There And Back Again: Hobbiton Tour, New Zealand

I haven’t updated the blog in over a week, but I promise I have a good reason for it! I spent the last week in New Zealand visiting friends and family.

While I was there, I finally got to visit the Hobbiton set in Matamata. My partner and I are huge fans of the Lord of the Rings movie (we have rewatched the trilogy every year since we started dating), so it was a delight to visit The Shire. Our tour guide told us that March is one of the best time to visit – as the various flowers and foliage are in still vibrant, yet you miss the summer holiday crowd.

HobbitonTour

We booked our tour the day before via the official website. The cost of these tours are $79NZD per adult (as of March 2016). As far as we could tell, the only way to gain access to the site is via these official tours, as you cannot drive directly there.

We chose to drive into Matamata (around 2.5 hours from Auckland) and were collected by bus from the Matamata iSite (tourist information centre). The building itself was modeled to resemble The Green Dragon Inn in Hobbiton!Read More »

Book Review: Emperor Of The Eight Islands

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4-star

Title: Emperor Of The Eight Islands

Author: Lian Hearn

Series? Yes. 1 of 2.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Goodreads

Book Depository


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hachette Australia in exchange for an honest review.

Lian Hearn returns in top form with Emperor Of The Eight Islands. Once again, she seamlessly weaves Japanese myth and history into a brand new tale. This is a first in a series, and it features a sprawling epic, with much of the novel feeling like a prelude to an even grander story. I am already clamouring for more.

EmperorEightIsland

Your life is not your own. You will die to one life and rise to another, to become what you are meant to be.

Read More »

Japan Blog Series: 5 Books You Should Read Before Going To Japan

JapanBlogSeriesFive

I am finally back from holiday and fighting the post-holiday blues. I will be slowly catching up on comments – although I caught the Tsum Tsum fever while I was away, so it may take longer than usual 😄 PS Does anyone play it? Add me on LINE, the username is aentee!

Meanwhile, I’d like to give you guys some recommendations of books you should read before or after you go to Japan – just to give you a slice of what the country has to offer! I am still reading some of these books myself, as a way for me to wean off my vacation. Thank goodness for books and their ability to transport you!Read More »

Japan Book Blog Series: Anime/Manga Readalikes

Today’s blog post resumes my Japan related blog series, I am still on my holiday and I am sure future-me is having a great time. Anyway, like many people out there, one of my first brush with Japan was via manga. Actually, the very first book I ever read was the first volume of Dragon Ball. While I don’t read as much manga as I use to, I thought it would be fun to recommend some readalikes based on your favourite book series!

The Fifth Wave & Attack On Titan

MangaBook01

I am sure you are all familiar with both series as they have been huge successes worldwide. In The Fifth Wave, ruthless aliens overtake the world, and a group of young people try desperately to survive despite the odds. In Attack On Titan, humanity has been plaqued by human-eating giants for centuries, and desperately try to survive while living behind great walls. Both looks at humanity and family in times of mortal crisis.


Archivist Wasp & Magica Madoka

MangaBook02

I adore both stories, which features strong female characters and lies about destiny in an unsettling story. Both are also series best enjoyed when you know as little as possible about the storyline – I just suggest you look past their covers and dive in deep! It wil lbe worth it, I promise!


Throne of Glass & Akatsuki no Yona

MangaBook03

Both series features a steely princess displaced from her own kingdom. Celaena and Yona didn’t capture my attention at first, but as the series went on, they both became beloved female characters. They also have an entourage of gentlemen each, ready to serve and protect them.


Firebird Series & Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles

MangaBook04

While I admit The Firebird Series has multiple flaws, I really enjoyed the interdimension travel which allows the characters to cross countries and parallel worlds at will. Similarly, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle features interdimensional travel, into new and wonderful locations where we can meet previous CLAMP characters in an alternate universe. Both series also has a strong romantic undertones and a huge focus on fate.


The Lunar Chronicles & Sailor Moon

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This one is obvious, as The Lunar Chronicles was actually partly inspired by the classic magical girls anime. Both features strong, independent ladies, with loads of moon and space motifs, and a terrible Queen.


Fangirl & My Girlfriend’s A Geek

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When I first heard of Fangirl, I immediately thought of this manga – which features a fujoshi (a female equivalent of an otaku, especially one adoring M/M romance). Although Yuiko also dreams up fanfiction, let’s just say she’s a lot more… enthusiastic about it all, much to the chagrin of her boyfriend. I prefer Fangirl, but this manga is also a bit of fun.


Have you guys tried reading manga or watching anime? Which are your favourites?

Book Review: Geisha – A Life

4-star

Title: Geisha- A Life

Author: Mineko Iwasaki, Translated by Rande Brown

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Series? No

Goodreads

Book Depository


NOTE:  This is a pre-scheduled post. I am still on vacation. Apologies in any delay in commenting back!  Thanks for visiting 😀

In my last post, I looked at the infamous Memoir Of A Geisha by Arthur Golden. Today, I look at the autobiography of the woman who inspired it all: Mineko Iwasaki. This book provides the Western world with a rare insight into life as a geiko of Gion, through the eyes of someone who once stood at the top of the flower-and-willow world.

