Saturday, May 4, 2013

Falling in love with Japan... all over again!

The past month has been jam-packed full of crazy I-can't-believe-this-is-happening moments for me. I've driven my absolute dream car through mountain roads around the Kanagawa and Yamanashi prefectures, I've been fortunate enough to take in the majestic and totally mesmerising views of Mt. Fuji, I've been driven round in a PINK Rauh-Welt Porsche, I've been handed the keys to Vaughn Gittin Jr's RTR Mustang and driven through the most beautiful scenic roads along the coast of Los Angeles, I've hung out at the Fatlace Paddock with some of the awesome Fatlace staff (they are SO nice!), I've been able to meet some of my international followers and check out their cars, and most exciting of all, I've started working as a paid writer for the first time in my life.

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I'll talk about my adventures in America in my next post, but for now, here's a bit of what I got up to in Japan when I went over there at the end of March. Firstly, my husband Pedey and I flew into Osaka, where we mainly just hung out in Shinsaibashi and drank beer and ate LOTS of okonomiyaki!

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Osaka Castle park was one of the first destinations on my list of places to visit. The castle was originally built in 1583, though it's been damaged quite a few times since then. It was fully restored to look like this back in the late 1990s. Although the castle is absolutely beautiful, the park itself is also pretty incredible. Just look how big it is in this photo.

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The cherry blossoms in Osaka had just come out, and I was pretty happy about that - can you tell?

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Last time we went to Japan we didn't experience any fine weather like this. It was so perfect!

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The Umeda Sky Building is another cool spot, perfect for checking out 360° views of Osaka. It's especially beautiful at dusk.

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After Osaka we caught the train up to Kyoto - somewhere we hadn't been before. I LOVED Kyoto! One piece of advice if you do go there (or anywhere really) to visit touristy stuff, try and do it as early as possible in the day. What you can't see here in this photo of the beautiful Kikaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) temple is literally the THOUSANDS of other tourists that were surrounding us and taking this exact same photo at the same time. The pavilion itself is amazing, but the crowds kind of ruined it for us...

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... whereas when we visited Kiyomizu-dera temple at about 8 o'clock in the morning (purely because we were so jet lagged and had been awake since 4am!) it was so calm and peaceful, and the tranquility let us fully take in the beauty of our surroundings.

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Especially the cherry blossoms, which at our time of arrival in Kyoto were in full bloom! Aaaah!

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Kiyomizudera (google it!) is so amazing, and if you aren't that keen to go around and look at a billion temples, you should definitely try to at least visit this one. As well as being visually impressive, the history behind it is amazing too.

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In Kyoto we stayed at Gion, and I purposely booked a hotel right next to this park that I'd seen photos of before, but I had no idea if it was going to be cool or whatever, it was a bit of a guess really. PS. If you think this is a lot of cherry blossoms, you should see the albums on my laptop. Totally out of control.

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Anyway, Maruyama Park as it turned out, was the most amazing thing I saw in Japan and by far the highlight of our trip. Imagine a HUGE outdoor restaurant with illuminated cherry blossoms acting a temporary ceiling, with every kind of Japanese food you can imagine on offer.

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After a couple of nights in Kyoto we caught the shinkansen up to Tokyo. I had no idea what any of the hotels that I booked were going to be like; some of them were literally a bed, a few square feet of walking space and a teeny bathroom unit. I get so many bruises from living in small spaces too because my limbs are stupidly long. But this hotel far exceeded all expectations, with a california kind bed, and I'm NOT kidding, THIRTEEN DIFFERENT PILLOW OPTIONS - WTF!!! But surprisingly even more impressive than this mystery pillow buffet was what was hiding behind the curtains outside the window of the 12th floor.

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I couldn't even sleep knowing this view was outside. I was just so surprised as this place wasn't that much more expensive than anywhere else we stayed - every other hotel room usually had a tiny window that opened up to a blank concrete wall. It's called the Prince Sakura Tokyo Tower hotel if you ever want to stay there.

