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A Gorgeous Visit to a Slovenian Arboretum -Volcji Potok.

Eighty-five hectares in size. Volcji Potok is a stunning public garden of various species of trees, flowers and plants around the world as well as plant “nurseries”. The garden is located in Slovenia – the third most forested country in Europe.

Even though we frequent Slovenia (aka former Yugaslavia), this was my first time stepping into this vast botanical garden. I felt I was in a mythical fantasy scene in Zelda, due in part to the park’s magnificent, towering trees of all kinds and pristine plains where one can run through freely with arms wide open.

Very cool real-size models of humpback whales

The garden is incredibly lush and it was a slow day, so there was absolutely no rush walking – which is how it is meant to be enjoyed. The parks are inspired by both English and French styled gardens.

There is a wonderful playground for kids, and I loved how it all intertwined into the surrounding nature. There are treehouses with slides, mazes that lead to a wooden tower, lakes with ducklings and catfish, a dinosaur area and other fun, giant real-life sized models of animals such as whales that were integrated interestingly into the landscape.

As we walked along the gravel trails, I was in awe of the beautiful trees – all individually labeled with their Latin names. There was one tree that rung a bell and it was the Gingko Biloba tree. This is one of the oldest living tree species in the world. It comes from an ancient group of trees that date back to before dinosaurs roamed the Earth. We’re talking a tree that has survived millions of years, it’s literally a living fossil! The tree is used for a range of medicinal purposes as well.

Tree hugger!

In April, the tulips were in bloom. In June, we were lucky to see the fully bloomed rose garden in the botanical garden. We spent time admiring all of the different kinds of roses and I felt like I was in an enchanting ancient Roman garden or one from a 19th century period. I loved how each rose had it’s own sweet distinct scent giving ode to meadows, honey and fruit. We had to be sure we weren’t sniffing into a flower with a busy bee though! My daughter ran enthusiastically from rose bush to rose bush taking in a whiff of their fragrances.

We also passed by a pond with catfish. It was funny how they swarmed towards us with their hungry gaping mouths surfacing from the water.

Hungry catfish
The area is so peaceful and wooded that it has meditation spots.
This was one of the most gorgeous pine trees I have ever seen. The photo doesn’t do justice to its scale and beauty. It was incredibly tall, and literally looked like a tree from Lord of the Rings.
Ripe pinecones are a common sighting, but finding unripe ones fallen on the ground such as these are out of the ordinary.
Ding, ding, ding!

That wraps up our visit to the garden. It’s one of those places that can be treated like a day trip, as you can spend hours wandering it’s path and trails. Mind you, we arrived in the early morning and left by around 5pm and still didn’t cover the entire area!

You can read more about my past trips to Slovenia here 🙂

My Japanese Inscriptions: Tokyo

March/April 2018

Japan, a place that has long governed my list of places to see and experience and I finally did! It was one of those dream destinations that was always on my mind. Dreaming of Tokyo, I often imagined neon streets, an energetic buzz that leaves you mesmerized, and the overall excitement of being in such an interesting new world to get lost in. It is everything that I imagined it to be; home to the fascinating, unusual, and bizarre. I noticed how the smallest and most everyday things are subtly different and Japanese in their own way! Overall, a visit to Tokyo most certainly implies a world of discoveries and stimuli for all the senses.

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My first glance at Tokyo!

We landed in Japan during the winter times, and it was freezing cold. Once we arrived in Shiodome, Minato, a redeveloped district known for it’s modern architectural design, we let ourselves get a little lost on the way to our hotel and it was already a sensory overload for me.

I couldn’t wait to explore this treasure trove of encounters and experiences!

On the following morning, we explored the area and went into a small convenience store called “Family Mart” to grab something fun to eat (also known as a Konbini in Japanese).

There were all sorts of interesting-looking snacks, desserts, pastries and bento boxes – and all were labeled in Japanese so it was impossible to understand if only from a cute cartoon drawing on the package. The store had virtually everything you need, from thoughtfully packaged meals to sandwiches. And almost anything I picked up was delicious. We used the Google Translate Camera app to point at the packaging and it would give us a general idea of the content which was really helpful. However, the fun part was randomly picking up a variety of snacks and trying them out for surprise! These mini marts became one of my favorite stops throughout our trip and every time I walked into one I was wide-eyed at the variety of items to try.

Some snacks I tried were clam-flavored ramen and a kind of dried fish and seasoned calamari, and there was even kiri-flavored ice-cream! My favorite part of walking into any Japanese convenience store is their “Hot meal station” next to every cashier for a “grab & go” snack. The photo below shows some rice buns with different fillings and Tsukune, which are tender Japanese chicken meatball skewers glazed in delicious seasoning.

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A Japanese convenience store with a variety of snacks

In every district, I have jotted down my main observations and initial encounters in the area.

Tokyo is divided into several districts, each with their own unique character and charm. Our very first district was Asakusa, where we visited the sacred grounds of the Sensoji Temple.

Getting around Tokyo

It is no doubt that Tokyo’s metro system will get you to many places, but it’s a labyrinth of subway lines. We got lost a few times before eventually getting the hang of it (thanks to my husband who mastered it like a BOSS! Without him I would get stranded 🙂

Japanese people

One aspect of Japan that I found striking is the sheer respect and politeness of Japanese people. From the courteous taxi drivers in their immaculately clean vehicles (with automatic doors that open and close!) to the humble department store workers and businessmen at the subway, I was quite shocked at the amount of genuine hospitality. There were many instances throughout our stay that reinforced this.

One great example was at the metro station, we were seemingly lost and attempting to find the correct subway line. Usually when that happened we would turn to a local for help. This time we approached a business man and he pointed us to line “8”. When we reached, we waited for the metro to arrive and after about 10 minutes we see the man running to our direction apologizing profusely that he was mistaken and the right line was “7”. The fact that he took the time and effort to come back and tell us this left me astonished! Another example was similar except that we asked help from a young college student. He whipped out his phone to search for answers and it really looked like he sincerely wanted to help us. He even missed his train!

I also remember another endearing instance when we were about to get some drinks from a vending machine and my husband accidentally dropped a pile of coins. Children nearby rushed to pick up the coins and give them to us. Where in the world do you see this act of politeness? Respect and etiquette are at the core of Japan and embedded in their culture.

Nostalgia in Japan?

One look at Japan’s traditional culture, technology, innovation and art made me realize that the Japanese actually strive for perfection in everything, which makes it such an orderly and organized nation. There is also an air of nostalgia that I couldn’t point my finger on. It could be the old-school Japan, and I guess I would say that a sense of nostalgia is even reflected in their manga, invoking a longing for the good old days.

ASAKUSA DISTRICT

Asakusa is known for the oldest Buddhist Temple in Tokyo dating back to 645 AD called Sensoji. The path leading to the temple is also one of Japan’s oldest shopping streets called Nakamise Dori. When in Japan, I wasn’t really looking into touristed-out typical travel trinkets. I was more on the lookout for rare Japanese finds, be it handicrafts or only-in-japan traditional souvenirs.

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Toy Capsules (Gachapon in Japanese)

Another one of my favorite things to do was scout the toy capsule machines all around Tokyo, which are itself a cultural phenomenon. Believe it or not, each area has different editions with unique collectibles. Exploring the various miniature works of art in plastic such as capsuled mini food models, anime characters, keychains, and toys is a really fun experience and addicting in a way too. These were quite nostalgic for me because I remember my favorite childhood video game Shenmue where the lead character wondered the streets of Yokosuka, Japan, collecting toy capsules.

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Opened one of my toy capsules to find 551 Horai, which is a popular Asian rice bun outlet.

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A Japanese pickle store – Tsukemono

KIMONOS – THE TRADITIONAL GARMENT OF THE OLD EDO PERIOD

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Kimono rental shops are pretty much everywhere, and it’s always good to consider wearing an authentic kimono as you stroll the old streets of the Edo period. The intricacies that go into wearing one and the rainbow of choices that come in different patterns and colors was interesting to observe. One fact I learned from the lady working at a kimono rental shop was that you can “Level-up” your kimono gear, depending on the pattern and fabric that range from basic kimonos to more elaborate ones worn by Geishas or wedding ceremonies. All in all, dressing up in a kimono is an art by itself.

Owls (Fukuro) everywhere

One of the things I noticed was Japan’s obsession with owls, just like myself. I learned that there is some significance and meaning to owls in Japanese culture. Most if not all Japanese souvenir shops had owl trinkets, charms and owl figures almost as popular as Hello Kitty. Owls actually symbolize luck in Japan, and the word “Fukuro” for owls means “Good luck or fortune”.

20180312_121513                               Each colored owl symbolizes luck, protection or fortune

Arriving at Asakusa’s Sensoji Temple

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Japan’s ancient Buddhist Temple is called Senso-ji, considered to be a very spiritual place in Tokyo. It was crowded when we reached, and masses of people surrounded a cauldron producing a cloud of billowing incense smoke that visitors were wafting over themselves. People light up incense sticks and place them in the giant urn to make a wish before entering the temple ahead.

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Also, before entering the temple there is a fountain of purity. The streams of water are meant to provide spiritual cleansing before moving forward.

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Once in the temple, there are consistent rattling sounds coming from over the temple from people shaking metal containers with hopes of receiving a good fortune. I picked up a box as well and once satisfied with the shaking, I turned it over and a wooden stick came out of a small slit at the bottom. There were some characters written on it with which you have to match on the drawer in front of you. After spotting the correct drawer, I was lead to open it and receive my  “Omikuji” (fortune). I deciphered it, and I turned out to get a good fortune! Normally, if you get a positive reading you take the fortune back home with you, if not, you tie it on to a “Omikuji tree” at the temple and leave it behind.

