The Vaughans in Japan – CHAPTER ONE: TAKAYAMA!

“Let’s go back to Japan.” – An old, Vaughan proverb.

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Three Vaughans in Kyoto – 2011

Six years ago, I accompanied my parents on their first visit to Japan. Having already been myself, three times, and having studied Japanese for several years in school, I was put in a unique position of power that was usually reserved for my mother—the linguist of the family. I held the words and the lay of the land—where we went, what we saw, and—most importantly—what we ate was almost entirely at my discretion.

I must have done something right, because the holiday was hailed as a great success, and since then, the phrase “let’s go back to Japan,” has floated around the Vaughan household, popping up intermittently.

After my mother died two years ago, my Dad finally retired from work and took to a nomadic life. Keeping track of him since has proved difficult, as I’m never entirely sure which continent he’s on, let alone which country. Travel is a balm to an energetic, curious soul.

Suddenly, that phrase “let’s go back to Japan” stopped being a mere fancy, and started to involve booking flights and accommodation. And thus, here we are—the Vaughans (two of us, at least) return to Japan at last, and this time for a full three weeks.

The trip has been split into four sections: Takayama, Kyoto, Kumamoto and Hakone, with a day in Tokyo on either side. Whilst Dad writes his diary daily, and keeps tracks of his adventures in a small, discrete note-book, I felt I’d chronicle our journey in a slightly flashier way, as we proceed through the chapters of our journey.


CHAPTER ONE: Takayama

13—16th of April, 2017

We left from London Heathrow on the 11th of April, flying BA to Narita airport. It was a twelve hour flight which got us into Japan at around noon on the 12th, (4:00 AM English time). Jet-lagged and a little bleary, we organised our tickets for the shinkansen (bullet train), and made out way via train and taxi to our hotel.

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Tokyo Tower

Conscious that the best way to beat the jet-lag was not to succumb to the desperate, clawing urge to sleep, we set out into the streets of Tokyo just as night fell, to scavenge some food. The mid-April weather was very pleasant, the evening cool and refreshing. We stopped for ramen—always the easiest go-to!—and then went for a little walk. The hotel offered us an excellent view of Tokyo Tower, which was lit up brightly in red, and stood out vividly across the night sky.

As we wondered back I thought I saw snow falling across the road. Confused, I looked again, only to discover it was actually the gentle, meandering descent of several sakura blossoms. Japan’s famous cherry blossoms attract many people in Spring (ourselves included) to the parks and beautiful gardens that are scattered across the country.

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Sakura sapling flowering  in Takayam

A few blossoms falling onto the life-less concrete of a Tokyo side-street hardly sounds like something that would capture the imagination…However, whilst it might have been twenty-four hours of no sleep and almost solid travel, I was enthralled by this serene display. In particular because there were no actual sakura trees in sight—the petals had merely drifted on the wind from someone’s garden. Where I adept at poetry, I might have come up with something profound to mark the experience—the brevity of serenity or the quiet presence of nature even in our modern world…

Instead, I elbowed my Dad and went, “Look—sakura!”

To which he responded, “What?”

The following day, we rose early and made our way to Tokyo Station. We took the Shinkansen to Toyama, which was a comfortable journey, about two hours long. At Toyama we changed onto the Hida Wide-view limited-express train, heading toward Takayama station. This journey was an hour and a half and very scenic. The train was quite full, with people standing in the aisles. If anyone is planning on heading to Takayama on this route, particularly during festival time, I would advise reserving your seats, or getting to the platform nice and early!

We got into Takayama in the early afternoon. The town was a buzz with activity, tourists coming from every corner of the globe. We counted Americans, Australians, Germans, Philippians, Chinese, French, Canadian, Russian and many more among the people we saw! Dad was particularly impressed with me when I was able to make our a few Japanese tourists as well—people from Kyoto in particular have a distinctive accent!

With the town so busy, we weren’t able to book a hotel in it, and thus chose a rather lovely spot in Shinhodaka instead, about an hour’s drive away. This turned out to be an incredibly good decision, for reasons which I will detail later.

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The mountainous drive up to Shinhodaka

We hired a car and enjoyed an incredibly scenic and lovely drive up. My Dad, who’s one of those crazy people who sees mountains and goes, “I should climb that,” is well versed in driving through mountainous regions, and thus had no problem getting us there, having had a lot of practise already in the alps and in Switzerland. We were both quite surprised to discover snow as we got higher, and to find several ski resorts and slopes. Trust my father, mountaineering and skiing fanatic, to take me all the way to Japan and still somehow find the ski slopes here. He swore it wasn’t on purpose, but I’m beginning to think he has a special, innate sense for it.

