very large, although not the largest shrine in Japan and it’s my personal favourite in Tokyo.

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2. Tokyo Tower: I didn’t visit Tokyo Tower until the second time I was in Tokyo. I saw it from the viewing deck at Mori Tower the first time, but last year it was Tokyo Tower that I went up to get a view of the city. I love seeing city views and the Tokyo skyline is spectacular. We didn’t see Mount Fuji this time because it was too cloudy, but I did get to see it the first time from Mori Tower.

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3. Meiji Shrine: Home of the largest wooden torii gate in Japan, Meiji shrine was built for Emperor Meiji, who lived between 1852-1912. The shrine is situated next to Harajuku and Omotesando which makes for a great day out. On my second holiday to Tokyo, after the shrine we ate at a British themed pub in Harajuku and had Ben and Jerry’s down Omotesando.

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4. Akihabara: Akihabara is often described as a heaven for nerds, and I love it there so that must be true. I bought Disney and Pokemon stuff here, and there are a lot of Star Wars, anime and super hero themed items to buy, not to mention how easy it is to burn money using the Gachapon machines!

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5. Yoyogi Park: Yoyogi park is a lovely peaceful getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city around it. It was a little cold when we visited last year in November, but it was nice to sit down in the evening and relax in the park, watching the dog walkers go by and enjoying the scenery.

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6. Sunshine City: Located in Ikebukuro, Sunshine City is mainly visited by tourists because of the Pokemon Centre, it is the largest in Japan. When we arrived at the shopping centre though I happened to notice a Disney store (where I made a few purchases) and a shop that sold Ghibli merchandise too. We also had one of the best lunches of our holiday in the restaurant section of the shopping centre.

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7. Sumida River Cruise: The sumida river cruise is accessible from Azuma bridge (near Asakusa train station. We went on this river cruise after visiting Senso-ji and it took us a long way to the south of Tokyo. My only problem with this is where you get off the train station is pretty far away, so we had a lot of unexpected walking to do afterwards.

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8. Mount Takao: I climbed up this mountain on my holiday to Japan last year, and I am so proud I did. It’s not a very tall mountain (599m/1965ft) but it is incredibly steep in some places and I got close to giving up quite a few times, but the view from the top is worth it.

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9. Shibuya: Shibuya is famous for Shibuya crossing, and last year we visited on a Saturday night, so the place was heaving with people even more than usual. There are lots of good places to eat in Shibuya, and we found a huge Tower Records, and as both me and my boyfriend are big music fans that was a good find for us. It’s a good part of Tokyo to visit if you want to see what modern Japan looks like.

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10. Zozo-ji: This is a small shrine next to Tokyo Tower. I’ve visited a lot of small and not very famous shrines in Japan on both of my visits but I think this one has to be my favourite. It’s a very traditional place next to a very modern tower, and that contrast of old and new is a good summary of Japan.

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The thing about Tokyo is I’m not done with it yet, there are still so many more things I want to see and do there, so I will definitely be making another trip at some point. So here are the top 5 things I still have left to do in Tokyo:

  1. The Ghibli Museum: Would you believe that both times I’ve been to Tokyo the Ghibli Museum has been closed that very week! What are the chances? As a massive Ghibli fan it upsets me that I haven’t been able to see this museum! So next time I go I must go there!
  2. Mount Fuji Day Trip: This was also something we wanted to do last year while we were in Tokyo, but unfortunately we went the wrong time of year for it. We wanted to get the bus up to the 5th station but they don’t offer that service outside the spring/summer months because of weather conditions. We could have got a bus to Lake Kawaguchi, but it was very expensive and a view of Mount Fuji is not guaranteed, so we didn’t feel like this was a good idea.
  3. Tokyo Disneyland/Disneysea: I love Disney, but I have avoided the Tokyo Disneyland theme park as there is so much to see and do in Tokyo I didn’t want to spend a whole day at Dinseyland when I could be experiencing more authentic Japanese things. But now I’ve seen most of the city I think I can afford a day trip next time I’m there,
  4. Tokyo Imperial Palace: we tried to book this for our trip last year but we didn’t get tickets on time, and we went online to book only a couple of days after they became available. It sells out so quickly. So next time I know to book it as soon as the tickets come out.
  5. Rainbow Bridge: This one is a bit silly, I just want to see the nice colours that light up at night really.

