The Lucky Ones

My husband was a Signalman in the Australian Army for 22 years. He served as a Peacekeeper with the United Nations in East Timor but thankfully he never came under direct fire. He was lucky. My mother tells the story of how her father was unhappy because he was too young to serve in the First World War and too old for the second. With the benefit of hindsight, we know now he was lucky. This morning I talked with an elderly gentleman who was called up for National Service when he was just a lad. After training in Sydney and at Puckapunyal, his unit was ready to go to Vietnam but at the last minute their call to service was cancelled. He was one of the lucky ones too.

Today, in towns and cities across Australia and New Zealand, at Gallipoli and in France, we remembered those who weren’t so lucky as we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli in Turkey. The landing on 25 April, 1915 was the beginning of eight months of battle between the Allied Forces and Turkey. More than 44 000 allied soldiers and 80 000 Turks died. Those who attended the first ANZAC Day service in 1916 thought this was the Great War, the war to end all wars. Sadly, they were wrong and now, every ANZAC Day we remember not only those first brave Australian and New Zealand soldiers but all who have served to defend our country. Freedom is not free.

We will remember them.

On The Beach ~ Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Early Bird

I’ve just spent the last week on North Stradbroke Island, a large sand island off the coast of Brisbane. Every morning we went for a walk along Home Beach. We watched the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean and found exciting new treasures washed up on the shore.

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Home Beach, southeast to Cylinder Headland

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Home Beach, northwest to Rocky Point

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Weekly Photo Challenge – Early Bird

Sayonara Tokyo!

Recently I was asked which was my favourite of all the places we visited in and around Tokyo. After some deliberation I came to the conclusion that it was impossible to choose just one. As the largest metropolis in the world, Tokyo is overflowing with fascinating sights and unique experiences. We were there for eight days and we only saw a fraction of this amazing city. Come with me for one last walk before we say goodbye to Tokyo.

Old Yasuda Garden

Old Yasuda Garden

Yakuoin Temple, Mt Takao

Yakuoin Temple, Mt Takao

Our neighbourhood, Funabori

Our neighbourhood, Funabori

Kabuki Theatre

Kabuki Theatre

Buddhist temple, Jiyugaoka

Buddhist temple, Jiyugaoka

Shibuya

Shibuya

Outside the Imperial Palace

Outside the Imperial Palace

Ueno Park

Ueno Park

Entrance to Tokyo Disneyland

Entrance to Tokyo Disneyland

View of Mt Fuji from Mt Komagatake

View of Mt Fuji from Mt Komagatake

Takeshita Street, Harajuku

Takeshita Street, Harajuku

Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine

Five Storied Pagoda, Sensoji Temple

Five Storied Pagoda, Sensoji Temple

As Arnie would say, I’ll be back!

What’s For Dinner?

With more than 160 000 eating establishments in Tokyo there’s no excuse for being hungry. It’s simply a matter of finding the right food to suit the occasion.

If you’re in a hurry at lunchtime there are fast food outlets where you can watch while your meal is created. At this stall in Harajuku the chef forms takoyaki –  octopus balls. With a few deft moves of his chopsticks each one is perfectly shaped and steaming hot. Choose your own topping!

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You won’t have time for a sit down meal when you’re shopping at Nakamise in Asakusa. Restore your energy levels with some ningyo-yaki, small sweet cakes filled with red bean paste. They’re cooked to order in heated cast iron moulds shaped like miniature people; ningyo-yaki means “baked doll”.

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For a simple snack while out walking, you could try some goma-dango cooked over hot coals at a roadside stall, with a chilled cucumber on the side. Would you like some sake with that?

At the end of a day filled with walking and watching, you’ll be looking forward sitting down to a delicious hot meal. Instead of reading the menu at each restaurant check out the window display to see the chef’s specialties.

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Although these tempting dishes look real, they are actually handmade plastic models – a traditional art form known as sampuru. Even when you know the food is fake, it’s hard to believe when you see the intricate details of each dish.

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So what’s for dinner? Let’s have barbecued pork with a crisp green salad, rice and hot miso soup…

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and my favourite, Chicken Karaage with steamed greens and rice…

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followed by a green tea KitKat for dessert!

