BEPPY – OITA 別府市

Oita is the true Japanese capital for rugby. As soon as we got off the station, we were met by friendly statue of man captured playing rugby. A lot of sculptures and monuments inviting visitors to join overall cheering for rugby games. As a true fan of rugby (lol!), I wore rugby jersey and I believe this is what attracted the local SBS to ask me for an interview just on the street. They asked me who I was, what I thought of rugby in Japan, who I supported and what was my dream. It was amazing chatting to them. 

Oita is the South of the country. I picked straight up palm trees on the streets – that little reminder of Australia and my first association with Australia when I arrive there over 5 years ago. 

The area is very touristic due to its hot springs. Beppy contains world biggest amount of hot springs/onsens in the world. Based on them, the government has built heaps of special tours for visitors that are quite costly. 

On the way to Beppy we took a short half a day trip to Fukuoka, Hakata. Nice and lovely area with small temples around. This is the destination I shall start my blog with:

Hakata-ku 博多区

Hakata is one of the oldest cities in Japan. It is also famous for its seaside wharfs and ship industry. The government of Hakata started to invest in development of ship tourism in the area and it has been going well for decent 5 years. Regular port calls are coming from world famous cruise companies like Royal Caribbean – this industry makes the area one of the richest in Japan. 

We have literally had 4.5 hours to spend there so we managed to visit local shrines and a couple of shopping malls. Hakata is a great example of what visitors and fresh tourists need to know about visiting Japan. Moreover, I have collected some interesting facts below throughout the whole trip so far.

  • CASH CASH CASH – if you get used to operate with credit cards, change your habits in Japan. You might get away with your card in busy Tokyo, however, smaller cities have a lot of cash only places. Save your time and effort and get cash within first couple of hours upon arrival if not beforehand; Japan understands that it needs to move away from cash operations and trying to encourage its citizen to use more their credit cards – it hasn’t been accepted by the majority of the population yet; However, you may get 5-10% discount off if you are paying with credit card but many places are still cash only;
  • GUILT-FREE SWEETS – when you dedicate yourself to a healthy eating plan, you still want to get out of the plan and try some tasty treats. When you are overseas, it is almost impossible to avoid it as you want to try new things (Curious Me!). I have been reading labels of some of the Japanese treats and sweets, fortunately, found out that their treats/sweets contains lesser sugar and calories than Australia and Russian ones. Maybe they are made from rice flour and/or replaced some sugary and artificial add-ons – I don’t know (my Japanese is not strong to read it), however, the fact is the fact. You can be guilt-free when you try some awesome sweets in Japan;
  • CAPSULE HOTELS – so cooooool (never tried though lol). If you are not after fancy hotels and just need to drop your head for some rest, you can literally be checked-in in a capsule that looks like the time keeping capsule from Futurama cartoon. These “hotels” are located next to bus/train stations and night life areas;
  • 7/11 is good for SNACKS only. If you want/need to get food from 7/11 – best rule is try to avoid 7/11 labelled food. Say, 7/11 Japanese wine would taste only slightly better than Australian goon, express meals are not the freshest than in a supermarket. 7/11 made product is also not cheaper than other brands, sometimes even more expensive. If you have an opportunity to buy products in a supermarket, go there instead;
  • SUPERMARKETS HOURS – important to know. None of the Japanese supermarket will be open until 10:00-11:00am – this is normal opening time for many businesses in Japan and don’t get surprised – THE COUNTRY OF THE RISING SUN sleeps longer than we do. If you plan healthy version of your breakfast, go to the supermarket late night – you will get your yogurts, fruits or proteins (sashimi, meats, beans) with a huge discount. They try to get rid of all today’s fresh meals by making huge discounts at night (around 60-70%). It is my option for breakfast as before 11:00am the only food you can find for breakfast is donuts, breads and burnt coffee;
  • Back to WINE topic – Japan loves import wine from South America. Argentina, Spain and Chilli – countries for good red wine to try in Japan pretty much everywhere; New discovery for me that has become my favourite – California Pinot Noir;
  • CIGARETTES can be purchased from vending machines on public streets (no one cares to check IDs);
  • If you are a MORNING PERSON and love going to parks, you may see heaps of Japanese people gathering in public parks to do gymnastics together at around 6:30am – cuuuuuute;
  • Every Japanese city has its unique SHRINES and TEMPLES.

