2 Weeks in Japan: Early Spring

This is a summary of my first ever trip to Japan. I travelled in the first 2 weeks of Spring 2018, so it was cool and cherry blossoms were around, but not yet in full bloom.

The itinerary involved a fair bit of cross-country travel but was also quite relaxed, sampling a little of every place and avoiding more active pursuits such as hikes.

See also: Japan Shopping Haul

Tokyo: 4 nights
Hiroshima: 2 nights
Miyajima: 2 nights
Kyoto: 3 nights
Takayama: 2 nights
Tokyo: 1 night

Key purchases: Local SIM, Japan Rail Pass.
Very useful: Hyperdia search tool, Google Maps, Google Translate for images, GuruNavi app, Japan Travel app


Getting started
Tokyo is of course a must-see. There are many districts catering to many tastes. Metro train travel is fairly straightforward, thanks to Google Maps’ handy public transportation feature. At Haneda airport, I bought a local SIM, which for 5BG and one month validity cost more than 5,000 JPY. That’s pretty expensive, so I’d recommend shopping around.

I also purchased my Pasmo card at the airport, which is for all metro trains in Japan. I loaded 10,000 JPY, and that was enough for me.

For those with JR passes, it’s quite easy to validate your pass and begin reserving bullet train seats. However, not every JR ticket office can process JR passes for the first time. Refer to your JR pass brochure for the exact locations. There is usually only one office in most major cities.

What I did
– Visit an Owl Cafe in Asakusa (featuring more than just owls – there was a capybara, fennec foxes, flamingoes, a cockatoo, a duck, and a monkey!)

– See the Sensō-Ji Temple

– Eat amazing ramen at Fuji Ramen in Asakusa

– Visit Ueno Park, which has a few museums too

– Check out the tech stores in Akihabara

– See the iconic Shibuya Crossing

– Visit Imperial Palace

– Shop at Daimaru and visit their food hall

– Go to a hedgehog cafe in Harajuku! So kawaii!!!

– Walk through the shopping streets of Ginza

– Have a lovely tempura banquet at Hakata tempura Takao Minami Aoyama

Also worth checking out: Skytree, a tower with viewing deck.


For all its renown, Hiroshima is a city of just 1 million. It’s pleasant with plenty of open spaces and a pretty river. Visiting the Peace Memorial Museum was a powerful, moving experience. There are shrines up in the hills which people can walk up to, but I chose to take one of three city bus tour routes (free with a JR pass). Try the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, which is less pancakey and more like a pressed loaded noodle heap.


aka Deer Island! There are approximately 2,000 wild but placid deer roaming free. They can be friendly, but also very cheeky! Keep important papers carefully concealed, as the deer like chewing on paper and any other snacks they can find. To get here from Hiroshima, you need to take a half-hour metro train ride to Miyajimaguchi station, walk to the port and take the JR ferry, which is a pretty short ride (less than 30 mins).

I visited the aquarium and then spent the rest of my time at the ryokan I booked about a 20 minute walk away from the town centre, as breakfast and dinner was included. Again, there are scenic shrine walks with lovely views of the mainland. You also can’t miss the Floating Torii on the ferry over.


I wanted to check out Himeji castle on the way from Hiroshima to Kyoto, but it seemed a little too ambitious as a day trip. The train doesn’t stop for long at the smaller stations, and lugging my suitcase on and off the train a total of four times didn’t appeal. Perhaps for backpackers, this won’t be so much of an issue. Urban Kyoto was not particularly remarkable, in my opinion. The main drawcard was the Fushimi Inari, which was swarming with tourists. Nijō Castle was another place of interest. Curry was the dish of this city for me.


Onward to the alpine town of Takayama. I took the bullet train from Kyoto to Nagoya, then switched to a slow train. This 2-hour ride was a highlight of my trip. The train line runs along the mineral-rich Nagara River, with views to behold. Imagine brilliant teal water, sometimes rushing through dam openings, other times glassy and reflecting houses and mountains above. Spring comes late to Takayama, so there were still snow-capped mountains providing wonderful views.

I stayed at Takayama Ouan, which has private onsens on the top floor overlooking the town and mountains beyond. Another highlight of the trip!

Overall, my trip was a relaxing amble through the major attractions of Japan. There is of course more exploring to do. For my next Japan trip, a journey to Hokkaido would definitely be on the list.

Tas xo

Starting a Startup with the Plato Project

As part of my mission for personal growth through acquisition and sharing of knowledge, the increasingly popular social entrepreneurship movement appeals to me.

My health care background also fuels my interest in sustainable and empathetic innovation. In fact, my desire to effect change through consumer involvement and facilitation has informed other professional interests of mine, including health informatics and user experience design.

Social entrepreneurship appeals to the altruistic part of me that doesn’t feel the need for voluntourism to appease. I believe in empowerment – that is, helping people to help themselves. But I also want to give back to my local community before seeking to change the world. You know, baby steps 😉

I first found out about the Plato Project through a sponsored ad on my Facebook news feed. I always keep an eye out for interesting business articles, and Plato’s ad drew my attention and prompted me to quickly scan the landing page. The opportunity to develop an idea for a startup with a short course, delivered under a school of thought focused on mindset and purpose, was novel and in line with my own style of thinking and working. The Plato Project is focused on helping entrepreneurs develop purposeful business in a way that is meaningful to each creator.

