Good Morning Vietnam

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Latimer: What else could I call a blog post about Vietnam? It’s a phrase I overused so very much while in Vietnam. I said it basically every morning, and if I forgot, I’d say it mid-way through the day.

This post is a continuation of my trip around South East Asia, as it’s getting to the end of summer now; I find myself reminiscing more and more about my adventures in the past. They were so good; they make me consider what the next adventure will be!

But well, back to my South East Asian adventures! I had made it through Thailand and Laos, with lots of fond memories and exciting adventures, onward to Vietnam, a place that I was expecting to love, though I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting to love about it…

I was right about the loving part; it’s a gorgeous, bustling fun place, full of amazing places to see and history to learn about, all inter-spaced with yummy food, cool art and random livestock on bikes (the motorbike is everything in Vietnam!)

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Beer corner, Hanoi where local people sell beer and we all watch the crazy traffic go by, as we sit on the street and drink. Yup. I randomly met up with some of my China-travel buddies here too, so the world is a very small place guys!

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Bun Cha, Vietnamese delicacy, Hanoi

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Crash site of Senator John McCain’s plane, shot down by the Viet Con during the Vietnam war (it is still there in Hanoi where it fell)

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They are super happy about having shot down this plane, so it’s very well sign posted – I think it’s because Senator John McCain is a Senator now

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This is the Hilton Prison, Hanoi. Hilton was a nickname placed on the prison, by the prisoners, who were American POWs

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Motorbikes on the streets of Hanoi

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More yummy Vietnamese food!

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Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh) propaganda artwork for sale in Hanoi

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Artwork, Hanoi

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Chinese monument in Hanoi – there is a heavy Chinese influence in Vietnam, as the country was part of/occupied by the Chinese during it’s history (Vietnam feels like it has more Chinese influence than, Laos, Thailand or Cambodia)

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Halong Bay

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Sunset, kite-flying off the back of our boat in Halong Bay

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Yes, that is a cow on the back of a motorbike… yeah

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Food wraps and kawaii fingers, Hue

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Vietnamese dragon and my Chinese Travelling Buddha, in the Vietnamese ‘forbidden city’, Hue

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Just on the road in Vietnam, amazing

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Blurry Buddha and me in an old American war bunker, on the road

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The Mighty Mekong Delta, Ho Chi Minh City (kinda)

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Fresh coconuts on the Mekong Delta

Travelling Buddha gets around, here he's at the Chu-Chi Tunnels

Travelling Buddha gets around, here he’s at the Cu-Chi Tunnels

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Tofu, noodles and veggies, yum!

I saw a lot of amazing places, but my favourite had to be the laid-back beautiful Hoi An, I could have spent a long time there, it was a small, but very lovely town?

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Beautiful wedding couple. As in Chinese tradition, red is the colour for the bride in Vietnam, not white

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Laid back streets of Hoi An

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Hoi An streets

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A bridge across the river, Hoi An

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Lanterns, beautiful Vietnamese lanterns

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Sunsets on its way over Hoi An!

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A cool eatery Hoi Ah, though it looks very Spanish or something!

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Super fresh noodles and yummy avocado smoothie (delicious!), Hoi An

Lanterns and more lovely Lanterns, Hoi An

Lanterns and more lovely Lanterns, Hoi An

Hoi An has a lovely river running through it. I went on a boat ride during the sunset and cast some lanterns out on the water, sending my wishes with it!

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It’s where people get clothes made lots of the time, but it has some cool art shops also, and also, the best tea shop I have ever been in in my whole life. It’s called Reaching Out Teahouse and it’s run by deaf and mute staff, so everything is done by indicating via the menu and also these little notes where you can ask for a re-fill of water etc. It is a Fairtrade shop and it works with people with disabilities in the community to find employment and live an independent life, so it’s well worth supporting. They also sell these amazing crafts in the shop – and all the tea cups and cutlery (metal and ceramic) are made by the Reaching Out artisans.

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Used to communicate with staff

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Iced coffee, with coffee ice… haha

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Crafts from the shop

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Traditional seating

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The tea tasting menu (3 types) – soooo good, plus you get three interesting treats with it! Like, eg., a sweet potato swirl, or green tea biscuit

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A platter of very interesting treats!

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The famous Vietnamese coffee (iced) – three type tasting menu here! It was so good!

It was really serene and it was nice to sit in this traditional style teahouse and look out of the open shutters at the front at the people passing by in the street. Some Chinese tourists randomly stopped in front of the windows and took photos with us Westerns in the background, which was… well, hilarious and random, but I had noticed this happened a lot in China also, so I was kind of used to it, in a very weird way!

Vietnam was a brilliant place, I would definitely go back. Maybe one day I will, but from there it was onward to the place I had wanted to visit the most, Cambodia (and the stunning Angkor Wat… what)!

