10 things my honeymoon taught me about Japan

I recently returned from my honeymoon in Japan – a trip it felt like I had been planning for many years. Both my husband and I have always wanted to go; not only for the more geekier and stranger aspects of the culture, but also for the beautiful temples and shrines. Plus the incredible food!

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During my two weeks over there, I learnt a lot about Japan and its culture. Here’s some of the things that surprised me most.

The Japanese are always prepared for rain

In many ways, the Japanese remind me a lot of the British. Perhaps it’s because that, at times, we seem to share a very similar climate. While it didn’t rain an awful lot during our time there, whenever it did the locals were well equipped. Everyone has an umbrella – we were caught short without one at Tokyo DisneySea and had to ask two very sweet girls if we could share theirs! Umbrellas are such a big part of the culture that one of the rides at Disney had a special slot in which to place yours in, and you’ll find umbrella hooks and stands in almost every public toilet and outside many shops and hotels. Us Brits could stand to learn a thing or two!

Schoolgirls are the queens of the selfie

You may think teenage girls are selfie-obsessed over here but you haven’t seen anything until you go to Japan. Whilst in the queue for one of the rides at Disney, we witness the same group of girls take selfies together every 20 seconds, and that’s not an exaggeration. It may have been pouring down that day, but almost every teen was wearing a goofy (pun intended) Disney hat paired with their school uniform. A bizarre but incredible sight to behold.

Vending machines are the stuff of dreams

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The vending machines weren’t as varied I’d imagined them to be (yes, the used underwear ones are a myth before you ask), but they were still pretty amazing. My  husband was particularly blown away by the fact you could get hot coffee in a can from a machine. You can also get hot food in some vending machines. They are everywhere too – we never had to worry about being thirsty!

Everything is surprisingly cheap

Many people are put off by going to Japan because they assume it’s going to be expensive. Whilst the flights certainly aren’t cheap, once you’re over there everything is surprisingly affordable, especially food and drink. Of course, this depends on where you eat, but if you wanted to visit the country on a shoe-string budget you could with relative ease.

The people are super friendly

Another thing that worries people about visiting Japan is the language barrier. It’s true that not everyone speaks English, but in the more tourist-heavy places you’ll almost always be able to find someone to help you. What really surprised me was the fact that, most of the time, we didn’t need to ask for help. We met a lovely man when we were stood looking lost in a subway station. He asked us where we were trying to get to and he walked us all the way to the other side of the station and showed us which line we needed. He spoke amazing English too – we even had a conversation about the EU!

The toilets are tech-heavy

This is something I knew about Japan already but I already miss those heated toilet seats…

Trains stations double up as shopping malls

The train stations in Japan are huge and easy to get lost in. Some have 20+ different exits! All of them have a selection of stores in, but Kyoto Station was easily the most impressive. Within it is a large food court, a selection of fashion and souvenir stores and several malls are attached to it. It’s no wonder the locals were originally pretty angry about its construction, though.

Everything has a mascot

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Kyoto Tower’s mascot

From train stations to observation decks, everything seems to have its own mascot in Japan. It’s an easy way to sell souvenirs, I suppose.

Its streets are incredibly clean (and smoke-free)

Rarely did we see any rubbish on the streets in Japan, which is incredible considering we rarely saw a dustbin. Despite all the vending machines, eating on the street isn’t common in Japan and everyone is expected to take any rubbish they may have home with them. It puts other countries to shame – I’ve seen Brits chuck fast food wrappers on the floor when a bin is no more than five steps away. Perhaps the Japanese are a bit more respectful of their environment.

Smoking is also not allowed on the street, except in designated areas. We did see a few people flunking the rules, but not many. I am already missing the smoke-free streets!

But smoking inside is okay

Japan has a conflicted approach to smoking – you can’t smoke on the street but, in many places, you can smoke inside. Smokers are confined to a smoking section, which is often sealed off from the rest of the establishment, but not always. Panchinko and slot arcades are very smoky and almost unbearable if you’re a non-smoker.

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Five top tips for newly-engaged couples

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Did you find that special ring underneath the Christmas tree this year? Did your partner propose to you at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve? If so, congratulations! After telling all your nearest and dearest, you’re probably wondering what to do next, right?