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The Hotakasa Yamano Hotel

We arrived at the Hotakasa Yamano Hotel, which was very picturesque, perched on the side of the mountain, with lovely views, and a well-decorated interior and exterior. The rooms were comfy and warm, and provided free yukata (traditional Japanese clothing) which I was incredibly excited about. Dad and I donned ourselves in these, and went downstairs to enjoy a hot footbath as we planned our next day.

We finished the night with a lavish Japanese meal at the hotel restaurant, and then retired early, ready to head out and explore.


Day 1 – Takayama Festival

14th of April

We started early. It was a beautiful day, with streaming sunshine and crisp blue skies. Dad and I had an enormous Japanese breakfast at the hotel, which mostly consisted of Dad pointing at the various, delicately placed food and asking me, “What’s this?”

“I don’t know. Just put it in your mouth and eat it.”

‘What am I eating now’ is probably one of the most common games we play in Japan. Traditional Japanese food is usually very artful, extremely tasty, and always a little enigmatic.

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One of the Takayama marionettes

After breakfast, we headed off immediately for Takayama, to go and join the festival. Takayama has two major festivals, one in Spring and one in Autumn. The spring festival consists of large, ornate floats being paraded through the streets. On-top of these floats are marionettes, which are operated by a dozen strings, and a whole team of people. The floats only appear twice a year, so it’s quite spectacular to catch a glimpse of them.

We started our tour of Takayama by walking through the Sanmachi—an area full of

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One of the Sanmachi Streets

traditional buildings. This was lined with various shops displaying Japanese crafts, as well as food stalls and restaurants. We walked the length of the street down toward the big red Nakabashi bridge, crossing the river toward the Takayama Jinya—the old government house in Takayama. Here we got our first glimpse of the floats, which were out on display. Photo opportunities were made quite difficult by the size of the crowd, so we didn’t linger long, and went to go and see inside the Takayama Jinya instead.

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Inner garden of the Takayama Jinya

This was an enjoyable experience, and well worth the ticket price. The building was large, and—unlike in many places—photography was actually allowed. Each of the rooms had a little signpost in Japanese and English to tell us what the area was used for—this ranged from a meeting hall, to the ‘interrogation’ (read torture) room. I particularly liked the peaceful inner garden, and the tiny little box room, which was especially designed for tea-ceremonies.

Having finished the Jinya, Dad and I decided to wonder down the main-street toward where a long line of festival stalls had been set up. Mouth-watering smells saturated the air, and large groups of children gathered around game stalls, trying to win prizes, or catch fish with paper nets! I stopped to buy a pastry filled with anko (red-bean paste), a sweet treat that is a particular favourite, and then horrified Dad by buying some takoyaki, a sort of dumpling with octopus tentacles inside.

“Better you than me,” he said, with a grimace as I put one in my mouth.

“Delicious.”

We returned to the floats for 14:30, to see the marionette performances. The crowd was now at a suffocating level, and extended all the way back to the bridge. Some people who were gathered at the front, had been there for an hour already, standing in the full heat of the sun just to ensure they had a good spot. Telephoto lenses on our cameras, and the fact that the marionettes are at the top of the floats, however meant that Dad and I were fine, even from so far back.

I confess, as impressive as the marionettes were—some being operated by over 30 strings!—the performance was a little repetitive, and after a while, Dad and I gave up, and slipped out from the crowd. The strange, slightly hypnotic music used to accompany the marionettes, followed us up the road as we headed uphill toward the Shiroyama park. We decided to do the Higashiyama walking course, which takes you up through the hills, and then around back into town on a route that passes by the significant shrines and temples in the area.

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The Shiroyama Park

Having injured my leg in January (I ruptured the ligaments in my knee) the walk was a little tough. That being said, it was well worth it. Walking up into the forested hills was like entering another world—this was the place of the mononoke and yokai—Japanese spirits and demons, that are similar in many ways to the unfriendly faeries and sprites of Celtic mythology. The atmosphere was only increased by the fact we could still hear the rhythmic beating of the drum and the sigh of the music from down in the town.

A warning to anyone who does decide to do the walk—the free walking map you get at the festival is useless on this route. If you don’t know the area or have a proper map, you need some initiative and a good sense of direction not to get lost. Fortunately for me, Dad is an explorer extraordinaire, and between my basic ability to recognise a few kanji (Japanese words, based on Chinese letters) and his innate understanding of mountain paths, we managed to find our way out. This was a relief, as at the top of the hill we found a helpful sign that warned hikers that there were bears in the woods. This might have been more useful at the entrance, where we could have turned back, rather than in the middle, at the point of no-return.

