What is it about Japan that's different to anywhere else in the world you've travelled to?
Every day I find myself marvelling at Japan's striking juxtapositions, from fashion to architecture. You have the remarkable speed and energy of the biggest mega city in the world, at the forefront of technological advancement, colliding with so much history and culture.
Can you tell me about somewhere you've visited recently where that juxtaposition has particularly struck you?
Not long ago my friends and I took a train from our university to Shiba park (柴公園), which is located right by the Tokyo Tower in Minato. My first reaction to the streets of Minato was that, despite being right by the Tokyo Tower, it was considerably quieter than Tokyo's central areas. Harajuku and Shibuya, for example, are famously known to tourists for the realms of shops that line the streets there, whereas Minato felt somewhat peaceful and the streets felt much wider and more open.
While we were there, we walked past a large number of modern shops and offices and then came across a shrine known as the temple of Zōjō-ji. I noticed that the roof of this temple, as in most temples around Japan, was intricately designed with a swirling pattern that symbolises the spirit of the Gods, as seen in your Whorl series!
After quietly sitting in on a buddhist monk ceremony, we wandered around the temple and picked up Omikuji (fortunes) and some Omamori, which are traditional Japanese charms used to protect particular parts of our lives. The whole experience was incredibly peaceful and grounding and an opportunity I felt very lucky to be able to do.
The outside of this ancient shrine overlooks Tokyo, so outstretched before you are the gleaming lights of the modern Tokyo skyline, made up of countless skyscrapers and department stores. I'd recommend anyone visiting to go to the temple at night. When I went to visit, the temple was lit up in blue and red and the temple grounds were bustling with people who had all come to attend an orchestral concert. Seeing the Tokyo Tower lit up right above us, whilst being serenaded by the most beautiful music from the orchestra, was one of the most surreal experiences I've ever had, and is certainly one that we will all remember for a very long time.
Can you tell me a bit more about the contrasts in fashion and style?
After our visit to the temple, we did a full 180 and went to a department store at the bottom of Tokyo Tower, where you'll find floor upon floor of Tokyo souvenirs and different restaurant chains - a completely opposite environment to the ancient shrine we'd visited just minutes beforehand.
When I was there we walked past two girls who were a perfect representation of this juxtaposition of fashion and style. One girl wore a traditional Japanese kimono, while the other girl was dressed in Lolita fashion - a subculture in Japan inspired by Victorian fashion that incorporates elegance, frills and modesty, which can often be seen on the streets of Harajuku.
What have your experiences been like when you've left the city?
I took my first road trip at the beginning of September - a two hour drive down to Kamakura, a seaside city located just south of Tokyo in the prefecture of Kanagawa.
Whilst we looked out at the scenic views passing us by through the car windows, one particular observation was commonly shared between the three of us: that the landscape simply did not look like Japan to us, or at least not as we knew it.
Seeing Kamakura for the first time, I found myself drawing similarities between the views in front of me to those that I've often associated with Hawaii. Here, there was a vast expanse of water in front of us, as well as an array of shops and restaurants along the seafront.
Driving past the island of Enoshima just off the Shōnan coast, the sea continued for miles and miles. It was an overwhelming feeling seeing the sheer size of the body of water in front of me. But, as I got used to the feeling, I began to appreciate the intricacy and details of the waves that were crashing upon the shore, which were strangely tumultuous yet serene and peaceful all at the same time. My mind immediately took me to the Seigai Waves cufflinks from the Japan collection.
Japan's fascination with water has come to the surface since the Edo period and Hokusai's famous woodblock print, The Great Wave of Kanagawa. Fittingly, this print was based upon the waves seen just off the shore of the prefecture where we visited. Other artists including Yuzan Mori have also crafted designs to reflect the beauty of the sea. The book Hamonshū, for example, pictures variations of different wave patterns, including the one seen on these cufflinks and one of the designs most commonly associated with Japanese culture.
As well as being famous for its scenic views, Kamakura is also known for the Japanese term Tabearuki - the act of eating whilst walking! Although it's not common practise throughout the rest of Japan, the exception is here in Kamakura where countless food stalls selling various delicacies line the streets.
We also paid a visit to the Kamakura Daibutsu - the Great Buddha of Kamakura - in the Buddhist temple Kotoku-in. This statue stands at a height of almost 14 feet, and weighs over 100 tons. Temples are central to Japanese history, and so I've been learning about the many traditions and customs that are practised when visiting them. One tradition in particular is the drawing of Omikuji (often taking place at New Year - the biggest national holiday in Japan). These fortunes speak of families, health, careers and relationships, and to this day there are many strong believers of the fortunes told in these envelopes, despite different religions.
Did you draw a fortune at the temple?
Yes! If you draw a bad fortune like I did, it is tradition to tie the paper of the fortune onto one of the designated trees or fences there, with the idea that these bad fortunes will be left behind in the hands of the Gods at the temples.
Another tradition at these temples involves writing wishes and prayers onto small wooden plaques that are then hung from trees or structures. These are often used for wishes of good luck at specific times, from exams to before taking long journeys.