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Laotian Living

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Latimer: Ridley and I are working hard to get the second book of our Keeping Secrets series read for publication! But, in the meantime, we are daydreaming about the exotic and the far-away, reliving some holidays and thinking about some new ones.

Last I left off on my trip down the South-East Asian holiday memory-lane, I was in Laos, heading towards Vang Vieng and the capital city of Laos Vientiane!

In Vang Vieng, we were lucky enough to stay with a local family in a small village (just a few minutes from Vang Vieng central). It was a real eye-opener because we just don’t live like this anymore in Ireland. Everyone was really nice and the homemade food was yummy.

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Village living

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Little piggys!

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While in Vang Vieng, I checked out the beauty of the Blue Lagoon; petted a butterfly – no really, it felt like I was Snow White or something, it was crazy, I was surrounded for the briefest moment by a flock (?) of colourful butterflies! I trekked up a mountain and had a poke around an amazing cave, which really inspired me for writing! And then, I had some fresh coconut juice. I also had a bit of relaxation getting a brilliant Laotian massage – I definitely recommend them!

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Blue lagoon… beautiful!!

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Stunning butterfly

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My Disney/Snow White moment!!

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We had a few relaxing days in Vang Vieng, ending the trip there with a beautiful sunset and some nice juices…

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Then it was off to Vientiane, the most laid-back capital city in the world. It’s really small, but has this relaxing feel to the place, that just doesn’t exist in… well, basically any capital city I’ve ever been in. It’s such a cool, fun place. We managed to get lost walking around the whole city, but all roads lead to where you want to go eventually in Vientiane! On the detour we managed to check out some nice temples.

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We didn’t have long in Vientiane before we were saying goodbye to Laos and GOOD MORNING to VIETNAM 🙂

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For other posts about South-East Asia check out: Lovely Laos and Trekking through Thailand

Trekking around Thailand

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Latimer: Lately I’ve been doing some globetrotting. Every time I hitch up my trusty wheelie bag and head off into the far blue yonder, I come back with lots of stories and lots of ideas. I think the most recent trip to South East Asia has me all inspired for writing!

Ridley and I are really excited to be working our way through our Keeping Secrets series, plotting and outlining all the books to come. We are back firmly on track now – and we’ll be releasing Book 2 by the end of August! So stay with us for updates!

In my recent travels I visited Thailand. It was a quick run through the north of the country from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, to a fly-by visit at Chiang Rai and then Chiang Khong (to cross into Laos). I didn’t see that much of Thailand really, but what I saw was stunning, beautiful, strange, inspiring and… stranger still!

Bangkok is a pretty cool place. There are lots of things to see there – when I was there I took a trip around the canals in the city and went to Wat Pho to see the huge golden reclining Buddha, which was amazing. Buddhism (and monks) feature strongly in my Asian travels; I sometimes think I’m starting to understand it, then I always get stuck and realise actually I don’t know much about Buddhism, but it’s really interesting.

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Bangkok canal views

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Reclining Buddha… massive!!

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He looks like he’s pretty comfortable here!

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Wat Pho outside views

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More of the Pho

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Yet more Pho!

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Another Buddha inside another temple in Wat Pho – I ear-wigged as this guy was explaining Buddhism to these people!

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Lot’s of monks – notice how young some of them are! All men in Thailand must serve a year (at least) as a monk before they get married, to be considered ‘a good man’ for marriage

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Thai green Curry… because… it’s Thailand!

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From the back of a tuc-tuc… the only way to travel in Thailand… I love tuc-tucs!

From Bangkok, I got an overnight train to Chiang Mai. Lots of people on the tour were worried about the overnight train, but having experienced the Chinese ones, I was no longer afraid. The ones in Thailand are actually brilliant; and compared to the Chinese ones, they are very spacious and comfortable – this coming from someone with extreme ‘creature comfort’ problems!

Chiang Mai was a fun place; we had a walk around in the blistering heat, went to see beautiful Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple ate some lovely Thai food and went for a cool bike-ride around the city. While on our bike ride we stopped at an orphanage for Hill tribe children, for dinner. I bought some lovely artwork by the children – it was Naruto inspired 🙂

During my time in Chiang Mai, I was coming to terms with the heat, I won’t say I ever ‘got used to it’, just learned to accept I would always be dripping sweat and needing to drink water and isotonic drinks.

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Train station catching my ride to Chiang Mai

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These trains are fantastic! So clean and comfortable. There’s a bunk that comes down from over these seats and the seats themselves are transformed into another bed – big and very comfy.

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I had the top bunk, which was fine… but not as big. I had some pocky for the trip!