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I feel like crying looking at these photos, I miss the food so much! Katsu curry is definitely my new favourite Japanese meal and I think I must have eaten at least 5 or 6 dishes while we were there... SO GOOD! I even had it for breakfast one time. It was amazing. I'm pretty confident that I could live on only Japanese food, like, for all eternity.

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I brought so many delicious flavoured KitKats home, and they've all disappeared already. Whoops.

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We also spent a couple of nights in Hakone, where we drove around and explored areas around the edge of Mt. Fuji...

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... and quickly stopped in at Fuji Speedway. It was about 5pm so there wasn't too much happening, just a few driver training and skid days not too worthy of taking pictures of, but it was still cool to go there. I can't wait to go back to an actual event there one day! I did manage to capture a photo of Mt Fuji with a cherry blossom tree that was still flowering though!

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We drove around Fuji's five lakes, which to be honest wasn't that scenic because it rained for pretty much the entire day, but I can only imagine how beautiful they would be to visit on a sunny day in summer.

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Back in Tokyo, we met up with our new friend Gary Patrick Mannion and travelled out to the RWB workshop in Chiba to hang out with Aaron Mai from Maiham Media and a few friends who were also visiting from NZ.

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I think I was still a little bit jet lagged, so I had to drink a lot of caffeine. I little too much...

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... perhaps.

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Gary took me for a ride in my DREAM Rauh-Welt Begriff Porsche, this matte pink 993. I didn't get to drive it myself, but I did manage to get a shoot done for a little feature coming up in NZ Performance Car magazine!

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At the workshop, Pedey enjoyed the opportunity to sit in Nakai-san's throne, the plush red leather armchair he is famously photographed in, cigarette always in hand.

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Back in the city, we met up with fellow bloggers Casey from Shirtstuckedin and Park from Hightopfade. It was really cool to put faces to the names behind some of the blogs I religiously follow and look up to for inspiration. They gave me this rad little sticker pack too - thanks guys!

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We also went to a cat cafe in Ikebukuro and it was hilarious. MAXIMUM weird. You can look at their website here. This place was quite English friendly too.

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View from one of the hotels we stayed at in Shinjuku, it was so beautiful at sunset.

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I didn't even realise when we originally booked our flights that the Nagoya Exciting Car Showdown was being held while we were in Japan. Needless to say, we weren't going to miss out on it! I loved the Team Review cars, I think this one was my favourite. They were all super low and aggressive with great styling.

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This navy-themed S13 made me fall in love with Volk Racing TE37Vs all over again... such a beautiful wheel!

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As I approached this awesome USDM-inspired Onevia, the owner popped out from behind it and said "Hello iheartstance!" I quickly realised that it was Nagano-san of Nagano Koubou - we follow each other on Instagram! Although our conversation was fairly limited due to my poor Japanese, it was still great to meet you Nagano-san! Here's a cool feature about his car on Speedhunters.

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It was cool to check out the BenSopra 380SX with my own eyes too. Seeing the R35 GT-R motor crammed in that engine bay is truly a sight to behold!

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Although this C110 Skyline was built to a beautiful standard, I'm still yet to see a fully slammed Kenmeri in real life. I'd never actually seen one before until this one showed up at 4 & R Nationals earlier this year, and I had no idea that they were so big! The example at NECS wasn't very low either, and I'm still curious to see for myself how much of a difference a lower height clearance would make to the overall appearance of these cars.

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Our time in Japan involved just the right amount of car spotting, gyoza/karaage/sashimi eating, BOSS coffee drinking and cherry blossom hunting to satisfy my obsession with this crazy country - for now at least.

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There's still so much I want to do there; I'd love to check out Tokyo Auto Salon, Daikoku-futo PA, a Mooneyes meet, a D1GP event and one of the drift Matsuri events - these are all still on my car-adventure bucket list for the future.

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Until then, I've started a Japanese correspondence course, and although I'm still at a very basic level, hopefully by my next visit I'll be able to put my new skills to use! Until next time, γ˜γ‚„γΎγŸ!


  1. I really enjoy your Blog..I Hope youll be around for a LOOOOnG time. A small window to the other side of the world for me LOL

  2. I had both and I like the German cars better. Simple is elegant, on the Japanese side is more of more gadgets is luxury.


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