Archive for January, 2013

Japan: Osaka Castle

One of the reasons I love to travel is that new sights and experiences always spark the imagination and widen the mind. So this month I’m going to catch you all up on my trip to Japan last December. I hope my adventures there inspire you to write new stories or give you ideas for your own vacation.


December 3, 2012 – Osaka Castle, Osaka

The day after I landed in Japan, Maiko took me to Osaka Castle. The train ride from Hirakata City lasted about 20 minutes, and from the Osakajo Koen Station, the castle was another 15 minutes walk.

A massive stone wall and a great moat surrounding the 15 acre castle grounds was the first thing I saw.

Osaka Castle’s Main Tower peeking over the stone walls

There were other structures within the castle grounds, but we only had time to visit the central castle building.


A little History:

The Osaka castle is a major landmark in Osaka, and a symbol of power of Japan’s most influential rulers. Toyotomi Hideyoshi was born a peasant, but rose up in ranks by serving Oda Nobunaga, a feudal lord who initiated the unification of Japan under the shogunate.

Hideyoshi’s sharp mind, combined with his ambition and determination made him a valuable asset to Nobunaga. After Nobunaga’s assassination,  Hideyoshi took it upon himself to avenge his master, thus expanding his own power and influence within the region.

Hideyoshi built Osaka Castle in 1583, establishing it as his stronghold in his work to unify Japan.


 Osaka Castle’s Main Tower

The present day structure is a third reincarnation of the original castle, however.  After Hideyoshi died, his chief retainer Ieyasu Tokugawa established the shogunate (government) in Edo (now known as Tokyo). In the 1615 Summer War of Osaka, Tokugawa launched another attack on the castle, once and for all destroying the Toyotomi family’s legacy.

Tokugawa later on rebuilt the castle and his family kept it under their control until the shogunate lost its the Meiji New Government army laid siege to the castle in 1868.  Then shogun Yoshinobu Tokugawa escaped, but the castle caught fire and almost all the buildings were burnt to ash.

In 1931, the government with the help of funds raised by citizens, took on the reconstruction of Osaka Castle’s Main Tower.

Osaka Castle’s Main Tower behind me

The castle’s main tower is home to the museum, which contains 8 floors of historical artifacts and exhibits. The entrance fee of 600Yen (roughly about $6 ), was definitely worth paying as I got to learn a whole lot of interesting things.

Steps leading up to the main tower

Upon entering the main tower, we were encouraged to take the elevator up to the 8th floor to start our tour from there.

My acrophobia didn’t stop me from enjoying the awesome panoramic view of Osaka City. It helped that a wire fence surrounded the entire 8th floor balcony.

View of Osaka City from the 8th Floor

Around the 7th Floor, we followed tiny dioramas which explained the Life of Hideyoshi Toyotomi.

On the 5th floor, we discovered a large folding screen which showed famous scenes from the Summer War in Osaka, along with miniature wax figures replicating the intense battle between Sanada and Matsudaira during the same period.

Wax figures depicting a battle during the Summer War of Osaka

Artifacts and records of the Sengoku era, or the age of provincial wars, were on display in the 4th and 3rd Floors.   I particularly loved seeing the battle gear worn by Japanese warriors in that period, along with the weapons they used. We also saw a full scale replica of Toyotomi’s famous Golden Tea Room, and models of the Osaka Castle during the Toyotomi Period and the Tokugawa Period

Folding screen with scenes from the Summer War of Osaka

A full scale replica of the golden dolphin shaped fish (Shachi) and crouching tigers (fusetora) was on display at the center of the 2nd Floor.  For 300Y ($3), you could don one of the period costumes and have your picture taken with the golden statues.


Tourists posing with costumes beside the Shachi and the Fusetora

We ignored the photo op, and like the nerds we were, Maiko and I opted instead to check out more facts and figures about Osaka Castle.

We finally found ourselves back at the first floor. I spent some time perusing the various items at the Museum shop, and even bought some souvenirs to bring back home.

The food stalls and small shops around the castle grounds were already closing by the time we got out of the museum at 5:30pm. Maiko and I contented ourselves by exploring a little bit of the area before the skies completely darkened.

Although it was winter, a lot of the trees around the castle still hadn’t shed their fall colors. The beautiful red leaves of the Momiji or Japanese Maple trees added a splash of color to the grey skies.

Momiji/Japanese Maple trees around the castle grounds

I’m always fascinated by phone booths — thanks to Doctor Who, I’m always hoping that I might one day step into a time travel machine disguised as a phone booth.

We didn’t have time to explore the other buildings around the main tower, but I was quite happy with what I’d seen. As we stepped outside the main gates of the Osaka Castle grounds, Maiko pointed  in the distance to a building with a round saucer on its roof. She said this building was one of the big NHK TV stations in Japan.

NHK TV Station building outside the castle

All the walking we did today made us hungry so we made our way back to the train station, where we discussed all the wonderful sights we’d seen over a plate of Takoyaki balls (Octopus dipped in batter).


* Special Thanks to Maiko for taking me around, and for taking the pictures

**Next Friday: Japan: Kyoto Day 1 – Kiyamizudera Temple




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Laini Taylor at the Santa Monica Library

Loads of fun things happened to me in November and December, 2012.  I wanted to share the experience with all of you, but since I took a blogging break in December, I’m going to play catch up now.

One of the highlights of those two months was getting to meet one of my favorite fantasy authors.  I was absolutely thrilled to meet pink-haired writing goddess Laini Taylor when she visited the Santa Monica Library last November 15th, 2012.