That would have been an interesting call to my brother back in England.

“How’s Japan?”

“Well we’re lost on a mountain and Dad’s wrestling a bear, but other than that…”

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Temple on the Higashiyama Walking Route

Having managed to emerge from the forest without being mauled, Dad and I stopped off at several of the temples on the route, before giving up the walk—after the climb, my leg was really starting to ache, and the last thing we wanted was for me to cripple myself on the first day of the holiday.

We proceeded back into town, and found a pleasant spot for an early dinner—more ramen!

It’s advised that people attending the festival stick around in the evening to see the floats being processed through the streets, donned with lanterns. However, with the hour-long drive we faced back to the hotel, coupled with the drag of jet-leg, Dad and I decided to head back early, rather than stick around until 20:00. This was ultimately a good decision, as the darkness came in fast, and both of us were getting incredibly sleepy.

Back at the hotel, we donned ourselves in the yukata and both went to the public baths. Japanese baths are great, as are onsen (hot-springs) of which there are an abundance in the mountains. You shower in a separate area and wash yourself down, and then go and soak in a lovely, hot pool. The one at the hotel had separate baths for men and women—inside and out. This is not for people who are body-shy, because swimming costumes and the like are not permitted—you’re naked all the way. However, for anyone who is unsure, I really recommend biting the bullet and giving it a go—it’s a great experience. With the chill of the mountain air, slipping into the hot water of the rock-pool outside and bathing beneath the stars was luxurious.

Loose and relaxed from the baths, Dad and I met up again for an evening drink, where we sat together and chatted over a bottle of sake (rice wine), before retiring to our rooms for an early night.


THE VAUGHANS IN JAPAN – CHAPTER ONE: TAKAYAMA 2!

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Blood of the Delphi – COVER REVEAL

 

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“Praise Harmatia, it is a city of gold and light. Praise it until it crumbles to dust.”

Rufus Merle is a wanted man. After twelve years on the run, raising the infant Prince Joshua, the last of the Delphi line now stands in grave peril. Sick, friendless and out of places to hide, Rufus and Joshua are hunted by dangerous alchemists, a deranged assassin, and a powerful faerie goddess, who will do everything in her power to turn Rufus into a living weapon.

With the net closing around them, and the sparks of unrest and rebellion igniting across the Kingdom, Arlen Zachary is forced to question his own allegiance between the Crown, and the people he swore to protect. As the gods play their hands, and the ancient Sidhe prepare to settle a century old feud, Harmatia trembles under the tyrannical rule of a King, whose only commitment is to the dead.

Add it now on Goodreads

THE HARMATIA CYCLE – PUBLISHING NEWS

Hello my wonderful readers!

I have some very important news for you all. Last night, my Publisher The Zharmae Publishing Press announced that they would be closing down. As of the 31st of August, The Sons of Thestian will no longer be available for purchase.

The news came suddenly, but fortunately I have a back-up plan, which I will now be implementing.

For those of you waiting for Blood of the Delphi, it is still going to be released! I have decided to self-publish my work, and though I may have to push the publishing date (possibly to December), I am going to be fighting tooth and nail to make sure that the book is released this year!

What’s more, I will be publishing the 2nd Edition of The Sons of Thestian hopefully at the same time, for any who want a new, matching set.
I will be working on making sure the prices for the books are lower, that the quality is higher, and that they are more easily available for anyone who wants to read them.

As I try to sort through this process and get everything together, I
cannot guarantee that there won’t be further delays. These delays are as frustrating for me, as they are for you, and I hope you will all be patient with me. Your readership, your support, is incredibly important to me, and I want you all to know how much I appreciate it and your loyalty.

I hope you will continue to support me, and my work. I will post updates as regularly as I can, and the moment I have more information, I will make it available.

In the meantime, you can expect the following from me:
1) I will be publishing a short-story with the Random Writers this September. This is a short based on my next project The Kestrel Saga, and I am incredibly excited to share it. More details to follow.
2) I will be releasing images for the Cover-art for Blood of the Delphi, and will be commissioning new matching cover-art for The Sons of Thestian, which will also be released soon.
3) I will be working on designs for merchandise, and other nick-knacks for any fans who may be interested (Message me, and tell me what you’d like! – Notebooks? Stickers? Badges? Posters?)

I am, as always, open to any questions or queries, and will remain highly active in the coming months. I will be seeking the advice of other writers who have gone down this path, and will be doing my upmost to get it all right and perfect for you guys.

Again, I ask your patience during this time, your continued support and thank you for everything you’ve done so far. I have some exciting plans for the future, and I hope you’ll all be there to see me realise them!

