Saturday, 20 September 2014

Hiroshima & Miyajima

As we left Kinosaki Onsen so late in the day, stopping by Kyoto for some lunch, we didn't arrive in Hiroshima until the evening. Our Wifi device was proving to be incredibly handy at this point, as we were easily able to access Google Maps and follow the directions to our hotel.

Finding the hotels in each city by foot first seemed to be a really good way of coming to grips with the new places we visited. Luckily our digs for the night; Chisun Hotel Hirosima was only a short walk from the station, maybe 15 or 20 minutes. Hiroshima City itself is built on the delta of the River Ota, making the walk to our hotel in the cool night air a really beautiful one, with all the street lights twinkling along its many tributaries. I dare say that Hiroshima city itself is more beautiful at night, it really stood apart from the other concrete jungle cities we visited.

Once we arrived we kicked back. Our hotel rooms were on the small side, but a standard for a budget hotel in Japan, they were clean and came with all the amenities we had come to expect like toothbrushes, shampoos, razors etc. We were only here one night with a small amount of luggage, so they were perfect.

The next day we got up early to make the most of our time in the city; the staff didn't speak much English, but it was super easy to communicate that we wanted to store our luggage for the day while we explored, and they were friendly and accommodating for it.

We picked up some really handy guides to Hiroshima in the hotel lobby, and used the tourist maps provided in them to plan our day. The first stop for the morning was to be the A-Bomb dome and museum, a short walk from the hotel itself. The city has excellent public transport in the form of the overground tram system, with a one way set fare no matter how far you travel on it. We decided to walk to the dome, as we needed breakfast anyway and wanted to look for a cafe to settle in - in the end opted instead to pick up an on the go breakfast from the Family Mart next door to the hotel and sit in the park and eat it.

Unfortunately for us, we were about to face the first hint that there was a large typhoon heading for the West coast of Japan, and the Heavens opened. We got stuck in an underground shopping mall for maybe an hour near the A-Bomb site waiting for the rain to calm down.

To be honest, the weather never really calmed down completely, the wind died down enough for us to wander across to the Dome and the Memorial Gardens. The atmosphere was understandably solemn, and perhaps because of the rain there were less tourists than we expected.

We made our way through the park to the Museum, on the way stopping at the A-Bomb Hypocentre, the Peace Flame and the Children's memorial. Although we took our time around the grounds and the museum, I feel like there's not much I can write about this part. It's definitely an experience you need to see for yourself. It was very sad but also sort of beautiful and inspiring at the same time.

We were sad to learn that the 69th anniversary of the A-Bomb had passed only a few days before our arrival. On 6th August, there is a memorial ceremony each year, one part during the day and another in the evening, where thousands of paper lanterns are released to float down the Motoyasu River in memory of those who lost their lives during the bombing.

After we were done at the museum it was rolling on lunch time, so we checked our guide once again for a recommendation on a nice place to eat. We were fairly dead set on trying Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki, a famous staple of the region, so it was fairly easy to narrow down places.

Hondori-Dori is a nearby indoor shopping street with kitchy shops, arcades and plenty of places to eat. Because of the awful weather we headed over here and happened to spot a perfect place to get lunch, at the west end of the street, Nagata-Ya!

Understandably, due to the atrocious weather the place was rammed, there was even a queue under the awning of people waiting to get in. We decided to take this time to check out the shops and the arcades on Hondori Street and come back at a less peak time rather than go hunting elsewhere for another restaurant.

I feel like we definitely made the right call to stick about - as well as the recommended pancakes on their menu, they have an a la carte selection of ingredients you can order from to customise your own okonomiyaki. The chefs cook the main portion of the ingredients together on their giant hot-plates, and then bring it over to your table where you can further cook it to your own liking.