I’m getting married in two months – it’s crazy to think I started planning my own wedding just over a year ago! Getting engaged can seem a bit daunting; you’ll suddenly be hit with loads of people asking you when the big day is, if you’ve thought of a wedding theme, where you’re getting married, if they can they come, etc. It can get a little too much! When it comes to planning a wedding, where do you start?

Here are my five top tips.

Get advice from any newly-married couples you know

When we first got engaged, my partner and I paid our recently-married friends a visit to ask them a few (lot) of questions. Before speaking to them, I had no idea how much things cost, what I needed to include in my budget or what I had to book first. They mentioned things I had not even considered, and gave me some really practical advice. Their best tip was to create a spreadsheet which keeps track of the estimated cost of your flowers, cake, outfits, food, venue, etc. and what it actually cost you later down the line. This was ESSENTIAL to our wedding planning, as I knew approximately how much we needed to save and if we were over or under budget. Luckily it has mostly been the latter!

Visit wedding fairs

Wedding fairs are great for several reasons: they give you ideas for your big day, allow you to meet and find the very best vendors (who will likely be running a ‘special offer’ if you book with them that day) and you’ll pick up some awesome free goodie bags! Not only that, but they’ll help get you and your partner really excited for the wedding.

Don’t feel pressured to stick to tradition

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Tradition is an odd concept to me. Just because we’ve been doing things a certain way for so long doesn’t mean it’s the best way, or your way. Of course, if the whole ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’ means a whole lot to you, then knock yourself out, but don’t be afraid to ignore any traditions you don’t want to follow.

Think about who (and how many) you want to invite early on

There are thousands of amazing wedding venues across the country and whilst you may be itching to visit them all right away, it’s wise to think about how many guests you want to invite before you do. Indeed, this is one of the first things my partner and I did – we always knew we wanted a fairly small, intimate wedding, so that helped narrow down our choice of venue. You may be surprised by how many people you actually want to invite, too, which is why it’s best to write a rough list as early into the planning process as possible.

Don’t rush yourselves

Hopefully, everyone is going to be really excited for you, and whilst that’s great, the big question: ‘When are you going to get married?’, might start to really piss you off.

Just because someone else you know got married within the year, don’t feel as if you have to race to the finish line. Planning a wedding, although sometimes stressful, is a wonderful thing to do as a couple – you don’t want to rush that experience. Take as long as you both need and try to ignore anyone who tells you to hurry up. You’re planning the damn thing, not them!

I hope my advice proves to be useful to you – if you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments section. I’m no expert, but I’ll try to help as best I can.

You may also wish to read ‘5 things I’ve learned from planning my own wedding’.

5 things I’ve learned from planning my own wedding

My wedding isn’t until next year, but I’ve already learnt so much about the planning process. I was never one of those girls who’s been planning her wedding since she was five. I had never picked up a wedding magazine. I was going in blind. If you have just got engaged and want to know what to expect next, read on.

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Get things done early

If you were as excited as I was when I first got engaged, you’ll find the idea of planning stuff as early as possible pretty easy. All the best venues book up quickly – some even have a waiting list! Typically, it’s best to book your venue at least a year in advance, especially if you want a summer wedding. Plus, you’ll need to make sure that all-important registrar is free. If they’re booked up for that day, you’re screwed.

I was surprised to hear how far in advance you have to buy your wedding dress too – a friend told me that even though she left a good half a year for her dress to be altered, it was only just finished in time! To avoid disappointment, this is one job you should get done early on. Of course, it is possible to plan a last minute wedding if you’re desperate, but who wants all that stress?

Your friends will be keen to help!

People love weddings, so it seems, and you’ll probably find your closest friends and family members will be happy to help you out with things. Let them; you’ll save a ton of money in the process, not to mention some of the stress will be lifted off your heavy shoulders. Just make sure you reward them later down the line, especially if they’re doing something big, like taking your wedding photos for you.

Picking a wedding dress is harder than you think

When I started looking for a wedding dress I didn’t know where to begin. Luckily, wedding dress stores are full of helpful staff members who will dedicate their time to finding something you love. The key thing is to keep an open mind – you may think you hate or love a particular style, but your opinion will soon change once you’ve tried on a few dresses! Try on as many styles as possible, then you can narrow down your search. I started off thinking I knew the type of style I wanted, but since trying on many more my opinion has completely changed! You’ll find yourself thinking ‘they’re all lovely’, so don’t rush the process. You will know when you’ve found ‘the one’.

