Somewhere I Used To Know

Ever revisited a place where you used to live a long time ago? What motivates you to undertake on such a visit? What do you hope it will achieve? Will it up to your expectations?

These were the questions racing through my mind a few days ago when I was deliberating whether to visit a place I last lived in 12 years ago. I don’t know why I felt the urge to visit there. My Dad said is was ‘A Quest for Past Happiness’. But I don’t recall being particularly happy there for the most part of it. I was 20 and decided to move to a village in the New Forest for a year’s work placement, at the time a 5 hour train journey away from my then boyfriend. But although I found it difficult, I have some really happy memories of the place and of the time. Of snatched weekends of happiness when he’d arrive on the train/bus/ferry for a few days at a time before he’d have to return (to a soundtrack of tears and Classic Rock!) back to his studies at University. When he visited we’d explore the New Forest together and everything seemed more colorful, more vivid and really┬ábeautiful.

We’ve long since broken up (we ended up together for several years) but I fondly remember all the lovely places we visited there and wanted to see if remained as magical as I remembered.

Some aspects inevitably were a mild disappointment. One of my all time favorite shops had long since closed down thus leaving a void in my nostalgia. I soften the blow with a long walk by the sea from Lymington towards Milford-on-Sea armed only with a lidded cup of tea and a Cornish pasty. Some things never deteriorate or diminish; it’s still one of the most dreamily beautiful stretches of coastline in the UK and was exactly how I remembered it. I ate my pasty whilst staring out to sea. Two runners ran past me and smiled, reminding me of the one of the things I love so much nowadays: my running. I was now wishing I’d bought my trainers this time round!

Lymington Coastline with said pasty
Lymington coastline with the pasty in question

I carried on walking and passing familiar places until my feet ached but I kept smiling; I was glad I came back to see this place again.

I next returned to the village where I lived for a year. Hythe is mainly accessible from Southampton by ferry and (interesting fact) is home of the World’s oldest pier train. Previous days were spent watching this train go up and down the pier, a gentle chug chug chug as it delivered commuters to the small passenger ferry every 30 minutes which then departed onward to Southampton.

The Solent and Hythe Ferry
The Solent and Hythe Ferry

In the distance across the massive expanse of water massive cruise liners were busy being boarded, ready to set sail on their epic voyages around the world. It’s a remarkable place to sit and watch the world go by. You feel almost at the edge of the Earth with a flurry of activity barely visible by eye but on closer inspection being epic in proportions. Massive container ships passing by of all shapes and sizes, delivering and receiving orders of astronomical proportions. The expanse of water is so large however that it makes these ships look like mere toys, bobbing up and down for our entertainment rather than serving a critical purpose.

The Edge of the Earth
The Edge of the Earth

I watched the ships in the Solent for a little while with an ice cream and then began the walk back to my car. During which I thought about the days I felt utterly alone here but also the days where I was happier than I’d ever been.

During the walk, a familiar couple passed me on the road, smiling as they passed. They were my former neighbours in the block of flats In which I used to live. They didn’t remember me but I got a warm glow of familiarity.

There are pieces of home everywhere if you choose to look for them.

Alice on Wednesday! Tokyo Rose Part 2: The Japanese Concept Store

 
On the last day of my travels in Japan, I jumped on a train from Kyoto Station to the nearby city of Osaka (a 30 minute train ride) not knowing what to expect. Reality was setting in: I was going back home and most of my travel companions were already homeward bound so I needed to feel like I was still ‘travelling’ just a little bit longer before my flight that evening. 

My guidebook pointed out a cool shopping district a stones throw from Shinsaibashi Station that goes by the name of  ‘Amerikamura’, or American Village. The district has been in existence since the 1970s, initiated by the large amount of US clothing and general Americana memorabilia imported for the expats based there (hence the name). It has been referred to as the ‘Harajuku’ of Kyoto due to the large alternative scene based here, where fashionable teenagers flock to in order to show off their latest outfits. Signs outside various stores advertise ‘Gothic Lolita Fashion’.