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Some cool outside dining in Chiang Mai

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Artwork on the streets

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Beautiful, random temple

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More temple action

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Buddha outside the temple

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A very cool dragon vomiting snakes… well, maybe not but that’s what it looks like!! Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Walking up to the temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep bells

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Getting my fortune at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Monks visting Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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I got this white blessing bracelet from a monk in Wat Phra That Doi Suthep; he said a prayer over it, for luck and safety in travel.

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A delicious vegetable spicy soup…. it was feckin hot though!

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Buddha overlooking the river on my bike ride around Chiang Mai

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Handle bar views in Chiang Mai

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Buddhas in Chiang Mai

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More views from my bike in Chiang Mai

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Chiang Mai temple

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Chiang Mai temple

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Chiang Mai temple

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Cool artwork done by the Hill tribe orphans

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More temples from my bike ride Chiang Mai

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Buddha and candle wax – from bike ride Chiang Mai

From Chiang Mai, we stopped off briefly in Chiang Rai to see the White Temple, which is a bit like Sangrada Familia in Barcelona, in that it’s unfinished at the moment and being built by the artist that designed it. It’s full of demons and cultural references – though I never got to go inside, as we were late getting there and it was closed! It’s supposed to have like cartoony stuff inside and be really strange and interesting. This temple was badly damaged after we had seen in, in the earthquake that hit Thailand – so I feel lucky to have seen it before that happened!

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Batman and Pinhead… heads.. .weird!!

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Freddie, Pinhead and Hellboy… retro weirdness!

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Yummy food in Chiang Khong

Yummy food in Chiang Khong

Then from Thailand, I took a bus into Laos! But that’s a post for another day!

For other posts about South-East Asia check out: Lovely Laos and Laotian Living

Summer is coming

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Latimer: Ah blissful summer is here at last! The sun is shining, people are smiling and we’ve even got some really nice weather lately! The Irish curse of talking about weather – ah well you see we don’t get a proper summer very often, or at least it can’t be relied on, so we always have to mention it when it happens! So, for now at least we have really nice weather – people are getting sunburned… yeah, that’s a big deal!

Summer always ends up being a busy time of year; Ridley and I have been writing away working on the next book! Come on the editing stage 🙂

But, aside from that, the big thing about summer is holidays! Oh holidays! Thinking of the next adventure puts me in mind of the first real one!

This is the one where Ridley, Latimer and friends went to New Zealand and Japan!

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Oh magnificent New Zealand… as I sit here in the heat of the Irish summer, thinking back on the glorious holiday that was New Zealand cools me down at bit, because summer in the Northern Hemisphere is of course winter below!

This holiday was a big deal for us at the time because none of us had ever gone this far on our own (like real proper adults) – four of us, Orbie (who we’ve mentioned now and then), Latimer, Ridley and Bubbles (another friend of ours).

We got ready – this was a big deal.

We rented the glorious campervan, the Kea (and Bubbles was the only one who could drive)….we were going to drive around New Zealand and camp!

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We were given snow-chains in case of notoriously bad snow… we were so scared, we were so excited, we were…  grown up! This was such a great time, but initially we were very worried.

Day one in Christchurch – with the van and the maps… we were thinking it was a mistake. But then we got the GPS up and going, Bubbles got comfortable with the camper-van and were off, on this amazing adventure  –  this first taste of a now life-long love of travel, the dream of the faraway…

We had all these wonderful experiences…

we saw such amazing landscapes…

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we drove for miles on empty roads that wove past waterfalls and cut through snow-capped mountains…

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we climbed glaciers…

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we swung down canyons…

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we visited the beautiful Milford Sound…

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we dove out of the sky… like a boss 🙂

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I’ve always thought we look like we’re out of Top Gun here!

we met Maoris and went to a hangi (a sort of party, where food cooked in a pit)

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We skied and snowboarded… life was good!

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Then we left the snow behind and headed for the mind-melting Asian summer – the melting temperature of an Irish person isn’t high!

We visited Kyoto and got caught in a Matsuri festival we didn’t understand. The Japanese festival goers gave us beer and when the young Geisha arrived, a helpful man dragged Orbie off and helped her get cool pictures of the Geisha…

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We went to a tropical island – that was a random adventure. We were going to sleep on the beach, but decided against it and had a very strange time in a surfers hostel, where Ridley had to fight off ants as she slept and I screamed at a massive spider that then scuttled off to hide in Ridley bathroom…

Looks like paradise though, ne?

We went to Koya-san and stayed in a Buddhist temple and got up for prayers at 6 o’clock..

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So many random things happened.

All these memories that as I type I become lost in again; summer time is a time for making plans for adventures! The sun is out, the days are long; it makes me feel like there are adventures out there, beyond the walls of where we are.

I’m excited! I want to pull out my bags, hitch them up and go off into the world again!