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You’ll need to compromise 

I was told numerous times: “Remember, it’s your wedding. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” Whilst that’s true, you don’t want to upset people at the same time. After all, they are your friends and family. You don’t have to pander to everyone’s demands, just meet them half way. You might be paying a lot for the big day, but the journey isn’t cheap for them either. Travel, hotel rooms, fancy clothing and wedding gifts are just some of the costs they’ll most likely have to endure if they want to come. Try to keep this in mind the next time you’re getting stressed out at your bridesmaids.

Budgeting is vital

Before planning anything about our big day, my fiancé and I sat down and worked out how much we could afford to save inbetween now and when we thought our wedding day might be. This helped us draw up a budget and decide what we could afford to spend on each aspect of the day. I created a Google Docs spreadsheet and started to estimate how much everything would cost, including the honeymoon. Whenever we book or buy something, I write in the actual cost in the next column along, so I can keep track of how much we actually spend. This is a very good way to keep an eye on your budget and make sure you’re not overspending on anything. Plus, it makes you feel super good when you spend way under your initial budget!

I still have a long way to go until my big day, but I have already learned how stressful the process can be. If you know any brides or grooms-to-be, go easy on them! Planning is hard; you’re juggling the needs of so many people! Try to relax and enjoy the process; that’s want I’m attempting to do and so far, it seems to be working.

3 reasons you should boycott the Fifty Shades of Grey film

Image via the6thsiren on Tumblr

Image via the6thsiren on Tumblr

It’s not long until Fifty Shades of Grey releases in the cinemas, and although you may be considering going to see it with your other half or friends for “a bit of a laugh”, there are some very good reasons why you shouldn’t see this film at all. If you truly don’t believe there’s anything wrong with the film or books, here are three reasons why you should give it a miss this Valentine’s Day.

It’s about abuse, not love

There is nothing romantic about domestic violence, yet Fifty Shades continues to try to convince us that stalking your partner, forcing them to do things they don’t want to, and making them feel frightened you’re going to beat “seven shades of shit” out of them (yes, that’s an actual quote from the book) is what true love feels like. There is nothing wrong with having a kinky sex life, or indeed living the BDSM lifestyle, but Fifty Shades’s interpretation of submission and domination is downright dangerous. Around two women a week are killed by either a current or ex partner. Domestic violence is a real problem and films and books like this do nothing to help solve it.

It doesn’t portray the BDSM community accurately

Want to spice up your relationship with whips and blindfolds? Fantastic! There are lots of great sex shops you can go to, experts you can speak to, and books and films which accurately portray what BDSM and kinky sex involves. Fifty Shades is not one of those films. Being dominant in the bedroom does not mean you force someone into sex – you agree what you do and don’t want to do with your partner beforehand. You lay down some house rules and agree on a safe word, if necessary. Mr Grey does not pay attention to safe words. This doesn’t just make him a bad dom, that makes him a rapist. A rapist who managed to convince a virgin girl to have sex with him, on his terms. Doesn’t sound so sexy now, does it?

There are much better, sexier films out there

Fifty Shades isn’t ground-breaking in any sense of the word. There are numerous, much better films out there that portray kinky sex the way it’s supposed to be. Secretary is a personal favourite of mine, and if you haven’t seen it, you should. James Spader, also called Mr Grey, plays a boss who likes to dominate his newest member of staff, Lee Holloway, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. It’s dark, sexy, funny, and, most importantly, it has a heart. Lee is never abused or forced to do things she doesn’t want to – she falls in love. In this film, BDSM allows the two characters to be themselves, to be free. It isn’t about a man who beats women because he’s long harboured a hatred for them.

I urge you not to go and see Fifty Shades of Grey in two weeks time. It will undoubtedly do well at the box office, and this worries me considering how poorly it demonstrates what a loving, kinky relationship should be. Fifty Shades may be marketed as ‘porn’ for women, but at its very best it’s a misguided effort to convince women to experiment more in the bedroom. Whether you’re a lady or a gentleman, never let your partner do what they want to you because society tells you to submit to their desires. That is not what a loving relationship is, and don’t let anyone, or any film, tell you differently.

