The real-world Spirited Away — Jiufen, Taiwan ♥

Let’s step back in time.

It’s 2009. I’m 19 years old, I’m a 3rd grade high school student. I share an apartment with three university students, I have my own tiny room with a huge balcony. Sometimes at night I just sit on the windowsill and think. I think about my future, my final exams, my studies. I know I will study about Japan, that seems natural to me. How amazing would it be if I could go there one day! That’d be so awesome! I wish I could see all the colourful people in Harajuku, eat sushi everyday, see Mt. Fuji! Will I ever get a chance to go there…? I want to experience the culture, the history. I watched Zatoichi recently, a humorous take on samurai culture in the Edo era. I’m lucky to live close to a DVD store — they have real gems there, I even found Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away! I’ve never watched any Ghibli movies, but I’ve heard that Spirited Away got an Academy Award for the Best Animated Movie. Sounds interesting! But which one should I watch first….

Spirited Away stole my heart. A story of a friendship in a magical world of mysterious gods and creatures. Breath-takingly beautiful animation by Hayao Miyazaki accompanied by Joe Hisaishi’s ephemeral piano. Perfection. It was the very first movie by Ghibli Studio I watched.

5 years later I was there. I was in the magical world Chihiro got lost in.

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Jiufen 九份

 Jiufen is located about 30 minutes drive from Taipei. The bus ride itself was an adventure. Everything was so different from Japan… Rows of buildings in different shapes, with mismatched outbuildings. They all seemed so fragile, they were not perfect or shiny like buildings in Japan, but that’s exactly what added that unique charm to them.

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I may have mentioned before that I was actually a proper tourist and joined a tour this time. Our gaido-san gave us these professional maps that were supposed to help us find our way around Jiufen. I didn’t use it to be honest, but it has some interesting spots marked on it, so feel free to use it if you ever find yourself traveling to Taiwan without any guide book, and the good ole Google brings you to my blog.

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Jiufen welcomes you with thousands of round red paper lanterns, flowers, and buildings that seem to whisper stories of the past.

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Steep stairs, lots of people and unforgettable views.

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  This is how I was greeted when I finally got to the top. Can you imagine a more peaceful view?

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 Climbing 198 steep stairs might not be something you do everyday, but trust me, what you’ll see on the top of the hill will be the best reward you could possibly wish for. If it was necessary, I’d climb twice as many steps. Just look at that elaborate temple. The rich details! The colours! I remember just standing there thinking “It can’t be real”.

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Take a close look at the dragon. Doesn’t it remind you of someone? If you’ve seen Spirited Away (and I highly recommend you do, if you haven’t yet) you’ll remember the heroic Haku. The resemblance can’t be a coincidence!

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Masks, masks, masks! There was a museum full of creepy-cool masks and I saw a few interesting characters there! A strawberry face, an ashtray face, a face with dice stuck all over it. Masks with long tongues, staring down with their bulging eyes. I trust Miyazaki’s genius and I do think he came up with all the ideas by himself, but take a look at the photos… Do you think he might have been inspired by the masks, while creating Spirited Away gods and spirits? 

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Countless narrow streets with food, cute souvenirs, all kinds of accessories and handmade things. It’s a highly popular tourist place so naturally you’ll find some rather tacky stuff like mugs and plastic figurines, you can’t avoid that. But after a  short while you’ll understand why this place was such a big inspiration for Miyazaki.

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As twilight falls, ubiquitous red paper lantern light up, the moon peeks through roofs of shabby stalls and it really feels like mysterious gods and unknown creatures are just around the corner…

….or maybe right behind you?

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Such places like Jiufen have to have some bits of traditional Taiwanese culture too. You’ll see plenty of Taiwanese ink wash calligraphy artists here and for as little as 300 NT you can get your own unique piece of traditional art! My time in Jiufen was very limited and to my regret I left Taiwan without this beautiful customized souvenir. 

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Can you recognize this place? Do you remember the scene where Chihiro’s parents pig out on all that food stall goodness… And they pig out so hard, they actually turn into huge omnivorous porkers? Yes, this is the place. One of my friends commented on one of the pics I shared and I think she hit the nail on the head, so let me just quote her: “If I only got a chance to get to those food stalls, I’d be soon hopping around in a pig’s form too”. Well, my thoughts exactly.

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When the night comes, countless paper lanterns will light up your way and trust me, it will be one of the most fantastic views you’ll ever see.

