I booked a tour group at 30 something

When I think about package tours I often associate them with younger travellers, nervous or less experienced travellers. I tick none of these boxes, yet at the arguably mature age of thirty, I decided it was time to revisit the tour group style travelling of my early and inexperienced twenties.

Here’s five reasons why.

I’m (research) time poor

Somewhere along the way I became what they call a busy professional, I work hard during the day and when I get home the last thing I want to do is sit in front of a computer screen researching how to book a train ticket from Delhi to Varanasi, or how long I should spend in Jaipur. Finding a tour company I trust, takes care of all of this in one simple click.

I’m (travel) time poor

As per my point above, as someone employed full time in a job I love, balancing work and annual leave is something always on my mind. Booking a package tour comes with some efficiencies such as a quick pace and sensible, cost effective transport options, meaning I can squeeze more in from A to B.

To see something I might have otherwise missed

When I’m planning a trip I have a ‘top 3’ in mind of things I want to see/do and everything else is bonus points along the way. With a package tour I might end up in a city I’ve never heard of, or on an adventure I never would have considered.

To meet new friends

Don’t believe what they say, you’re never too old for new friends (and future selfie partners). It’s as simple as that.

I’m young at heart

At the end of the day, age is just a number and if you’re keen to experience a new world with a range of curious, intelligent, adventurous people, you’ll be in good company. Someone who is 22 should be just as inspiring as a 30 something who has seen a fair chunk of the world.

So what are you waiting for?

Go forth and travel with new friends from around the globe.

Sillhouette of two women with their backs to the camera watching the orange sun rise over the banks of the ganges. A boat cuts through the view.

Watching the sunrise on the river Ganges

Kerala untapped – my travel highlights

I’ve recently returned from a few weeks travelling around India. Prior to my trip, most Aussies that I had spoken to had only really spent time in India’s crazy, bustling north (or Goa), the Southern state of Kerala seemed more off the beaten track. However with direct flights to Bangkok and Singapore via Cochin, it’s popular with domestic and European tourists and certainly worth a look.

Kerela is vastly different to its northern counterparts, not just in geography but language, religion and even pop culture – check out ‘Mollywood‘ when you get a chance. Although we didn’t get to explore every corner of ‘gods own country’, we gave it a good crack and these were my personal highlights.

1. Strolling along bark Varkala beach before sunset.

Varkala Cliffs are a beautiful sight and a typical tourist spot on the Kerala travel path, the famous red cliff tops are lined with guesthouses, seafood restaurants and typical ‘handicraft’ stores, but climb down the steps for some of the most relaxed people watching in India with Hindu families completing their pilgrimage to the ocean and yogi adventurists practicing their head stands.

A Hindu family holds hands on Varkala beach at sunset. Their feet are in the water and in the foreground on the sand are are chain of yellow flowers as an offering.

A Hindu family on Varkala beach at sunset.

2. Taking a hike in Munnar.

For us, Munnar was a last minute detour to escape the April heat we were experiencing on the coast but if you have the chance, plan to make a stop in or around this sleepy town for a couple of nights. It’s the perfect way to reset if the constant air and noise pollution is getting you down. We stayed at an amazing guest house, hosted by Santosh who not only provided a comfortable clean home with fantastic meals, he also arranged a great walking tour for us. It was such a picturesque and educational adventure. We wandered through cardamom plantations, tea plantations, learnt about how spices are grown, washed out feet in refreshing waterfalls and saw a new side of India.

3. Wandering the old streets of Fort Cochin.

Cochin has a culturally diverse modern history, resulting in heritage sites (and guest houses) influenced by Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and English. With even Syrian Christian sub cultures, you’ll not only find different flavours on your plate but architecture of a different fashion. Take the time to wander the streets, quieter than most cities half its size in India and enjoy the gardens of a different world. Bonus points go to the rickshaw drivers here – they’re well informed about the area, genuinely helpful and quite reasonable prices without the need to haggle. If you’re looking for a place to stay in fort Cochin I can comfortably recommend the Secret Garden, a boutique hotel with a pool set in a beautiful courtyard garden.

4. Riding Indian railways Enakarlum junction to Aulve.

Bonus points goes to this line, a surprisingly scenic ride, (particularly at sunrise) that skips across bridges along the backwaters, complete with chai, chai chai of course!

