Eiheiji Temple


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Book Review: Poldark (1) – Ross Poldark by Winston Graham

What a charming and emotional read. Published in 1945, set in the 1780s in Cornwall, the Poldark saga follows the intertwined lives of Cornish upper and lower classes, mostly through the eyes of a remarkable and unique hero, Ross Poldark. What captured me most about the story was how real and true to life the characters feel, which makes you care for them very quickly. And you simply need to know what happens next…

Ross Poldark returns to Cornwall after serving in the war in America. He is looking forward to marrying his sweetheart, Elizabeth, but comes home to the realisation that she is to be married to his cousin Francis. Bitter and lonely he sets out to arrange his derelict house and lands, that he has inherited from his father during his absence, and care for the hardworking poorer class in his district. One day his impulsive charity guides him to take on a young girl from the streets called Demelza as his kitchen maid, but little does he know, that this will change his life forever.

I started reading the books, as I am very fond of the recent BBC TV-series Poldark. I didn’t dare touch them so far, as I wasn’t sure whether the spark would be there. The writing and characterisation on the adapted TV show is so excellently done, the actors work so beautifully together and portray their characters with so much honesty and emotion, the costumes are lovely and look real, the scenes and sets are gorgeous and lovingly detailed and the Cornwall backdrop is simply stunning. So I wondered how to get all this from a book – well, it is possible, right here! The spark is there and drew me in from the very first page. It is real food for the imagination.

Winston Graham is a remarkable writer. It is difficult to place his novels, as they are not outright romances, but romantic elements are vital in the story. They are no ordinary heroic tales of a champion of the poor, nor are they simply a witty portrayal of society at the time. They are no simple family saga either. Graham managed to create real people, living a real life, with real problems, joys, heartaches, difficulties – and eveything else that comes with loving, living and breathing.

This layer of reality is what makes the stories and especially the characters come alive. Ross sometimes behaves irrationally, but he wouldn’t be Ross if he didn’t. There isn’t always a logical reason for emotions. The other characters are well rounded, too, and their little imperfections, contradictions and unconscious actions, bring out something that is so true to life. And that immediately captured my imagination. The character of Demelza next to Ross feels especially real. And like I am always wondering how JK Rowling managed to capture the thoughts of a teenage boy so incredibly well, I am in awe at how well Winston Graham portrays the mind of a young woman. I cried multiple times… And also laughed out loud.

This first book of the series, Ross Poldark, sets everything in motion. And more so – we are introduced to characters that soon become so familiar and dear to us, that we simply need to read on and follow their lives with laughter, tears and sympathy. In this review I simply give an introduction to the “book world” of Poldark. In my next reviews for the following books, I will go into more detail regarding the plot as well. But for anyone wanting to start the Poldark books and needing some spoiler-free encouragement – I hope I could give it with this little post. 

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Animals in Japan


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Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

What a charming little book! I have read Howl’s Moving Castle three times now over the course of 7 years and will be picking it up again and again in the future. The witty humour of Diana Wynne Jones, the lively characters and the constantly moving story along with all the cheeky little ideas make the story of Sophie Hatter and Wizard Howl so warm and uplifting. 

Meet young Sophie Hatter, the eldest of three daughters, stuck in her late father’s hat shop. Being the eldest she has resigned herself to not making her fortune in life – until the evil Witch of the Waste pays her a visit and puts a curse on her. Finding herself as an old woman, Sophie decides to finally leave home and make something out of her life. She invites herself to the moving castle of the famously wicked wizard Howl, who is reportedly eating the hearts of young and beautiful girls. So Sophie has nothing to worry about – or does she?

The characters are lovingly depicted with all their little weaknesses. They all have one flaw or another, which brings the story forward in many places, and it’s refreshing to see characters that are so lively. Nobody is perfect and Sophie, Howl, Michael, Calcifer and all the others feel like well-rounded characters, real people, because of their little failings. And all their little clashes, quibbles and misunderstandings make for a very entertaining read. One of my favourite scenes is probably Howl “suffering” from man flu – priceless.

Diana Wynne Jones has a beautiful hand for witty and also cheeky humour. In one chapter Sophie decides to use 7-league-boots and ends up zipping all over the country, as she keeps tripping. Or the awkward situation, where Sophie ends up having to go to the King of Ingary twice, the second time just under a pretense, because she got lost. It’s also great finding out where Howl is really from… And of course the bickering between Sophie and Howl. The book is refreshing throughout and feels fast-paced without being rushed.

For those who only know the Ghibli film Howl’s Moving Castle – this book is very different in tone and style. I came to read the book because I loved the film and – like in so many other cases – both are very different. But I love them both for what they are and I like them seperately. There are many elements the film took over from the book and the overall story is of course still there, but a lot has been shuffled around. So I would recommend this book to Howl film fans, as long as they are aware to expect a different tone of voice.

Howl’s Moving Castle is a delightful novel, that can be enjoyed by children and adults a like. There are fairy tale elements, fire demons, lively characters and a happy ever after. It will leave you with a smile on your face and it’s worth being picked up again and again. A thoroughly enjoyable read!

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Kinkakuji – The Golden Pavillion in Kyoto


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Fushimi Inari in Kyoto


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Sakura in Bloom – Cherry Blossoms in Japan


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Impressions from Camera Obscura (Edinburgh)


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Game Review: Star Wars – The Force Unleashed II

I was very impressed by Star Wars – The Force Unleashed, so I was quite looking forward to playing the sequel The Force Unleashed II on my Xbox 360. While it is a good game and is definitely worth playing, it does fall short of expectations – precisely because it is so short.

Without giving much of the plot away (for this game and the previous one), the story follows on from part I. That being said, the scope of the whole game is much smaller and for that reason feels more like a final chapter for part 1. In a way it feels like a DLC and as such would be absolutely perfect. It adds another 4 hours or so to the story. As an add-on for part I perfectly acceptable. As stand-alone game a little weak. The game offers some “Challenges”, but these won’t add much for skilled players (and can be very frustrating for casual players). In my opinion some really good opportunities have been missed, as a Dagobah “dream” sequence could have been absolutely amazing. As it is we only get a cut scene, but no actual game play.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. I would still recommend this game and if you can get your hands on a second-hand copy and you are aware of the short story mode, there should be nothing to stop you from enjoying The Force Unleashed II. The story is very linear and can feel rushed at times. The final boss fight can drag on a bit in comparison, but can only be described as suitably epic. And if you make the “right” decision at the end, you will be rewarded by a lovely ending. I would call it a really satisfying ending for the Force Unleashed series and I’m glad they added it here in part II.

The actual gameplay and the controls have been improved in my opinion. The level-up system is much more straight forward and simple (probably because of the limited options) and because of that I felt more in control. I could vary my attacks without button mashing and actually had a good overview on what the character can do. In general the controls of the Force Unleashed series feel pretty epic and are quite fun.

This is a very short review, but it’s somehow due to the short game time itself. There is not much to say about it other than as long as you are aware of its shortcomings, I would highly recommend this game for fans of Force Unleashed I. I think it doesn’t make much sense to play this part on its own, it should always be seen as a final chapter for part I. Just enjoy it!

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