Terrorism doesn’t kill freedom of speech, it promotes it

"All for one..." Credit: Seb Tanti Burlo'

“All for one…” Credit: Seb Tanti Burlo’

An act of terrorism is supposed to strike fear into us, to make people afraid to say what they think. It is about control. Dominance. Threats of violence or death attempt to do the same thing – shut up the party in question. This week we have witnessed a horrific attempt to silence freedom of speech, but really all these terrorists are doing are promoting it.

How many of you had heard of Charlie Hebdo and its cartoons before this week? Just like many others outside of France, I had never seen the cartoons before. This terrorist group has created an international PR campaign for the magazine. It set out to destroy it, and stop anyone else from creating similar artwork. The attack has shaken the world yes, but people’s first response was to make more cartoons. Not every journalist, satire-writer or cartoonist can be killed. We are strongest when we are united, and this devastating attack has brought us together and increased our defences, not shattered them.

There have been many attempts to stifle people’s right to freedom of speech recently. Although no where near as awful, the Sony hack and terrorism threats made to cinemas who dared to screen ‘The Interview’ didn’t end up silencing Sony and film-makers like the hackers had hoped, it instead acted as a fantastic PR campaign for the film. If whoever carried out the attack had simply let the film be released, it probably wouldn’t have made that much at the box office – it wasn’t exactly popular with reviewers. Sony managed to make more than $15 million  (£9.92 million) in online sales and $2.8 million (£1.85 million) at theatres, and it will make even more when the DVD and Bluray are inevitably released.  It may be a sub-par comedy, but people flocked to cinemas and streaming sites to stand up for freedom of speech. That, and they wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Hate campaigns are another way people try to silence freedom of speech. Last year, Gamergate, which ironically was supposedly meant to be about making the gaming press more truthful, sought to oppress the views of women within the gaming industry. Misogynistic Gamergaters attempted to silence certain women by sending them death and rape threats and publishing their home addresses online, but in reality, the women involved won. Most notably, Anita Sarkeesian received a huge PR boost off the back of the vile campaign. Whether you love her or loath her, Anita stands for the freedom of speech. In her online videos, she is trying to expose the gaming industry’s inherent sexism, to try and improve the way women are portrayed in video games. During the Gamergate scandal, she was interviewed on popular talkshows, appeared in several publications and gained a whole raft of supporters. If Gamergaters wanted her to disappear, they would have stood more of a chance of success if they had just ignored her.

All these events may be separate, but they all tried to silence someone. Whether we create satirical cartoons, films, or online videos, no one should stop us speaking up for what is right. Freedom of speech isn’t about letting people be hateful, it’s about allowing us to comment on serious issues. Right now, more than ever, we need to stand together to ensure that this right isn’t taken away from us. Je suis Charlie.

“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” – George Washington

Why love Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who

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Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is one that has divided people somewhat. I’ve heard people call him cold, heartless, and unsympathetic; simply because when another character dies – which tends to happen every episode – the Doctor shows very little empathy, and instead chooses to move on quickly and get on with things. I don’t think he’s any of these things at all, and that actually, some viewers are failing to look into his character a little deeper. Let me tell you why.

We’re nine episodes into the latest season now, and rather fittingly the latest episode subtly shows why anyone who thinks the Doctor is cold is wrong. Without spoiling it too much for those who haven’t watched it yet, Clara basically gets the chance to become the Doctor for the day, as Capaldi is somewhat out of action. Naturally, people die along the way, but does Clara stop and take time to mourn those she’s just lost? No. In fact, at the end of the episode, she’s pretty darn happy with herself, as she believes she did a good job as the Doctor. Again, she doesn’t stop to think about those who have died, she’s too busy patting herself on the back. When she says to the Doctor: “Admit it, I was a good Doctor,” he simply replies: “You were an exceptional Doctor. Being good has nothing to do with it.”

He’s saying that the Doctor isn’t a good person. The Doctor has to be selfish, act fast and therefore move on quickly – even if someone has just died – much like Clara did. Sometimes he even has to kill the ‘monsters’, something which he does not like doing, but often he finds himself in situations where that’s the only choice. Unfortunately, that’s what being a hero is all about – making the difficult choices when no one can, or wants to. However, most of the time, he gives the creature in question the benefit of the doubt. He tries to believe everything is good until it proves otherwise. We’ve seen this from Capaldi’s Doctor in several instances so far.

