This post is so cute and will make your mouth water. I’m a big fan of Chika who is an amazing photographer as well as an intrepid foodie and blogs at she who eats. Check out her Japanese blog here where you can find even more amazing examples of Japanese sakura confectionary. I so miss Japan!

As it’s still April, I’m just adding this to my previous post for the Hello Japan! mini-challenge hosted by In Spring It Is The Dawn.

I was all set to talk about my favourite shrine in Nagoya, Atsuta Jingu, when I reread the December mini-challenge for Hello Japan! and realised I had to write about temples and shrines in Kyoto. Kyoto is one of the places that all Japanese people would have visited at least once in their lives as it is a popular destination for school and family trips. My family and I used to visit Kyoto when we lived in Japan and although I was young and uninterested in temples at the time, Kiyomizudera with its beautiful wooden structure is one of my favourite temples in the world. However as it is so famous, I decided that I would choose another temple for this task and who better to ask than my mother.

One of her favourite temples is Nanzen-ji with its beautiful zen garden where one can contemplate the nature of life and the universe. Although I don’t remember much of the temple when we visited over twenty years ago, I do however remember the garden with its carefully placed stones representing the islands and the precisely raked gravel representing the sea that surrounds them.

The Zen Garden (photo by Dao-hui Chen at Sacred Destinations) and Sanmon Gate (photo from Wikipedia)

Nanzen-ji was built during the middle Heian period in 1291 by Emperor Kameyama on the site of what used to be an imperial palace.

A famous story attached to Nanzen-ji is that of Ishikawa Goemon, a legendary hero and thief reminiscent of Robin Hood, who was famously boiled alive in a cauldron for attempting to assassinate Toyotomi Hideyoshi during the sengoku or warring states period in 16th century Japan. Goemon is the subject of many kabuki plays and in the most famous one, in an act titled Sanmon Gosan no Kiri, sits on the roof of Sanmon gate smoking a pipe and enjoying the view.

Apart from plays, there are numerous stories and films about Goemon, and he is even credited as an illustrious ancestor of Ishikawa Goemon XIII in one of my favourite anime series Lupin III by Monkey Punch which I used to watch as a child. A re-imagined historical fantasy film Goemon directed by Kazuaki Kiriya was recently released in Japan.

I seem to always go off topic, but I love to hear stories that are attached to monuments and buildings which bring their history to life.

So having spent the last week nursing ever multiplying monster headaches (tension-type headaches including a side-effect of nausea and upset tummy) brought on by having to think about viewing flats and sorting out my mortgage (yes, I know I have to grow up one day but please, not just yet!) I have decided to treat myself to an eyelash perm. Well, technically both eyelashes as I don’t want to look like a one-eyed doll wonder. And I’m impressed with the result. And it was painless too. Here’s a short clip if you want to know how it’s done:

The eyelash perm has been popular in Japan for over ten years to brighten up and enlarge Japanese eyes, and I had been dying to get one ever since, but sadly I didn’t have enough time when I popped over there this year for a friend’s wedding. I know, I sound like a real jet-setter, swanning off to Sri Lanka, then Japan, then Munich a few weeks back….but seriously, my bank balance is suffering as a result because there were sooo many nice things I just had to get in Japan. My advice: if you are going to Japan, start saving up months in advance because you will definitely want everything you see in the select shops that line the streets of Tokyo. And not just things, you will want sweets from the convenience stores and things from Muji. Muji in Japan is different from the UK because they sell food. It might be ready-made but it’s yummy. It is a shopper’s hell/paradise depending on how much spare cash you have. And I haven’t even started on Matsukiyo (short for Matsumoto Kiyoshi, an equivalent to Boots in the UK, but sooo much better – it’s a chemist/beauty store in which you can spend hours). Everytime I go to Japan, I spend half my time there. I. love. Matsukiyo.

OK, enough of sounding like a crazy person. Let’s get down to some book business. I’ve started reading Kafka on the Shore and although I’ve only read a few pages, it has a more sinister feel than some of Murakami’s other novels. I really loved Norwegian Wood and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and more recently I found his non-fiction semi-autobiography What I Talk About When I Talk About Running both educational and enlightening. Especially since I was trying to get some tips on running a 5km charity run for Cancer Research at the time. And as all my friends know, I’m no runner. I was severely traumatised when I was a child having to run 3km in the mountains of Japan as part of my PE class and getting a very bad mark for it. But Murakami makes running something more than just a bit of exercise, it is a profound experience and an eternal struggle with yourself (although I have a sneaky suspicion that he is a bit of a masochist…the man runs a marathon every year!) And he ties it in with his writing. For that, I am eternally grateful. And I have changed my mind about running too.