kate rowland

4 Days in Kyushu - Mount Aso

JapanKate Rowland1 Comment

My sadness at leaving the beautiful town of Takachiho (see previous post) was short lived, because... the landscapes! I was unhappy driving at this point, because rather than just gazing out of the window, I instead had to concentrate on the twisty mountain road that led north into my third prefecture, Kumamoto. I was headed to Aso-Kuji National Park, with no real plan but my heavily-starred google maps app. 

My first stop was Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine. The stone steps lead up a hill into a pine forest directly from a main road, and don't look like anything special as you drive past. But keep  walking up and up the steps (it's quite a way!) and you'll reach a lovely shrine for a quick break.


My uphill journey wasn't over though! The best bit is past the shrine, up a steeper hill, for which they thoughtfully provide bamboo walking sticks. I was considerably sweaty at this point, in the 35 degree midday heat. Thankfully the forest provides enough shade that I wasn't a complete puddle.

Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine

A cave! you can look directly through into the valley on the other side. It's truly beautiful. I had no idea this was here, but it was an ample reward for all the climbing. The place was peaceful and so quiet too, I passed only a couple of walkers on my way up, including this guy in the red t-shirt, usefully placed for scale!

Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine

After a convenience store stop to top up on water and ice, I made my way to Shirakawa Fountainhead. I didn't really know if it'd be worth a stop, I'd just read a few mixed reviews on google. But it was directly on my way to Mount Aso, and I had plenty of time! It was so tricky to get to, with roads only just wide enough for a car weaving underneath each other through farmland. It was so worth the effort though. It's a fresh water spring that bubbles up from the ground into a beautiful clear pond. You can fill up your bottles using special copper pans, and theres a separate stream that you can paddle in. I can't emphasise how truly delightful this was in the summer heat!

Shirakawa Fountainhead

(Side note: There was also a sign that read that Shirakawa Fountainhead was 'one of the top 100 water sources in Japan', which is a hilarious non-brag. So Japanese.)

My next stop was Mount Aso! I was crossing all my fingers that I would stay lucky with the weather, as I'd heard that it was often impossible to see anything at the top. After another incredible, winding road and my ears popping approximately 949 times, I reached the Aso ropeway station. I had planned on parking here, and getting the ropeway to the crater. But that plan had a flaw, as it seemed that the ropeway station had been in absolute ruins for about 20 years. There were huge chunks missing from the walls and roof. Spooky. The fact that this is a very active volcano was scarily obvious. You can drive to the top on a toll road, and when you pay, you get a leaflet of health warnings as well as a ticket.

Mount Aso

The crater! I will emphasise here that it was SO HARD to breathe. I am relatively fit and healthy with no breathing problems, and I found myself feeling short of breath and a bit dizzy too. There are warnings being constantly read out in Japanese, English and Chinese from a tannoy, as well as signs EVERYWHERE warning you of the health implications. In my twisted mind this only made it more intriguing. The sulphur lake at the bottom of the crater was turquoise blue, steaming up the sides of the mountain into the air. So beautiful. It felt like the surface of another planet. Despite the obvious health implications of spending a lot of time in a place like this, there were old men running stalls selling sulphur samples and volcanic rocks. I don't envy their lungs.

Emergency reinforced concrete shelters that have, worryingly, received a lot of damage.

Emergency reinforced concrete shelters that have, worryingly, received a lot of damage.

Inside each shelter was a box of helmets and a broom. You can escape, if you're a witch.

Inside each shelter was a box of helmets and a broom. You can escape, if you're a witch.

After about 20 minutes at the crater, I was at the furthest point from the car park that you could walk to. I then heard the continuous tannoy announcements change tone. There was an alarm, and then some different Japanese. It sounded important. Then the English warning played.


The red light on the danger scale was flashing and workers were escorting tourists back to their cars. I had to RUN back as I was so far around from my car! Also running was an enormous effort because the air was so sulphurous. I think the volcanoes of Kyushu have it in for me!

