Stepping into the world of Ghibli in Seoul ♥

I am not going to ask whether you like Ghibli or not— I think assuming you do is safe enough. I remember I may have mentioned a few times that Spirited Away occupies a very high position on my personal list of best movies I’ve ever seen. It was the movie that showed me the genius of Miyazaki and the pure beauty of Hisaishi’s musical compositions. I fell in love and knew I needed to see more. There’s something about Ghibli Studio’s creations that will take you back to that time when you were a carefree child, chasing butterflies (or frogs and grasshoppers like myself). It will make you smile and feel all warm and cozy. It will make you wish Totoro lived in that bush across the street, Arrietty’s world was real and Kiki delivered your daily mail.  Or it will leave you speechless for a while, with tears streaming down your face. The beauty hidden in their movies is undeniable. 

If you had a chance to find yourself in the world of any of those movies, you’d definitely take it — right? I had that chance and I took it! This February I found myself reliving the adventures of my favourite Ghibli characters in I’Park Mall in Seoul. Life-sized dioramas, scenes recreated with the highest precision, unique installations — what else could I ask for?

Ghibli exhibition in Seoul♥

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Howl’s Moving Castle

I can’t count how many times I’ve seen this movie. It’s an amazing piece of creative work, but what else can I write about a film directed by Miyazaki with Hisaishi’s music? The castle model was fantastic and yes — it was actually moving! 

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I loved this diorama! Culcifer’s warm light really gave off that cozy atmosphere we see in the movie.

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Sophie, Turnip-Head and the beautiful meadow.

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Princess Mononoke 

Many people I met said their favourite movie is Princess Mononoke, so I’m actually a bit afraid to disappoint you… Of course, there are no words of criticism I could say about the Miyazaki & Hisaishi duo — the movie is breathtakingly beautiful and the music is out of this world… BUT! I’m not a big fan of the movies where Ghibli tackles environmental issues. I cannot really find the exact reason why I feel this way about them, but well, I’m just being honest here. I still think it’s a movie everyone should watch. 

Life-size figure models combined with a movie projection, and the epic OST playing in the background. Simply amazing.

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PomPoko

If you read what I had to say about Princess Mononoke, you might have already guessed what I think about PomPoko. I won’t bash it, I wouldn’t dare do that to a wonderful Ghibli Studio creation. It’s just not my favourite film plot-wise, though it’s still quite worth watching to learn more about rich Japanese folklore. And to understand why there’s so many raccoon dog figurines creeping around outside Japanese restaurants. And why male figurines have such big hmm… “pouches”.

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I absolutely loved this diorama! Japanese culture is one of the most fascinating things ever — there’s a reason I have a maneki neko and a daruma tattooed on my body. I’d love to have these in my future house.

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 My Neighbour Totoro

I’m sure you know it and you love it! Seeing life-sized scenes from this heart-warming movie made me as happy as a kid in a candy store! Although I watched the movie as a 20-something, it did make me want to go back to the time I was a wee lass imagining that there has to be some magic creature living in the corn fields I saw from the window in my room (yes, there really are corn fields and a forest with boars surrounding my family house). And the story is even more interesting if you heard that urban legend about what My Neighbour Totoro is supposedly really about…

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Totoro’s big belly was moving up and down, making him look so real! And the tiny Totoros were the most adorable thing ever.

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  Spirited Away

I could talk for hours about how amazing this move is. If you haven’t seen it — please do! Everything about this movie is perfect — breathtaking scenery, music that will touch your heart, numerous links to Japanese folklore, history, and society. The movie makes you forget about the real world, the animation is a piece of fine art. Just watch it. And check out my blog post about Jiufen — a town in Taiwan, which is said to have served as a model for the magic world of spirits and ghosts Chihiro got lost in. 

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Let me just tell you how detailed the figures were! Yubaba’s wrinkles and hair looked so real, I felt she’d scold me for staring at her! Awesome work.

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Everyone loves No-Face and it’s still a mystery to me. You might disagree, but I think he was in no way a positive character. First he was a raging customer at Yubaba’s bathhouse, then he tried to bribe Chihiro into being friends. I guess we all feel sorry for his lack of communication skills that made him lonely and miserable.