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Do you have a feeling that you know this place? Yes, this is the most famous spot of Jiufen, mainly due to Miyazaki’s masterpiece. Amei Teahouse is the bath house where Chihiro had to deal with the gluttonous No-Face and had all sorts of magical adventures. I had a great opportunity to have a real Taiwanese feast No-Face would definitely indulge himself (←?) with. Braised eggplant in garlic sauce, stewed Chinese cabbage, seaweed soup, chicken melting in your mouth, sweet potatoes, Taiwanese tea…

Read more about Amei Teahouse →here ←

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 Taiwan is a fantastic place to visit. I loved every second of it and can’t wait to write more and show you more. I fell in love with Taipei at first sight and I’m sure that Taiwan has so much more to offer, but this time I didn’t get a chance to explore that much. Someday I’ll be back, my heart is promising me that. I’ll be back for the amazing views, the delicious food, the atmosphere, the people…

 … and the absolutely brilliant, otherworldly Jiufen.

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Thank you for reading ♥

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You can also follow me on Instagram, Facebook (← I will soon hold a giveaway!) and YouTube — though I don’t have anything there yet, there will be some fun videos coming in the near future so stay tuned!

How to: Budget fashion in Tokyo aka lookbook vol. 3

I don’t have a favourite season, never really have had one. I don’t really mind the summer heat (what I DO mind though is the humidity!), autumn rain or freezing winter winds. I enjoyed wearing cropped tops and high-waisted shorts this summer, but I was equally happy to put them in my closet as the days got colder and the Seven Eleven in my neighbourhood started selling oden. Funny thing, I didn’t even own a pair of jeans when I first came to Japan. Who would have thought I’d be wearing them almost all the time two years later? You know, I used to be really self-conscious about my height, but then I came to Japan and… Well, I am not self-conscious anymore! I guess I should add that I don’t have absolutely any problem finding perfect fitting trousers here. Anyway, I’m going a bit off-topic, so let me just present you with my eight August outfits, all of them rather simple and reasonably priced.

 

 You can check my previous lookbooks here:

Lookbook vol. 1

Lookbook vol. 2

 

Lookbook vol. 3

 

1.

 

/photo taken at Sunshine City in Ikebukuro, it has aquariums and stuff, a nice place for an all-day date/

Top: Topshop, ¥1400

Pants: WEGO, about ¥3800

Shoes: Jeanasis, about ¥6000

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2.

 

/photo taken in Shin-Okubo where I went right after applying for a visa extension/

Top: H&M, ¥700

Skirt: E Hyphen World Gallery, bought second hand at Jumble Store, ¥500

 

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3.

 

/photo taken at Zenyoji Temple/

Top: Forever 21, ¥800

High-waisted shorts: I brought them with me from the UK, I remember I got them at Primark for 10£

Favourite platforms:  (they made numerous appearances before but anyway) bought second-hand at MODE OFF, ¥2000

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4.

 

/photo taken at Tokyo DisneySea/

Sweater: cheap store in my town, about ¥1400

Absolutely favourite shorts I plan on wearing all seasons: Mustang, bought second hand at WEGO for about ¥2000

Super stylish Oswald the Lucky Rabbit ears: Tokyo DisneySea, ¥1400 (nobody seemed to buy those, but I thought they were cute)

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5.

 

/photo taken in Harajuku by my friend Lena, check her awesome blog → lenasilk.blogspot.jp/

top: WEGO, ¥800

jeans: ANAP, ¥2500

best boots I’ve ever found at a second-hand store: Glad News, bought at Jumble Store for ¥1900

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6.

 

/I bought a tripod for my camera so I could take photos by myself and try doing some fancy modelling poses in front of my apartment/

top (I know everyone has it): H&M, ¥500

(I already mentioned other things in other photos’ descriptions so let’s see what’s left…) socks: GU, probably about ¥500 for 5 pairs

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7.

 

/photo taken at Ueno Park before heading out to Awa Odori in Koenji I will soon write about!/

dress: Murua, bought second hand for ¥1000 at Jumble Store

beloved boots: Jeffrey Campbell, ¥14000

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 8.

 

/photo taken at Ajinomoto Stadium, before the a-nation festival, where I saw BIGBANG again♥/

black top: some random cheap clothing store in Marui in my town, about ¥300

checkered shirt: GU, ¥1490

 

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 Did you notice one thing that was different from my earlier photos? I couldn’t stand the daily ‘hair vs humidity’ struggle, so I decided to take radical measures and straight-permed dem curls. Up to now, the best hair decision I’ve ever made.

Thank you for visiting my blog!♥

Toilet themed restaurant in Ximending, Taipei!