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Japanese vending machines

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The Japanese have a strong affair with vending machines, and its no wonder as they really are a source of fascination due to the variety of items sold in them. They are very convenient and handy too, dispensing a range of cold and hot beverages with the cutest and most colorful packaging. My husband and I would always stop at one to grab ourselves a nice warm drink, he always got the hot coffee while I had tea with milk.

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The cutest bottle of water!

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Back to Shiodome, Minato

Pachinko Arcades: Gambling?

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A craze that I found in almost every corner were Japanese arcades known as “Pachinkos”. When we entered one, it looked like a form of gambling and the majority playing were middle-aged men in suits fixated on the screens of their machines which were blaring and making incessant noise. It almost seemed like they were oblivious to their surroundings and focusing solely on the game in front of them. I tried to understand what they were playing exactly, but all I could make out were flashy colors and random balls, it mostly resembled a pinball game. Honestly, I couldn’t stay in one for more than 3 minutes as the sounds were overwhelmingly loud and unpleasant. I guess when you’re so into the game you kind of block out the noise overtime.

White surgical masks: Protection or a long-standing trend?

You might always wonder why the majority of Japanese, especially from Tokyo, wear white masks like just another clothing garment and at first it may seem puzzling. In reality it is a social etiquette, either to block viruses or allergies or prevent yourself from spreading them to others. I also learnt from one Japanese that it helps battle the “hay fever” season caused by a specific Japanese cedar tree, therefore donning a mask helps alleviate the symptoms. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if masks are actually considered a fashion statement in Japan as there are all kinds of styles and colors sold everywhere.

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Japanese Tea: A way of philosophy

Tea is a Japanese cultural activity and custom that involves a ceremonial preparation and presentation of the Japan’s favorite powdered “Matcha” green tea, and there’s a whole philosophy behind it that helps one enjoy their tea through a relaxing experience.  It’s less about the drink and more about the appreciation of the nature and art of making the tea. When we entered an old tea shop, there were a wide variety of tea leaves with premium being the highest quality. The man working there offered to prepare a sample for us with his ceremony utensils, and the whole preparation looked like a form of mastery representing harmony, purity, serenity and respect.

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The Imperial Palace

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The Imperial Palace

The Imperial palace is set amidst beautiful traditional Japanese gardens and is the place where the Emperor of Japan resides. It was especially stunning during the season of Cherry Blossoms which we were very luck to witness! The entire grounds gave us a feel of ancient legacy.

The Enchanting Sakura: Shades of Pink

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It’s a lovely sight to witness when gardens and parks are blanketed with blossoms of pale pink, baby pink, and deep pink hues. This is when we knew it was the onset of Spring in Japan. The Imperial Palace was amongst the best spots for cherry-blossom-viewing. I hadn’t known prior to traveling to Japan, that there is more than one type of Sakura tree. There are actually over 600. It was certainly a dream come true to be walking amidst their magical beauty and a great memory I’ll cherish!

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A type of “Yellow Sakura”

Cherry blossoms are so iconic and loved all over the world, that the Japanese have an entire word for “looking at flowers” which is called “Hanami”. There are several “Hanami spots” throughout Japan to admire the blossoms.

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Hanami picnics – an ancient tradition and national pasttime

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Sakura flavored treats are also very common, with sakura flavored Starbucks Pink Milk Lattes to sakura-layered white chocolate Mille Feuille and Sakura-infused tea.

Ginza District

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Ginza is known as Shopping Heaven. You can find everything from high-end luxury brands for men’s and women’s fashion in multi-storied designer buildings to traditional Japanese goods ranging from stationary stores to expensive Japanese pottery shops.

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Cutting-edge galleries

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Tokyo in general has a lively art scene, but in Ginza in particular there are a variety of arts, antiques, and crafts for display in galleries which make for great spots for inspiration.

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Japanese glazed porcelain dolls

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The art of Japanese dolls

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Japanese Stationary: The 100-year stationary store

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If there’s another thing that Japan and I have in common, it’s our passion for stationary! In this digital age, I still go nostalgic for beautiful artful greeting cards and postcards. In Japan, there’s an entire century-old stationary store devoted just to stationary goods called Itoya. And of course, I went wild.

With over 7 floors, you can find your ideal ballpoint pen, make your very own customized notebook through a color, texture & thickness chart, home care goods, Japanese colored paper art works, and a whole floor dedicated to postcards, greeting cards and stickers. The stationary looks so cute, I wanted to get everything. Aside from the cuteness, Japanese stationary puts quality, design and functionality at the forefront.

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A greeting card portraying the famous Sagano Railway in Japan.

The original Sheseido Cosmetics Building

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Sheseido is huge in the beauty industry, and it’s personally one of my favorite Japanese cosmetic brands. That’s why spotting Ginza’s original Sheseido building of 9 floors got me excited! Starting with make up on the first floor followed by skincare on the second where I received a personalized beauty diagnostic. They have several stations devoted to various skincare needs, from anti-aging, moisturizing, serums and more. I also stopped by 2 more floors which had a hairdresser and photo make up studio. I stocked up on a lot of exclusive Japanese Sheseido make up and skincare after spending hours exploring their items which was a delightful experience 🙂

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Only a street away is an another entire building dedicated to a Sheseido bakery known as Sheseido Parlour. This is a fact I hadn’t previously known about, which is that Sheseido has it’s own line of baking goods that come in beautifully-packed containers. One of the most well-known items is their signature Sheseido cheesecake which was popularized in Ginza itself.

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Japanese beauty gadgets

Japanese beauty tools are everywhere, from innovations meant to exercise your face muscles, to spooky-looking masks, breast gymnastics massagers, nose beauty lifts to knee brightening foams.

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Sauna face mask. The mask is supposed to tense your muscles and make your face sweat, hence resulting in a slimmer face cut.

Aside from that, within every 3 meters of walking any street there are multiple drugstores with a dizzying number of beauty bottles, tonics, emulsions and packs at every corner. Skin conditioners, skin softening, deep cleansing are the main pillars of Japanese skincare regimes and they are known for their quality, effectivity and innovation.

I got to know a couple of traditional Japanese cosmetic brands as well, those of which use old Japanese beauty practices such as silkworm cocoons and the rich camellia oil for hair.

The Food Scene (My Favorite): Navigating Japan’s Food Wonders

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There’s hardly a corner in Tokyo that isn’t peppered with stalls, labels, posters and displays of food. I was mostly interested in eating like a local and trying out unusual things. We wondered the narrow streets of Ginza with a very wide range of restaurants. Japanese food is so diverse we wanted to have a bite of everything! There is much more to classic Japanese food than what we are used to having (like tempura, ramen, and sushi) as Japanese cuisine is steeped in culture and all about artistry. The Japanese make the most out of natural flavors and sparingly use any spices, fats, or red meats , therefore it is considered healthy and typical Japanese food tastes vastly different in texture and flavor when compared to other cuisines.

Initially we were on the lookout for a Yakitori Restaurant which serves traditional Japanese grilled skewers of meat and vegetables. However, we ended up in a different cozy restaurant by mistake which served Japanese “Shabu Shabu”. 

The Japanese “Fondue”: Shabu Shabu DIY cooking

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Upon entering, we were seated on a high-chair table resembling a bar which was lined with boiling “hot pots” of soup. The chef then served us a fresh spread of raw vegetables and thinly sliced A5 grade Wagyu beef.

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We were also given special utensils to make a sesame-based sauce for dipping. The fun part was being in total control of your ingredients once you start throwing them in to the steaming pot to cook.  When you drop in a slice of Wagyu it momentarily simmers and cooks within seconds before melting in your mouth. I loved this dining experience. It’s great for sharing, and it’s light and healthy.

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The chef demonstrating the Shabu Shabu for us

At first, the big spread of beef slices might come off as a large portion but it disappears before you even realize it. That’s how light it is! The guys seated next to us had those slices coming one after the other.

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Interviewed by Japanese TV

To our surprise, there was a camera crew present on sight at the restaurant as well. We stood out as foreigners and I guess they were intrigued by us. The interviewee and the cameraman approached us and asked if we wanted to participate in their show on Otaku TV by answering a couple of their questions about our Japanese dining experience as tourists. They  documented our dining experience and asked all kinds of questions ranging from how our food back in Kuwait compares, how we discovered Shabu Shabu, to what we enjoyed most about the whole experience. It was a very interested encounter! I’ve yet to receive the coverage from the TV station 🙂

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Japanese plastic food models (Sampuru)

Looking so good you could eat them

Strolling the streets of Japan, we would often find menu displays of “dish replicas” at restaurants which actually look highly realistic and very interesting to look at.

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They are so popular, that they come in keychains and have even turned into a fashion business with designs for accessories and phone cases!

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It’s a really interesting phenomenon unique to Japanese culture. The food models look like culinary art forms! The life-like replicas are actually not that far from reality, and the exquisite amount of details makes them perfect at giving you a very close idea of what your dish will look like. Picking out something to eat as we walk by a restaurant is like going through an art exhibition and there are actual craftsmen behind these models that paint and sculpture them to look as delicious as possible. Interestingly, plastic food models were invented by a Japanese man called Takizo Iwasaki in the 1800’s.

I can see why these cute-looking dishes and imitation of food aesthetics can turn into a collecting hobby as there is an enormous wide variety of them which are all tempting to have!