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Porco Rosso

I’ve heard many people saying “animation is for kids”. I wish they gave Porco Rosso a go — I bet my bottom yen they would change their mind. Adult, witty humour with some political and historical context — it was great to see it as a part of this exhibition. 

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At the end of the Ghibli journey everyone could leave a tangible proof of their visit and draw their favourite character (or one that was the easiest to draw).

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Here I just wanted to mention my Ghibli favourites that haven’t been given their own dioramas in the exhibition. 

Kiki’s Delivery Service — a sweet story about a young witch named Kiki, growing up, seeking independence and her own identity

The Cat Returns — as a cat person, there’s no way  I could not mention this animation with a lovely story!

Ponyo — Ponyo has to be on the 3rd position of my TOP 3. I just love the story and I think that Ponyo is the most lovable character ever.

The Secret World of Arrietty — when I was a kid, I had lots of dolls and I would sew little clothes and make little accessories for them all day. Then I would imagine that there were little people, who used my little hand-made items and this has to be why I like it so much.


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Although I mainly mention Spirited Away as Ghibli’s absolute masterpiece, the movie that won my heart and will always be my number 1 is… Grave of the Fireflies.

It will leave you speechless. It will make you cry. It will squeeze your heart, leave a bitter gulp of sadness in your mouth, make you re-think your priorities. It’s as heart-breaking as it gets. It is hands down the saddest, the most eye-opening, the most painful movie I’ve ever watched. Every minute of it will stab you with the feels dagger, straight in the heart. I know it doesn’t sound fun, but that’s the whole point — this movie will show you that war is a disaster, the most inane thing in the history of humanity. No matter the reasons or the involved parties. Do watch it if you haven’t yet.

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What is your favourite Ghibli movie? Why?

Thank you for reading! ♥

6 cafés you have to check out when in Seoul!

I rarely make a detailed plan when traveling, and so I always end up asking others for their recommendations (theme restaurants and cafes recommendations are always appreciated!). This time, however, no one helped me out so I had no other choice but to do some online research and find some cool places by myself. Seoul is a real mecca of coffee shops — believe it or not, but Seoul is also home to the largest number of coffee shops IN THE WORLD. There’s a coffee shop literally on every corner! Starbucks? Meh, I have it here. Coffee Beans and Tea Leaves? Another chain with shops every 100 meters… I wanted something fun, something that would make a nice blog post. I checked a gajillion websites, ventured out, got lost a few times — and I managed to compile this little guide with some fun cafes to visit when in Seoul.

So if:

* you’re a woman in her 20s ✓

* you like coffee / waffles / cakes ✓

* you’re into social media ✓

*  you like taking photos ✓

* you like cute / fun / unique places and theme cafes ✓

* you happen to be a fan of BIGBANG ✓

…feel free to use my little cafe guide and enjoy your time in the amazing city known as Seoul 🙂

 

 Thanks Nature Cafe 

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Where? Hongdae Station2F Woodo building, 363-5, Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu

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What’s special? As you may have noticed by now, I’m a big fan of themed cafes and any type of pet cafes. I have visited a cat cafe, an owl cafe, a rabbit cafe, so how could I miss a… sheep cafe?! Yes, that’s right — a sheep cafe! Well, you won’t find them hopping around the tables, but sleeping peacefully outside in a special area separated from the cafe. They’re very clean, well-groomed and I’m sure they’re professionally looked after! The cafe offers delicious coffee and a wide range of waffles with various toppings, so a good idea here would be trying out their rich menu and then snapping a few photos with the fluffy residents. It was -11 degrees when I visited the place, so understandably the sheep — Anna and Elsa —  weren’t the most energetic that day and they slept in their boxes. It was a really cute place though, and I really recommend it, even if you’re a big fan of sheep!

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Dog Cafe Bau House

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Where: Hapjong Station, 394-44, Sukyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul

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What’s special: I just wouldn’t be myself if I hadn’t visited another ‘pet cafe’ I read so many positive reviews about. Imagine a typical cafe, but with a dozen or more dogs, coming in different sizes, breeds, shapes and levels of energy as permanent residents. Before I went there, I had imagined a few toy poodles and breeds considered cute and fluffy in general. To my surprise, what I saw was pups running all over the place, and let me just tell you, they weren’t the tiniest ones for sure! And let me just add that the bigger the dog, the friendlier they were! But if you expected to be greeted by a hoard of pooches jumping all over you — you’ll be disappointed. They see so many people everyday, they seem kinda bored and the only way you can get them to play with you a little is to feed them. CAUTION! Expect a poop here and there from time to time.