Tokyo is obviously the capital city of Japan, and probably the most popular tourist destination in the country, and with good reason. There’s something there to do for everyone, and my above lists are by no means an extensive list of all the things to do in Tokyo. For example I haven’t mentioned many museums in either of the lists, but there are many museums on many things from the history of Tokyo to modern art.

Getting about:

Tokyo has an excellent subway line that is well connected to all the tourist destinations in the centre of the city. For the tourist destinations on the outskirts of the city (e.g. Mount Takao) there are still good connections by train. Everyone at the train stations are very friendly and a basic level of English is spoken (which is more than what there was 4 years ago) so if you can’t speak Japanese you can still get help. Everyone in Tokyo (and Japan) in general are very friendly and happy to help tourists find their way about, so don’t be afraid to ask. Just be aware that your average person on the street might not speak English and therefore I would recommend taking a phrasebook to assist both of you.

Food:

Japanese food in general is excellent, and Tokyo has a wide variety of restaurants to suit all cuisines and tastes. Japanese food does not cater to vegetarians or vegans (first time I went to Tokyo I went with a vegan and finding food for her was impossible), and while I believe a few vegetarian/vegan restaurants are popping up, they are extremely rare. I also know people with fish allergies who found it hard eating at traditional restaurants, especially with poorly translated menus or menus that weren’t translated at all. Of course I would recommend that you try as much Japanese food as you can while you are there but if you have allergies you obviously need to do what’s best for you if that means sticking to the food you know. I don’t know how Japanese restaurants deal with people with allergies as I don’t have any and have never travelled to Japan with someone who has an allergy. I think the best thing would be to learn what your allergy is in Japanese and ask a waiter. If any readers know about how this works I’d like to know.

Accommodation:

The first time I stayed in Tokyo I stayed in a capsule hotel for two nights, just for the experience, and then in a Toyoko Inn for the rest of my stay. Last year I stayed in an APA hotel. If you want the experience of a capsule hotel then I would recommend one night in them. It’s not the most comfy accommodation out there, but it is certainly an experience. However if you’re staying for a few days at least and are looking for something mid priced I would recommend a Toyoko Inn or an APA hotel. The rooms aren’t huge but they’re adequate, the beds are comfy and the bathroom facilities are ample and clean, which is enough for me. As long as there’s a bed and a clean shower I’m happy.

Fall Out Boy MANIA Review

Last week I talked about my experience seeing Fall Out Boy live, and on Friday 19th January their latest album MANIA was released. There is a variation in track order depending on whether you have the physical copy or the digital copy. I bought the physical copy so I’ve been listening to that mostly, but I have also listened to the digital copy on Spotify a few times so I will include both in this review.

My rating: 3/5

Track list: physical copy

  1. Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea
  2. The Last Of The Real Ones
  3. Hold Me Tight Or Don’t
  4. Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)
  5. Church
  6. Heaven’s Gate
  7. Champion
  8. Sunshine Riptide (feat. Burna Boy)
  9. Young An Menace
  10. Bishops Knife Trick

 

Track list: digital copy

  1. Young and Menace
  2. Champion
  3. Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea
  4. Hold Me Tight Or Don’t
  5. The Last Of The Real Ones
  6. Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)
  7. Church
  8. Heaven’s Gate
  9. Sunshine Riptide (feat. Burna Boy)
  10. Bishops Knife Trick

 

Apparently this difference was due to a mistake by the streaming services and wasn’t intentional. To be honest I don’t think the track order makes any difference to the enjoyment of the album. I prefer the physical copy track list for two reasons: I’m used to it as I’ve listened to that more, and I prefer it on principle if it’s what the band wanted. But it is nice to listen to the same album in a different order, you find yourself hearing some of the songs differently because of what comes before or after them.