Mount Aso.jpg

Thankfully I made it back down to safety, and felt really lucky that I had been able to see the crater at all. As we were all being evacuated, buses of tourists were arriving who then had to turn around immediately.

Next stop: Kurokawa Onsen town! I needed a good bath after all this hiking and being exposed to volcanic gases...

Have you visited Kumamoto or Mount Aso? Or do you have any questions about my trip? Please let me know in the comments!

Kate x

Japanese Art Supplies!

JapanKate RowlandComment


Japan is famously a stationary hoarders heaven, but as well as kawaii paper tape and colourful erasers, you can also buy incredible, high quality art supplies. It's easy to get carried away because there is so much choice. Rather than shops stocking a couple of brands, Japanese stores sell a huge range. I'll definitely miss the choice on offer when I return home. Now that I've been here for six months, I've had a chance to test out lots of different materials, and there are a few that I'm going to be stockpiling before I return to the UK! 

  • Gekkoso sketchbooks

Sold only in the Gekkoso store in Ginza, these Japanese made, spiral-bound sketchbooks come in a range of colours, sizes and paper types. My favourite is the hot pressed watercolour paper, it's beautiful to work on in pencil, watercolour, ink and gouache. I really love the formats of the sketchbooks too, they're slightly squarer than standard A sizes. And they're so cheap! They also sell their own paints which I want to try out. Bring your own bag because they don't have plastic ones (horray!).

From 260 yen. Gekkoso, Ginza.

  • Kuratake Gansai Tambe watercolour pans 

I've been using these paints for years, the large pans are lovely for washes and the colour range is extensive. I'd only ever bought them online in sets in the UK, so to be able to go and pick up the odd pans I need in a shop is brilliant, not to mention they're cheaper. They come packaged in cardboard sleeves too, such a treat in Japan, land of plastic wrapping! Visit Sekaido in Shinjuku or Tokyo Hands for the best selection.

  • Pentel brush pen

I tried out a good few brands of brush pen before I found this one, in my opinion the best! It's waterproof, so you can add layers of watercolour over the top. The brush nib is beautifully fine, and it's great for large areas of black too. It's a good size, unlike some larger brush pens here, and the refills are pretty cheap. 

1000 yen. Sekaido, Shinjuku.

  • Mitsubishi red/blue coloured pencils

Before coming to Japan, I'd never invested much time in coloured pencils. However, I am fully on board with these double ended draughtsman's tools. They're great for city sketches and changing up from the usual grey tones. Mitsubishi make a large selection of varying quality that I've been trying out since, I'm a convert! 

  • Gekkoso 8B pencil

Another Gekkoso purchase, this fat 8B sketching pencil. There's not that much to say about a pencil. It feels nice to hold, and the lead is excellent quality.

  • Holbein Watercolour Tubes

More watercolours! I've never used tube watercolour before, so I thought I'd start with three colours used in traditional Japanese ukiyo-e (woodblock printing) - prussian blue, carmine and a deep sap green. The colour is very rich and pigmented and they are lovely to paint with.

From 200 - 600 yen. Itoya, Ginza.

  • Super Gold High Class Eraser!

Okay, so this was an extravagance. I haven't even used it yet. But who could resist this little posh eraser in it's own box?! Not me!

500 yen. Tsutaya Bookstore, Daikanyama.

Do you have any favourite art materials I've missed out? Let me know in the comments, I'm always looking for quality recommendations!