We all agreed that it was probably one of the nicest meals we'd had so far, and craved the Hiroshima-style for days after when we went out to dinner! It's a super filling meal, I would say moreso than the Kansai variety of the dish - the ingredients are layered up rather thank mixed, and placed on a batter pancake with three times the amount of cabbage, then flipped over. A traditional "Hiroshimayaki" pancake has a fried egg on top and covered with plenty of sauce.

It was getting on in time by this point, and we still had plenty more places to go before setting off for Osaka that evening, so we decided to make haste to Miyajima, or as it's properly known, Itsukishima Island.

We found it easy enough to get to the Island, our handy guide flipped back to front to show a special Miyajima section of the booklet. Catching a tram back to Hiroshima JR Station, we used our Rail Passes to get a train to Miyajima-guchi station where the Ferry to the Shrine Island was well signposted.

One the way Emi almost picked up a lost American Tourist, suggesting he accompany us to the island, though he politely refused - probably fearing he'd end chopped up in a suitcase somewhere down the line. After a little bout of banter, and putting him back on his track to Hiroshima City, we wandered down to the port.

I won't lie, it was a bit of a daunting experience being on a passenger ferry in the middle of a Typhoon, but our little boat chugged on getting us safely to the shore on the other side. The weather thankfully calmed down a little once we arrived, and because of the impending rain and wind we found the Island quite peaceful and tourist-free.


I can imagine that it's easy for the island and temple to lose its charm when rammed with hundreds of visitors bustling round on a sunny day, but in the calm before the storm it was almost magical. We wandered through to the area surrounding the port, questing for a map of sorts to direct us to the sightseeing spots and it was pretty hard to ignore the deer.

Nobody warned us about the deer of Miyajima, so to say we were taken aback by this guy just chilling out in the middle of the road is an understatement. Emi; a huge fan of the majestic creatures surely whips out her camera and starts to close in on the animal; following it down the path to the temple.

If we were taken aback by seeing it there in the first place, nothing prepared us for what was about to happen. The graceful deer hopped over to one of the rubbish bins, Emi snapping away in its wake, and in the most disgusting display of pure animal greed I think I've ever seen, just swallows a huge plastic bag filled with trash down in more or less one go. If that didn't set Carlo, Ciaran and I off in fits of laughter, then it was Emi, probably by now a little upset and disillusioned, slowly lowering her camera to look at the horror with her own eyes.

It was pretty soon after that we realised the hungry deer wasn't an isolated incident, the island was swarming with the animals. Whether they were kicking back on the beach or trying to eat Ciaran's trousers, they really were everywhere, and I'm kinda sad to say that the novelty did wear off after a little while.

Unfortunately due to the lateness of our arrival and the impending storm, the temple itself was closed, as was the ropeway up to Mt. Misen, so we didn't get to see inside anything here. We took our time wandering around the grounds, however, and there was still a lot to see. The five-story pagoda, statues and of course, the famous red tori gate itself.


I think if we ever got the opportunity to visit again, we'd definitely choose to stay in a ryokan or hotel on Miyajima instead of Hiroshima city. There is so much to do on the island, the parks, different temples, mountain hikes and lots of famous local quisine to try - in particular the island is famed for it's oyster and conger eel dishes!

The sun was setting as we walked back from the Kiyomori Shrine, one of the furthest shrines from the port along the coast. As we gathered our things to head back, we noticed a lot of hurried tourists along the shore rushing past us.... And a JR Ferry chugging its way towards the island. Surely it couldn't be the last ferry back to the mainland - with other visitors hurrying, we weren't going to take any chances, and started to sprint ourselves.

Heavily out of breath, sweating and red faced we managed to stumble into the port as the conductor was yelling something in Japanese - though his hasty arm waving gave us a pretty solid idea that he was telling us to get the heck on the boat.

Totally pooped out from our 200 metre sprint, we hung ourselves limply over the side of the boat, enjoying the cold sea spray. We were somewhat recovered by the time we got to dry land, but started dozing off on the train back to Hiroshima city, all of us pretty glad we had no more rushing about to do.

