With a lack of travel accounts from women altogether - let alone those born in the 80s and 90s - Leah recognises the importance of seeing 'travel' through different lenses.
'Memoirs of a Gaijin' was already taken, so Leah wrote 'Memoirs of a Gaijin: Millennial Edition'. She uses her conversational style and descriptive prowess to craft a fresh interpretation that reflects her time in Japan.
MEMOIRS OF A GAIJIN: MILLENNIAL EDITION
Osaka Castle is not only a beautiful piece of architecture, but a monument to the preservation of Japanese history. Originally built from 1583 to 1597, it suffered two major fires in 1660 and 1665, before finally undergoing a restoration in 1843. Bombing raids in World War II caused further damage to the main castle tower, which was restored again from 1995 to 1997.
We pay 600 yen to enter, which equates to around £4.60. Inside, the castle acts as a museum of its history, showcasing many restored relics from Japan’s feudal times. As we walk around, my writing notebook materialises in my hands and I start making notes about the weaponry, the armour, the battle tactics, the history, the traditions and the art. My fiction-brain is in overdrive, taking inspiration for creating epic tales of battles and armies and heroism.
As we make our way up and around the castle, Steve and Justin wander off, probably to look at things that remind them of anime battles. Meanwhile, Geoff and I read the English translations (word-perfect, by the way - no Japanglish here) about the history of the castle, marvelling at many of the artefacts.
“I wonder where the others went?”
“No idea,” Geoff shrugs. “We’re not in a rush, right?”
“No, not at all. I don’t want to miss any of this though. I mean, how often are we going to visit Osaka Castle?”
“Heh, exactly. Well, we can take our time and hopefully they’ll wait for us at the top.”
I don’t know Geoff that well yet. We’ve hung out a few times, mainly in planning and preparing for this trip, and once or twice whilst drinking at the bar, or at Justin’s place for a barbecue and beers (Justin is the only one of us with a garden and space to actually have people over). It’s nice to discover that we have some things in common though. As well as being non-smokers, we’re also fairly big history dorks, and the artefacts on display in Osaka castle is like crack to that side of our personalities.
Dark beams of varnished wood make up the floor, with artificially-lit glass cases housing the ancient items. There’s not much natural light or air on the inside, but there are plenty of people. Though, not many of them seem to understand the one-way system, so we nod and mumble sumimasen meaning 'excuse me' as we make our way through.
It takes us around an hour to make our way to the top, looking at everything as we go. We finally make it to the observation deck and glimpse Steve and Justin outside, looking down over the Castle grounds. Geoff and I make our way to the door of the observation deck, by which point they’ve disappeared again. I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket. Geoff takes out his phone at the same time.
Justin: Guys, we’ll see you back outside the castle!
I exchange a glance with Geoff. It’s sort of a blink combined with an eyebrow-raise. A look that says, Did they really need to smoke that badly? By this point, we've barely seen them all morning.
We remain on the observation deck for a while, enjoying the cool breeze and the beautiful views. A grassy plain stretches before us and I nod towards it.
“So I guess that’s where some of the feudal battles would’ve taken place? Where the Toyotomi clan would’ve tried to defend the Castle during the Siege of Osaka?”
“Could be. Mad to think that men would’ve fought and died right there.”
We look down at that spot and a feeling washes over me. It’s a feeling I often get in historic landmarks. It starts with a chill, and then a rush of energy as my senses become more aware, more sharpened. In that moment, it’s as though I can connect with the past around me. As though the ghosts and memories of a place are caught in their lingering. As though history itself curls its hand around my shoulder and leans in close to whisper, Yes. I’m still here.
© 2020 L H Squires
In-keeping with her exploration of different countries and cultures, Leah penned 'Travels in Marrakech' as an account of her time in Morocco. Leah believes travel is an important way to broaden her mind and always jumps at the chance to learn about foreign cultures, traditions and languages.
TRAVELS IN MARRAKECH
At around 11.00am, we arrive in Essaouira. A new wave of heat slams into me as I get out, no longer under the protection of the car’s air-conditioning. I wonder how this car has not only moved us through space but has seemingly moved us through time as well. If I'm not in the past, I must be on the most convincing film set ever. They must be remaking Aladdin or Prince of Persia. I’m sure I’m a heartbeat away from seeing a clumsy chase through the bustling market, with the hero leaping over a cart, ceramic plates smashing on the ground, and trays of fruit tumbling from a stall and rolling into the street.