Kate x

4 Days in Kyushu - Takachiho

JapanKate RowlandComment

After an eventful first day in Kagoshima, the first stop on my Kyushu trip, I was keen to make my way out of the dusty city and see some mountains! I picked up my rental car in the morning, a process that was surprisingly easy considering the language barrier. I found a rental company through Kayak, and it was pretty cheap, just £120 for three days. Fuel is cheap in Japan (well, cheaper than the UK) but it's worth considering the cost of the toll roads, too. But having a car gives you the luxury of deciding a schedule, and cramming as much as possible into a short trip! Plus, I like driving, it's much more fun than sitting on a bus. After 30 minutes spent trying to work the Japanese satnav (tip - search for places by phone number, it's infinitely easier than trying to type an address), I was off! 

sakurajima 1.jpg

My first stop was a view point just around the bay from Kagoshima, Terayama Park. It had brilliant views over Kinko Bay and Sakurajima. The colour of the water below was an incredible turquoise blue, and on the horizon you could even spot Mount Kaimon, nicknamed the Fuji of the south! It was however, about 40 degrees and unbearable to stay for long. I wouldn't really advise travelling here in summer!

After a few hundred kilometres of highway and many a song sung at the top of my voice, I arrived in Takachiho town. I was here for the gorge. The weather was perfect, and it seemed unexpectedly quiet. This was a major tourist spot, and I'd heard the queues to hire a little boat and row down the gorge were often longer than two hours. I was so lucky! Alas. The boat hire was shut, due to the rainstorms the previous week causing the water levels to rise. I was upset, as this had been high on my list of things to do! It's hard to be upset for long in such gorgeous surroundings, though.

takachiho gorge

After wandering around for a couple of hours, I was thankful for the boat hire being shut. The water in the gorge was calm and blue, with no annoying, selfie taking boaters to ruin the view. It was so peaceful. Sun shone through the waterfalls cascading off of the gorges lush green walls, creating little rainbows. I'd seen this place a lot in photographs, and it does not disappoint. Honestly, it looks as heavenly as you'd imagine. It's a must see!

Takachiho Gorge.jpg

My accommodation that night was a guesthouse in Takachiho town, found through Air bnb. It was a cosy little house with a clean, modern tatami room and futon. If you've never stayed on a futon before, you should try it. I find them so comfortable, and I also love the straw smell of a tatami room! After a very well needed shower, I headed off to Takachiho shrine, at the recommendation of the guesthouse owner. Every night at 8pm they perform a traditional folk dance, and apparently it is not to be missed.

The dance was wonderful! There were four dances, performed in costume and masks, accompanied by some questionable flute playing from an old monk. Each story was full of feeling, and funny! I really would recommend it. The entrance ticket of 700 yen came with an explanation sheet in English.

Masks of characters from the traditional folk dance at Takachiho shrine.

Masks of characters from the traditional folk dance at Takachiho shrine.

Happy and sleepy, I wandered back through the town to an izakaya I had been told was excellent. As I sat down at the bar, a couple were coming in and asked if I was alone. I said yes, and they promptly asked if they could sit with me. What proceeded was one of my absolute favourite evenings in Japan! It's amazing how many language barriers can be hurdled by alcohol. They were locals, and were obviously so proud of their town. It was heartwarming how much kindness they showed me, and how welcome I felt. The izakaya owner was also brilliant, and kept popping back in different fancy dress and face paint. They could have served me the worst food on earth and I wouldn't have cared (but it was good!). At the end of a much later night than planned, with many photos taken and drinks consumed, and after my new friends flat out refused to let me pay, I made it back to my bed feeling like the luckiest person. It's moments like this that I hope I never forget.

My new friends! The pirate costume is inexplicable.

My new friends! The pirate costume is inexplicable.

At 4am my alarm went off, as I'd made the questionable decision to get up, drive 20 minutes into the hills and watch the sunrise over the mountains. It was worth it. The morning sun cast an oddly purple glow over a sea of clouds between the mountains. I then promptly went back and slept for another 3 hours!

Mountain Sunrise

After expressing my sadness that the boat hire in Takachiho gorge was shut, the izakaya owner from the previous night mentioned that if it was also closed the following day, I should instead pay a visit to a small sightseeing railway, Amaterasu, where he happened to be a driver! So, as the boats were still off limits, I headed to the railway in the morning. It was so much fun! The train is a single carriage, open topped with a glass bottom. It takes you on a picturesque journey through tunnels, over the town, and finally onto a large bridge that straddles the gorge. It's high, and the views were wonderful. For some reason they thought that the scenery required the addition of bubbles, with one of the drivers doubling as a professional bubble blower. Why not?

