My third trip to Japan was just as exciting as the previous visits. Japan is a beautiful country and has much to offer. From the energetic and visually overwhelming Tokyo, to the calm and peaceful countryside, there is always a new experience or site to explore. Just like my previous ‘Passport’ blog post, below I will share my suggestions for travelling Japan :)
Tokyo - Keio Plaza Hotel, Shinjuku. This hotel is a couple minute stroll to Shinjuku station, which is a major hub for buses, trains and the Tokyo metro. The rooms are spacious by Japanese standards.
Kyoto - I highly recommend staying in a traditional Japanese house, which can be booked through Airbnb. Step out of your comfort zone, sleep on futons and sit cross legged on tatami mats!
Gonpachi - You may recognise the interior of this restaurant as it was the inspiration for a memorable set in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill. The banquet menu is worth the splurge as you receive a wide selection of Japanese food, plus the food is super tasty! Best to email them in advance to make a reservation.
By train! Train, shinkansen (bullet train), metro and/or subway. It is by far the easiest way to get around Japan. The stations are well signed and easy to navigate. You feel very safe on the metro, even late at night. Depending on the length of your trip and destinations, it may be worth getting a Rail Pass. TIP: Take note of the yellow exit signs and numbers while using the Tokyo metro. They will help you gain your bearings once you are on street level and with accessing tourist attractions.
See Tokyo from above on the observation deck at Tokyo Skytree - (A similar situation as in NYC..to do Empire State building or Top of the Rock?). You could either do Skytree or Tokyo Tower, the experience is very similar. From the top you can totally understand how Tokyo has a population of 13.35 million people! If you are lucky and visit on a very clear day, you might even spot Mt Fuji in the distance.
Akiharaba - Known as ‘electric town’, you can browse hundreds of electronic shops. In more recent times it has now become the centre of Japan's otaku (diehard fan) culture, and many shops are devoted to anime and manga.
Imperial Palace (and Gardens) - Get out of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and into the serene Japanese gardens surrounding the Imperial Palace. Be sure to check the opening times before you visit as they are closed on certain days/dates.
Tsukiji Fish Market - Many travel resources tell tourists to visit early in the morning in order to see the large tuna fish. However, in recent times (like we experienced) you will be blocked by security guards holding up signs stating tourists can only enter the inner fish market after 9:30am. However, a tourist informed us that only a handful of the entry points to the inner market are manned. Therefore, if you are up for a challenge and feeling a little adventurous, you are able to slip into the inner market early in the morning so you can see all that the inner market has to offer, including the Tuna ..its worth the risk in my opinion! However, I am sure if you did wait until 9:30am, you won’t be disappointed.
Fancy a little skiing or snowboarding?…
Hakuba Ski Fields - Host to the 1998 Winter Olympics, Hakuba is a village in the Japanese Alps, just outside the city of Nagano. There are 11 resorts in the region. Happo-One is the most popular and full of tourists, however we thoroughly enjoyed Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort, which is far less crowded. It is only a 15 minute drive from Happo-One.
Fushimi Inari Shrine - It is an important Shinto shrine and is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari. Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice.
Kinkaku-ji - Commonly known as the ‘Golden Temple’, it is one of the most popular buildings in Japan. Many tourists flock here to see the Zen Buddhist temple shimmering by the lake.
Tea Ceremony - En is a small Japanese-style teahouse in the Gion area of Kyoto. You can enjoy an authentic tea ceremony experience first hand.
For truely authentic Japanese handicrafts, visit the 3rd generation indigo dye house Aizen Kobo. The 100 + year house is beautiful in its self. As a courtesy, it is best if you email prior to you visiting the shop. If you make a purchase, Kenichi is more than happy to show you the indigo dye vats and explain his process. Authentic Japanese indigo dyed textiles are hard to come by; you can be assured that you are investing in the real deal here!
‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ by Arthur Golden - This bestselling novel presents the confessions of one of Japan's most celebrated geisha.
Japanese people love to hear a foreigner speak their language, so go on, download a Japanese phrase app before you go and test out some words/greetings when you’re there to really immerse yourself in the Japanese culture!
Overall, Japan is very clean, safe and organised. It is a stress-free country to travel around and I am sure you will thoroughly enjoy visiting the land of the rising sun.
Indigo is among the oldest dyes to be used for textile dyeing and printing. Many Asian countries, such as India, China and Japan have used indigo as a dye for centuries. The dye was also known to ancient civilisations in Iran, Egypt, Peru and Africa. In ancient times, indigo was often referred to as ‘blue gold’ because of its high value as a trading commodity.