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Akiko Obata holds the Guiness record for the largest collection of food replicas! (taken from Google)

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Food illusions…

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There are Sampuru workshops around too where tourists can sculpt and paint their very own plastic food dish and master the art of faking it. It’s practically like a real kitchen where every element keeps the aspect of its original, except for the taste!

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A Sampuru workshop for kids

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     A ramen vending machine at a restaurant

The Sweet sides of Japanese: Wagashi & Dango

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In Japan, if you’re craving something sweet you are most likely to indulge in typical Japanese desserts. One of these is called Wagashi made out of Mochi (rice pounded into paste). With each season comes different flavors. Since I was in the Sakura season, I tried the Sakura mochi which is a type of Wagashi. It’s definitely an acquired taste I would say. The glutinous rice ball is wrapped with a Sakura leaf which has a pickled taste to it, while the rice is chewy and sweet with a savory bean paste filling.

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Another type of Wagashi

Most of the desserts are really pretty and colorful to look at!

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Back to Shiodome, Minato

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Japan’s tiny futuristic cubes in Shimbashi (Nakagin)

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While on a night time stroll in Shimbashi district, I decided to take my husband to see the famous unusual capsule concrete structure known in Japan. It looked quite spooky at night and had somewhat of a decaying facade but very cool nevertheless! At first, we tried to access it and when we inquired the security guard about it we assumed we could just pass by inside and have a look but he mentioned it being an apartment complex. So, these capsules are actually residences and few people live in them. Some have turned into offices as well. It was built in the 1970’s and the 70’s interior remains the same and during that time it was marketed as living quarters. The cubes were designed in such a way that they were meant to be detached and replaced with new ones. People back then perceived the capsule building as an optimistic symbol of a Utopian sci-fi ideal. Sadly, what the structure used to represent has sadly been forgotten and now it stands as solely an icon of the past.

Japan’s Museum of Advertising

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This museum was one of our many highlights and told us so much about the history of Japanese advertising. The very first thing that impressed me was the museum’s method of presenting and displaying the information, which was very engaging, catchy, and innovative.

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The first room featured decorative advertisements and actual artifacts of the Edo Period. The practice of handing out flyers and promoting business venues was already popular back then and overtime the museum shows how these marketing tools have adapted to changing times.

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Samples of old promotional flyers and posters from the Edo Period

You might think advertising wasn’t so advanced back then but the museum proves you otherwise. People in the past were actually very creative with their tools in order to visually attract customers to their shops, by using handcrafted shop signs to perfect the art of advertising.

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Different types of ADs were like various forms of art

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The very first AD for the famous Japanese cosmetics brand Sheseido

Then came a wonderful display giving insight into the newspaper period in Japan, followed by the major introduction of mass media such as radio, television, newspapers and magazines.

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A fascinating part of the museum was the 2000’s, which showed how items and products changed with society. Different ADs portrayed the evolution of societal ideologies as new technological platforms emerged. It also showed the way consumer culture and lifestyles evolved in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s to the present 21st century. The whole museum is like one giant timeline. My favorite part was a large screen displaying ADs from the past to present. It really changes your perspective when you look at how advertising accelerated throughout the years.

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OWL CAFE (AKIFA FUKUROU): A CRAZE UNIQUE TO JAPAN

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Owls…the mysterious creatures of the night featured in tales of magical realism. In literature and filmography, they are majestic creatures imbued with mystery. With their somewhat enchanting calls that echo through the night and charismatic faces, most cultures hail owls as symbols of wisdom, good luck and fortune. The Japanese word for owls is Fukurou, which literally translates to luck.my long-time favorite animal for as long as I can remember. As an owl collector (of figurines, trinkets, postcards, paintings and so on), I eventually found myself in an Owl Cafe!

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 Japan isn’t short of bizarrely-themed cafes. From Maid Cafés, the world’s first cat café and even hedgehog cafes, at the heart of Tokyo lies Japan’s popular Owl Café, Akiba Fukurou, which is home to 25 distinct species of owls. In the world’s most hi-tech metropolis at Akihabara street, I was about to re-connect with nature in the most unusual way. As an owl lover, this was going to be an immensely interesting and special one-of-a-kind experience.

Being as popular as they are, I was eager to successfully secure a spot at the café which meant an hour of up-close and personal time with these beautiful birds.

Before entering we were given a brief tutorial on owl-handling with an adorable introduction to the owl family tree. We entered a relaxed little mellow café with serene owls tethered on to long perches around the walls, some snoozing while others widely alert of their surroundings.

Each owl has a name and presumably a personality ranging from social, defensive, quiet, to moody. One of the rules cautioned to us was to remain as quiet as possible with no sudden movements, therefore everyone had to resort to whispering. We were told that we could gently pat them on the head or beaks with our pinkie fingers.

Utterly transfixed by the whole bizarre experience, it was time for everyone to select a favorite to hold and interact with. There are several baby owlets to much bigger and intimidating ones for every comfort level and every owl fan. I was particularly drawn to the white owls. Apparently the one I fancied had quite a bit of a defensive attitude, as told by the coach. Therefore, I took back my decision and picked another white one that was friendlier and relatively social. The coach gently took him off from the bar he was resting on and with his help carefully placed him on my arm. By that time I totally forgot that we were in a café and didn’t even end up ordering a drink! (couldn’t imagine holding an owl on one arm and a drink in my hand on the other).

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The Owl Cafe

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The beautiful owl I made friends with!

 

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The whole encounter had a very calming effect, and I felt a special connection being so close to a beautiful and wild predator staring right at me with curiosity. It seemed so comfortable on my shoulder, that I was suddenly taken aback when it decided to pounce on top of my head and stay there! I tried not to think of it as much of a big deal and the coach asked if I was okay. With time, he said it would be better to take him away as it could get dangerous with those claws! Overall, I would go as far as saying it was a transcendent one-hour experience. As an owl fanatic, I can totally check this off my list now!

Dangerously good: Beard Papa’s cream puffs

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Whenever we entered the subway on the way to our next route, we always walked passed an irresistible aroma of vanilla and bakery. It was impossible not to lure you in. These are the fresh and creamy puffs made by “Beard Papa’s”. Our senses were automatically overwhelmed by the warm, sugary smell. My husband and I would instantly turn to each other with that look of “Are you craving one too?” I originally thought they are Japan-based but actually they are a bakery in New York and I think someone should bring the franchise to Kuwait for me to get my fix every now and then! The first ones we tried were the cookies & cream puffs. Light, flaky, crunchy and sweet on the outside, and creamy and luscious on the inside with whipped cream and custard fillings that overall tastes like a homemade creation.

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AKIHABARA ELECTRIC TOWN:

THE GEEKY SIDE OF TOKYO

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The one district that we were overly excited to visit is the famed Akihabara, known for being a haven of games, electronics, gadgets, anime, manga and model kits. At first sight, the place feels overwhelming as your senses are assaulted in all directions from the colorful billboards emitting neon glows and Japanese pop flaring from screens on high-rise buildings. There’s certainly a lot to take in!

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There are numerous shops with Nintendo merchandise, I went crazy for Super Mario!

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There are huge electronics stores such as Softmap and laox.

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One of our visits included a stop at Super Potato, known for retro video games and gadgets with unique vintage finds, it’s practically a candy shop for geeks offering vintage game cartridges with rows of retro consoles,  All in all, it’s the ultimate place to experience Geek culture at full force.

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On the way through Akihabara there are toy arcades at every stop, which became our newfound addiction in Japan. These are located in Game Centers, featuring “Crane machines” offering a chance to snag limited edition toys and figurines of well-known anime characters which make great souvenirs to take back home. To catch one, it’s surprisingly difficult but so satisfying when we finally did! (mostly with a generous and friendly helping hand from the staff working there!).

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One of the little things I fell in love with are also their model kits. These are small packaged house or stores that you need to assemble yourself. It takes some precision and persistence to finish the entire model but the results are simply amazing and satisfying and look great on a shelf!

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Maid Cafes 

If you are in Tokyo, you will inevitably stumble upon the famous Maid Cafes. As we strolled the streets of Akihabara, we were cheerfully greeted by a girl dressed in a maid costume. Full of energy, she guided us to the cafe upstairs where we were greeted by more waitresses dressed up as maids who jumped with enthusiasm once we entered.  Adopting child-like anime voices, cutesy gestures and overly girly behavior, the waitresses mostly spoke in Japanese and rarely a word of English. As we were seated, they handed us a menu of cute-looking desserts and bunny ears to wear. It really did feel like we were being served by characters from a manga comic! We chose to have some ice cream which was adorably decorated with playful designs and messages.

At the end, we were  asked to take a polaroid photo with the maids for memories, which is dated and signed by the maid.  However, in general no photos were allowed to be taken within the cafe. Overall it was a very unusual and funny experience. My husband and I couldn’t stop laughing the entire time and enjoyed it a lot!

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Pablo’s CheeseCake: Japan’s cheesecake cult

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Very popular in Japan are Pablo cheesecakes. These freshly prepared cheese tarts originated in Osaka and come in classic cheese, matcha flavor, chocolate and Sakura (and probably many more seasonal flavors). The first time we heard of them was online, as it seems that they actually went viral on social media. Once you take a bite, it’s gooey and creamy in the inside. There’s usually a long queue for these in every branch!

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Sightseeing with Mario Karts

Wishing to live the the real-life Mario Kart experience? Tokyo offers a private go-karting Mario-themed tour. We didn’t have an international driving license with us at the time otherwise we would have definitely tried the experience!