‘What is Gothic Lolita Fashion’, you may be wondering? Well, it is a particular style which basically involves wearing the frilliest, girliest dresses you can possible think of. And in predominantly black. Think Gothic Japanese Little Bo Peep or Little Red Riding Hood. Lace, bows, frills and more frills, this is clothing originating from the Victorian Era, but with an cooler edge to it. There is nothing seedy about it, the look originated from women simply not wanting feel like they have to wear skimpy clothes in order to attract the opposite sex. And because it’s fun to wear. The clothing is very modest (petticoats are essential garb) and most of the girls wearing look like they’ve escaped from a Disney Film. 

Lolita Goth: Japanese Street Style. Image from Pinterest (Bethany Hoffman)

Osaka is also home to a very large number of 1970s era vintage fashion shops, a great selection of bars and restaurants and what looks like a thriving music scene (I was only there for a day trip but saw lots of advertisements scattered around the shops).

So, back to the purpose of this article; the Alice On Wednesday concept store. I was wandering past a queue of excited teenagers being policed by an elderly, rather angry looking security guard. Two english speaking tourists asked if I wanted their spare tickets for the 2pm time slot to join said queue. 

Here marks the start of the queue.

 

‘Sure, Ok!’ (I was feeling spontaneous)

(Thought a minute) ‘Er…so what is the ticket for exactly?’

‘It’s an Alice in Wonderland concept store. We read about it on the internet, they’re supposed to be the new thing.’

‘Ah, Ok. Thanks!’

I was still none the wiser to what a concept store was exactly, so I decided out of curiosity to return to the queue at 2pm and see what was at the front of it. Because when has there not been anything worth seeing at the front of a long queue? Unless your waiting for a bus. Or buying stamps. Or going to the bank. OK, maybe there are exceptions to this statement. Nonetheless I was joining that queue.

So after buying a large quantity of slogan T-shirts, knocking over several precariously balanced bicycles outside of a cafe (they weren’t looking where I was walking!) and a rather delicious meal in a Spanish themed noodle bar ( I don’t get it either) I headed back to The Queue to see what the fuss was about.

The security man had since become more bad tempered, was shouting in Japanese and waiving some tickets for later time slots (the earliest was 6pm). I took a closer look at the entrance to the store. ‘Alice on Wednesday’ has three fairytale-esque potential entrances and excited teenagers appeared to exiting the smallest door (about 4 foot in height) in dribs and drabs. They must be the 1.30pm time slot. I took my spot at the back of queue of about 10 excited teenagers taking selfies.  

The Entrance (and exit) of Alice On Wednesday

 

‘Do you speak English?’ An Australian tourist has sheepishly approached me in the queue.

‘Yes’.

‘What’s at the front of this queue?’

‘I don’t know’.

More youngsters leave the store laden with large themed shopping bags and I eventually get to the front of the The Queue. My time to enter the Wonderland has finally come…

The small, modest entrance immediately opens up into ‘The Red Queen’s Room’ which is a gothic themed room painted bright red with a black and white chequered floor. A ceiling adorned with glistening chandeliers, floor to ceiling mirrors and a long dining table which stretches from one end of the room to the other. Floor to ceiling antique bookcases line the walls. And located in every possible nook, cranny and crevice is gifts and memorabilia associated with The Lewis Carol story. Watches, hair slides, necklaces, cushions, playing cards, you name it’s here. An everything in here has a sparkly, almost magical appearance (it must be the lighting); all of it screams ‘Buy Me’. And buy they do; another large queue of teenagers starts form at the checkout. 

The Red Queen’s Room in Alice on Wednesday

 

Moving on into the second from ‘The White Queen’s Room’ is bulging at the seams with sweets and random themed food items for sale. Giant lolly pops, jars of wonderful looking sweets and glass bottles containing mysterious concoctions with ‘Drink Me’ labels on the front. My personal favourites were the themed ‘recipe boxes’ which contained ingredients to make a small selection of meals.

Emblazoned on the front of one of them was the following: ‘Alice made this Thai Green Curry for the White Rabbit. Do you want to try?’

A stretch too far? Certainly. Did I want to buy and try that curry? Of course I did!

Alice On Wednesday: A new, rather unique concept in shopping. 