We took a tram to to our hotel to pick up our luggage and returned to the Shinkansen Station straight away, feeling pretty lucky that there was a stop directly outside where we had stayed. It didn't take long to find a train for Osaka, and off we were, back to central Japan for our next adventure!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

World Cosplay Summit Preliminary Round Advice

In just 8 weeks, Hyper Japan will host the World Cosplay Summit UK selections for 2015, and we couldn't be more excited! We know it takes a long time to prepare for a big competition like this, but it's never to late for some final words of encouragement and advice, right?

From our experience doing the prelims at Play Expo last October, and our journey through WCS this summer, we've prepared a few pointers that might help all would-be UK reps in November!


You’ve probably already decided your costumes, so take the time to perfect them. At the end of the day you want to be happy with what you produce so you can confidently display it to the judges - don’t rush it.

• Remember that the preliminary round is a 50% accuracy and technique based competition, the judges will be looking at your finish. So while getting ambitious is fantastic, a simple, yet well constructed costume will usually have an edge over a complex but unrefined build.

• Your progress book is your lifeline. You get a limited time with the judges but your book stays with them during the entire judging process [including the performance]. Put all the important details, thoughts and ideas inside it and make use of photos and samples to help illustrate your techniques. You can use it as a reference while discussing your costume to.

• As well as preparing your progress book, a helpful tip might be to rehearse the points you want the judges to notice. You likely won’t have time to discuss every tiny detail, so break down what the most important pieces are (sometimes even starting from the head and working your way down to the feet is a good way to begin) and disregard everything else, you can back that all up in the progress book if necessary.

• Additionally, it’s worth making notes on who worked on what parts of the costumes. Even if during the judging one member of the team doesn’t want to speak, make sure the one who is speaking divides their time between both builds equally.

• Give yourself ample time to rehearse with your partner, both in and out of costume. work out a contingency plan for anything that ‘could’ potentially go wrong in your performance to avoid freezing up on stage!

• If it can go wrong, it probably will. Don’t let it get you down, keep a positive attitude and remember what you’re in it for. It’s fun at the end of the day, so don’t dwell on the bad stuff.

• Your audio is just as important as your performance, a good quality recording and soundtrack can make a huge difference in your deliverance. Give yourself enough time to create a track that covers all the relevant grounds in your performance - aka any specific sound effects, swords clashing or gasps. It may mean having to act to certain cues but this shows a strong commitment - and lots of practise which will impress your audience.

• If you make use of audio learn your lines and speak them clearly - be visible! Be conscious of your audience and exaggerate any subtle movements. Consider how it looks from the judges point of view at all times. Film your practises and get opinions and feedback from friends.

• You can be working towards your performance, even when you’re technically not working on it… By listening to your audio and getting those mental cues well embedded. (For our prelims performance we lived so far away we couldn’t practise at all, so we individually worked on our cues and movements to learn the performance as best we could alone).

• Remember you are marked on your use of the stage, find ways in which to include the entirety of your allocated space, don’t stick to the centre and don’t be afraid to show your back to the audience if you need to move around.

• Make sure to get in touch with the cosplay organisers of the event way before if you have any lingering questions, whether it’s about your judging slot, your performance, any rules or regulations you might need to follow strictly. It really pays to have your back covered in these situations, where uninformed decisions can result in disqualification or a points reduction.

• Give yourself plenty of time to get to the venue before your judging slot - the last thing you need is more stress of whether or not you’re going to be there on time. If something does come up and you find you might be late - contact one of the cosplay coordinators or staff. There are a lot of things that are out of your control, and you shouldn’t let that ruin your day.


This is of course no means an exhaustive list of "dos" and "don'ts" you're required to follow, but we thought it might be a starting point for those gearing up for the competition.