Hakata is the home of Sumo Sport. Sumo is a Japanese style wrestling in an elevated ring. Originally performed in Japanese ancient rituals and festivals, it is now Japan’s national sports. At the same time, it is also considered as form martial arts. If you are after watching martial arts or boxing, you will enjoy this – Hakata is the home for this type of sport. If you end up in Fukuoka – book a ticket to watch the wrestling. Sumo Official Tournament (honbasho) is held regularly as follows: every year, during the first or second week of January, March, July, September, and November for 15 days.

BACK TO BEPPY

We have stayed in the Beppywan Hotels & Resorts. It is a bit away from the station, however, the shuttle bus operation was outstanding so we didn’t feel “left out” from the main area of the RWC. As I expected the Hotel has its own hot spring bath so I could experience traditional Oita Onsen without visiting jigoku or “hells” – geothermally heated water bubbles up to the surface as steamy ponds or sulphurous gloop.

We have visited Rugby fan village next day after arrival and watched one of the games there. Oita was put on the international map by the 2002 World Cup. The purpose built “Big Eye” stadium, somewhat reminiscent of a giant titanium turtle, was designed by the celebrated Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa (who also designed Toyota Stadium, the Wakayama Museum of Modern Art, Kuala Lumpur Airport and the New Wing of the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam).

Oita Stadium can be reached via shuttle bus from Oita Station. Oita Stadium (aka Oita Bank Dome; 大分銀行ドーム) is the home ground of J-League soccer team Oita Trinita. I believe this stadium was used for the Rugby game we watched – Fiji vs. Wales. 

I have to say that I haven’t expected this game to be so interesting. Wales did win, however, I have to give a huge credit to Fiji for their amazing performance. Never regretted attending this game!

Being a qualified event manager, I have to also note that the events operations and logistics at the end of the event was nit great at all. Crowed control (considering we had over 33,000 people at the stadium) was not planned – a lot of annoyed and frustrated people were leaving stadium nearly breaking fences. Japanese police couldn’t do much. Instead of opening a few stream lines for people heading to the buses taking them down to the main JR station, they closed the main road for taxis and made people walk long walk to the bus station. Not quite logical. Why not to let all these busses to come closer to the stadium and consequently collect crowds one by one? 

Anyways, apart from disappointing post event operation, that day was the highlight of the whole Oita stay.

FUNAI CASTLE

We had just a bit of a time to visit Funai Castle before we had to the game. The castle did belong to Otomo Sorin. Hid clan was a powerful one in Kyushu who during the first half of the 16th century gradually expanded their control over neighboring warlords. When Otomo Sorin became the 21st Otomo Daimyo in 1550 he continued to expand Otomo territory and eventually the family were known as the Lords of Seven Provinces.

A castle was built at Funai in 1562, but many sources credit Fukuhara Naotaka with its construction in the last few years of the 16th century, but the main keep was built by Takenaka Shigetoshi in 1602.

In 1656 a branch of the Matsudaira took control of the castle and remained there until the Meiji Period.

Most of Funai Castle burned down in 1743 and the castle was decommissioned in 1872.

All that remains today is the moat and outer walls, two towers that were reconstructed in the early 1860’s, and the stone base of the keep. In 1965 the main gate and turrets were restored, and in 1996 the covered bridge was reconstructed.

The Japanese built LED version of the castle – as soon as the sun goes down, you are able to see its “ghost version” that is displayed and visible across the centre of the city.

OSAKA 大阪

My personal choice in Japan.

My second destination is already well-known to me and, if you read my blog notes before, majority of my previous articles were written here, based on Osaka knowledge. 

So, it is clearly cheating from me to write a blog now. Doesn’t matter – I believe you can always discover something new if you really looking for it.