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Shinjuku District: The city that never sleeps

Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku’s Night Life District

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Laser lights, electronic music, and a crazy robotic show. We ascended up the techni-colored psychedelic stairway and took our seats with our flashing light bulb juice.

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At the beginning, a dancing troupe made their grand entrance with drums, followed by complex choreographed dancing replete with giant robots and special effects all of which resembled a Japanese festival of robots.

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I guess you could say it’s the Moulin Rouge of Japan. The cabaret-style show is themed around the future of technology, with performers dressed as robots and moving vehicles and large-scale robots move on stage using a remote control. The stage was pretty tight, which meant the machines were very close to the audience. It was a joyfully chaotic atmosphere of non-stop madness and entertainment! It was definitely a one-of-a-kind thrilling experience.

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Japanese Artisan Bakeries

During our time in Japan, we were in for an unexpected treat; Japanese pastries. The European-inspired baked goods actually made it to the land of rice and before visiting Japan, pastries wasn’t something that came to mind. Buying bread at bakeries in Japan comes in self-service style, and the array of offerings are really delicious. For breakfast, we loaded our trays with  choices of quiche, salmon and cream cheese tarts, custards puffs, to sausage rolls all freshly-made and packaged to enjoy on the go or during a quick trip in the metro.

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Ueno District

Ueno Zoo: The Oldest Zoo in Japan

Known for it’s giant beloved pandas and urban zoological park, Ueno Zoo dates back to 1880 and houses 2500 animals with 450 species. Actually, it was pouring rain when we got there!

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The most unusual animals for me were the gorillas and the elusive panda. When we reached the zoo, we immediately caught sight of a really long line queuing up to see a nursery of panda cubs. There was no way to get in line as you needed to purchase tickets in advance and they were already sold out. So we moved on to the section which houses the giant panda, brought all the way from China. Again, it was in a very far and glass-enclosed space that we hardly had a good look at it, also aside from the fact that others were also trying to catch a glimpse.

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Spirited away at the Ghibli Animation Museum : Hayao Miyazaki

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Tickets to the museum are extremely limited and it was hard to get it. The museum is dedicated to the studio’s work and the beautiful world of Japanese animation.

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Ever since I watched Spirited Away and House of the Fireflies I instantly became a big fan of Ghibli Studios. It’s a wonderful work of art on imagination and storytelling and truly a treasured gem in cinematography. Anything Ghibli related I instantly bought as a souvenir! One of my favorite things is the paper theatre, which is a paper craft kit that recreates famous scenes of various characters by assembling together laser cut paper parts.

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Odaiba District: Tokyo’s artificial Island

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The man-made Island on Tokyo Bay houses many shopping malls and entertainment districts. I personally loved Odaiba, it was one my favorite districts which I found to have elements of futuristic, unique, and even strange.

One of the first things we noticed was a giant replica of New York’s Statue of Liberty overlooking the bay with a rainbow bridge sweeping across a view of Odaiba’s skyline.

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The Shamisen

When we just arrived, there was a booth with a lady dressed in traditional Japanese attire teaching a little boy the Japanese guitar. As we stood there, the lady beckoned to us to try it too. In my hands, I held a 3 stringed instrument known as Shamisen which is a type of Japanese guitar. It is said to be heard in most traditional Japanese songs in Kabuki theaters and Geisha performances. Resembling a banjo, the strings are made of silk thread contributing to it’s unique sounds. It is actually quite easy to play once I got the hand of it. It takes a degree of good muscle memory and rhythm to get it right!

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Sega Joypolis: Tokyo’s largest indoor theme park

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One place to be completely immersed is Joypolis, a really fun entertainment district. With the latest Virtual Reality attractions where you can take down attacking zombies, indoor rides, to many more thrilling horror games. One of the aspects I enjoyed in this place most is traditional Japanese horror. Their culture is replete with horrors, and they have a library of ghost tales, monsters, and spirits to draw upon.

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The original Japanese Resident Evil experience.

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One of my favorite games: Ace Attorney

Miraikan: The National Museum of Emerging Science & Technology

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The geo-sphere is the symbol of the museum. Made up of LED screens, it displays the most updated state of the earth as it is seen from space in real-time. Only one of it’s kind in the world.

Miraikan is the place where we experienced Japan’s cutting-edge technology. There are over 200 exhibits that are overseen and designed by active scientists. Everywhere you look, people (including children) are focused and engaged. From issues faced by our planet Earth to solutions to better living, Miraikan is a source of scientific inspiration, excitement and exploration.

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You can ride this personal mobility device called the Uni-Cub by Honda. You can use it to move around the museum!

Robots: Our future

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The museum also has several showcases of android robots. One of them is an Otonaroid, which is a hybrid of a human and android! They are eerily life-like, and a real person is used a template to create them. She can move her eyes and blink, make eyebrow movements, sync her lips to audio, and replicate other human facial expressions. From their smooth silicon skin to eloquent articulations, some of these robots are even used to help customers at museums, shoppings malls and airports.

Japanese robotics expert, inventor, and professor in Osaka University at Intelligent Robotics Laboratory, Hiroshi Ishiguro says he uses research on human interaction and data on what differentiates humans and robots by examining the question of “what is emotion, what is awareness, and what is thinking.”

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Thought-provoking questions by scientists

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A fascinating exhibition we enjoyed called “Odors fill the world”. It draws on the most recent research on our sense of smell. Visitors can actually smell a number of odors on display and learn about the mechanisms through which our noses capture scents. Odors range from stinky ones to much more pleasant ones.

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The Space & Exploration section

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Astronauts’ food

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Time for lunch

After a fun and educational time, we walked to a nearby popular shopping mall called Aqua City to choose from a variety of restaurants (love this part!).

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We sat at a traditional/modern restaurant overlooking Odaiba’s skyline and ordered some soba noodles with a side of soup and Japanese grilled skewers (Yakitori) with a grilled rice ball (Yaki Onigiri).

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Bite-sized Yakitori of mushrooms, minced chicken, fish and meat.

Soba noodles a very a historic Japanese dish and the practice of making them is centuries old. Made from Buckwheat, they are high in nutrients and low on fat giving it a distinctive earthy flavor and can be eaten either hot or cold.

Yakitori are charcoal-grilled and one of the most popular ways to each them is from different parts of a chicken such as liver, heart, wings and breast which are brushed with a special sauce before grilled.

The Yaki Onigiri rice balls are a national snack favorite and it’s said to be found in every Japanese kid’s school lunchbox. This snack goes back to Samurai times, when the Samurai carried Onigiri balls in bamboo leaves. The fire adds a crisp to the rice creating a delicious crust!

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Gundam

A jaw-dropping experience was the life-sized Gundam statue, one of Odaiba’s biggest attractions. I was surprised at the sheer size of the full scale statue which stands at 18 meters tall.

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I think it would have been really cool if Gundam demonstrated some movements to make it look even more realistic! I am sure with Japan’s technology, they will eventually figure out how to get it to walk!

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On the Way to Toyota City Museum

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Part car showcase, part amusement center and part automobile museum, the place explores the various facets of Toyota’s automobile brand. The entire point of the center is to look, ride, and feel the cars.  I am not much of an automobile enthusiast, however I did enjoy the museum’s “History Garage” section displaying vintage cars from the 1950’s to 1970’s, chronicling Toyota’s past.

I liked the overall feel of the interior decor showcasing the selection of cars. It is a walk-through exhibition fashioned in a way to resemble the streets of a small town in 1950’s America with similar evocative settings. The smallest details were taken into consideration, with shop window displays of retro books and children’s toys, a vintage coke vending machine, and even a replica of an old Japanese home. It was interesting to notice all the detailing of the exhibition which added a lot of authenticity to the overall place.

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An old Japanese home in the 1950’s

Another good morning in Odaiba

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Tulip Time

Apart from the beautiful cherry blossom season that comes with Spring, there is another flower festival known in Odaiba that is a highly notable spring wonder. The promenade park becomes home to 20,000 planted tulips in full bloom. The flower beds are are really beautiful and I’ve never seen so many tulips in my life in one place!

I learned that Tulips are considered to be the luxury flower of Japan available only to the elite in the past.

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Roppongi Hills District

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Street Art – A Giant Spider called Maman

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One of the best views from the deck of Mori Tower, offering a 360 vista of Tokyo.

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From Mori Tower, we visited the Mori Art Museum, which focused on contemporary Asian and international art through innovative exhibitions of modern art.

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A quick lunch

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Yokohama China Town

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If there was one word to assign to China Town, it would be FOOD. We did get the feeling like we had just wandered into China and the most fun part was browsing the expansive area of bright Chinese shops and temples tucked in between all the bustle.  Everywhere we looked there were steaming buns, dim sums and noodles!

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Most restaurants had a dizzying array of menu displays of with various styles of specialty Chinese cuisine.

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To Kyoto…Chapter 2

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Stationary Store Review: Al-Eshraaf Co.

I’ve admitted it before, but I have a major affinity with stationary. If I were to splurge, it would be on office and crafts supplies, cute notebooks, stickers, pens and so on!

I decided to take a couple of trips to some of Kuwait’s stationary supply shops, both bigger and more well-known ones to old stationers tucked away in various areas.

This post is about Al-Eshraaf Co. store located in Fahaheel. As expected, it occupied a place surrounded by shabby and rundown buildings, shops and restaurants. But for some reason, sometimes it’s these kind of vicinities that reveal interesting things.

Al-Eshraaf Co. Stationary Shop

The store consists of two floors. This is the basement with crafts items.