Remember to take it all with a pinch of salt, too! The WCS experience, even the preliminary rounds are about enjoying yourself and having fun. Talk to the other contestants, take photos, have a laugh and support each other!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Kinosaki Onsen

The first stop on our Japan tour was Kinosakionsen; we had a one night layover waiting for both of our boyfriends to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto to meet us. Both suffering a little from the after effects of the Special Tour, I think we were glad to spend the day in Nagoya, taking our time to say our very teary goodbyes.

We went for one last meal with a few Omotenashi students, Teams and organisers at a place Ino recommended - a Nagoya speciality, even - Yabaton Misokatsu! You can find out more about it from their English Website, and if you're ever in Nagoya it's an absolute treat, so don't miss out!

From here we experienced Suitcase Wars Episode VI: Return of the Baggage. This ordeal again. Somehow we made it to Kyoto in one piece, and luckily our Hotel - Hotel Hokke Club Kyoto - was directly opposite the station. The rooms are fairly big compared to most other hotels; the staff friendly and helpful and the free wifi a godsend. They have coin operated washers and dryers on the fourth floor, too, which we were able to freshen up some of our laundry with before leaving the next day.

As this was just a stopover, we didn't get up to much in the city. The next day we were able to store the majority of our luggage until our return six days later. As Kinosakionsen isn't a large city by any stretch, we needed to take a local train rather than Shinkansen to our destination.

The journey itself was painless, we managed to get a rapid express train, it was air conditioned and it was covered by our JRPasses. When we arrived there was a post-rain dewiness about the air, moreso than in the city, and we were worried with the hot springs it might bring bugs and biting insects. Surprising to say, but we had zero problems with mosquitos or their like the entire time we were there. Greeting us at the station, too, was a free shuttle bus to our hotel provided by the town for all visitors. 

Although the town itself is small, it always helps to get your bearings having someone take you right there. We stayed at a Ryokan named Morizuya, which was at most a ten minute walk from the station up the river, and right in the middle of all the action. The beautiful decor outside of fountains with crabs and fish, umbrellas and soft lighting continued inside where a tatami waiting area is fitted with a turtle pool.

Check in was pretty easy, the staff didn't speak much English again. but they welcomed us warmly, providing a full tour of the inn and taking us to a room where Emi and I were able to choose from a variety of yukata to rent, as well as accessories like kanzashi, hair clips and fans. The boys were stuck with the same mens-standard (yet rabbit-print) yukata. 

Once seated in our room, we met up with the other four members of our mini-trip, decked ourselves out in yukata and headed out to try our first bath! The hotel provided us with an English-Language map of the town with lists and locations of all the onsen and their specialties.

We chose Goshono-yu, as recommended by the hotel staff. This is the newest and largest of the main seven baths, and the outdoor area backs onto a beautiful waterfall which makes for a very relaxing bathing atmosphere. Of course, as most public baths are, Goshono-yu has gender-seperated bathing spaces, so our party split in two.

As it was a festival night, when it hit 8pm we could hear the Taiko drums in the shrine begin to beat, drawing us back outside to the festivities. In the shrine area there were festival games like catch the fish, crab racing, and the drummers were calling onlookers up onto the stage to have a go. After a look around we headed down to the river to watch the firework display.

All of the yukata-clad visitors crowded the arched bridges and banks to watch the fireworks - it was pretty spectacular. Between the excited, dressed up crowd and the town jumping right out of a Shinsengumi-Era drama it was really magical.

After the display and the bath we were pretty hungry. I'd left our guidebook of the town in the hotel room, so we just wandered around looking for the first place to catch our eye. It didn't take us long to stumble upon Naru, a BBQ restaurant where we were able to select our type of meat, any sides and grill it to our liking. For simple food, it was probably the tastiest we've had so far in Japan!

Bellies full, we went for a wander down the river to grab some ice cream and sparklers. We played around for an hour or so before succumbing to tiredness and heading back up to the ryokan to sleep.