Mikhi leads us through the Medina, which is a wide pale-stoned street, then takes us through a side-street into a market. On either side of the market, stalls are located under stone archways, and each stall contains a knee-high table with a vast adornment of wares for sale. There are clay tagines and dishes, painted ceramics, woven hats, scarves and clothes, beaded jewellery, mosaic plates, shisha pipes… Every colourful item is the most vibrant shade: azure blue, cerise pink, burnt orange, sunflower yellow. Mikhi tells us that all the wares for sale are handmade by the craftsmen. Every single item is unmistakably beautiful.
We continue through the market and pass large bowls of olives, lentils, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and then shrimp, squid, crab and some sort of small, plucked birds, one of which appears to still be twitching. I find myself hoping there’s an updraft in this market street. We turn a corner and continue on until we arrive at a large, open studio space. Mikhi tells us we are here to see the traditional arts and crafts businesses, namely the ‘thuya’ wood carving that Essaouira is known for.
After the demonstration, we wander around the gift shop and I wonder what I can buy which is A) affordable, and B) can fit in my suitcase. That rules out the 200-Dirham hand-carved chess set, and the 500-Dirham rocking horse. 10 Dirhams (DH) is the equivalent of about £2.00, so I probably can't spend more than DH50; a tenner. I end up buying a small, wooden plate – about the size of CD – for about DH30, which would make a very convenient key dish.
We peruse the fashions in the marketplace stores and the beautiful fabrics and jewels make me fantasize about being an exotic belly-dancer. I could grow my hair long and get my nose pierced and wear loads of gold rings and bangles. I could learn the ways of the dance and when people asked why I danced I could just say something like If you have to ask why, you’ll never understand.
“Thinking of buying anything?” Mum asks me.
The black and gold embroidered veil drops out of my hand and I combine a shrug with a shake of my head.
No . . . Best, not.
That’s probably more of a case of cultural appropriation than cultural appreciation. These items are beautiful, but I’m sure they’ll look their best on the women who can do them justice, rather than on a basic white girl with an overactive imagination.
© 2020 L H Squires
It's not just international travel that interests Leah, but domestic travel too. 'Not Quite Everest' is one of Leah's earlier forays into nonfiction, where she navigates the balance between information, narrative and personality; three aspects crucial to compelling location-based writing.
NOT QUITE EVEREST
Sometime after I turned fifteen, I started experiencing consistent bouts of debilitating sciatica. When it struck, I physically couldn’t move from my bed, nor keep anything down because the pain was so excruciating. From GP to Physiotherapist, I was finally diagnosed with hyper-mobility in my legs. It’s not a serious condition; it just means that my ligaments are too flexible and lack strength, causing my leg muscles to stretch to their full capacity to stay strong.
Yoga and Pilates are off the table. I can’t touch my toes and I can likely never get more flexibility in my legs. The best I can hope for, according to my doctor, is to strengthen my muscles so that they can better handle the constant strain they’re under. Which is honestly how it feels. Even without strenuous exercise, my leg muscles constantly feel knotted and in need of stretching, yet they can never stretch more than they already have.
Despite that, I – perhaps optimistically – agreed to go camping in the Lake District on Easter weekend of 2017, to climb Scafell Pike. This would be an amazing chance to get stronger and prove to myself (and anyone else for that matter) that I could climb a freaking mountain.
This was bucket-list stuff.
I imagined how amazing it would feel to be able to say, “I climbed a mountain”, and how proud I'd be to have done that - particularly with my stupid, rubbish legs.
For those who may not know, Scafell Pike is England’s tallest mountain, standing at 978 metres above sea level, and is one of the three peaks of the Three Peaks Challenge. That's when when you climb Great Britain’s three tallest mountains in 24 hours (hopefully with the aid of a designated driver to get you from A to B, and then to C, so you can sleep between each climb.) Scafell is the smallest of the Three Peaks (although it is often said to be the hardest), followed by Snowdon, Wales’s highest mountain, standing at 1085 metres above sea level. Finally, there's Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland, clocking in at 1345 metres.
The thought of climbing one mountain was already staggering. The idea of climbing two more mountains after that (let alone in the same day) was enough to put me in the foetal position and never stop crying.
Shortly after New Years 2017, the plan was made: It'd be me, my partner and two of our friends going. We’d drive out from Bournemouth on Good Friday, scale the mountain on the Saturday, and return on the Sunday or Monday, depending on whether there were other things we wanted to see or do while we were there.
There were roughly four months to prepare for the hike. I trained solidly for all four of those months, practising on an uphill incline on the treadmill for longer and longer, at steeper and steeper inclines, setting personal best after personal best. After all, hiking was just walking, only a bit farther and steeper than normal. I was strong. I felt strong. I could do this.
© 2020 L H Squires