There were a lot of outdated book selections from the 90’s to early 2000’s, which I found fun to look through as they reflected the importance and novelty of certain things in their time.

A cute poster!
A giant replica of the oral cavity

If you’re looking for a pretty nice place for arts and crafts supplies, this stationary shop is a good choice!

First Travel with a Toddler – Throwback to Istanbul, Turkey

Our very first trip with our two year old daughter was to Turkey back in November of 2021.

The reason why we opted for Turkey is because we wanted somewhere close that had the best of both worlds – part Europe and part Asia. As a first-time experience, we sought to test the waters with our daughter’s introduction to travel and learn from it before we moved on to more adventurous and longer trips that were further away.

Staying occupied in the plane with a doodle mat.

The Flight Experience

The flight was some three hours long from Kuwait to Istanbul. We kept our girl busy with snacks, drawing activities, some videos on our phones as well as books. But it wasn’t long before our daughter got bored and wanted to walk on the aisle, which she did, and had more fun socialising with the passengers than all the activities we brought for her altogether. It’s no wonder, really, as this was her first time on an airplane and all she wanted to do was explore it!

Our Stay

We based ourselves in the center of Istanbul right at Taksim Square in a local boutique hotel.

Hotel view

The moment we stepped off the taxi and rolled our luggage and stroller along the cobbled pathways, Istanbul’s signature grilled aroma of meats filled the air.

Every corner, small restaurants and eateries advertised staple meals of kebab, alongside french fries and grilled vegetables on the side.
Turkish rug footwear (yes, they’re made from Turkish rugs!)
A common street snack – roasted chestnuts, especially during cold weather. So cozy!

That Night

It was already sunset and we unpacked/relaxed in the hotel before heading out for a little nighttime stroll and a dinner grab.

The streets of Taksim Square
I liked the aesthetic of this street view. A backdrop of residential buildings and calm laundry hangings, coupled with a glowing neon center from a lights shop.

As we walked the streets of Taksim, it was hectic, lively, and colourful. I loved the food street vendors in particular, who displayed fresh vegetables, fresh shellfish, and roasted chestnuts all the while we dodged pedestrians and passed locals chatting over Turkish coffee and dining. It isn’t the best area to be for a toddler, but the sensory experience was everything with so much happening in every corner. It can be quite overwhelming.

Trying some dinner

Food in Turkey

We were so hungry after our trip, that we decided to have some food at the first decent-looking restaurant we saw. Mayoosha, our daughter, had some chicken in tomato sauce on a cast iron dish with mashed potatoes on the side, while my husband and I got some grills. We all enjoyed Aryan laban – it was pretty much our go-to drink during the entire trip.

Mayoosha wasn’t accustomed to other food apart from homemade meals, so we struggled at first when it came to finding the right food for her that would make her feel comfortable. Even if something was somewhat close to what she ate at home, it wasn’t the food her mama or grandmother were cooking ^_^

Moreover, Turkish food mainly revolves around grilled meats and this can be too salty for a child. However, there are a couple of nice broths and soups to have as well. There was a lovely family eatery next to our hotel that made delicious, hearty lamb soup with bread ( I honestly don’t recall the name of the place). I would order this soup for Mayoosha and I a couple of times and my husband would bring it to the hotel room for us to eat for dinner on a cold night. It was quite nice!

Early in the morning we’d find bakers leaving their freshly-baked bread of the day at Kebap shops.
More photos capturing the street shops of Taksim Square

The Next Day

The next day , we had a lovely Turkish breakfast spread at the hotel’s outdoor garden. The garden was lovely and Mayoosha loved spending time there, especially with the feline visitors!

A typical Turkish breakfast would include different white cheeses with olives, a variety of dips such honey, scrambled egg, and Turkish Sucuk sausages with some fresh bread.

A Walk Around Istanbul

Since Istanbul is huge, we took taxi rides to places here and there and sometimes went on foot. The weather was chilly and rainy at times.

Loved this sculpture at a church’s courtyard by Turkish sculpture artist, Ayla Turan

Playgrounds and Parks

Our trip was very much toddler-oriented as we wanted this trip to be as comfortable as possible for Mayoosha. We dedicated a lot of our itineraries to beautiful parks, which meant Mayoosha could feel more herself and ‘at home’. The key to traveling with two year olds is to stick to places that are familiar to them as well.

A lovely and safe park at Ortakoy along the Bosphorus coastline.
Emirgan Park is gorgeous. It is inside a forested area. In spring, the park is covered in tulips and beds of flowers.

Emigran Park

Emigran park is one of the most gorgeous parks I’ve ever seen to be honest. I loved how it’s located at the shores of the Bosphorus, so as you descend the park’s pathways you have an open view of the sea on your side which is uncommon.

Mayoosha’s dream place ^_^

Trip to Sapanca

Sapanca soap

We decided to visit Sapanca, the rural side of Turkey in close proximity to Istanbul consisting of various villages around forested areas.

Bread-making at a restaurant in Sapanca. The Turks make delicious bread!
A little corner shop we encountered in Sapanca, selling village items.

The area we visited in Sapanca is known as Naturkoy in Sakarya.

We had lunch at this restaurant.
Manti dish in yoghurt. Manti are little meat-filled dumplings commonly eaten in Turkey.
And of course, we have the staple meat dish. No matter where we ate, the meat was always good.
The surrounding view from the restaurant.
Lake Sapanca. Loved walking around the lake during golden hour. It was very peaceful.
Kitty greetings!
On the way to Sapanca, we had also stopped by this horse-riding place. Our daughter enjoyed riding a pony for the first time!

The ZooFaruk Yalcin Zoo

What’s a toddler’s trip to a country without a visit to their zoo? ^_^

Tiger got very up close to Mayoosha!

And this wraps up our trip to Turkey!

Aquamarine Exotic Farm – Indoor Safari Adventure Experience

I recently took my daughter, Mayoosha, to another trip to Aquamarine Exotic Farm in Kuwait. Since opening, they moved beyond just being an aqua-scaping / aquarium supplies shop to introducing interactive activities such as Koi fish-feeding as well as an exotic animal corner called “Aqua Kids”.

During our first visit, we visited the section through which you could get up close with the animals alongside a tour guide. Some of the animals were hedgehogs, starfish, and lizards to name a few. For a fee, the tour guide takes you around with some trivia and an opportunity to hold or pet the animals. It’s a really fun experience and the first of it’s kind in Kuwait as I am not aware of any place that allows one to get in close range to various wild animals this way.

The tour guide team

Months later in May, we visited Aquamarine Exotic again and the animal section was closed off for a birthday party. Apparently, they now offer kids birthday packages too.

I approached one of the guys working there to inquire about the animal section, to which he said that there’s now an entirely new building right next door that houses them. Named Safari Adventure, the newly constructed premises had already been open for a few months. We got really excited, so my daughter and I hurried over there to get our tickets.

*Tickets start from 5KD, but reduce to 2-2.5KD for children 2 years and below as well as nannies*

After getting our tickets at the booth, we were asked to wait in the lounge area inside. The waiting area itself has a cotton candy vending machine too…

Our Safari Adventure Experience

After a few minutes, we entered Safari Adventure. The tour is divided into Rainforest, Desert and Aqua animals.

Upon arrival we were greeted by a crow bird perched on the gate. It was free-flying around the place and the tour guide asked me if I wanted him to sit on my shoulder to which I agreed. I fell in love with crows even more after this encounter and they are officially my second favourite birds now after owls.

Crows or ravens tend to be perceived as these sinister creatures in horror movies and nuisances but as you probably know there is growing research that prove they’re intelligent and even possesses humanlike problem-solving skills. Crows are also very social and warm up to humans. The crow we met at Aquamarine Exotic was super cuddly and friendly, almost exhibiting a kind of personality to him.

Crow and I.

Rainforest Animals Section

The first area we were introduced to was the Rainforest section and the meerkats– also known as “Timon” from the Lion King. I always assumed they’d be somewhat friendly but they’re actually one of the animals we weren’t allowed to approach. Coming from South Africa, they are approachable up to 6 months of age after which they turn into aggressive “pitbulls” and perceive any visitors as intruders. At the time, they were all bundled up together taking their nap which looked deceivingly cute.

Next were the Lemurs of Madagascar. There were about six of them in a glass enclosure, energetically leaping and prancing around. The tour guide told us it would be okay to enter the cage and give these monkeys a snack, but warned us that prolonged presence will intimidate them. I passed this invitation and opted not to enter. The guide told us they were vaccinated against rabies, however they ARE known to have very sharp teeth and bite. It seemed that most of the animals there were friendly and trained to be comfortable with humans but you never know with their unpredictable nature. Overall, I felt safe.

My daughter admiring the lemurs

My daughter was afraid to approach most of the animals with the exception of the guinea pigs to which she said “because they’re soft!” And she’s right! Mayoosha enjoyed petting them.

We also saw the White Racoon Dogs, an animal I’ve never heard of before. At the time, they were tightly curled up and sleeping so we didn’t get a good look at them.

This is the White Raccoon Dog (image taken from Google)

The chameleon lizard was also amongst my favourite. We were allowed to gently pet it’s scaly body, but it wasn’t safe to hold due to having sharp claws. As I placed my hand on it, I saw it’s 360 vision camera lens-like eyes moving towards me fingers.

Chameleon

We also held some snails! Super slimy by cute nevertheless.

Desert owl from the Desert section

The Desert Area

The desert owl was also another cute small-sized camouflaged creature of the desert that we saw. It looked tiny and skinny due to it’s ‘concealment posture’, usually activated when the owl feels shy or afraid. The tour guide told us it was safe to pet it gently on the head only.