The reason why I called Osaka my personal choice is it is the place where you can experience everything you need in Japan if you really looking for it. 

First of all, looking at the city from gorgeous and unique architecture design of the Umeda Sky Garden, you will clearly see that the city is very modern and reminds you a bit of a Tokyo. When you walk down from the view point and start looking around the city centre, you realise how many international places around – another similarity with Tokyo. There is one huge difference, I would say one advantage over Tokyo, the Osaka city was not built crowded and touristic. The city obviously attracts millions of tourists a year, however, it is not trying to attract them with its touristic look like Tokyo does. This is what makes this place unique to me and my experience.

Throwing back to those long 7 years ago when I arrived to Osaka for a couple of months of summer holidays. That time I didn’t enter to Japanese school so was by myself and I needed to make some friends. 

I went to Starbucks (yes, before Australia I thought it was really cool place to be lol) and found a brochure with international meet ups. My English was weak but good enough to understand what’s written there regarding type of events, dates, locations and other important details. I carried that brochure everywhere like my passport. 

My International meet up journey started when I walked it to meet and greet at one Irish pub in Shinsaibashi. No-one checked my ID when I came to the bar and ordered Asahi. I sat down next to the international group – Canadian and American guys and one Japanese girl. They started talk to me. Found may first friends! 

Interesting to say that Ai (that amazing Japanese girl is in Melbourne now doing her own business in massage and beauty industry). We managed to catch in Melbourne last year – amazing that we both ended up in Australia. 

Those international friends took me on board and introduced me to meet up organisers. They took me to bike tours to Kobe and Kyoto. They got me to volunteer to international parties where I was given wristbands at the entrance. Then they were sneaking a VIP wristband to me so I could enter a party being 17 year old. Considering over age is 20 in Japan, I wouldn’t clearly experience incredible parties walking out the venue at sunrise time!

Anyways, the bottom line, Osaka was, is and will always be international hub in Japan but more inclusive than gigantic Tokyo. Going to Irish, English or international cafes pubs to find out where they meet up – I still believe that trip was my very best one because of that. 

Osaka is a bit cleaner – again, due to its size. It is easier to navigate around the city, the metro lines are more structured. Due to the fact that I have been there so many times, I can easily give you an overview of some of the areas to visit in Osaka. I went for a run the other morning and can say that outdoor walk/run is the best way to discover hidden shops and fascinating areas. Many beautiful stores are literally condensed in the city to fit more. 

FASHION – I have already mentioned Shinsaibashi. This area of Osaka is famous for its shopping lines (“leave all your money in Shinsaibashi”), great dining and places for parties and night life. 

Shinsaibashi never sleeps. You can shop there from 10-11:00am until late night. I could see how some people were buying new party dresses, got changed in them and went straight to night clubs and pubs to keep going. 

Shinsaibashi has everything from Japanese local brands to world famous outlets; from modern styles to luxury brands. There is a big shopping mall in the heart of Shinsaibashi called Daimaru. Daimaru is like Bondi Junction Westfield – this is how good it is!

Another thing to mention is better not to plan a day trip to Osaka if you plan to see some of the Osaka’s attractions. You need to spend the whole decent day to appreciate the fashion and go through stylish outlets in Shinsaibashi. If you are aiming for fashionista title, it is a big lie to say you will get enough fashion inspiration for a couple of hours in Shinsaibashi. You need at least one full day. Then head to an Irish pub at the end of the day to share your fashion knowledge with other Internationals. If you discuss it with Japanese, it might be even more different though as they have different vision in fashion.

FITNESS – Osaka has encouraged me to use the stairs over elevators or escalators. There are a lot of walks and transfers from one metro line to another. Go for stairs! Also, due to lesser crowds, it is much nicer and better to run outdoor in Osaka. My only recommendation is try to do it before 7:20am – 1) the sun goes up and it is super humid at this time of the year (summer is even worse); 2) people are start heading to work. You may notice that many people have to travel intercity so all the metros and shinkansens are packed from early mornings. 

 Just given a small overview of the 1-day Osaka itinerary so you can cover “different aspects of Japan”.