The rising sun reflects a golden flow over the water. Viewed from a window on the train.

A glimpse of Kerala backwaters from the train.

Have you visited Kerala? I’d love to hear about your highlights, leave a comment below.

Magical Miyajima

Famous for the floating torii gate over the ocean at the Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima Island is a recognisable destination in Japan. Tourists will often catch the boat over in the day, have lunch or explore the backstreets for a few hours before watching the famous sunset and hopping back on to the ferry to Hiroshima but they are missing out.
We spent one night on Miyajima Island and I wish we had three, here’s why…

To experience the tides

The gate to Itsukushima Shrine is build in the sand bank off the island itself and during low tide you can walk right though it and keep your feet dry. For us, as the sun began to set, the ocean started to rush in around the gate, reflecting a spiritual golden glow off the water. Hours after, as we were walking after dinner we realised how far the water had rushed in to the island and was lapping around and under the entire temple itself. Early next morning the water had begun to drop again. Experiencing the whole cycle of this tide made the engineering of this water temple all the more amazing.
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At sunset the torii gate appears to float.

To recover from Tokyo

By the time we visited Miyajima we were ready for a break, a slower pace from the late sake fueled nights and endless noise of Tokyo. Here we were able to break crisp fresh air, hike pristine mountains and walk along sleep backstreets with only the occasional ‘clop clop’ of a local’s geta.
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Crystal clear creeks at Miyajima.

To have time to climb the mountains

We’d heard there were walks and mountains and paths to explore between temples in Miyajima but we had no idea how many there were and how long they’d take. We had to decide to only take one route and cut it short via the cable car in order to cover enough ground and even make the summit. When we eventually return I’ll be making sure I have proper footwear and plenty of time to follow more of the paths.
Planning to walk when you visit? Start with this guide.
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Capturing the beauty as we explore the summit of Mount Misen.

To walk the ancient streets in the stunning silence of the night

When the last ferry leaves at around 6.30pm, everything gets very quiet, very very quickly. The shops and cafes close, the deer tuck themselves in to sleep and the locals start to relax at home. After a simple dinner we took the time to stroll around the sleepy backstreets, some lined with heritage listed ancient buildings and listen to the gentle sounds of people preparing dinner, singing or quietly talking behind their private wooden walls.
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The safe and peaceful streets of Hatsukaichi after dark. Photo by Zac Davies.

To be alone at a bustling tourist spot

As our even walk continued we returned to the locations of some of the bustling tourist sites we had visited earlier in the day. We waited patiently in the pitch black night for our eyes to adjust and stared breathlessly at the thousands of stars surrounding a temple roof, or listened to the gentle lapping of the ocean against the magnificent tori gate without the flash or whirr of a single camera to disturb us.
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Komyo temple by night. Photo by Zac Davies.

To try their craft beer

Japan likes their beer and Miyajima is no different. Look for the food trucks and beer garden along the ocean pathway where you can sample Miyajima Beer straight from the tap under the watchful eye of a few dozen lazy deer.
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Deer relaxing along the waterfront path. Photo by Zac Davies.

If you’re after somewhere to stay, I recommend you check out Miyajima Guest House Mikuniya, it’s not a traditional Ryokan like many of the other accommodation options on the island which makes it much more cost effective and means you don’t have to loose the night to the theatre of a sushi dinner and traditional onsen experience which you can have anywhere in Japan. It’s walking distance from the ferry terminal and has the most comfortable tatami style room with traditional futon I experienced on our whole trip.
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Our guest house in Miyajima. Photo by Zac Davies.

What did you discover at Japan’s most beautiful Island?

Seven things to prepare for if you’re visiting PNG

I recently jetted off to a country known as ‘land of the unexpected’ where I discovered unspoilt beaches, stayed at guest houses in off-the-grid villages, met some amazing people, climbed an active volcano and visited a city that’s failing in the world liveability report. That country is Papua New Guinea and it’s like nowhere else I’ve ever visited.