Geisha-of-Gion

Karyukai means “the flower and willow world.” Each geisha is like a flower, beautiful in her own way, and like a willow tree, gracious, flexible, and strong.

Geisha-of-Gion-Likes

  • First and foremost, I loved how this book gives us an insight into the lives of geiko (the Kyoto term for geisha) in Gion Kobu, and it goes a long way to dispelling the myths surrounding their profession. Iwasaki revealed the intense training in all the arts, especially of traditional dancing, she underwent as an apprentice. I knew the all geisha and geiko studied hard, but having their day documented gave me a newfound respect for these artists.
  • As I’ve mentioned numerous times in this blog series, I adore Kyoto. This book gave me an insight to Kyoto of days gone-by, where the streets of Gion was filled with traditional shops instead of tourist souvenir shops. I also love the sense of history in sights that endured through time in Kyoto, such as the ever-present Kamo River, to the magnificent theatres of Minamiza and Kaburenjo. It makes me appreciate these sights more to know how much they meant to the people of Gion.
  • It’s a bit voyeuristic, but I enjoyed seeing the life behind the walls of ochaya and okiya, which I would never get to see otherwise. As you might know, geiko only entertain the wealthy and well-connected elites of this world. Instead of paying thousands of dollars for the pleasures of an ozashiki, I paid $10 for this Kindle ebook to whet my appetite instead.

Geisha-of-Gion-Dislikes

  • While I enjoyed the book when I read it, I found it very difficult to remember the content of the book due to the nature of its layout. Iwasaki jumps through life events at an irregular pattern, she would be speaking of her afternoon walks in clear details – then proceed to gloss over an important dance recital. The scenes changed at random intervals, it looks like the book underwent very little editing.
  • Iwasaki documents her life from the time she was three years old, and tries to convince her readers that she decided to leave her parents and become a geiko all on her own… AT THREE! She also details event from this period from her life with startling clarity – one that makes me wonder at the authenticity of these passages. I personally don’t remember anything from my life at three years old, let alone make a huge decision like choosing to be sold to an okiya!
  • It may be a cultural barrier, but I found Iwasaki’s attitude quite off-putting. She striked me as incredibly sheltered and privileged, yet utterly clueless. There’s a passage where she claims she does not fart. Another passage where she commands a junior member of the okiya to rub her feet, and feels no remorse for it. This finally culminates in a scene where she slashes the coat of her lover’s wife, holding more resentment for the woman than for his infidelity.
  • I also found that the writing was very sterile. The book was written as a defence to Arthur Golden’s misappropriation of geisha and their world. Iwasaki mainly showed the world how great she was as a geisha, we never got to see much of her struggles. I felt very disconnected from her.

Nonetheless, this book offers a unique insight into a part of the Japanese culture most people won’t have access to. If you’re interested in the karyukai, I would highly recommend this. I also recommend it to those who have read Arthur Golden’s book, to get another (more realistic) perspective on things.

Geisha-of-Gion-Sights

Yasaka Shrine lies nestled in the foothills of the Higashiyama Mountains, the chain that flanks the eastern border of Kyoto. The Gion Kobu, to the west of the shrine, is about one square mile in size. The district is crisscrossed by a neat grid of manicured lanes. Hanamikoji (Cherry Blossom Viewing Path) runs through the center of the district from north to south and Shinmonzen Street divides it east to west.

Higashiyama2
Nestled within the Higashiyama district lies some of Kyoto’s best preserved historical districts. Japan Trip 2014.

These are some of my favourites streets to wander in Kyoto, with wooden houses intermingled with shops peddling souvenirs to catch the enthusiastic tourist (I am totally one of those tourist, my home is still littered with a million cute things I have no use for). Be warned that these streets do get quite busy, so I advise an early morning or late afternoon visit! Meander through and ogle at fans, teapots, ceramic wares, traditional dolls, music boxes – you’ll be rewarded by free samples of tea and sweets along the way 😉

Kyoto3
An enduring symbol of Kyoto: Yasaka Pagoda

I love the sight of Yasaka Pagoda, widely touted in travel pamphlets and blog pages as a symbol for Higashiyama. It stands tall, a mark of history and culture against a backdrop of modern electrical wires and wide-eyed tourists.

Seasonal appropriateness is paramount. The canons of traditional Japanese taste divide the year into twenty-eight seasons, each of which has its own symbols. Ideally, the colors and patterns on the kimono and obi reflect the exact season, nightingales in late March, for example, or chrysanthemums in early November

Kimono

There are loads of kimonos to be seen in Kyoto, it’s little wonder – with rental shops being ubiquitous in the city. I couldn’t tell which wearer were native Japanese and which were tourist! I liked seeing personality it added to the hubub of people, and hey – it could hardly be cultural appropriation if the Japanese themselves endorse it?! I hear ladies get to ride Kyoto’s buses for free if they’re in kimonos. What are your thoughts on tourists dressing up in traditional garments of another country?