I took the plunge and signed myself up. I already had an idea brewing in the back of my mind for a couple of years, so now was as good a time as any to develop it into a tangible business plan, which is the end product at the end of the course.

Sessions were held on Saturdays at the very swish Edgelabs space in Fitzroy, Melbourne. The environment did wonders for my creativity and productivity!


Our facilitator was Ben Roulston, an experienced entrepreneur and enthusiastic teacher. Multifaceted educational tools and resources were provided, including:

  • Self-directed learning through Plato Project’s online learning portal
  • Templates for each activity that would fit neatly into the final business plan
  • Group discussion and idea sharing
  • Interactive tutorials
  • Facilitated free time to work on activities
  • Insightful guest speakers
  • One-on-one phone meetings with Ben to discuss individual progress and obtain personalised feedback


Each and every 6-hour day would be over before I knew it. Time flies when you’re having fun, becoming inspired and learning heaps!

My time with the Plato Project gave me the opportunity to introduce myself to like-minded entrepreneurs – not only my classmates, but entire networks dedicated to value-driven global citizenship. During my time as a class participant, I was able to arrange meetings with two guest speakers and gain valuable insight and advice about my business, while offering ideas of my own. It’s the empathetic exchange of ideas and stories that makes the Plato experience so positive.

You can learn more about the Plato Project here, and find me on Linkedin if you’d like more info on my activities.

Tas xo

On Nature

I’m at peace when there are few humans around me. When I’m experiencing the sheer beauty and vastness of the scene before me and it’s just me and the world – a silent yet devastatingly expressive entity. I revel in my existence and my freedom, and feel truly, deeply grateful for being there to witness such a moment.


Review: Elyros Restaurant, Melbourne


Cretan Cuisine in Camberwell

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of catching up with one of my colleagues, the lovely G, at Elyros Restaurant and Wine Bar.

It’s refreshing to come across a restaurant serving niche dishes from the Mediterranean island of Crete. Cretan cuisine is seasonal, and remains true to its natural sources.

Our bread basket featured a variety of savoury and sweet breads, complete with a healthy dose of olives, olive oil, creamy yoghurt and chunky dip featuring a hint of chilli and capsicum.

The wine list is extensive, organised by country or region, and comes complete with maps.

Elyros has a $45 set lunch menu on Sundays from 12pm-3pm. It’s filling and hearty yet light at the same time. A lovely introduction to a quaint little island I’d love to visit someday!

xo Tasneem

Rediscovering Suminagashi Art


I recently rediscovered suminagashi, a Japanese paper marbling art, after 20 years.

When I was around ten years old, we had a suminagashi activity in my classroom. I remember quite enjoying the process of playing with dyes, swirling them around in water, and capturing a cool snapshot of that movement.

I made a couple of creations, and took them home at the end of the day. I tucked them somewhere in the back of a folder…and there they stayed – for two decades.

Until I found them recently, still in great condition! I marvelled at how pretty they were. I decided to frame them both, and now they hang in my apartment as wonderfully modern art pieces that I created as a child!

I’ve decided to revisit suminagashi, and rekindle that creative spark!

I purchased this marbling kit, which I will experiment with in the coming weeks. So watch this space!


Tas xo

On Unconscious Bias

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You know, it’s funny. Sometimes, it takes days, weeks, months or even years to reflect on things that have happened to you and decide whether those experiences were good or not. Nearly three months after the event, I find myself offended and saddened by something I ignored at the time. I was on a cruise, about to begin an afternoon of kayaking in New Caledonia. The French kayak company owner tried to start a conversation with me by asking what I thought was “Are you on the cruise?”

He had a rather thick accent and didn’t fully grasp English vocabulary, so I paused before answering, thinking of other possible words of similar phonetics that would apply in this context. I couldn’t come up with any, so I said “Yes”. 

Then later when we had a break, we had another short exchange, and that’s when realisation dawned. He had actually asked me if I was on the *crew*. The ship crew. I didn’t hear him ask anyone else the same question. I was dressed in casual clothes, like everyone else. What was it that made him assume? What was it about my appearance that made me different? Well, I was the only person of colour on the tour. Is that what it was all about? Or am I reading into this too much?

I thought about it some more after learning about these brilliant online tests for unconscious bias and realised that we all have them, and some are more conscious than unconscious! I must say that it’s a sad reflection of the world economy and order that none of the wait staff I encountered on board were Caucasian and yet all of the ship’s entertainment team was, with the exception of one possibly Hispanic dancer (an assumption of my own). My point is this: it’s not enough to admit we have unconscious biases. We have to ask ourselves – why? And what next? Because if we don’t answer these questions, nothing will ever change. And I will never realise my dream of becoming a cruise entertainer!