Fortunately I had a friend living there who was ready to share a little insider knowledge (and be my guide – thanks Nick!), for those that don’t – here are seven things to expect which might help you feel a little more prepared before your arrive…

  1. The heat.

    Like many places in the South Pacific, the heat, coupled with the powerful sun can be quite oppressive – particularly if you’re planning on being quite physically active. The best way to combat this is to pack sensibly; always wear a hat and cover up as much as you can with light, loose clothing, particularly in the middle of the day. Plan breaks from the sun and remember, if you’re swimming in the ocean, dried salt water on your skin can increase your chance of sun burn and heat distribution – no matter how much short term relief you think it may bring…

    Cover up - loose flowing clothing helped me beat the heat in places like dusty Rabaul.

    Cover up – loose flowing clothing helped me beat the heat in places like dusty Rabaul.
    Photo by Nick Turner

  2. The crime.

    The risk of violent and opportunistic crime in Port Moresby is widely reported but don’t let this put you off. Accept it is a reality and plan this part of your trip carefully, be prepared to pay for secure private transport, check with an informed local before walking anywhere and keep a close eye on the local news to keep across any concerning developments. Other general advice is the same as anywhere, let people know where you are going and when to expect you. If you must carry valuables; keep them out of sight and close by to avoid temping pick-pockets.

  3. The public transport.

    Most places outside of Port Moresby you can feel comfortable to use public transport, partially during the day. Know as PMVs, these vehicles are usually 15 seater vans that run on set numbered routes to their own unreliable schedule. At one guest house when we asked when it would come we were told ‘between 10am and 12.30pm’, – it came at about 2pm, sometimes they are too full to stop. If you do manage to hop on one – anything goes. One ride we experienced along the Boluminski Highway involved a 2 hour wait, when it did arrive, the locals already on board offered us a beer, while later I discovered a poor live pig was loaded in for someone’s dinner.

  4. The time.

    As indicated above, Papua New Guineans are very relaxed when it comes to time. Ask them what time something is due and they’ll give you a three hour window. Ask them when they expect you’ll arrive somewhere and they’ll say ‘close to now’…if it looks like it might happen that same day. Eventually I observed that very few seemed to wear a watch. I honestly believe some locals may never had had the chance to truely learn the concept of time. Needless to say they are patient, relaxed people. I have a lot to learn.

  5. Limited signage.

    Much of PNG does not have a defined tourist path and tourists often rely on package tours making the need for signage defunct. The villages and beaches I visited in the New Ireland province are truely untouched which can make getting around quite difficult. Many guest houses we visited did not have a sign, one afternoon we passed our destination, only to realise we have gone too far when a bunch of village children began chasing us quite frantically.

    Cycling the Boluminski Highway: can you spot our guest house?

    Cycling the Boluminski Highway: can you spot our guest house?

  6. The cost of living.

    Economically, Papua New Guinea is not in a great place, poor infrastructure, limited agriculture, high security risks and a very poorly balanced distribution of wealth create financial stress for the average resident – including many expats. Renting an apartment in Port Moresby for example is significantly higher than many Australian cities, while fresh produce feels like a luxury.

  7. Buai stains.

    Finally, there’s the Buai, also known as Betelnut which is chewed by almost every adult in the country as due to its elevating effect. The sticky red fruit which is cracked out of a shell and chewed increases salivation, creating a constant need for the chewer to spit. The result is shocking red blood like splatters all over – and big smiles from the locals with red buai stained teeth.

    Not blood but Buai

    Not blood but Buai

Have you spent time in Papua New Guinea or somewhere similar? What else should people prepare for before they fly to the land of the unexpected?

A taste of second-hand shopping in Port Moresby

I recently spent some time in PNG and although the the main purpose of my trip was cultural exploration, with a side of adventure (active volcano climb anyone?). I still found time to check out a warehouse full of thrifty delights thanks to some insider knowledge thanks to my good friend and now Port Moresby local, Nick.

 

It’s important to understand that PNG is not a wealthy economy – essentials like food, housing and safe transport are incredibly expensive so sustainable fashion tends to be more of an essential option rather than a trend for locals here. Having said this, the surplus of very affordable second hand clothes means this is something everyone can indulge in.

 

I visited a warehouse chain called Mondo, the one I visited was in a huge shed near the Aviat Club with racks and racks of adult and children’s clothing. Prices ranges from $1.80 Kina to $6.80 Kina for quite a nice frock.