With YA Fantasy Author Laini Taylor (DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE)

Laini sat down for an interview with resident librarian Robert Graves, who wore a pink shirt to match Laini’s hair.

Laini Taylor being interviewed by Robert Graves

Robert asked a lot of good questions before opening the floor up to Laini’s fans. I learned a lot about Laini and her bestselling series DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE that day.

* Laini was working on a different story, which she kept on trying to write it even if she was miserable. One day she gave herself permission to write something for fun—and the idea of DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE was born.

*Unlike other authors, Laini prefers silence to music when she’s writing. She used to go to a café, where she would wear noise-cancelling earphones as she wrote her novel.

*For Laini, cadence and flow of the language is very important. She makes sure to read her work aloud.

*Asked where she would go, if the portals in her story were real, Laini answered: “Hogwarts. I would go back to school if I could go to Hogwarts.”

*Some of Laini’s favorite books includes Robin Hobb’s THE LIFESHIP TRADERS, Philip Pullman’s THE GOLDEN COMPASS and the SABRIEL books by Garth Nix.

*If she could cast a male actor to portray Akiva in a movie, she would choose Ryan Gosling.


Laini also has a lot of good advice for aspiring authors:

*Keep an idea notebook. You may not use the ideas you have now for your current novel, but you may be able to use it in your future books. Some of the scenes from DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE were born from ideas Laini had written years ago in her idea notebook.

*In your idea notebook, write down things you discover/read  that are fun and interesting. Things that you might want to put in your own book someday.

*Take two words to rub together to create a new idea.

*Write whole pages of the things that spark your mind, things that fascinate you.

*Write the book that does that to you, fascinates you and sparks your mind. Find something that speaks to you.

Laini was not only generous with tips and advice. She also came prepared with a lot of giveaways. I was one number away from winning one of the two big prizes. Two lucky gals won custom made Daughter of Smoke and Bone inspired necklaces. Other lucky audience members got goody bags.

The best part of the whole afternoon was meeting Laini in person and telling her about how much I love her writing. Laini’s writing style  is just so lyrical and descriptive. I’ve been a big fan of DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE since I first listened to the audiobook version.

It was  an awesome event, and I’m so glad my boss let me leave work early so I could attend. I only wish I had remembered to bring a camera so I could’ve taken better pictures of Laini’s event. As it is, I had to make do with the camera on my phone.

I do hope she comes back to L.A. I’ll be sure to bring my nice camera then  :)


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New Year, New Guests

Happy New Year!!!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, and I hope you did something memorable to mark the first day of the new year. :)

Now that the holidays are over, I’m excited to get back into the normal swing of things. Last year was crazy busy, but also crazy fun (I’m sure you’ve deduced that from my long post on my 2012 highlights).

I have yet to list down my official goals for 2013, but I’m hoping to accomplish even more this year. I’ll be continuing some writing/blogging practices which I began last year, and adding a few more things to my list of things to try.

Last year, I debuted the Wednesday Writers Workspace Series on my blog.

My aim was to get to know fellow bloggers/writers better through their workspace and writing habits, and to allow them to share their writing wisdom with everyone. It was such a successful series, I’ve decided to continue it for as long as I can.

Of course I need your help for this one.

If you’re interested in doing a guest post for my Wednesday Writers Workspace series, simply leave a comment anytime on my blog or email me. And if you know someone who might be interested in sharing his workspace with us, feel free to send him my way. 

And just because you don’t write on an actual desk, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a part of this series. I’d love to feature you here, whether you write at a favorite café, at a park bench or even on a train.

I’m going to take this opportunity to thank these amazing bloggers/writers who’ve been featured on the Wednesday Writers Workspace, and who’ve allowed us a glimpse into their writing havens.

You can check out the links below to get an idea for your own workspace guest post.

February 22, 2012 – My Own Workspace

February 29, 2012 – Lydia Kang

March 7, 2012 – Robyn Campbell

March 14, 2012 – Theresa Milstein

March 21, 2012 – Heather Day Gilbert

March 28, 2012 – Medeia Sharif

April 4, 2012 – Deniz Bevan

April 11, 2012 – J.L. Campbell

April 18, 2012 – Pam Torres

April 25, 2012 – Veronica Truesdale

May 9, 2012 – Golden Eagle

May 16, 2012 – M.J. Fifield

May 30, 2012 – C. Lee McKenzie

June 6, 2012 – Stephanie Dreyer

June 13, 2012 – H.R. Sinclair

June 20, 2012 – Cynthia Willis

June 27, 2012 – Kelly Polark

July 4, 2012 – Bish Denham

July 18, 2012 – Misha Gericke

July 25, 2012 – Sharon Mayhew

August 1, 2012 – Ann Ormond Fennell

August 15, 2012 – Sharon Hamilton

August 22, 2012 – Melissa Bradley

August 29, 2012 – M. Pax

September 5, 2012 – Akoss

September 19, 2012 – Alana Garrigues

September 26, 2012 – Julie Flanders

October 10, 2012 – Susan Gourley

October 17, 2012 – Annalisa Crawford

October 24, 2012 – Donna Martin

November 14, 2012 – Karen Strong

November 21, 2012 – Mark Koopmans

November 28, 2012 – Miranda Hardy


I’m looking forward to making more bloggy friends this year and learning more about writing through the tips they’ll share in the Wednesday Writers Workspace Series.

Inspired to share your workspace yet? Drop me a line and I’ll be sure to email you more details. :)

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