The views over Takachiho Gorge from Amaterasu Railway

The views over Takachiho Gorge from Amaterasu Railway

The open top train!

The open top train!

On return, I met the izakaya owner/train driver, who was very happy, and bought me an ice cream. Honestly, the people of Takachiho are THE BEST. The friendliest in Japan! It was with great reluctance that I had to leave for the next stop on my trip.

My costume loving izakaya owner / train driver friend!

My costume loving izakaya owner / train driver friend!

My next stop was Mount Aso, another active volcano.... to be continued!

Kate x

4 Days in Kyushu - Sakurajima

JapanKate RowlandComment

Kyushu is the most southwesterly of Japan's main islands, and has been high up on my list of places to visit, mostly for the following; volcanoes, hot springs and breathtaking scenery. I'd booked some super cheap flights from Tokyo to Kagoshima, a subtropical city that resides vulnerably next to a very active volcano, Sakurajima. One of my bucket list wishes is to see lava (from a safe distance...) and although the chances of that in Japan are thankfully low, I couldn't miss the chance to see an active volcano!


Initially, my plan had been to visit Yakushima, a small circular island off the coast of Kagoshima, famous for it's ancient cedar forests. But, in the weeks before I left, extremely high levels of rain struck the southwesterly parts of Japan, causing devastating floods and landslides. There were weather warnings for high waves around Yakushima, and I decided it was best to stay on the main island. My plan was to pick up a rental car in Kagoshima, drive up to Takachiho and then on to Aso-Kuju National Park.


On arrival in Kagoshima, I caught a bus from the airport straight to the ferry port, and took the 15 minute ferry over to Sakurajima. I'd read beforehand that it's often clouded over, even on clear days, making it impossible to see the top. But I was lucky, and there sat the volcano in full view. It's intimidating! After leaving my backpack in a coin locker (one of the many useful things about Japan!) I walked around to the visitor centre to wait for the island bus. It was HOT. The air conditioned bus was a dream as it took me up the winding roads, stopping briefly at points of interest for passengers to hop off, have a look around, and hop back on. The main destination was Yunohira observatory, the highest accessible point on the volcano, where you can see the smoking volcano as close as possible. The roads, cars and trees were covered in ash. It's humid, but the air feels dry, and your skin dusty. It's amazing, but I regretted wearing white converse.

Sweaty and ashy but happy! You can see the ash coming out of the volcano on the right hand side.

Sweaty and ashy but happy! You can see the ash coming out of the volcano on the right hand side.

After returning to the ferry port area, I walked around to the Sakurajima Nature Dinosaur Park, a place I'd read about in a little guide on the ferry. I didn't really know what it was, but dinosaurs? Sold. After an incredibly sweaty hike up a steep, steep road, I turned a corner and was face to face with a T-Rex. There are 10 or so dinosaur models, some of which have slides emerging from their bums, or tunnels carved through their torsos. All in view of an active volcano. The whole place has seen better days, but even so... what sort of kid wouldn't approve?!


I headed back to the ferry port, ready for my return trip to Kagoshima city. There is so much more to see on Sakurajima, but I didn't have much time. I would recommend hiring a car and bringing it over on the ferry. It's not expensive to do so, and it means you can explore the island easily. I had really wanted to soak my feet in the free 100m long footbath that overlooks Kinko Bay, but it was 35 degrees outside, and immersing any part of my body in hot water seemed nightmarish.

Views over the turquoise Kinko Bay.

Views over the turquoise Kinko Bay.

It was on the return ferry that the most exciting thing happened. THE VOLCANO ERUPTED.