 

There were a mix of high-end brands, including corporate wear along with a large range of basics – most from the last ten years or so. However after a bit of a rummage I was able to discover an incredible pair of vintage cotton Jeans West jeans. Based on the logo and the cut I think they’re from the early 90s and were the hero of this shopping trip. There was also a nice mix of vintage promo tee shirts, uniforms and sporting attire from the last 10 – 20 years.

 

If you want to visit some second-hand clothes stores while you’re in PNG, you’ll need to connect with a local either through your host, hotel or colleagues for two key reasons; firstly it’s important to travel with a focus on safety while in Port Moresby, secondly, addresses just don’t seem to exist so you need to find someone who actually knows where they are going.

 

How important is your hair?

Almost three years ago I signed up for ‘World’s Greatest Shave’ and shaved my head, I was pleased with the amount of money I raised, however through this process I realised just how valuable my hair itself could be as well. Which is why, when I decided to let my buzz-cut grow back in, I kept everything natural. If you’re considering donating your own hair, this is where you should start.

Shaving my head was surprising easy for me to do, I was totally comfortable with a very short ‘do’, so much so that I went back for a #1 a few more times before deciding to let it grow out. Growing my hair long enough to be considered a useful length to donate took about two-and-a-half years so I had a while to wait before I could get back to a cropped cut.

Human hair is highly sought after by wig makers – often to provide natural solutions to those uncomfortable with the hair loss they are facing due to chemotherapy treatment or alopecia.

I donated my hair to a local wig maker (who had been in the industry for over 100 years incredibly enough) but you could also plan to send yours to Variety’s Alopecia support program – just make sure you check up on the specific guidelines before you go the chop and find out that your hair is wasted.

Here is what I learnt.

  1. Keep it natural. Hair needs to be natural or ‘virgin’ hair which means it is not damaged by bleaching, colours or perms. If you’ve previously had a rinse which has washed out this should be fine.
  2. Let it grow. Hair needs to be a minimum length, each wigmaker has their own needs so double check before chopping .
  3. Stay clean. Hair needs to be clean and dry before donating so make sure you treat yourself to a nice wash a dry before it’s time to go.
  4. Keep it together. I suggest getting a hairdresser to help cut your hair before the donation. If you’re cutting quite close to the head like I did, ask them to make lots of little ponytails all over the scalp before snipping them off to maximise the length whilst keeping the hair together. If you’re cutting further away from the scalp one or two pony tails will do the trick.
Dozens of tiny pony tails ready for the wig maker.

Dozens of tiny pony tails ready for the wig maker.

 

If you feel like it’s time for a new look – why not consider donating your locks to someone who can’t grow their own?

Kyoto flea market

Thrift shops and flea markets in Japan

I am in love! With a 100¥ pair of culottes I found at a flea market in Osaka. My obsession for seeking sustainable second hand treasures runs deep, here are some of the second hand secrets I discovered in Japan.

There’s a strangely curated and kind of expensive second hand shop around the corner from our place. Everytime we go in there the old lady that runs it asks us “Did you find any treasures?“, awkwardly, we always have to say no. However we’ve taken over her catch phrase and I have to say, I love treasure hunting around the world. First it was the states, then Thailand and now Japan! Our obsessions for thrifting runs so deep we made sure our Tokyo Airbnb was embedded in a neighbourhood where you couldn’t help but trip over thrift stores.

Whether you’re in Newtown, Newcastle or New York, you’ll always be spoiled for choice when it comes to the second hand world and once you get stuck into it you’ll realise there are different degrees of ‘second hand’ from the high level stores that curate incredible period vintage pieces to those special bargains you find in a rack of less than inspiring basics for a buck. Japan is no different, here are the different thrift genres I observed…

Classic American thrift stores

You know the type, more denim that you can ever imagine and beautiful frocks going for often more than something new but you know it’s unique and amazing and you just have to have it. These kind of stores were on every second corner in Shimokitazawa, and if you looked closely, they’re also hiding in the trendy shopping strips in the back streets of Harajuku, even Ameri Mura in Osaka. Many of these stores turned out to be chains, look out for names like Flamingo and Jumble Store.

Op shops

Rummaging through a kappabashi thrift store

Rummaging through a kappabashi thrift store

Obviously ‘op shop’ is an Australian phrase but you get my gist, the kind of store that stocks more current and everyday clothes, often connected with a charity and friendly prices to match. This is my favourite style of thrifting because if you’re prepared to put in the rummage work you can find some real gems before they wind up on the rack of a real ‘vintage’ store for five times the price.