And in the canal is cold, clear water, water that comes down from Lake Biwa in the north. The water rushes through the canal as it flows towards the Nanzenji aqueduct. It courses through the aqueduct, past the miles of cherry trees lining the banks, and then down into the main waterway of Kyoto. It continues past the zoo and the Heian Shrine, runs along Cold Spring Avenue, and finally empties into the Kamogawa River, where it streams towards Osaka and out to the open sea.

Philosopher's Path2
Part of the mentioned canal, running through Philosopher’s Path
Philosopher's Path
Teddy bears fishing in a stream along Philosopher’s Path

This stream of water is ever-present in Kyoto, through the Kamo River, the Shirakawa stream, and in the canal that rushes pass Philosopher’s Path and its surrounding temple. My friends and I wandered aimlessly down Philosopher’s Path one quiet afternoon, discovering hidden temples along the way.

Due to our poor planning, we arrived at closing time and most places were deserted. We also did not know the name of most of the places we visited, and had to Google it when we got home (fail, I know, but the reverse engineering of our trip was sort of fun!). Philosopher’s path is a charmer, lined with arts and craft stores, such as the ones advertising via the teddy bears above! There also seems to be a small community of stray cats along this walk, I still wonder about the fate of these animals – and hope to see them again this year!


I hope you’re enjoying my recaps, I want to update them with more recent pictures when I am in Japan, but that’s pending on internet connection AND time 😄

Book Tag: Nostalgic Book Review Tag

Note: I am still on vacation, this is a pre-scheduled post. Apologies in advance for any delays in commenting back!

MoaG
Geisha Image from Freepik, other edits by me.

Thank you to the talented CW of Read, Think, Ponder for creating this tag and for tagging me! It allows me to revisit one of the most memorable reads from my high school days. It also fits nicely into the current Japan theme of the blog. There are also some photos from my trip to Kyoto last year at the end of this post!

How the Tag Works
In this tag, you will be reviewing a book you read three or more years ago (if you started reading less than three years ago, tell us about your first book). The best part: you will be reviewing the book purely from memory. I hope you all have fantastic memory (because I certainly don’t)!

Japan Book Blog Series: A Bibliophile’s Guide To Japan

Travel-Guide-Japan

As you might know, I’m taking a small break from blogging as I’ll be in Japan on vacation for three weeks! I am super excited for this holiday, especially as it’s my first overseas trip with my partner. I did not want to leave the blog completely abandoned – so I’ve decided to leave a couple of Japan related book posts scheduled. This is the first of them!

I am certainly not alone when I say that I love going to bookish location in new places. Yes, the books may either be i) the same as the ones I get back home OR ii) in a language I don’t understand – but that doesn’t take away my sense of wonder. Here are a couple of recommended bookish touristy things you could do in Japan! I’ve been to some of these, and plan to visit the others. I hope to update my posts with up to date pictures as I go along.

Also! My holiday will be well underway by the time this post is published, so I apologise for lack of commenting until I am back.Read More »

Novella Review: Silently and Very Fast

Silentlly and Very Fast

5star

 Title:  Silently and Very Fast

Author: Catherynne M. Valente

Rating: 5/5 stars

Series? No. Novella.

Goodreads

Book Depository


Note: This is a pre-scheduled post. I am currently preparing for my holiday. Apologies in any delays in commenting back!

After reading the excellent The Melancholy of Mechagirl, I wanted to finish and end my Japan Book Blog Series with tales from this collection. Catherynne Valente describes it best:

For foreigners, Japan is a Roschard painting… Everything looks like magic when you don’t understand it.

I am no exception, I look with Japan with a lot of expectations coloured by Western cultures and views. Nonetheless, I want this blog series to reflect the culture and traditions of the country as closely and respectfully as possible. As a foreigner, I will never truly understand it. I don’t want to exoticise, romanticise, or misappropriate in any way – but if I err, please, forgive me and give me a gentle nudge!

SilentlyandVeryFast Review

This following story is partly set in an alternate and futuristic Hokkaido. I’ve never been to Hokkaido, but I’ve never been to the dreamscape described in Silently and Very Fast either – both are places I wish to experience once in my lifetime (though the former is infinitely more possible than the latter).


Let’s start by setting something straight: I am going to be very biased in this review. Most voracious readers would find naming their favourite author a challenging task. Certainly, it’s no easy feat when there’s no shortage in wondrous worlds and talented writer who creates them. However, if you asked me, I would name Catherynne Valente within a heartbeat. For me, her mastery over words define lyrical and visual writing. The stories she writes pushes at the boundaries of conventional storytelling. Her proses colourful, dark, ornate – fairy tales of the modern age. She can create worlds, crumble expectations, and leave me thinking about her tales for days.

Silently and Very Fast lives up to my immense expectations of her writing. I read it as part of her The Melancholy of Mechagirl short story collection – it was the longest and most challenging of these stories, I thought it deserved a review of its own. While the story is deeply rooted in metaphysics and recurring monomyths, it was also endlessly creative and surprising.Read More »