I sat next to an equally horrified Australian woman and looked out at the enormous mushroom cloud of grey ash ballooning into the sky. There was no noise, and somehow that made it scary. No one else on the boat seemed worried though, which was comforting. The ferry reached the dock and I walked out along the waterfront, keeping an eye on the ash cloud. It had been caught in the wind now, and was heading toward the city.

I was lucky I had an umbrella, as it had just started to rain.



Like filthy snow, everything was covered in grey, gritty, powdery dust. It was in my eyes and ears and stuck to my skin. Cars drove past with their windscreen wipers on, tyres flinging ash clouds out behind. My converse were now fully grey as I shuffled blindly to the hostel, thankfully close to the ferry port. It was one of the most incredible afternoons I've ever had!

The ash cloud spreading over Kagoshima.

The ash cloud spreading over Kagoshima.

The next morning I awoke at a ridiculous hour, maybe to do with the hostel bunk beds shaking as lorries drove past along the main road outside. I looked out and could see the sun rising over Sakurajima. All the ash had settled and the sky was clear and golden, so beautiful.

An incredible view of Sakurajima across Kinko Bay from Terayama Park, north of Kagoshima.

An incredible view of Sakurajima across Kinko Bay from Terayama Park, north of Kagoshima.

To be continued... !

Kate x

How to Onsen in Japan!

JapanKate Rowland4 Comments

Hot spring bathing is one thing you're always advised not to miss in Japan, and I agree! It's an ancient tradition that's still an incredibly popular part of life here. I've found that Japanese people are always curious to find out if you enjoy it as much as they do.

Onsen Kate Rowland.jpg

There are many types of onsen to choose from. If you want to treat yo' self, stay in a ryokan (hot spring inn) for a wonderful private bathing experience, usually with meals included. There are also many day-only options, where the price can be as little as 500 yen. I'd recommend looking for facilities with a rotemburo, an outdoor bath. There is nothing like bathing naked outside, especially in winter when the cold air (and snow) is a refreshing relief from the scalding hot water. The water varies from place to place too, with baths containing different minerals, variations in temperature, cloudiness, and amount of sulphur. It's good to find one with multiple baths so that you can try them all!

Okay, first up.

  • If you have tattoos, do your research! Tattoos are not allowed in most onsen due to their organised crime associations. I find that Google reviews are a good place to check. I always cover my tattoo with muscle support tape anyway, and I've gotten away with it if the baths are quiet. Otherwise, you'll have to opt for a private bath option.
  • You have to be naked! Don't think you'll get away with a swimming costume. 
  • Don't take photos. Obviously. People are naked. So as beautiful as it is, you should not instagram it.
Onsen kate rowland 2.jpg

My first Japanese bathing experience was in probably the smallest, busiest sento (public bath) in Tokyo that our entire running club visits post-track session. It was June, the humidity levels were through the roof, I'd just run intervals for an hour and I was SO ANXIOUS. And sweaty. Oh so sweaty. I was stressing about doing everything wrong. Luckily I bluffed my way through and, to my knowledge, didn't offend anyone. 

Follow a few basic guidelines and you'll have a stress-free, relaxing onsen experience! Usually, baths will have posters with images to remind you of the dos and don'ts. 

  • Take off your shoes before you enter the changing rooms! The baths are gender separated - if you aren't sure which is which, wait until someone enters or leaves.
  • There are usually baskets or lockers to leave your belongings and clothes in.
  • Take a small towel or flannel into the baths, as well as a band to keep your hair out of the water, and shampoo etc if you don't want to use the basic ones provided.
  • Wash first! Take a tiny, tiny stool that seems to have been made for a child, and use the shower head or bowl to wash your body and hair. Don't forget to rinse the stool afterwards for the next bum!
  • Put your towel on your head, or leave it out of the way on the side, and enter the water S L O W L Y ! If there are multiple baths, pick the coolest first! Sit on the side first and gradually lower yourself in.
  • I can only stay submerged for a few minutes before I start to feel dizzy. Make sure to bring some fresh water in case you feel dehydrated, which will almost certainly happen. It's perfectly acceptable to sit with just your feet in the water, or to get out entirely for a few minutes. 
  • I've been told that you are not supposed to shower again or rinse after you've left the sulphuric bath, as it's beneficial for your skin. However. You will potentially smell of eggs. So it's up to you.
  • Dry yourself with your little towel as much as possible before going back into the changing room.