These were dotted around Shimokitazawa also, further out and not as well sign posted but we found one or two in almost every city we visited. Keep an eye out for junky stuff on the footpath and words like ‘re-use’ or ‘live again’, I even found one the Kumeron Ichiban food strip called ‘litter’ – which I think meant lost property. Like the salvos here, there are chains, keep an eye out for Made which has similar quality items to a Red Cross here, you’ll rummage for a while but they have clothes from as low as 300¥.

Flea markets

On the surface it looks like a bunch of old people trying to sell their weird junk, but scratch a little deeper through the dusty clothes dumped on tarps and you’ll find some absolute bargains We stumbled upon one flea market when we visited Shitenoji Shrine by chance and scheduled a visit to another shrine based flea market in Kyoto at Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine. Both were absolute gems for finding unique clothes and I picked up a bunch of stuff for no more than 300¥ a piece. For those reading who have an interest in history, there’s a whole range of gorgeous ceramics, art and even”boro” Kimonos which make for a fascinating day of browsing.

Second hand kimonos

These kind of stores were everywhere! including tourist sites and obviously unique to Japan. The prices were very affordable, especially considering the quality and craftsmanship involved with some of the more elaborate embroidered numbers.

I observed many women who still wore the kimono in the traditional style, plus a number of younger Japanese women who wore the shorter versions like a modern cardigan. inspired by this styling approach I bought a beautiful silk green one for just 500¥.

Remnants from Japan’s ‘factory’ economy

Fresh denim from Japan's industrial past.

Fresh denim from Japan’s industrial past.

This final category surprised me at first but after considering Japan’s history and it’s economic boom in the 80s it makes perfect sense. Many stores sold tonnes of chambray shirts, embroidered with company logos, American high school football hoodies and printed promotional canvas bags.

My guess is they were all samples, or leftovers from Japan’s production period for the west. It’s also worth mentioning the 90s summer dresses that have made it over to the Australian market, stock ‘dumped’ twenty years ago is being re-discovered again.

Have you been lucky enough to sample Japan’s lively second hand scene? What treasures did you find?

I chose to stay in Airbnb accommodation for most of this trip. If you haven’t checked Airbnb out yet, I recommend you give it a go as it has unlocked so many adventures for us. Use this link to sign up and get $30 off your next trip!

Getting the most out of Osaka

We arrived in Osaka with minimal preparation. We had picked an Airbnb near Osaka Castle and thought we’d be able to wing it from there, an approach that had successfully delivered us many positive adventures in the past. However as soon as we stepped off the Shinkansen we realised that a little more effort was required.

Our main struggle was the language, we’d been spoiled by our time in Japanese cities that catered more to tourists with English signs in the subways, local train stations and at least picture menus at restaurants. A quick look for blogs and TripAdvisor reviews also found less information (in English) compared to the rest of the major cities so hopefully these notes help future Osaka visitors.

Here are my top tips that will make Osaka a worthwhile stop…

Stay close to the city loop

Our accommodation was a only short subway ride from the Osaka city loop, but with no English signage at the subway stations even buying a ticket was tricky. If you have a JR rail pass you can use it to ride the city loop (which does have english signs) to most of the major destinations which then helps save you some cash too.

Kuromon Ichiba

This is food markets with a side of souvenir shopping. The food is cheap and varied. Go mid morning and snack right through lunch. It’s all undercover and you can buy take away food to eat in the food court later, or some stalls will cook and serve you there. Expect to sample anything from pickles and tempura or fugu and kobe beef.

Sennichimae Doguyasuji

Just around the corner from Kuromon Ichiba is this shopping strip filled with Japanese kitchen ware stores that cater to restaurants. It’s a great option for practical souvenirs as you can find beautiful ceramics, knives and more. Even if you’re not in the market it makes for an educational window-shopping session.

Don’t go inside Osaka castle

Sure, visit the grounds and admire from outside but don’t waste your money on a ticket to go inside. The castle’s interior has been restored to look like a shopping centre-cum-museum from 1987. The ticket is pricey, some of the displays were broken and there’s too many stairs. If you want to see a castle head to Kyoto.