Other creatures included the iguana as well as other species of lizards.

Birds and Parrots Area

To get to the Aqua section, we passed through a large cage with small parrots flying everywhere. We had purchased a cup of food for them at the booth when getting tickets so this was the time we could enter and feed them.

The tour guide told me that the birds will be coming at me once they saw the food in my hand which kind of freaked me out. They were sitting all over me at that point and the tour guide made my anxiety worse by telling me that I had to keep the food steady otherwise they could get angry. I told her I wanted to get out as the flapping of wings all over me started to make me uncomfortable (my daughter was also watching mommy get ‘attacked’ and pecked by birds lol and was clearly worried). To anyone with ornithophobia (legitimate fear of birds, I wouldn’t recommend this!).

We also passed through the Aqua section with clownfish, starfish and other small marine fish before leaving. We took one final visit to the crow to say goodbye!

Since this was a spontaneous visit, I didn’t have my professional camera with me as I would had taken more photos. Even if I did, that first time experience was everything and we were too busy being captivated by the animals and learning about them.

Overall, it was lots of fun and something unique to do in Kuwait. We will definitely give this place another visit after a couple of months, especially once my daughter turns three this year and will enjoy the experience all over again!

For more information on this entire experience you can visit Aquamarine Exotic Farm’s Instagram and Facebook.

My Experience with Kuwait’s First Risography Studio!

*For a recap/preview of my entire experience in bite-sized information, you can view my web stories here.

I began taking up sketch art during the first lockdown announcement when the pandemic started (March, 2020, Kuwait – to be exact). The more I drew, the more I learned about my artwork. It was as though with every sketch, I realized what the potential could be and how I wanted my sketches to look like. With time, I discovered a style I wanted to upkeep and I knew exactly what themes I enjoyed most – drawing mundane objects, shops, little houses, cozy corners, scenes I felt were nostalgic or emanated a certain mood. Then I started to include a little bit of people in my sketches too to add character. It wasn’t long before I also discovered Risography!

I’ve been seeking to print my artwork Riso-style, which conveys a unique, vibrant, and retro aesthetic. I looked abroad for Riso print rooms online until out of the blue I stumbled upon a risography studio in Kuwait called WarshaGraph. The studio had just opened and it was only beginning to settle. I contacted the people behind the studio and they offered to give me an advanced workshop plus a tour of the place, which sounded great!

The workshop is located in one of the towers of Kuwait City, which meant I had to meander my way (walking) from my parking spot to find the office located on the 32nd floor. It was an adventure, though!

The Risography guide, Romain Danger, greeted me outside the building and we ascended to the office floor.

First look at the studio with artwork samples

Danger showed me a tour of the area starting with some of their first sample prints. We talked about risography and got to know each other’s work. Then there it was – the RISO Printer. The printer looks like a big scanner/photocopier you’d find in an office and its primary function served as just that – a photocopier in 80’s Tokyo, Japan. It was designed to photocopy paper in high volumes because it was convenient, affordable and quick.

The Riso Printer!
The printer holds two color drums at a time, which need to be replaced depending on which colors you’d like on your print.

The RISO printer prints one color at a time

Preparing artwork for the printer can be quite tricky and technical, but that shouldn’t get in the way if you are truly passionate about this form of printing and would love to see the glorious effects of it on your artwork.

There’s a technical way to prepare artwork for print as well as a manual method. The technical one requires that you scan your artwork and upload it on the computer. The colors in the artwork would then need to be separated using photoshop or illustrator and then saved independently in grayscale PDF for each color that’s going to be printed. The RISO machine only recognizes a monochromatic format. One-hundred percent black in each color layer, will print out as 100% of whichever color you are printing. Ninety percent
black will print as 90% and so on, hence various shades of black to white.

Each ink/color layer is printed individually (so that means the paper is passed through the printer several times). That’s why it is crucial to separate digital files for each colour you’ll be using. The title of each file should be the name of the ink colour such as greyscale fluorescent pink, for instance.

We also used a color chart to visualize the colors and how they mix in a RISO printer.

Now let’s move on to the less technical process 🙂

Manually preparing print for the risography machine

With the manual way, it’s the exact concept. You draw with layers in mind. Each ink color used is printed layer by layer, therefore you start your drawing on paper using any shade of black and then layer it with transparent paper on top to add another shade. Each shade will be a color depending on the intensity.

Separating the colors digitally
Manual art preparation for RISO printing

When it was time to print, the second step was to choose a catalogue of lovely papers of different colors, textures, and weights. .

Choosing paper!

What makes Risography beautiful?

The RISO machine is also eco-friendly and uses soy-based ink which produces unique outcomes. As Riso inks are semi-transparent, you can overlay them to create new shades and interesting effects. The beauty of Risography is you can expect unexpected results and more often than not, they look beautiful.

Prints sometimes contain imperfections but that is the beauty of these little flaws because in the end, it looks like a ‘handcraft’ print. I’m curious to print some of my photographs as well as I imagine they would look very 80’s magazine-like.

FIRST PRINT!

Because riso-printing is used mostly for digital artworks by graphic designers, seeing a hand drawn RISO print was something different and produced amazing effects. I was mind blown by the details that were captured since most of my drawings tend to be elaborate.

The details captured on my print!
Printed on various paper. Super interesting to see the differences!
Seeing my artwork printed was exciting!
The fluorescent pink in RISO prints glow in the dark! How cool!

And that’s that! I will be back to complete my workshop (part 2) soon and trying the “manual” drawing method this time which should be fun!

Abandoned Amusement Parks in Kuwait

Kuwait Magic Mall

THE AMUSEMENT PARK

With each passing day of our current partial lockdown here in Kuwait, I think about how underprivileged we are in terms of geography (the hot weather). But despite this, I try to make the best of what we have – during winter times that is. When the scorching sun quickly creeps back in, I can’t help but wonder what is left to do in this country. I love going to malls, dining and so on but eventually you want a change.

Even during winter, people just migrate to outdoor seatings of restaurants and coffee shops. Heck, now that restaurants have closed people are just dining inside their car. Me on the other hand, I’m trying to take advantage of the weather with my little daughter and being in the outdoors on parks and beaches.

What Happened at the Kuwait Magic Mall?

I was visiting Kuwait Magic Mall the other day with my daughter because I remember they had quite a nice seaside area there. The shores were inaccessible from inside the mall (due to COVID-19), so we walked all the way to the backside of the building to reach it.

It’s been ages since I last visited the mall, probably since school. From inside, the mall looks outdated in a 90’s kind of way. Most shops are old-fashioned and the best part – the arcade upstairs- has been closed for over a year now after the pandemic hit. A few live popcorn stations and cheap toy booths are still operating.

Popcorns, buttered corn, or a slushie?

So as we walked across the long stretch of beach with fishermen lined up on the coast, we found an easy entryway to the amusement park which was obviously closed down too since the pandemic. Most of the old-time rides were draped with giant blue coverings while the exposed ones were rusty.

At the time, there were workers cleaning the place with large spraying devices. I walked into the amusement park with caution and nobody seemed to mind me stepping inside, although I am positive it wasn’t allowed. But what harm could it do?

The main entrance closed shut with a lock

My daughter and I wandered in with our nanny and we had fun pointing out the large-scale zoo animal replicas standing tall amidst the place. We also spotted a carousel and some other funny carnival-themed rides. It kind of took me back to Kuwait’s now demolished Entertainment City- a vacant retro amusement park. I was taken back to a time when we used to frequent this theme park at Kuwait Magic as a family before any of the other malls existed in Kuwait. The mall is kind of forgotten now.

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Mickey and Minnie Mouse!

This was one of the most eye-catching rides for me. I love the 70’s character designs in the background! Can you imagine having the entire (working) amusement park to yourself? That has always been a fantasy of mine!

I was curious to look up this specific ride and some interesting information turned up. This ride was manufactured by HUSS Maschinenfabrik of BremenGermany from 1982 to 2000. It’s a ride that moves around in a clock motion – either clockwise or counter clock-wise in an orbit-like manner. The surprise factor is that it stops in midair and then meant to reverse to any position without warning.

So there you have it, our mini adventure to a closed off amusement park. It was a brief peek since the experience was like a “see and run” kind of situation hehe. I can now (kind of) check off one of my bucket list things to do, which basically was to visit an abandoned amusement park. Except this one is still operating.

A funny looking restaurant stand for French fries

This got me thinking…why is Kuwait choosing to forget the nostalgic places?

I wanted to dedicate this post to the single amusement park we have left here in Kuwait. Kuwait’s 80’s Entertainment City was completely demolished in 2020. Shaab Park, another popular amusement park, has ceased operating in 2017 is approaching the same impending doom (yes, it’s still standing there in desolation). The only them park still operating is the Kuwait Magic Theme Park. I understand that the former parks will be renovated and replaced with more modern ones, but it’s sad and feels wistful knowing that the old places are quickly fading. We’ve been seeing it a lot with constructions in Kuwait – they were worn out, haven’t been taken care of for ages and of course they were outdated, kitschy and trapped in time. For that very reason, the country wants to make way for more progressive and modern infrastructure that can accomodate things like “an indoor snow park” or another massive aquarium.