And you've onsen-ed! It truly is an enjoyable experience, and I'm surprised at how comfortable and happy I feel bathing naked. I like this quote from a book called Yudo: Art of the Bath;

"Scrubbed clean of daily life and soaking in the bath, ordinary social barriers break down, providing a chance to speak unusually openly and honestly with one another. In the bath, everyone is equal."

If I've missed anything, or if you'd like to share your own onsen experience, please leave a comment, I'd love to hear it! 

Kate x

onsen in japan kate rowland.jpg

9 Awesome Shops to Visit in Tokyo!

Japan, TravelKate RowlandComment

In Japan, shopping is a big deal. The sheer number and variety of shops in this consumer capital is, honestly, astounding. Often, I will mistakenly take the wrong exit from a familiar train station, and end up in a mall I had no idea existed. Just when I think I've got to grips with our local shopping street, I discover there are 5 more floors of shops in each building, not to mention 3 basement levels. At first it can seem overwhelming, so if you're visiting Tokyo and want to shop, it's a good idea to do some research first! I have by no means explored everything, but here is a list of my favourite shops in Tokyo so far...


1. Darwin Room

Shimo-kitazawa is a cool, relaxed neighbourhood in Tokyo, and has many independent shops. The plant-covered Darwin Room is intriguing both inside and out. Part shop and part museum, this tiny space is a natural historians dream, stuffed full of fascinating objects, books and exhibits. They even have a few seats, where you can relax with a coffee and admire the surroundings.


2. New York Joe Exchange

Located at the other end of Shimo-kitazawa is New York Joe Exchange, a thrift store where you can buy, or sell, clothes. There's loads of reuse stores in this area, but this one is inside an old traditional sento (a Japanese bathhouse), complete with beautiful tiles, and is particularly cheap!


3. Sekaido

Shelves stacked high with pencils, in every colour you can imagine. Delightful rows of sketchbooks, in size order. Trays filled with a rainbow of watercolour pans and ink bottles. Things you never knew you needed, like pencil caps and beautiful, giant calligraphy brushes. I could spend hours and hours in this art supply store. There are many branches in Tokyo, but the Shinjuku branch is the biggest (and busiest!).


4. 100 Yen Shops

Everyone's heard of these pound/dollar store type shops, found all over Japan. Unlike a pound shop in the UK, however, 100 yen stores are filled with genuinely excellent products! Pretty ceramics, cute souvenirs, stationery, craft and beauty goods. I've bought loads of useful, (and not-so-useful) items for our apartment here. There are a few different chains, the most popular are Daiso and Seria.


5. Tokyu Hands

Tokyu Hands and it's rival-corporation-owned equivalent, Loft, are 'creative life stores'. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but they sell cool stuff! The stationary floor is famous, but my favourite department is the DIY/craft floor, with it's huge range of raw materials, tools and supplies. Last time I returned to the UK, I was accompanied by a suitcase filled with exotic wood, glossy acrylic and sheets of copper...


6. Don Quijote

Often known as Donki, this discount shop is... an assault. Noisy, hot, busy, and cramped; if you feel claustrophobic, it's not for you. However it sells some of the most confusing, hilarious items you'll ever see. Christmas tree shaped gimp mask? Check. Powder to turn your bath into jelly? Check. As well as hilarious tat, they also stock genuinely good things, like cheap Kodak Instax film in a range of colours, a million flavours of Kit Kats, and extensive amounts of Gudetama merch. Oh, and some are open until 5am, if not 24 hours. Drunken, post-karaoke shopping spree, you say?