Admire the garden but don't waste your money by going inside

Admire the garden but don’t waste your money by going inside


Moss Buddah

If you’re going to visit Dotonbori and the Glico man, make sure you put this one on your list too. It’s hidden down some quaint alleyways, slightly off the main path, surprisingly beautiful and totally free. Each day hundreds of people visit Hozen-Ji Temple to pray and toss water on this deity during their prayers, resulting in this curious result – a moss covered Buddha.

Cycle Osaka

We signed up for this tour and added the food tasting element. Osaka is super flat so this was by no means hard work on the bike. It was a relief to get off our feet for a day a great way to get a grasp of Osaka’s geography. Try and do it early in the piece as then you have a chance to go back and spend time in the places that caught your eye. If it wasn’t for this we wouldn’t have discovered an awesome flea market.

Flea Market at Shitennoji

If you’re in Osaka on the 21st or 22nd of any month, make sure you pay a visit to Shitenoji temple, on these dates you will find an incredible flea market that’s been happening every month for over 200 years. It’s bustling with all types of people and stalls from food and beer to clothes, knick knacks, serious antiques and some *ahem* adult products.

 I chose to stay in Airbnb accommodation for most of this trip. If you haven’t checked Airbnb out yet, I recommend you give it a go as it has unlocked so many adventures for us. Use this link to sign up and get $30 off your next trip!

My permanent souvenir – getting a traditional Japanese tattoo.

It was the day of my thirtieth birthday and the first morning we’d experienced sunshine in Tokyo. We stepped off the train at Roppongi and made our way to Tattooist Ryugen‘s private studio where I would get my first traditional, hand poked tattoo.

The appointment

Tattooist Ryugen greeted us with matcha tea to sip while he prepared the studio, we flicked through photos of his work and were in awe of some of the incredible amour style pieces he has worked on over the years – a true master!

Next up we discussed the sketch, its size and placement. I experimented by holding his sketch to different parts of my leg to see what would fit best with my existing tattoos and also my natural muscle shape. Then Ryugen showed me a few different petal styles for the peony he would tattoo, we had visited the Peony Garden in Ueno Park just a few days before and I has quite taken with the ‘streaky’ petals I had found on some flowers, so when I saw that he could represent this effect it was an easy choice.

The final stage of the consult was selecting colours, using the photos of examples of his previous work I was able to point out what colours I was attracted too. Due to risk of allergy I had to avoid the natural pinks and purples peonies usually are. Ryugen then carefully labeled his sketch with the different colours we selected and took me into his studio.

The studio was set out in traditional tatami style, no chairs and Ryugen’s artwork on the walls. First, he asked me to sit on a stool while he drew his sketch freehand on my skin, first roughly with an orange marker so we could check the shape, then a darker one which actually detailed the line work.

Tattooist Ryugen at work in his Tokyo studio.

Tattooist Ryugen at work in his Tokyo studio.

Next up I lay down on the matt and it was time to ink the outline, this took about half an hour and he used a machine. As expected, having your shin tattooed was fairly uncomfortable as the vibrations from the machine rattled up my whole leg.

Finally it was time for him to start on the shading and colouring by hand. Ryugen prepared the tool, which is about 30cm long looks just like a paintbrush, I braced for the sensation but was relived to feel that the discomfort I had experienced previously from the machine vibrations was gone.

Warning, skip the next paragraph or two if needle talk makes you queasy!

In terms of how it felt, it was different to being tattooed by a machine, the drag that you usually experience from a machine isn’t there which means your skin feels less ‘raw’ during the process. As mentioned earlier, the vibration from the machine on my shin bone was pretty awful and there was no way I would have been able to sit for three hours of needlework there if it wasn’t done by hand. However there was a scratching sound which began to disturb me once I realised that was the sound of the needles flicking in and out of my skin. I had my earphones so I just listened to some podcasts to help block this out, luckily Ryugen was a man of few words and focussed on his work, rather than making small talk.

Some of the deeper ink work felt a bit more brutal then normal machine work would because he needed to used his own strength to push the needles in, this meant I felt myself being shoved around as he manipulated my flesh. Overall, it wasn’t too bad but three hours was probably as much as I could take in one sitting, if it was a machine I would have bailed much sooner.

As soon as he had finished I was relieved to see that the swelling and redness was significantly less than my previous tattoos which suggests this traditional style of tattoo was definitely more gentle than what I was used to.

