I’ve recently returned from a month of travelling across Japan, and now that I’ve recovered from the jet lag (and, more pertinently, caught up with all the work I was avoiding while I was out there) can finally start sharing the photos!

Let me start by noting that I appear to have accrued some good travel karma, following the Finland disaster last October. This actually started before I even left the ground, when I realised that by booking through an actual Japanese company (and traversing the kanji on the website), I could save over £300 on flights. Granted, I’d unofficially vowed to never travel KLM again, but I’m also Scottish and inherently cheap. I should probably have considered the efficacy of buying the flights and my Japan Rail Pass, however, followed immediately by a new lens that cost more than my first two cameras combined. My general reasoning is that when I have several big expenditures to make, I find it’s best to rip the proverbial band-aid off and do them all at once. Apparently my bank’s fraud team doesn’t agree, haha.

I also signed up for KLM’s frequent flyer programme, Flying Blue, before I left, which meant that I was able to check my luggage for free and, as was the more welcome surprise, didn’t have a single person sitting next to me on the flight to Amsterdam (hello, Schiphol, my old friend! One of these days I’ll go to Amsterdam and actually make it out of the airport) or Osaka. I was also upgraded to one of the seats with actual legroom on the latter, which made the 11-hour stretch to Japan infinitely more bearable. (Granted, there were no in-flight movies but I’d preloaded my iPad with enough entertainment to last the trip.)

Upon landing in Japan (and realising quite how much I’d missed it in the five years since I left), I was then inexplicably given a free ticket for the limousine bus to switch airports between Kansai International and Itami (both in Osaka, just an hour or so apart) because the attendant kindly offered to print it for me at the information desk instead of at the vending machine. As the bus trip required me to leave the airport anyway, I was also able to quickly stop by the JR office next door and pick up my Rail Pass, since you’re actually given an “Exchange Order” prior to leaving, which you trade for the real thing on arrival. Lastly, whilst waiting in line for my third and final flight, a member of airport staff noted that I had a not inconsiderable layover ahead of me, and proceeded to bump me onto the very next plane, which got me into Kagoshima fully two hours earlier than I’d planned. Thank you, travel gods! I’ll be flying out on a Tuesday more often.

And, as if my day couldn’t get better: the first animal I see in the country is a Japanese Chin, mere weeks after discovering they existed! (Confessions in double standards: I actually thought it was a screaming child at first, and was about to flip my shit until I realised it was this brachycephalic beauty and my heart melted.)

After a very happy reunion in the airport (not having seen either of them since July last year), Colin and Kim anticipated my most burning desire after a solid day of travelling: to wit – the nearest Starbucks at a mall in Kagoshima.

By wonderful coincidence, there was also a pet store, where I sat and watched this Pomeranian puppy for a good 15 minutes.

…before I realised there was also a Maine Coon kitten.

It was also within this mall that I was reunited with Japan’s wonderfully unique store names, like the always-appealing Gransac’s.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to my vacation at Lake Titicaca. Try to make a joke out of that, Mr. Smart Guy.”

Adult pom! And the second time within one hour where I stopped a stranger to ask if I could take a photo of their dog. (I think we worked out at some point that a full third of the photos I took across the entire trip were of animals.)

On the drive down to C&K’s home in Ibusuki City, I enquired as to what the rocket-shaped object in the hills might be.

Well, Mark – that would be a rocket.

おじゃまします! And a quick trip with Kim to a yoga class with a view of the ocean, followed by my first onsen (hot spring) in five years. If there’s a better cure for 24+ hours of travelling, I’ve yet to find it.

After a restful night’s sleep (and a moderately less welcome wake-up call in the form of the music that’s played across the entire city every morning at 6am), Kim went off to work, leaving Colin and I to amuse ourselves on my first full day in the country.

Naturally this meant that I immediately introduced Colin to Steven Universe. I’d actually started it on the plane, but stopped shortly afterwards upon realising that we’d get so much more enjoyment out of seeing it together (and that I’d invariably have to re-watch all of the episodes I’d seen on my own).

C&K, making headlines in Ibusuki.

Japan is still very fond of pull cord light switches, which Kim has jazzed up using these vintage keys. I’ll give you zero guesses as to what I continually ripped down whilst staying with them.

This was also the day Colin gave me a belated but no-less amazing birthday present: Samurai taishō Darth Vader! The coolness of whom I can’t accurately do justice to via photos.

He did, however, suffer several indignities after we realised quite how poseable he was (which generally led to Darth showing up in increasingly ridiculous locations and contortions throughout my stay.)

After we finally tore ourselves away from the iPad and Darth Vader, Colin took me on a tour of the local Yamagawa-kogawa area.

Contrary to Kim’s assertion that they were only “slightly“ rural, I soon discovered that they were pretty much surrounded on all sides by rice paddies, and began to question my decision not to get a single vaccination before I left the UK.

It brings me no small measure of happiness to know that my very first SLR is now back in Japan where she was originally intended to travel, living a whole new series of adventures.

After reconvening with Kim, we paid a visit to the なのはな館 (Nanohana-kan): a fantastically bizarre (and completely abandoned) architectural monstrosity.

Apparently the complex was completely finished before a dispute arose as to whether Ibusuki City or Kagoshima Prefecture as a whole should be the one to pay for it.

A decision was never reached, and now the whole place lies disused and increasingly neglected.

It’s a testament to Japanese virtue, however, that the fully-stocked library and numerous big-screen TVs visible within its walls remain completely unstolen. (If it were in Scotland, you’d be lucky if the place still had carpets.)

(As an aside, I still can’t look at those drill-shaped protuberances without seeing Krang’s drill from the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.)

…fondue for your lips. What could be clearer?

Back at home, Colin showed me the colouring books he has to keep visiting children entertained. That was his first mistake. The second was giving me access to the pencils. (View at your own peril.)

On a less horrifying note, I discovered that my legacy lives on in the form of these cards Kim uses for teaching her classes!

Hello, Darth. Fancy seeing you here…in the toilet…propped up against the handsoap.

And, completing the triumvirate of reunions with three of my favourite things: Colin, Kim, and SAKURA MOCHI! I was actually concerned that I’d missed the boat on 2015’s crop (it’s a seasonal sweet that you can usually only find around the time the cherry blossoms are blooming in spring), so I pretty much jumped up on this box the second I saw it in the supermarket. (I was once interviewed for a newspaper in Akita, and listed this as my favourite Japanese food.)

  1. Markus McD says:

    Eeeee Samurai Vader!!!
    I’ve been meaning to go through all your increasing posts of Japan! I’m excited!

    • Mark Liddell says:

      They told me if I didn’t want Vader, he’s fetching a lot on eBay, but thankfully I loved him, haha. There’s also an incredibly cool Stormtrooper but he was apparently sold out:

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