7. Mount Zine

Inside an unassuming, traditional wooden Japanese shop in Meguro is Mount, a zine library, shop and art gallery. Twice a year they have an open call for makers and artists to submit their zines, and everything is for sale. Go along, buy some super zines and get inspired to make your own!


8. Pass The Baton

In a basement on the busy Omotesando shopping street is Pass The Baton, a reuse shop with a twist. Alongside every pre-owned item for sale is a tag, with a story or a little about it's former owner. Apparently there are items owned by famous people, if you know enough about Japanese popular culture to appreciate that! There are some really interesting antiques, jewellery, clothes and even some up-cycled and handmade items. Worth a browse for unique souvenirs! 


9. Mooosh Squishy Shop

When visiting Harajuku, make sure to step off of Takeshita Street and visit Mooosh, a shop selling squishy things. Yep, a shop filled with soft, squishy, scented characters and floppy fake bread and fruit! They also have a ball pit like area, filled with squishy strawberries, perfect for taking some cute photos.


Do you have any favourite shops in Japan, or are there any that are on your wish list to visit? Please let me know! 

Pin it for later!


Weekly Sketchbook: Shibuya Scramble Crossing

Japan, Weekly SketchbookKate RowlandComment

I met a friend at the most popular meeting spot in Tokyo yesterday; the statue of the loyal doggo, Hachiko. Being uncharacteristically early, I found a seat out of the rain in the Starbucks that overlooks the scramble crossing and did some drawing. Tokyo in the rain is beautiful - unlike London, which is just kind of grey, all the time, the night sky here still looked blue, and the reflections of all the adverts, neon signs and shop fronts in the surface water were spectacular.

shibuya crossing
shibuya drawing sketch
shibuya travellers notebook sketchbook.jpg

Materials used: Holbein Special Black drawing ink, Kuratake Gansai Tambe watercolours.

Weekly Sketchbook: Too Much Ramen

Japan, Weekly SketchbookKate RowlandComment

Tony has a favourite ramen place already, a tiny restaurant which he often visits, choosing from the menu and paying through the vending machine at the entrance. While I love ramen, and agree that this particular place serves wonderful bowls of hot, fresh noodly heaven, I can never finish the whole thing off. Two Japanese people will have come in, ordered, finished off their ramen (plus rice and gyoza), and I'll still be struggling through mine. I am terrified of offending the owners, and also irritated for wasting good food. Perhaps I should starve myself all day next time, in preparation.

ramen watercolour.JPG
tokyo sketchbook.JPG
shinjuku sketch.JPG
japanese houses sketch.JPG

Weekly Sketchbook: I've moved to Japan!

Japan, Weekly SketchbookKate Rowland1 Comment

A week ago, I packed up my bags and moved to Japan to live with my boyfriend in Tokyo. He's been out here for six months working for a Japanese company, and it is so good to see him! 

I am going to be working freelance while I am here, on my shop as usual, but also expanding my illustration portfolio and improving my creative practice. I will be doing a Weekly Sketchbook blog feature every Friday to motivate me to draw and record my experience in this crazy country. And also because peeping inside someones sketchbook is like reading their diary, isn't it? Who doesn't want to do that!

When I first visited Tokyo, one of the first things that struck me was how busy the streets look. Everywhere, there are electrical cables and telephone wires connecting the buildings. I especially like this view when the sky is illuminated at dusk!

When I first visited Tokyo, one of the first things that struck me was how busy the streets look. Everywhere, there are electrical cables and telephone wires connecting the buildings. I especially like this view when the sky is illuminated at dusk!

Vending machines are everywhere. E V E R Y W H E R E. This is actually pretty useful when you're in a hurry, out for a run, or you just don't want to deal with anyone face to face! You can get hot coffee in a can from some machines too.