The healing process

Post care instructions from a horishi (irezumi master) are a lot more simple than other tattoos I have seen. After cleaning the tattoo Ryugen covered with a special gauze (it had a film over it that meant the wound wouldn’t scab into it, yet it was able to absorb all the usually oozy business). His instructions were simple, wait 4 hours, remove the wrapping, shower and don’t touch it. No soap, no cream.

During. Three days after. Six days after.

During.
Three days after.
Six days after.

We left the studio and headed to Ginza for a simple meal at a Gyoza house. I skipped a beer just in case. I was a little bit sore walking around but it only slowed me down going downstairs. I got home, showered and it looked fine, by now it was 9pm and we had to be up early for a 6am Shinkansen to Hiroshima so I headed to bed, taking ibuprofen as a precaution and elevating my leg slightly (previous tattoos has swelled to uncomfortable levels and I didn’t want to risk this one ruining my holiday).

Waking the next morning there was no redness and it just felt a little bruised, I was able to stay off it for the next few hours on the train which probably helped too. Following this I climbed a mountain two days after having it done and road 25km on a bicycle four days after having it done and I didn’t feel restricted at all.

I lasted five days before I cracked and put some cream on it, it had just started to peel and as I usually moisturise twice a day I figured I better ease back into my usual skin care regime in case my leg dried out to a husk. For the next five days I applied the tiniest bit of After Inked to help with the itching, it peeled normally and the colours underneath look brilliant.

If you are in to tattoos and want to try something different when you visit Japan, getting a hand poked tattoo in Tokyo is certainly one way to experience the culture. Tattooist Ryugen did an amazing job and I would confidently recommend him to anyone planning on doing something similar. If you can’t make it to Japan, be sure to check out his website, he often travels so you may just be able to catch him in your home town!

My permanent souvenir – preparing for a traditional Japanese tattoo

Kitschy souvenirs just aren’t my cup of tea so when I started to think about what I wanted to bring back from Japan, naturally I let my passion for body art steer me towards the ancient Japanese art of tebori – tattooing by hand.

A few months before our trip I stated to research what options were available to me in terms of artists, their reputation and artwork style. I used the same starting points I would were I getting a tattoo here in Australia – primarily Instagram and Google.

As an aside, if you haven’t discovered Instagram for exploring the beautiful world of body art, I suggest you give it a go. It’s a great way to learn about not only how subject matter can be executed in a range of styles, it gives you a chance to see first hand the results of different techniques and artist styles. For this tattoo, I searched tags like ‘traditional Japanese tattoo’ and ‘tebori’, I didn’t have a particular subject matter in mind but usually I’d search that too.

After an evening or two scrolling these tags I found a handful of artists based in Japan that I was interested in, including Ryugen. I checked out their portfolios online and read reviews from clients where I could find them. For something as important as a tattoo, word of mouth feedback is vital to me, hence why I’m taking the time to share my experience now.

Tattooist Ryugen was an artist who stood out to me, he also spoke English which made me feel more comfortable about the artwork consultation process. This blog post by Wide Island View made me certain I was on the right path.

Ryugendo - traditional Japanese tattoo

Ryugendo – traditional Japanese tattoo

From this point it was a matter of starting an email conversation with Ryugen. I began by introducing myself and checking that he had appointments available for the time I was planning to be in Tokyo, I also considered how much time I wanted to sit for this piece, the larger the job the less time available for me to explore Tokyo and the more chance of discomfort, swelling etc following the job. I decided three hours was a good balance between these elements.

Ryugen explained that he strictly does traditonal Japanese style artwork, no characters etc which suited me, I let him know a few things I had in mind but left it open for him to suggest something colourful and feminine (many Japanese tattoos depict warrior gods and I wasn’t comfortable with something that featured concepts of brutality, or a religious symbol from a culture I wasn’t a part of).

Ryugen suggested a peony and a bud, which he explained represents ‘success in the future‘, considering the appointment was coincidentally made on my birthday, a date when one thinks about things like the future a little more than usual, this seemed like the perfect fit. I was able to pay a deposit via PayPal and he would email me a rough sketch a few days before my appointment.

Now I just had to wait the month or so until we jetted off to Japan.

See photos of my tattoo and read about my experience during the appointment here.