The next day, we checked out, the staff were accommodating and let us store or luggage while we went out for breakfast at one of the recommended cafes, Sorella. We were really impressed with their iced coffee and latte menu, as well as the delicious honey toast they offered - probably the closes thing to a western breakfast we could get!

We had a bit of a journey ahead of us, so we departed Kinosaki in the sunshine around 1pm, said goodbye to our friends and moved on to our next destination - Hiroshima!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Post-WCS Introduction

Long time no blog! I guess we overestimated the amount of spare time we would have to blog about things whilst WCS was ongoing (not gonna lie, either, we spent all of our free time hanging out with the other teams!). Now World Cosplay Summit is finished we can take some time out to share what we're doing now the competition is over - our adventure in Japan! We have so many notes and photographs still left from WCS to share, so we will do maybe an in-depth weekly-round up of each day of it when we both get back from Japan.

For now, I think we will concentrate the here and now! Each night we hope to do a small, yet informative blog on our travels through Japan, with the hopes that it will encourage people to come and visit and give some insight into the things you can see and do while you're out here! We have a number of resources helping us along the way, and it'll be nice to share this info with all of you.

The easiest way to do this, I guess, is to address it geographically. We began our tour in Nagoya; starting at Nagoya Station. Here we claimed our Japan Rail Passes, which we had applied for prior to leaving the UK. You need to do this through an operator; we used JTB who were not only extremely helpful but incredibly informative (additionally we booked our Studio Ghibli Museum tickets via them, too, but I'll go into that process later). JTB also have a number of resources on their website you can use to scout out tourist spots and helpful tips for travelling in Japan.

If you head to their FAQ page, all your questions on what the JRPass involves can probably answered there, but for a quick explanation, basically it's a pass available to visitors from outside Japan that allows you to travel for a number of days around the entire country at an extremely discounted price. You can cheapen it further by limiting the destinations to East, West, Central etc or by cutting down the number of days which you would like to travel. Emi and I are travelling around at the moment on a 7-Day JRPass, it allows us to travel anywhere within Japan on the train and Shinkansen (bullet train) starting from the day which we activated it - so although we were in the country for 2 weeks prior to travelling, it didn't begin until we activated it at Nagoya station. 

We would both highly recommend it, as it's an insane value for money. To put it into perspective - we paid 11,000 yen each for a single ticket between Tokyo and Nagoya, which works out at around £50 I think. That's 1/3 of the price of our pass done already, and we've only traveled one journey. Throughout the holiday we have planned seven journeys all across the country, it's definitely a worthwhile investment.

Train isn't the only way to see Japan, either, there's also the Experience Japan Fare by ANA which is a set-fare for foreign visitors to use air travel within the country. You can find more info on their Website, but we will also be blogging about this later on when we visit Yufuin! (Also, I'm not gonna lie, that site is super useful in general for finding cool places to eat and visit, will probs write about it later, too!)

Aside from all the travel malarkey, we have been gifted with an NTT Docomo portable wifi hotspot to update and share pictures, as well as help us get around here! You can pick these nifty gadgets up from a number of websites and at any airport in Japan. I'm pretty sure the way it works is by connecting to a 3G signal and working as a data-tethering thingy. I'm not hot on the technical details, I'm sure you can find out on their website (one of a few out there) - what I do know is that it works so well and I'm not sure how we would get around without it!

At the moment we're on the second night of our holiday, we visited Kinosakionsen yesterday, and traveled to Hiroshima today. I think it's safe to say we're seasoned Shinkansen veterans right now, and we're both pretty relieved that the bullet train is almost a pleasure to travel on - it's a million miles away from National Rail in the UK where you're lucky if you have a working toilet on your cross-country voyage. Just as well, since we have a lot more travelling to go!

Tomorrows blog update will include a full write up of our trip from Nagoya to Kinosakionsen, and our Shinkansen adventure from there to Hiroshima. Please look forward to it!!