To find out more visit http://www.aliceonwednesday.jp

 

 

 

 

 

Cats on Sushi! Tokyo Rose Part 1: The Weird and Wonderful World of Japanese Toy Vending Machines

Well A BIG HELLO To Everyone! And a special hello to the patient individuals who are still following my blog after all this time! It’s been a while. Unfortunately I was cursed with a massive writers block that I felt could only be remedied by a bit of a break and a few holidays here and there. So I went and booked myself on a trip to Japan, didn’t I?! It’s been on my bucket list for years so carpe diem and all that, I just booked it over Christmas and set off last month for a rather fast paced tour of this fascinating country… 

‘Japan Express’ is a 9 day group trip you can book through Intrepid Travel and I added a few days before and a week after to do some solo travelling (including my first hostel experience at the age of 31!). In 9 days you can sample the key highlights of Japan; starting at the mad metropolis that is Tokyo, heading north to beautiful Nikko, then finally taking the bullet train across to Kyoto to be bathed in culture and Japanese tradition. 

So this morning, with it being Good Friday over in the UK, I was till sat in my dressing gown at 11am (don’t judge me!) and suddently became inspired to update my blog. Not in detail about my holiday (I think my friends are going to start avoiding me soon if I keep up with that!), but because I felt the need to share with you one of the weirdest yet coolest things I saw when I was out there. No it wasn’t the Golden Pavillion. Nor was it the Geisha Girls. Or even the Sushi. Yet, it’s stayed with me and become one of my new obesssions. 

Gashapon. Yes, Gashapon. Japanese Toy Vending machines to you and I. Please bear with me a moment whilst I elaborate further. Now, who remembers from their childhoods those machines you put small change into and they spurted out a rubbish toy? Well in Japan, they have become a rather incredible thing, a National Obsession. The toys themselves aren’t rubbish, they’re not only rather well made but deeply, deeply funny. Hundreds of these machines can be found everywhere, each containing a series of bizarre collectable yet deeply unnecessary objects that you feel compelled to possess. They don’t make any sense, but by the end of my trip I found myself piling Japanese yen into these magical machines and bartering with locals to swap duplicate toys with me. Here’s how they work: you simply put your coins in the machines, twist the wheel untill a little egg pops out containing a random toy from the collection stipulated on the front of the machine. 

 

It’s the End of the World and Nothing but Gashapon have survived.

 

It’s had to put into words the level of weirdness I saw being marketed as collectable items. The mere existance confirmed that the Japanese have a wicked sense of humour, possibly better than us Brits! Some are collectable figurines from Anime or Manga so fans of these would be in seventh heaven. But I wasn’t interested in those. I was interested in the random, the disturbing and the hilarious. So Part One of my ‘Tokyo Rose’ Blog will bring to you today’s Top 5 Weird Gashapon Toys of Japan. 

So let’s kick off with what started this voyage of discovery with Cats on Sushi. Yes, Cats, that look a bit upset, on Sushi. A series of five collectable figures at only 400 Japanese Yen each (about £2 UK pounds). 

 

Cats. On Sushi.

 Next comes Dogs…In Bread! A series of collectable dogs, trapped against their will in different types of baked goods. Only 200 Japanese Yen. 

Dogs. Trapped in Bread.

Fancy a romantic night in with your Smartphone? Then indulge it with it’s very own velour dressing gown, complete with hood. Only 300 yen. Crack open the bubbly and get prepare to indulge!  Let’s not make this any weirder than it already is. 

A Dressing Gown. For Your Smartphone.

Next up: don’t you just find it utterly adorable when a dog llifts it’s leg to relieve itself? Well, now someone has captured this special moment in a series of collectable figures for your viewing pleasure!  

Dogs. Having A Wee.

Ever wanted to see what historical statues would look like without their nostrils. Then you’re in luck, for only 200 Japanese yen you can possess your own unique take on history.  

Statues. Without Nostrils.

Speechless? I know the feeling. But the more I saw them, the more I wanted to possess them all! My suitcase ws bulging with these little eggs of joy on my way back home.  

That’s  all for now, mainly because I’m hungry now. But please like and share if you’ve enjoyed my post, if not for me then for the Cats On Sushi, they’ve been through enough.

 

Claire

 

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