However, those places were Kuwait’s treasures too because we felt affection for them throughout our lives here. I wondered why they couldn’t have been preserved instead or atleast mixed nostalgia with renewal to pay homage to the old place. Otherwise, the complete destruction of it left a kind of void in the community. Removing such places is ridding us of all our time and joy spent in them. I have old photographs of my family and I in Entertainment City in the 90’s. We would frequent the park ever so often just like everyone else remembers it. This very place has fallen into disrepair and now POOF! suddenly gone. It was more than just an entertainment place. It was something Kuwait could call it her own, rather than just another global franchise.

Even with so many malls around now, Entertainment City would have still been a favorite because spending time there would evoke happy memories and a shared love for these places with family and friends. As time goes by, these memories turn to nostalgia as we reminisce it’s iconic attractions like The City of Sinbad and Ali Baba.

After the park ceased its operations, people lamented over the sad news from across the country. Let’s admit it, most forgot about the place. It’s a good case of “you don’t appreciate something until you lose it”.

Old amusement parks remind us of a simpler time, afterall.

What about our children?

Honestly, ever since our last main amusement park was demolished it got me thinking about the lack of places left for children to go to in Kuwait. Kids need to experience the fun that’s synonymous with a classic childhood – the outdoors – like theme parks, carnivals, farms, zoos, museums, botanical gardens, travel, field trips and more. The type of places where you hear childrens’ laughters and screams. Our zoos in Kuwait deserve a massive upgrade (and yes the hot weather doesn’t help) and a new theme park is in the distant future. We need better and more parks, gorgeous blooming gardens, exciting boat trips, a fun water park (which by the way, was demolished too!)

We need to prioritize our kids.

If the only places kids can go to nowadays are shopping malls, that’s a pretty sad reality. Who really needs a “baby spa?”, an indoor snow park? or an arcade room? Kids require active and thrilling entertainment. Something they will remember forever.

Interview: Life in Japan through the Eyes of a Kuwaiti Student.

Some of us have traveled to Japan at least once in our life. But let’s face it, Japan is quite unlikely to be somewhere you will end up living. For those who have, they had to deal with many of the surprises and challenges that come with moving to a place that will always defy your expectations. So what is it really like to acclimate to the Japanese lifestyle? Here, I interview Mishal Almashan, a Kuwaiti student currently earning his PhD in Japan. I was curious to ask about his experience in Japan, especially when you also consider how vastly different both Kuwait and Japan are. Either way, living in Japan sounds like a whirlwind of an adventure!

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Please introduce yourself and how your journey lead you to Japan?

Hi, my name is Mishal Almashan, I’m from Kuwait. I’ve started loving Japan subconsciously when I began to recognize and love everything produced and imported from Japan back in the 80s. What sparked my interest in Japan were the high quality Japanese products, their good designs and beautiful colors.

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I was telling myself there must be something very special about this country, but I didn’t give it much attention at first since I was too young at the time to even realize that this kind of appealing design aesthetic was something unique to Japan. All I knew back then was that it was very attractive.
With regards to products and design, I was a bit confused between American, European, and Japanese products. However, I gradually figured out that I was drawn to Japanese.

One of my first exposures to Japanese society in general was watching the infamous game show “Takeshi’s Castle” (الحصن). It made me like Japanese people and their language. Way before that, it was all about “Made in Japan” products and that’s all I knew. Then I started to step further into getting to know the Japanese culture.

In the 90s, from 1993 to 1994, I was determined that I loved Japan. What started this passion for all things Japanese were my frequent visits to Japanese bookstores in London during my summer vacations. I got to buy random Japanese products that ranged from food, soundtracks, video games, anime magazines, electronics, printed dictionaries and maps of Japan.

Back then I urged my mother to plan our next summer holiday in Japan, to which she replied that there is nothing to eat or buy there! Only refrigerators and TV’s! But at this point, I already knew that Japan was way more than that. I got to know it more from the video game magazines that I flipped through, featuring various interviews, events, and workshops. They gave me an overall image about the real Japan and what it’s all about. This was before the advent of the internet!

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So I kept visiting the same bookstores every summer and the turning point was in 1999! My dad received an invitation from the Embassy of Japan in Kuwait for him and my mom to attend a ceremony there as he used to work for the Ministry of Interior. He approached me and gave me the invitation card telling me he knew how much I loved Japan (although he used to yell at me every time I use my chopsticks when eating lunch haha!) He wanted me to take the invite and go to the ceremony instead of him. And I was like, “OK … I’M DEFINITELY GOING!”

I wasn’t expecting anything except that I will be meeting the Japanese ambassador himself! I took a friend to come with me. We were quite lucky that they let us in. We got acquainted with his excellency the ambassador and later on enjoyed authentic Japanese food, most of which consisted of raw fish. To be honest, I didn’t like it at the time. The taste caught me off guard and I thought to myself, maybe I don’t like everything Japanese haha! Afterwards, I walked into a small exhibition in the corner and there I got branded merchandise by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a magazine that was both in Arabic and English introducing the Japanese culture in a simplified and visual way. I was so excited and thought, yes! This is what I’ve been looking for! I WANT THIS! I got several free copies and that was the first issue that the Embassy of Japan came out with. However, the publication eventually became discontinued! So they don’t have them anymore.

Turning the pages of this periodical, I told myself OK, this is Japan, this is everything I imagined it to be. However, everything I knew was only in my head back then. But now, I had something tangible that actually featured Japanese information, right in my hands. I stared at the published images, read their interviews with foreigners living and working in Japan in the 90s, got to know about the story, culture, modern Japan, architecture, food, and more. I enjoyed all of the articles in that issue and kept getting the subsequent issues from my later visits to the Embassy of Japan.

Right after graduation in 2003, I decided to go to Japan with a couple of my Kuwaiti friends. That was my first exposure to JAPAN! It was the long awaited moment! It’s finally JAPAN. I felt like the still pictures and the TV documentaries about Japan that I had long read and watched in the past are coming to life! The only difference this time is that I was about to be totally immersed. The journey has begun, and it’s still ongoing!

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Why did you choose to study and live in Japan specifically? What inspired and convinced you to travel all the way there? And how long have you been there? Would you consider staying for good?

I visited Japan in 2003, 2007 (Sakura season), 2012 (after earning my Master’s degree from the States), 2013 (homestay and learning Japanese language), 2014 (Summer in Hokkaidō) and finally in 2015( I’ve decided after this final trip I will be leaving to the states for my PhD).

However, something changed entirely. I decided to live and study in Japan. And I was like, it’s either now or never! So I seized the opportunity.

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We know that traveling to a place is entirely different than actually living there. How would you describe living in Japan? What’s the true reality of living there? How does it contrast with life In Kuwait? Did you experience any culture shock? Did you face any hurdles when trying adapt? Were there some big adjustments that you had to make to live there? What was the transition like to go from a place like Kuwait to the opposite side of the spectrum in terms of culture and environment?

Because of my previous frequent visits to Japan, I was determined about my decision to move to Japan for my studies. However, I didn’t really know what to expect living in Japan with my family (a wife and two kids). Since Tokyo is the safest city in the world, I tried not to worry about it too much. The language barrier and the food were the only two daily problems that one could face in Japan. I eventually did learn the basics of the language to help with daily communication and through this I got to know where to eat or what kind of food is consumable for us in Japan. Now, it’s way easier than that first year.
Do you work in Japan too?

No I don’t.

What would you say is the best and most difficult part about living in Japan from your perspective?

The best part of it is the lifestyle. I enjoy my daily life in Japan and I’m now enjoying it not just as a tourist. The architecture, convenient transportation, delicious food, all four seasons, the nature, are mostly things that a tourist would not get to totally appreciate for short-term visits. I also feel that my personality goes well with my favorite city, Tokyo!

The negative things could be (in very minor situations) racism. The Japanese will always treat you as an outsider. But, if you think about it, this occurs technically everywhere. It’s human nature. Other cons could be the very crowded rush hours, which I’m totally fine with it as I know my ways. But it’s not so convenient when accompanied with kids.


What’s something that surprised you or even shocked you during your time in Japan? It can be anything to do with the food, culture, transport, people etc).
The senior people, in many situations, refuse any kind of help. They just don’t want to feel like a burden to the society and that’s amazing and inspiring for me in the future!


Tell us what’s a day in your life in Japan like?
On a typical working day, I shower, have coffee, go to university for my research, have lunch, go back to my office, leave again in the evening (studying Japanese on certain days, going to some nearby places for dinner and coffee!) then back home.

On a typical weekend, I go to events, exhibitions, shopping, cafés, sightseeing (mostly nature and it depends on the season), theatre, concerts, and so on.

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You mentioned in your daily life that you go back to your office? Or maybe you meant in university?

Yes, that’s correct. As PhD student I get to work/do research in a laboratory .. a desk probably!

What are some kind of events and exhibitions that go on there? Any examples?

Special exhibitions at museums (historical or scientific). Anime and manga related and other special exhibitions as anniversaries or so.
What about the concerts? What are they like?

Classical music. Hisaishi Joe (the composer of Studio Ghibli films), for example.


Were you required to learn some Japanese?
The program that I have joined is entirely in English and that’s why I’m here as I’ve completed my BS and MS in English so doesn’t’ make sense that I travel all the way to Japan to struggle with my Engineering studies being in Japanese! However, I’ve learned some Japanese and passed the JLPT N5 level just for my own benefits and to improve my daily communication skills whilst living in Japan.

If you were to stay in Japan permanently, what’s one of the reasons why you would prefer living there?
Definitely the lifestyle, respectful people, good manners can be observed everywhere, cleanliness, beautiful nature, safety, their advancement in technology and most importantly, the very convenient transportation and mailing services which we lack in Kuwait.