  • Start with the Umeda Sky Garden. This place is open at 9:30am. Normally, nothing is open in Japan till 10-11:00am – they are not morning people at all (what a shame!). It will also give you nice natural morning light to overlook the whole city and start the day right. If you are into history, there is the illustrated museum inside the Sky Garden;
  • Head to the Osaka Castle – this is one of my favourite castles in Japan (still consider Akita has better ones but anyways). I love it because there are a lot of small gardens and temples around the castle to explore. When you get to the Castle, head up to the 8th Floor and start exploring from top to the bottom;
  • Head to Dotonbori river area taking Namba station 16th exit. It is very nice and beautiful there. You can also take the tour of the river cruising around crabs and octopuses on surrounded buildings;
  • After the river, time for get decent lunch – sushi is the go for me (Japanese Diet by Angie). There is an amazing sushi restaurant with English menu with freshest raw fish. You don’t need even worry to order anything, the plates are passing through you with whatever you like! The restaurant is located on that big crab street opposite direction to Dotonbori gates on the Starbucks side (right).
  • Also, try their popular Takoyaki that are everywhere on that street. They are very filling and made with true Japanese traditions;
  • Then jump to Shinsaibashi shops and get lost there!
  • End of at a nice Irish pub to relax as you might burn your legs after Shinsaibashi walks. Get some refreshments (I would still suggest NOT to order food in pubs and eat before – all these fish and chips and burgers you can eat everywhere; real Japanese food only made by Japanese).

Ange xx

Winter ❄️ Fashion down under

Never given a credit to my recent trip to Melbourne yet. I am glad that the brand company visit and a couple of fashion shoots there happened at the moment when I had low inspiration in fashion and style. 

Melbourne is the Australian hub of fashion. Let’s face it – the weather is not great there, it is bloody freezing. It gives, though, a fantastic platform for fashion: scarfs, hats, caps, fur coats, shoes, etc, etc, etc. It is so cold there so people use “layers” of clothing to keep themselves warm enough (sounds like my Motherland haha). You can play around with it so much: and this is what Melbourne does. I walked on Collins street, sometimes did short cuts through graffiti lines and just had the best fashion inspiration.

I love to live by the beach and don’t want to change it. However, the fashion can be boring by the beach. Melbourne is now my Fashion Gallery to scoop creativity, get inspired, feel style. 

In general, Australian winter gives a plenty of opportunities for fashion. I was doing some observations and picked few “common trends”.

The difference between the Australian Fashion Hub (Melbourne) and Sydney is that Melbourne adds more bright colours into appearance and accessories. There is also a big tendency in one-colour outfits that is primarily bright again.

I love fur add-ons to my outfits and Melbourne is perfect for it: I could wear fur hat, coat and feel like home! Sydney is much more modest and dominant with “Teddy bear” type of coats. Also, haven’t really seen anyone wearing many stylish hats around Sydney which is upsetting.

Deep Emerald green was starring the whole season – which is good and bad at the same time. I love that type of green – it does suit my eyes and face features and I tried to stick to green palette in wardrobe until I realised it is too much green around. Walking around Sydney Westfield and David Jones, I could pick how many brands pulled out their best new arrival deep green outfits. I have seen many women attending high profile events in different shapes of dresses but similar colours. I had to stop wearing green (as much as I love it) for half of the season. 

It has been sad to see how a fantastic high fashion trend has been destroyed by the Australian retailers…another reason to shop overseas…

Sydney has found its own niche in winter trends this time. Being less fashionable (sorry, Sydney, still love you more than Melbourne!) than Melbourne, I found that mixing grey (one-shaded grey, checked, silver-grey) with an intense bright colour. 

And, finally happy to see that many Australian women moved away from long boots and cat eye look (yes, stylish and look sexy but I call it “the laziest version of out of dated style”). I have noticed more appearances with short boots that are mostly one-coloured zipped ones. Looks awesome and can work well with the idea of one-colour outfit with bright colour accessories.

One more month of winter before we can take it easy and put on lighter clothes!