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Cafe Talk

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Where: Nonhyeon Station, 723-15 Banpo Il-dong, Seocho-gu 

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What’s special:  If you’re a social media enthusiast, you will know LINE and KakaoTalk and you probably use at least one of them. They both were produced by a Korean company Naver, and while LINE turned out to be a hit in Japan, Koreans mainly use KakaoTalk. I went there because I expected it to be ‘themed’ the way Japanese people understand ‘themed cafes’ = themed food, coffee art, character plush toys everywhere, some merchandise and long looooong lines. And what did I actually find? No queues whatsoever, in fact I was one of the 6 customers, which might be a good point for some, but let’s say Japan got me used to something quite opposite. The cafe did have some Kakao Talk inspired interior and apparently there was also a small store, but when I visited the place, the store was closed. Bummer. Coffee, food and waffles were not themed. But you might have more luck if you decide to visit the place. Well, at least now I can check going to a Kakao Talk cafe off my bucket list. 

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You Are Here Cafe

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Where: Hongdae Station, Donggyo-ro 25-gil, Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu

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What’s special: I bet 90% of my readers will know the place, but just in case, let me tell you a few words about it. This cafe belongs to Canadian YouTubers Simon and Martina Stawski (Eat Your Kimchi), who have been living in Seoul for a few years now, they’re wildly popular and I enjoy watching their videos about Korea — check them out on YT, they’re fun to watch. What will you find there? Speaker’s Corner, where you can tell the world what you think about whatever is trending right now (Speaker’s Corner on YT); EYK merchandise and some Korean study materials like textbooks, vocabulary cards etc.; study room, where you can stay for a few hours and study some language; delicious coffee and cakes! I am not a fan of cakes, so you have to trust me here — please try their Earl Grey Cookie Pie! It goes really well with their latte! The place isn’t crowded, it has very cozy interior and you might actually get a chance to meet Simon and Martina!

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AND.here Cafe

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Where: Hyehwa Station, Jongno-gu, Dongsung-dong, 31-14 

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What’s special: If you’ve been following me for some time now, you’ll know that I am a hardcore fan of BIGBANG. And if you’ve ever been a fan of a boyband, you’ll know that sooner or later you’ll have your favourite member — trust me, it WILL happen. This cafe happens to belong to my super favorite — Seungri! Of course I had to come here during my stay in Seoul — I’d come here even if they didn’t have much to offer. But they actually do! You’ll find a corner with photos and autographs of Seungri and other YG group members, some merchandise and presents other VIPs (BIGBANG’s fandom) brought for their idol. There’s a huge stuffed gorilla Seungri got from T.O.P, KRUNK bears, Seungri’s CDs and even if you have absolutely no idea what I’m on about right now, you’ll definitely enjoy getting a cup of coffee there — it’s a really cool place!

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Traditional Korean teahouse Gahwadang

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Where: Anguk Station, 16-1, Samcheong-ro 4-gil, Jongno-gu

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What’s special: We all have places we like going back to, or we plan to go back if we only get a chance. I remember my first visit to Korea in 2013 — my friend Eunji took me and my Japanese friend Kumiko to this lovely teahouse… and I fell in love with it at first sight! It is really popular among Japanese tourists and that’s no surprise to me. Japanese people love cute places with a touch of tradition and history. Add amazing tea and homemade rice cake sweets and you’ll understand what’s the hype about. The place is adorable — an old Korean house, really warm and cozy, hidden in the narrow streets of Samcheongdong. Be sure to add it to your must-go list, when you find yourself in Seoul! 


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Which cafe would you like to visit?

Thank you for reading ♥

Around Taipei in 3 days & YouTube debut ?!