Was it easy making friends and building a social life there? Did you meet any fellow Kuwaitis there like yourself?
To some extent it is difficult as they are not very open to foreigners but it got easier through daily conversations with my lab mates.
And yes, I got the chance to meet with some Kuwaiti fellas during the national celebrations of Kuwait organized by the Embassy of Kuwait in Japan.

Do you have any piece of advice to anyone that’s considering to move to Japan? Or study there? What’s the education like there?

Moving for work might not be a good option for Kuwaitis as it’s way more challenging and competitive compared to Kuwait, unless if you feel like you can make it with any struggles.

I’ve completed my Master’s degree in the States and now I’m doing my PhD in Japan. So, comparing both experiences I can conclude that no place on earth is heaven. It’s all based on your personal preferences and experiences. You might join a good school in the States but your daily life wouldn’t be as expected or as you wanted it to be, or vice versa, and the same thing is valid in Japan.

Generally, speaking about education in Japan compared to anywhere else, they have good schools and they do offer English-based programs but learning basic Japanese could help greatly to find your way around more “smoothly”.

In addition, always keep in mind that in Japan they have their own educational system that could be way different from the States or UK, unlike in Kuwait where most of our schools are affiliated with the American or British systems. Just ask and politely express your thoughts before you decide or take any action through your professional/educational life in Japan.

So you follow a Japanese style of education?

It is Japanese but it’s a world-class education. At school you’ll get to see more differences but in universities they almost follow the world-class universal educational system.

And if you can point out any differences you see between their system and the ones we are used to here in Kuwait? How is the Japanese educational system different? Are there any big differences that stand out?

The Kuwaiti one is affiliated and accredited, for some programs, by American associations. The Japanese one is just that they have their own quality control systems and their own measures. The curriculum for grad school is to be associated with the local Japanese research society (conferences, events, etc.).

I’m a member of The Institute of Electronics, Information and Communication Engineers (IEICE) and it’s a Japanese one! You can say that Japan is a self-sufficient country even when it comes to education. However, they care about their global presence and contribution/participation and that’s why passing TOEFL exams is mandatory to enter one of the top universities in Japan.

Those societies in Kuwait are not as active and big as this and in many cases you’ll find the local ones that we have in Kuwait are only chapters/sub-divisions of the American/European ones.

I understand that every country is different than any other country, but Japan really does stand out from the rest of the world, in a good way, no exaggeration. I just hate calling it a “planet” but it is sci-fi-ish, though!

Japan is different in a “normal-logical” way with a very simple-complex concept that runs throughout almost every aspect of their daily life.

Once you return to Kuwait, what is something you think you will take with you from Japan? What lessons? Memories? Experiences?
Japan is a way of living. I can live in Japan while I’m in Kuwait! What makes Japan very unique is that its spirit is different, not the concrete.

Other lessons are to be punctual, enjoy the surroundings, be active, be humble, chase my dreams even if they are different from the mainstream, try to establish/join a community where you can enjoy practicing your hobbies or improving your skills in something. They could be all Japanese-related not necessarily the language if one feels that it’s boring to learn a language. Japan is rich in culture too! Practicing JAPAN is joyful for me even when I’m not in Japan. The things that cannot be taken back to Kuwait are the convenient transportation and the extremely good manners (in public) .. and even the good, homegrown fresh food. Here you can even taste the four seasons!

While in Japan is there anything you missed about Kuwait?
Of course. I missed my childhood! Kuwait has been attached to my childhood and this is normal for anyone at any place in the world but you’ll get to miss it and reminisce about it while you’re living abroad.
It’s your birthplace after all, home to where all your childhood memories are. I know that you’re asking about Kuwait in recent days but still the childhood I spent there is attached to my memory. Also the residential areas of Kuwait, palm trees, sun, dust, co-ops, etc. They all become fond to me!

Social gatherings are not of an interest to me, probably they are different between here and there. But for me it’s just ok.
What is something that you would miss the most about living in japan?
Being a Tokyoite and then leaving my life in Japan behind as fond memories.

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Do you have any additional personal comments to add?
Thanks for the interview and good luck on pursuing your dreams .. not necessarily in Japan, but anywhere on the planet earth .. it’s all about the journey itself not the dream!

—Sincerely, Mishal Tokyo, Japan

An Art Spree: Kuwait’s 60’s Art Gallery

I have decided to go on a long spree around Kuwait’s art galleries to check out the current art scene.

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Today, I decided to visit the Sultan Gallery, which is located in the industrial area of Subhan city. 

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The gallery was founded in Kuwait in 1969 by the Sultan family, with the purpose of bringing together artists and intellectuals to explore and address various aspects of Arab Society through contemporary art.

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The current owner is Farida Al-Sultan, who has been working with a range of artists to advance the “discourse of art” that’s steadily emerging in the country. Based on my conversation with the gallery owner, she is keen on supporting rising artists around the Middle East and Kuwait, particularly drawing the youth to partake in the art scene too.

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At the time I was there, an exhibition was in place on the topic of “Q8 Gas Stations” around European continents. The primary goal is to tell the story of the stations and their role in branding Kuwait abroad.

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There was an exert in one of the books at the exhibition that read:

“For Kuwait, domestic policy became foreign architecture – the creation of a Kuwait abroad through a network of gas stations and oil infrastructure to build demand and secure a market for Kuwaiti oil. The gas stations would sell the Kuwait name and product, but there would be no Q8s in Kuwait, nor any political or social involvement in the country – as a result, Q8 was purely a foreign architecture with the aim of supporting the country – but otherwise invisible to the average Kuwaiti. The adoption of Q8 as a brand meant that Kuwait had to be simultaneously sold to the European citizen yet not to be so flagrant as to brand itself as Kuwait. The choice of Q8 was to then attempt to find a middle-ground, a form of soft-nationalism where one is both exposed to the idea of Kuwait, but without the over-bearing associations of an exported national identity.”

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The exhibition imagines the future of these gas stations for the years to come in terms of a changing global citizen and the changing idea of Kuwait at home, as well as the idea of Kuwait abroad. This photo depicts a possible re-imagining of the Q8 service station in countries across Europe.

Interestingly, in 1979, a British-Irish comedian called Spike Milligan started a BBC comedy series called The Q. Each episode was titled Q1, Q2, Q3, and so on. The episode Q8, played on the fact that it sounded like the word Kuwait. The following year the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation was formed, and decided to adopt the moniker ‘Q8’ for its petrol stations.

Some snippets of the exhibition…

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The Story of Mila, the Cat 🐈 : Days in the Life of a Stray Kitten that Survived the Streets and Became Our Friend.

It was a summer afternoon when I drove to our house to water our indoor plants. My parents were vacationing at the time. As I enter our backyard there’s a frightened and timid kitten, about 7-8 months old, with white fur and an orange-tinged head and tail. Whenever spotted, she would scurry towards a corner, occasionally peeking out at the stranger with curiosity. Her hiding place was a dark outdoor staircase leading to our basement.

Mila was cautious, yet at the same time, seemingly desperate for somebody to feed her. I could tell she wanted to be approached and feel safe, but with the unknown harsh streets out there she kept her guard. She was super dehydrated, starved, and miserable from months of scavenging trash and fending for herself. Keep in mind, this was last year in July at the height of summer in Kuwait.

I immediately entered our house and fetched a can of tuna, the readily available go-to snack for pretty much every street cat out there!

I stepped outside with a plastic bowl of tuna and water in the other, and walked to her hiding spot. I approached Mila slowly, speaking softly to reassure her I’m safe to be around. At that exact moment, she surrendered to her hopeless condition. I was no longer a stranger, no longer a threat. Perhaps Mila didn’t care anymore, and just wanted to be fed and cared for. Before the bowls even touched the ground, her skinny and boney neck reached out headfirst to feed. At this point, Mila’s desperate hunger and cry for help was greater than her fears.

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This continued daily for a few months ahead. I eventually became a friendly stranger that she waited for in the exact spot at the same time. She was no longer afraid and I won her confidence.

Time passed and suddenly Mila disappeared and we didn’t know anything about her whereabouts. I just assumed that she mustered up the energy she needed and wandered off to face a new path, as with most cats that mature and leave.

But little did I know, that this was not the last time we would be seeing Mila.

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Mila making her second appearance, all grown up!

Months later, on the morning of our outing, we spotted a familiar face in our neighborhood. It was indeed Mila, now a young adult, back from her temporary fling! She instantly recognized us too, and perhaps even remembered the place where she was nurtured and rescued. Around that time it was already the onset of winter, and the ruthless searing weather was not around anymore (thank goodness!). She noticed us from afar, stared for a few minutes, and came sprinting at our direction.

From that day on she became our close neighbor and our loyal companion, visiting us every day from morning to nighttime, taking naps in her little nook, and enjoying our company.

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Stretching after a nap 😴

Whenever we stepped out of the house, we were welcomed by her, and upon returning she would follow us and obediently sit at the foot of the door and wait to be petted, sometimes asking to be caressed with a broken sweeping brush that lay in our backyard.

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Mila looking through the door as she waits

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My father would feed her meals such as fresh fish, yoghurt, some cold cuts, bread and cat snacks. Recently he got her a collar, a better cat house to rest behind our backyard, and even grooms her. He instantly became her best friend (let’s just say she was well-pampered lol).

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Mila waiting for my dad, as she relaxes on his car 😊 .

Mila is very patient, quiet, and compliant for a street cat. She has a unique personality of her own that we love! In return, she shows her affection and appreciation too.

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Mila playing with the kids

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Mila takes comfort in hanging out with us on BBQ nights 🍖