When Clara played the Doctor for herself, she realised that you have to be emotionally detached in order to succeed, hence why she spend no time getting upset over any of the character’s deaths. She had to be brave. She had to run, in order to save herself, the Doctor and the people who were still alive from the ‘monsters’.

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I’m not sure what more people want from the Doctor. When someone dies should he stop? Sit down and make himself a cuppa? Cry? There isn’t time. In a war zone, you cannot stop and sob. You have to pick up your gun and keep fighting until you’re safe. They’ll be time to mourn then. Not only that, but it isn’t in this Doctor’s nature to let his feelings show. He covers them up by making fun of Clara, getting angry and concentrating on the job at hand, but underneath, we all know the Doctor is a lot more complicated than that.

The Doctor is older now. He not some young pretty-boy like Matt Smith or even David Tennant, and this was made very evident in the first episode with Capaldi. It was explained almost straight away that the Doctor wasn’t going to be Clara’s boyfriend anymore, nor is going to hold her hand. In a bid to perhaps distance himself from her, as they were getting too close, the Doctor has given Clara a rough time. This may have caused her to, in one episode, to throw her toys out the Tardis, but would she have been able to play the Doctor for a day if he hadn’t had given this reality check? Probably not.

It’s also important to remember the Doctor isn’t human. The whole reason why he has a companion is because he needs that balance. He needs someone to be empathic, to understand what the innocent bystanders are going through. If he had these emotions himself, there would be no need for him to have any assistants. And quite frankly, that would make for a rather boring Doctor Who.

Essentially, the Doctor – or any character for that matter – can’t be taken at face-value. You need to be able to look at a character a little deeper than “he/she is seems mean and cold”. I actually think Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is extremely well-written, as he’s not just a 2D character. There is a lot more to him than meets the eye, I just wish other Doctor Who fans could see that.

Why are we so obsessed with tradition?

By Lindsey Child on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

By Lindsey Child on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

Exactly a week ago today, my partner proposed to me. I thought we were just going to Bath to meet up with our gaming friends, but it turned out he’d arranged the whole weekend around it – with the help of my friends, of course. He even designed the Portal-themed ring himself! He arranged all that, in secret – but do you know what he didn’t do? Ask my dad for permission to marry me.

Why? Well my answer is, why should he?

People start asking you a lot of questions when you get in engaged: When’s the wedding? Where’s the wedding? How did he propose? But both Alex and I have been asked a lot if he asked my dad before proposing. This struck us as odd; we assumed it was very old hat to do such a thing these days. I didn’t know people still did it! To those that asked me this question, I stated that I am not a piece of property. I don’t belong to my father. I own my own house, have my own job and live with my partner.

When Alex was asked that same question, some people were confused by his similar response. In their eyes, it’s tradition. Therefore, you just do it, without questioning. This is perhaps what angers me most about so-called ‘tradition’. Because it’s perceived normal to do things that are traditional, we stop asking why we do them. Back in the day, daughters did belong to their fathers. Traditionally, fathers pay for the wedding too, but I don’t expect, or even want, mine to. I am a big girl, I can pay for things myself.

Under marriage, I am also expected to take my partner’s name. We have discussed this before in length and I have already decided that I don’t want to do this. Not because I want to purposely break tradition, but because I like my name, and I feel as if I would be losing part of my identity by changing it. These days, the only real reason for a woman, or indeed a man, to change their name is for the sake of the children, should you have any. Sadly, society would probably laugh or look down upon any man who chooses to take his wife’s name. Sexism and marriage, it seems, go hand in hand.

Although gay people have long struggled for the right to be able to marry, now that they have that right they are lucky. The latest episode of ‘Don’t Tell the Bride’ featured a gay couple, and the groom-to-be planning the wedding made a very good point: gay people don’t have any traditions when it comes to marriage. They don’t have to follow the rules, they can do anything they want when it comes to their big day. But really, don’t we all have that same opportunity?

Let’s drop the bullshit. No one has to ‘give you away’ if you don’t want them to. You don’t have to take someone’s name and you certainly don’t have to listen to anyone who says you have to do so for the sake of tradition. It’s time we all started making our own traditions.