In the meantime, if you would like to keep track of what’s happening, please show your support by subscribing to my monthly newsletter here!

Many thanks everyone!

2015 ‘The Sons of Thestian’ Competition – Results!

Today is the day! Over the last month and a half, I have received a good selection of entries, and judging them has been an extraordinarily difficult task for me, not least because of the level of work.
Due to this, I have judged Art and the Written entries separately, as I felt that was only fair. As such their will be prize-winners from both sections.
Before I begin, I would like to say how much I appreciated each entry. They were each extraordinary pieces of work, and I am so proud and honoured to have received them. You cannot know how much your efforts have meant to me, and I will be forever grateful for your support.

Each piece has been given an individual critique below. Writing Entrant winners will be announced tomorrow (31/05/2015).

CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR PRIZE-WINNERS

ART

1st Place: Red Cap by Thomas Fummo
2nd Place: Rufus Merle: La Mort by Rebecca Welch
3rd Place: Rufus Merle by Hamish Steele

ART ENTERIES:

Red Cap by Thomas Fummo
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The winning entry. There is nothing I don’t love about this picture. Whilst all of the entries were very good, each boasting a different artistic style, The Red Cap is to me a perfect specimen. The attention to detail is immaculate, and the picture totally captures exactly how I imagined the Red Cap should be. The textures, the way the skin hangs both loose and yet tight, the single nostril, the red eyes, the lanky limbs and above all the beak like teeth…You have a great talent for drawing monstrosities Thomas, and on this occasion you’ve really outdone yourself.
If ever anyone wants to know what I envisioned the Red Cap as, I will be directing them to this picture.

Fae by Thomas Fummo

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Your rendition of Fae is incredibly pleasing to me! I love the scars, the design of her weapons (all of which you noted and drew!) and her stance, like she’s going to spring out of the screen. For Fae, who is often drawn in a passive way, I liked seeing her looking so fierce and battle-ready, like the warrior she is! You captured her essence perfectly.
Rufus Merle: La Mort by Rebecca Welch

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Where do I even begin? The concept is fantastic, and your line-work as always is horrifically enviable. The more you look at this picture, the more details you pick out, and that’s especially what I love about it. You’ve encapsulated the character extraordinarily well, throwing in hints and clues. As always, the way you draw the folds in clothes is wonderful, and I cannot fault you for the anatomical accuracy (those hands!). I am totally charmed by his picture; it could really be ‘La Mort’ in a genuine Tarot Deck, and maybe when I have enough money, I’ll commission you to make the whole thing!
My only quibble, and it is a small one, is that you didn’t have time to colour it, which would have really completed the picture. This, I understand, but it is a shame. Regardless, La Mort is a fantastic piece of work and among my absolute favourites.
Rufus Merle by Hamish Steele

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As always, I am charmed by your style. Everything from the pose to the bright colours is just brimming with life and character, and this picture looks like a professional poster for a genuine cartoon! I am especially fond of the details on the clothing and Rufus’s expression. It is clear you drew on the front-cover and the book trailer to inform Rufus’s look, and I especially love the long coat with the fur-line and the boots. Adding the magic was a wonderful, extra touch which just completes the whole thing.

 

Luca by Amelia Bull

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As a big fan of Art Nouveau, I was delighted to see Luca drawn in this way, not least because the style totally compliments the character, and you spent time investigating how she should be dressed and appear. The colours compliment her, and I am very pleased by how anatomically correct she is in build and size. This is a very beautiful homage to the character, and one that I have put up very proudly on my wall. I apologise for not being able to load a better scanned version.
Athea Ascending by Jules Ironside

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This is an incredibly vibrant and striking picture. I can imagine it would be even more impressive on paper, and was very struck by its regality and power. The new design of Athea’s staff was creative and interesting, and I liked the touch of the sand turning into a different colour (Almost reminiscent of oxidised blood, though that of course isn’t actually blue!). I think the thing that gets me most about this picture is the eyes, as they really do stand out and are very piercing. You’ve certainly captured Athea very well.

**~KINDLE RELEASE: THE SONS OF THESTIAN! ~**

Front Cover, High Res

The Prince Jionathan is plagued by visions of death. With the King on his death-bed, and the tyrannical Queen in power, the Kingdom of Harmatia lies in peril. Fleeing the city in fear of his life, Jionathan is shadowed by Rufus Merle, a young, secretive magi tasked with bringing him home. Now, with the help of a fearsome sidhe warrior named Fae, they must traverse a dangerous faerie-wood together. Against bandits, faeries and cursed priestesses, these unlikely friends travel a path fraught with danger, not least from the blood-thirsty Night Patrol and the dark conspiracy that shrouds them.