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Justin Beaver found some fake food too.

Japan From Behind – The Blurry Edition

I don’t intentionally take blurry photos. Sometimes they just turn out that way!

These images didn’t make the grade for the first edition of Japan From Behind! but they are perfect for this week’s challenge.

Preparing for a wedding at Meiji Shrine

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Walking with the family

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Standing in the queue at Tokyo Disneyland

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Weekly Photo Challenge – Blur

Start Cooking!

When you’re greeted by a giant chef perched atop the building on the corner and a row of enormous teacups down the side of another, you know you’re in for a culinary treat in Kappabashi-dori. It’s not an edible indulgence this time but a shopping experience with a difference.

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Kappabashi-dori, aka Kitchen Street, is at the centre of a district in central Tokyo where you can buy all sorts of kitchen accessories. From where the kitchen shops begin it’s impossible to see the end, with block after block of shop fronts decorated with bunting advertising their wares.

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Some shops are large, with a variety of stock while others are tiny spaces packed to the rafters with just one type of implement.

Whether it’s chairs, chopsticks or chefs’ clothing you’re searching for, Kappabashi-dori is the place to go.

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Do You Speak English?

One of the difficulties when travelling overseas is understanding the language of another country. As an English speaker with some high school German and French in my travel toolkit, it’s been relatively easy to get by in some parts of Europe but deciphering the language in Japan was another matter entirely. My travel companion in Tokyo was my sister, who has been both a student and teacher of Japanese for many years and also lived in Japan. It was great for me – I had my own personal tour guide, but the effort of constant concentration was, at times, very tiring for her. So when we came across opportunities for free English-speaking guided tours at two major sites in Tokyo we were happy to take advantage of them.

Although Meiji Jingū, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the Emperor Meiji, is located in one of the busiest areas of central Tokyo its position at the centre of 247 acres of forest guarantees a peaceful visit. As we approached the torii gate at the entrance we noticed two older gentlemen sitting at a desk with a sign offering free tours in English. We soon found out they were members of an English speaking club and taking visitors on tours of the shrine gave them opportunities to practise their language skills.

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Our guide was Yoshio san, a retired primary school teacher. “I work part time for a tour company,” he told us, “so I need to have good English.” Yoshio san’s knowledge of the shrine and his enthusiasm for its history was infectious. We were soon engaged in lessons on purification, making offerings and writing prayers on an ema, a small wooden plate purchased at one of the many stalls outside the shrine.

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Yoshio san explained the wall of barrels of wine, donated by the wineries of Bourgogne in France; among the aspects of western culture Emperor Meiji adopted was the habit of enjoying a glass of wine with his meal. He pointed out the corner of the main path leading to the shrine. It’s an 88° angle because the number nine is considered to be bad luck. After 30 minutes of fascinating conversation, Yoshio san left us watching while one of many traditional Shinto wedding parties prepared for photographs.

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Our second free English tour was at Sensoji Temple in the bustling tourist area of Asakusa. This time we were approached by a group of Uni students who belonged to a University English club. “Would you come on our free tour? We like to practise our English with tourists,” asked the leader of the group, Ryo san. Together we walked along Nakamise, a centuries-old shopping street filled with vendors selling souvenirs and traditional food, through Hozomon, the temple gate and in to the temple complex.

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Built in 645AD, Sensoji is Tokyo’s oldest and most popular Buddhist temple. Ryo san and his friends walked with us around the gardens, waited patiently while we took photos and told us about their university studies. Inside the temple we were guided to the main hall where we waited our turn to say a quick prayer to Kannon, the goddess of mercy, to whom the temple is dedicated.

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After the friendly students left us, we wandered again through the hall and around the gardens. We came across two young girls, beautifully dressed in traditional kimono. My sister resumed her role of tour guide, approached them and said in Japanese, “You look very beautiful. May we take your photo?” We were taken aback when they answered her question with a question of their own. “Do you speak English?” they asked.

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It turned out they were tourists too, visiting from Taiwan and enjoying an afternoon of elegant dress-ups! They had us fooled!