A variety of plants have provided indigo throughout history, but the most natural indigo was obtained from those in the genus Indigofera, which are native to the tropics. Indigofera belongs to the legume family and over three hundred species have been identified. Indigofera tinctoria (also known as true indigo, as it was one of the original sources of indigo) is the most common.
Pop your safety goggles and lab coat on…we’re delving into the chemical make up of indigo!
The precursor to indigo is indican, a colourless, water-soluble organic compound. Indican readily hydrolyses to release β-D-glucose and indoxyl. Oxidation by exposure to air converts indoxyl to indigo. Indican is obtained from the processing of the plant's leaves. The leaves are soaked in water and fermented to convert the indican present in the plant to the blue dye indigotin. The precipitate from the fermented leaf solution is mixed with a strong base such as lye then pressed into cakes, dried, and powdered. The powder is then mixed with various other substances to produce different shades of blue.
Natural Indigo dyeing is a universal practice. It starts with the harvesting of the plant, then the extraction of the pigment, next comes the preparation of the dye bath and finally dyeing of the cloth or yarn. The weaver/tailor/embroider transforms the dyed cloth into garments or homewares of sublime beauty. To further your journey into the world of Indigo, we highly recommend getting your hands on Catherine Legrand’s gorgeous coffee table book ‘Indigo: The colour that changed the world’.
Confession: We are a little bit obsessed with indigo at Loomology..just look at our indigo dye ‘splat’ that features in our logo! If you are also a lover of traditional indigo dyed textiles, you can shop our Sublime Indigo mini frame, which was created by renowned master dyer Aboubakar Fofana in his Bamako workshop in Mali, Africa.
Japanese indigo textiles. Image via Pinterest, original source unknown.
Freshly indigo dyed textiles drying in the Bagru sun. Image by Loomology.
Famously known as the Pink City (the old city is painted pink!), Jaipur is a feast for the senses! In the northern state of Rajasthan, Jaipur is associated with the 'Golden Triangle' tourist trail which consists of New Delhi, Agra (Taj Mahal) and Jaipur. However, one can easily base themselves in Jaipur and be more than satisfied with the rich food, abundance of artisanal handicrafts including block printed and woven textiles and exploring the amazing architectural wonders of world heritage sites. If you are prepared to surrender yourself to the beautiful chaos that is India, you will have a fabulous time exploring this magical city!
Camera - If you're like me and more often than not you settle for your smartphone as a camera, let me tell you...India is definitely a place where it pays to pack a camera! Everywhere you look there is a superb photograph waiting to be captured.
Closed in shoes - Even though its tempting to wear sandals during the day, my advice is to keep the glittery sandals as part of a dinner outfit. Closed in shoes are more practical throughout the day as you explore the city and its surrounds.
Maxi skirts, loose fitting pants and scarfs - Covering up from the harsh sun, mosquitoes and being culturally sensitive is a must.
The Trident Hotel - Located just outside the old city walls, on the way to Amber Fort. The hotel overlooks the Man Sagar Lake and is a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle. You can get around Jaipur (easily and cheaply) from this hotel by walking outside the hotel gate and hailing one of the TukTuks that wait patiently out front. The hotel has modern Indian interiors, excellent customer service and delicious food.
Rambagh Palace - Enjoy drinks on the verandah or treat yourself to a meal in one of their amazing restaurants; you will definitely feel like a maharaja/maharani.
The famous sites of Jaipur; Amber Fort, City Palace and the Hawa Mahal. If you are interested in textiles a visit to the
Anoki Block Printing Museum is a must. You will learn about the rich history and cultural significance of the block printed textiles, see demonstrations of the process and can even try printing yourself. Schedule in a day or overnight trip to Agra to see the breathtaking Taj Mahal, you will not be disappointed! (Tip: It is worth paying for a guide to take you around the Taj Mahal).
Blue Pottery along Amer Road (Mini pot plants make a very cute souvenir)
Bapu and Johari Bazaars for cheap market finds
Gem Palace for something sparkly
Saurashtra Impex a.k.a textile heaven (kantha quilts, dhurrie rugs, embroidery, block prints, antiques, scarfs)
* Jaipur is a treasure trove, so be ready to search, shop and negotiate a good price!
'Shantaram' by Gregory David Roberts. A novel in which a convicted criminal who escaped from prison flees to India. The novel is commended by many for its vivid portrayal of tumultuous life in Bombay.
Room with a view - sunrise over Man Sagar Lake.
Inside the UNESCO world heritage site, Amber Fort.
Cows have right of way in India!
Hawa Mahal, "Palace of the Breeze". It is essentially a high screen wall built in 1799 so the women of the royal household could observe street festivities while unseen from the outside.
Various stages of block printing.
Beautiful indigo dyed block printed textiles drying in the sun.
Until next time India, NAMASTE!