Now all we really need to do is figure out where to go!   

The 47 ronin

In the damp wet of Ireland’s ‘rainy season’ (a.k.a. summer), Latimer thinks back on ancient Japan. She exchanges her wetsuit for some samurai swag and sets off on a journey through Japan’s shogun past…

Latimer: Modern Japan is fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. It’s fun; it looks crazy, but it does leave me thinking, ‘that’s intense… sort of unreal’.

The Japanese past is sometimes hard to find in Tokyo.

But find it you must, because it’s full of fantastic stories waiting to be told!

We were on a pilgrimage of sorts that day. We wanted to find the temple of the 47 ronin- otherwise known as Sengakuji!

My Dad was the one that told me the story of the 47 ronin (master-less samurai). I’m not sure how or why he came to know the story; but he told it to me in his ‘every single detail’ manner…

The story begins in the age of the shogunate… I will attempt to set the scene… actually I may have to leave it to your imagination because my historical knowledge is firmly European. I could tell you to imagine a castle, a wild windswept hill; rough spun tunics and broad swords… but I won’t because I’d be wrong, your picture would be wrong and we’d all be looking at Braveheart and that’s not right! We are going to the orient after all….

The shogunate age was the golden age of the samurai and their masters. The samurai were a noble class and they followed a strict code called bushido. This was all about honour. Honour and respect; that was key to the samurai- you could lose your honour very easily back then it seemed. We use the term perhaps a little dismissively today- but back then, to them, it meant something…

Asano Takuminokami was the Feudal lord of Ako. He was asked by the shogunate to entertain vistors to Edo (the old name for Tokyo). Asano asked his loyal advisor Kira Kozukenosuke for directions on how best to do this. Apparently Kira didn’t like Asano and ‘with malice’ disgraced his honour as a samurai (bad mouthed him basically. This was a major no-no in bushido!). Asano decided to put Kira in his place for insulting him. He drew his katana (sword) and managed to cut Kira on the forehead- but not kill him (ah fiddlesticks!).

It was strictly forbidden to draw your sword in Edo castle. There was also a law that stated ‘equal punishment for quarrels’ so both men were expected to be punished. Now the story gets foggy here, but for some reason Kira got off the hook and only Asano was punished. He was forced to commit seppuku (samurai suicide, not to be too graphic but it involved a knife to the stomach and then your stomach on the floor- grim). Anyway, Asano was forced to commit seppuku in the garden of another lord’s house. This was bad, because seppuku outside was for felons not a lord like Asano. And as if that wasn’t bad enough- his family were stripped of their titles and forced off of their estate!

Asano died and Kira got away scot free! Oh… that’s the perfect start to a story of revenge if ever I head one! The loyal samurai of Asano, the Ako Gishi (47 of them), pleaded against this indignity and demanded the reinstatement of the Asano house.

They were denied. And so began two years of plotting…

They set their plan of revenge in motion on December 14th 1702. They attacked and killed Kira at his residence. Apparently they pleaded with Kira, treating him with respect, to die as a true samurai should (commit seppuku and die with honour). The leader of the 47 samurai, Oishi…

… offered Kira Asano’s dagger (the one he had used to killed himself). Kira trembled before them, but would not kill himself. So, they did it for him (dishonourable) then cut off his head, taking it to Asano’s grave in Sengakuji.

One of the 47, named Terasaka Kichiemon, was ordered to go to Ako to report that revenge had been taken.

Strangely now, the 46 remaining ronin didn’t run. To run would be dishonourable. They turned themselves in to the shogunate straightaway.

They were sentenced to seppuku the following February 4th and buried in Sengakuji with Asano. In a strange twist, Terasaka Kichiemon was pardoned by the shogunate when he returned from Ako. Some reported it was due to his young age. Terasaka Kichiemon lived to be an old man; he died in his 80s and was buried next to his comrades.

And after hundreds of years, myself and Ridley found ourselves at the 47 ronin’s graves in Sengakuji.

It was one of the quietest places we had been in Tokyo. Tucked away from the bustling modern world (though that world did overlook the small temple).

When we got there, it felt like we’d finally found ancient Edo, beyond the lights and noise of Tokyo, behind the modern facade.

The story of the 47 ronin is one of the most popular stories in Japan, because it reminds them of loyalty (Chu) and justice (Gi).

There were no tourists there. The place was serene. It had history. It had a story. I’m in two minds about the samurai notion of honour. It’s an extreme version that I don’t understand to be honest. Then there’s the loyalty part, which is somehow easier to connect with. These men sacrificed their lives to avenge their master. There is something very powerful about that level of conviction.

It was amazing to finally see the place; amazing how such an old story, from so far away, could have found its way through time and tide to us. We were very touched and awed! (Thanks to my Dad for telling us about it!)