Was this blog supposed to be only about Japan? I’m not really sure. I know that I started it with the intention of showing other people places that are nice, maybe add a few anecdotes, write an informative guide for those who begin their adventure with Japan as well as simply give a glimpse of what a daily life of a regular person like me looks like. Naturally, since I happen to currently reside in Tokyo, most of my updates are about Japan. But! My range of interests is much broader and I think that everyone through their lifetimes should explore as much as they can while they still can. Where is this introduction going? I’m a bit worried that some readers might be disappointed that there has been so little content about Japan these days.

All I can say is: open your mind! Asia is one heck of a land with thousands of different cultures. All so different and fascinating. I would love to visit Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore and many others, there’s literally too many to list. In the last 2 months I have visited Taiwan and South Korea again. While videos I took in Korea are being edited into something somewhat cohesive, here I present you a short clip of my Taiwan adventures.

It is my very first video, forgive me my camera shyness (I’m a much better writer than speaker) and a husky voice (as I found out later, I went to Taiwan with raging tonsillitis).

Enjoy 🙂

Some extras for those interested in Taiwan and the spots I visited!

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Minquan West Road

The area around the hotel I was staying in — you can’t see it here, but the very first thing I saw when I stepped outside the hotel was a bajillion of MOPEDS. They were literally everywhere.

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Street art

My first impression of Taiwan? Street art! Everywhere I went I could find not only mopeds but also interesting graffiti, installations, projects etc. I loved it!

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Downtown Taipei — Zhongshan!

Main streets immediately brought Shinjuku to my mind, but I didn’t want to be a typical tourist and wanted to explore those cute narrow streets, often hiding the best spots in town!

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Awesome street art on and around the Zhongshan Station building!

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One of the things that surprised me was the rule forbidding eating or drinking anything on the train. Of course I didn’t plan on bringing a Happy Meal and pigging out on it on the metro, but even chewing a gum is forbidden there and the fine is no joke. No chewing gum or bubble tea even on the train platform!

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Taipei 101

Until 2004, it was the tallest tower in the world. The view was really nice, but I guess it would be much more beautiful if it wasn’t obstructed by clouds of smog. Either way, it’s definitely worth visiting!

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 Ximen

 I really loved it there. It was a town full of life and cute places. It looked a bit like Shibuya, but it had this unique atmopshere I felt only in Taipei. And let’s not forget that the toilet restaurant I wrote about → HERE← is actually located in Ximen.

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Shilin Market

I wish there was a place like this in Tokyo… Delicious food, clothes, shoes, souvenirs, sweets, everything you need basically — and all that at prices so cheap it would be a sin to leave the market with empty hands. I left it with a full belly, full shopping bag and believe it or not — my wallet wasn’t empty either! Must go!

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I traveled by myself so I had this freedom of going wherever I wanted. I tried to explore the market a bit more and you should do it too, if you ever find yourself in Taipei. All the hidden shabby streets I found were simply beautiful, I swear Taipei has the best atmosphere.

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Did I mention I was actually a bit sick during my stay in Taipei? This poster made me feel a bit guilty for not wearing a mask…

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Traditional Taiwanese hairwash!

I had this RuRuPu series guidebook with me –It’s a popular guidebook in Japan, basically they recommend places where you can communicate in Japanese, describe them in detail and mark on the map. I had no idea that something like ‘traditional Taiwanese hairwash’ even existed until I saw pictures of it in the guidebook. YOU SHOULD TOTALLY TRY IT! For 800 NT I got a hair scan (?) — I could see my hair and scalp skin magnified and could see all that damage years of dying my hair did to it. Then I got this glorious hair wash which was the best thing that ever happened to my hair and the skin of my head. It took about 20 minutes and then I got my hair professionally styled. HAIRGASM!

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Plastic surgery ads!

Not only in South Korea. They were everywhere in Taipei too, though I noticed that face and body improvements people in the photos got, were rather minimal compared to the posters I saw on the streets of Seoul.

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Ten Ren’s Tea

The tea here is to die for! I have never seen so many awesome flavours in my life. Let me just add that they were delicious, freshly prepared and cost about 40NT? Sooo good! And this also where I got all the souvenirs for my friends and family I mentioned in my video.

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Beautiful street art in the beautiful Taipei. 

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 Thank you for reading! ♥

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