Lets get into my favourites first. My top three songs on this album are The Last Of The Real Ones, Wilson (Expensive Mistakes) and Heaven’s Gate. Firstly The Last Of The Real Ones was always my favourite single from the run up to the album release. I love the melody, the lyrics, the piano riff, everything about it. It’s like it was written to suit my music tastes perfectly.

Wilson (Expensive Mistakes) came out the day I went to see them live. I had time to listen to it a couple of times in the morning before I left, and I loved it live, but it’s only since the album has come out that I’ve had a chance to listen to it properly. For me this song is reminiscent of their old style, before electronics came into it. I don’t dislike electronics when used properly, and for the most part they do use them properly, but for someone who has been a fan of theirs since 2005, it’s nice to just hear them play a song as a band without any of the extras.

Heaven’s Gate was a song that came out with the album release and I’m really not sure why it wasn’t a single in the first place, because it is a very strong song. Patrick’s vocals are very powerful and his soulful voice really suits this style of singing. The guitar arpeggios and piano that accompany it harmonise it beautifully. I would have liked to have seen this song get some individual promotion, and hopefully when I see them live again (whenever that may be) they play this song because I would love to hear it live.

I’m also getting more into Young And Menace. Honestly when it first came out I didn’t like it. I thought it was noisy, didn’t have a strong verse melody and didn’t like the overdone electronics. However, after seeing them live and seeing an amazing acoustic version of the song it’s made me see it in a different light, and now I appreciate it a lot more than what I used to.

Now onto the songs I’m not so keen on. Every album has strong songs that stick out as favourites, songs that are good, and its very rare to find an album that doesn’t have at least one song that is weaker than the rest.

For me the weak song on this album is Sunshine Riptide. This song features Burna Boy. I’ve never heard of Burna Boy before but I could tell straight away from this song the kind of music he usually performs. I immediately didn’t like the song from the very beginning for the simple fact that the autotune in Patrick’s voice makes him sound like a spoilt kid pop star, and that is not what Fall Out Boy is. Also he doesn’t need autotune (I’ve seen them live there was not a single note wrong). I also don’t like the Reggae influences or Burna Boy’s voice very much. I won’t be going away and listening to his music after hearing this song, and will probably skip this song every time it comes on. It’s just not for me. I do have a lot of respect for bands that branch out and try different styles though rather than finding a formula and continually sticking to it, I’m just not sure this style was meant for Fall Out Boy.

There are other songs on the album that even though are good are not as strong as some of the others. These include Church and Bishop’s Knife Trick. I think these will be the songs that slowly grow on me and I will enjoy them more over time, but they’re not songs that immediately stand out as being amazing.

Overall it is a good album. I’ve given it a 3/5 rating because while there are some strong songs on the album, the quality of music is inconsistent. I also have to confess after waiting so long for this album to come out (it was supposed to be released in September 2017) I was a bit disappointed with there only being 10 tracks, with 5 of them being released as singles prior to release, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this. As there was only 5 unheard songs on this album by the time release date came round I hope we hear more new music from Fall Out Boy sooner rather than later.

Upcoming Gig 01.02.2017 @ Duke’s Wine Bar, Princes Risborough

On the 1st February (a week on Thursday) me and my boyfriend are performing at Duke’s Wine Bar in Princes Risborough. This gig is on my list of 10 awesome things I’m going to do in 2018 because it is our first ever paid gig, and our first solo gig not performing at an open mic night or at a music festival. This means we have the wine bar to ourselves for the whole evening.

A lot of our friends and family are coming to see us and I’m very nervous about this. Of course I want this to go well because I want to secure as many opportunities like this as I can. We’ve been practicing weekly since Christmas and are playing together quite well, however even if it goes perfectly on the night, I don’t think I’m going to breathe or sleep well until it is over, just because of my nerves.

I’m going to post updates on the progress of practicing as well as the gig itself. I’m going to get my friends and family to take loads of pictures and videos so I can post them here and share the gig with you.