Have you ever travelled alone? Most likely many of you will answer yes to that, but I still get that shocked/surprised/admiring sort of look when I mention it here, in Japan. As you may know many Japanese people are not really the type of people who love venturing off the beaten track and you may often see them in bigger groups following a gaido-san. I think I now understand why many Japanese do that though. This time I booked my trip to Taipei through a travel agency (mainly because it’s really quick and convenient) and I even joined one tour (for the same reason)! Let’s say that being the only foreigner in a group of like 30 Japanese tourists was an interesting experience. But this is not a post about that! Anyway… My point is — I really enjoyed travelling by myself this time. I could go wherever I wanted, set my own schedule, visit any store or restaurant that seemed interesting to me.

There was one particular place that I’ve been wanting to visit for some time, and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get a chance to actually go and find it if I went to Taipei with friends… Not everybody wants to eat their lunch while sitting on a toilet, at a table made from old sink basins, drink from a urinal and eat from a toilet bowl.

I wouldn’t be myself if I hadn’t tried it, though.

Modern Toilet 便所主题餐厅

 108, Taiwan, 台北市萬華區西寧南路50巷7號2樓

2F, No.50-7 Xining South Road

Taipei Ximending

WEBSITE

(this place just asks for lame puns, but I’ll stop myself, I promise)

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  Have you ever thought that poop could be cute? No? Take a look and think again.

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 Before usage of smartphones became so widespread, people had to spend their time reading something interesting while doing their business. If there was no newspaper around, a shampoo label had to suffice. Don’t tell me you can’t relate. I wouldn’t believe you anyway.

What I liked about this offbeat Taipei gem was that everything from the cutlery to the interior lived up to the name of the place — Modern Toilet. When I visited Rilakkuma Cafe in Shibuya, I was a bit disappointed seeing only a few simple Rilakkumas there. But here… it was a whole different story. Bathtub tables, toilet seat chairs, bathroom tiles on the walls. There was even a toilet bowl serving as a sink! That’s what I call a proper theme restaurant.

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You know what would’ve been funny? They should have left the covers open… Now that would’ve been so comfy!

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What was very new to me and surprised me in Taiwan was the way of ordering food at restaurants. There are menus of course, but waiters won’t come to you to take your order. You have to fill out an order sheet and go to the counter.  It left me really confused when I ordered food for the first time, like an hour after I arrived at Taipei. I had to ask other customers to help me, because I couldn’t figure out the order sheet by myself. Luckily all the staff members at Modern Toilet spoke fluent English and they explained everything nicely.

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THE MENU

Don’t expect Taiwanese food. Modern Toilet offers dishes like spaghetti, curry,  pork / chicken cutlets and other very usual stuff.  The waiter who served me recommended their curry but I imagined brown, watery sauce in a toilet bowl… aaand I ordered spicy Thai chicken.

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A bowl of rice, soup and salad and a toilet bowl of spicy Thai chicken, followed by chocolate ice cream in a lovely poop shape. (I don’t want to be gross, but have you ever seen a poop shaped like that? Well, I haven’t and I’m wondering where did it come from?)


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All that poopness… I mean goodness (excuse me while I bathe in the superiority of my most magnificent pun) for only 260 NT which is only about 900 yen. I say only because theme restaurants in Japan are ridiculously expensive and I’m sure that if Modern Toilet ever decide to expand to Japan, they’ll cash in heavy piles of yen.

 

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The chicken was quite good I must say! Green tea and seaweed soup I got as a set meal didn’t really have much taste, but I’ll repeat what I usually say when I review theme restaurants — it’s not the food you’re paying for so enjoy your unique experience!

 

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It’s understandable that you’d like to have a souvenir from such a unique place like Modern Toilet. T-shirts with cute poop prints, a urinal serving as a mug (ummm…nope), a toilet bowl plate, a tiny toilet speaker, Hello Kitty reading a book while riding the porcelain bus… Best examples of how to convert crap into money!

 

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Final verdict…Well, I wouldn’t go there again. It’s a nice once-in-a-lifetime experience (if you consider eating out of a toilet bowl as something that you can count as nice experience), but let’s be honest here — it definitely is not a place that has some unique magical atmosphere that will make you want to come back. Either way, I love theme restaurants and I’m glad that I got a chance to visit this particular odd place. It will all make great stories for my grandchildren one day. And in case I lose the photos, I got myself this glamorous yellow poop mug to have as a tangible proof of my visit.

Thank you for reading and I wish you happy everyday!♥

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