Vending machines are everywhere. E V E R Y W H E R E. This is actually pretty useful when you're in a hurry, out for a run, or you just don't want to deal with anyone face to face! You can get hot coffee in a can from some machines too.

I met a lady with FIVE shiba inu on Wednesday in the park. They were all sitting so nicely, impeccably behaved, overwhelmingly cute and now, of course, I want one. Or five.

I met a lady with FIVE shiba inu on Wednesday in the park. They were all sitting so nicely, impeccably behaved, overwhelmingly cute and now, of course, I want one. Or five.

These were all painted using White Knight watercolours and my Kuratake Gansai Tambe set, on Sirius Drawing Book heavyweight paper. There is a lot of stationary and art supplies shops here in Japan so I will be sure to do a post on that soon!

That's it! Have you been to Japan? Do you have any good tips on living here, or places to see? I am in the process of constructing a bucket list, please help me add to it! 



Aeroplane Factory; A Designing & Making Process

Making & ManufactureKate RowlandComment

Earlier this year I was commissioned by the V&A to design a piece of jewellery to go alongside their upcoming exhibition, Plywood: Material of the Modern World. The design was to be based on an exhibit, a plywood aeroplane built in 1912 called the Deperdussin Monocoque. It was a revolutionary plane, breaking the aircraft speed record thanks to the lightweight, strong plywood fuselage. Also, it looks super cute, like a toy!

I thought I'd share my design process for the brooch, now available in the V&A shop, as it was quite a journey, experimenting with a few new materials and techniques.

I started out with some rough sketches of the plane. I always start with a pencil, it helps me work through and make sense of the things floating around my head! I quickly realised that the design was going to be pretty fragile, especially the wings and propeller. 

Designing this piece, I really wanted to show off the plywood and make the material a focal point. Instead of simply engraving the design into a flat piece of wood, layering up super thin layers of ply would show depth, strengthen the design and add visual interest. This is an ink drawing of one of the viewpoints we were most happy with. I just love the toy-like shape of the plane!

Here's an exploded view of how the plywood layering would work. I create all these vector files for laser cutting on Illustrator. The cloud is made from transparent blue acrylic, and will help support the thinner areas of wood, as well as creating that flying illusion! Now the samples are ready to be laser cut. I had to adjust the design many times during this process, as it was clear that some parts were too small or fragile. I made roughly 8 samples before a final design was realised.

Below are the stacks of different laser cut plywood parts for the final aeroplane design, after being stained and sanded. The smallest pieces are just 2mm wide!

kate rowland laser cut planes

Many hours later, there is a fleet of assembled aeroplane brooches, complete with blue acrylic clouds. The side view shows off the multiple layers of 3.2mm and 0.8mm plywood used. All the plywood I use is sustainably sourced, and is made of either poplar or birch.

kate rowland aeroplane brooch v&a
kate rowland aeroplane v&a
kate rowland aeroplane brooch

I hope this has been an interesting insight into how my work is designed and made! I'm always trying to develop my skills as well as the materials and processes I use to create new, exciting jewellery. This project was challenging, but I'm happy with the final piece, and I'm so excited to see it in the V&A!

The exhibition opens on 15th July, in the Porter Gallery, and it's totally FREE to enter! A must if you're into design, or just a complete nerd about all things wooden like me. The Deperdussin aeroplane brooch will be available to purchase from the V&A store when the exhibition opens.





Why buying my own laser cutter was the best decision ever

Making & ManufactureKate RowlandComment

Last December, after years of indecision, I placed a deposit on my very own laser. For four years I had been outsourcing my laser cutting, and while there were many benefits to this, the time had finally come for me to make the leap to owning my own. Here are a few reasons why it was a brilliant decision! 

My laser! She needs a name...

My laser! She needs a name...

1. Creative freedom 

When outsourcing, I was restricted with the experimentation of new ideas; it just wasn't cost effective to trial something out of curiosity without extensive consideration and design time. Now I can develop new, more complex designs using different materials, and if it doesn't work, it's only my time that's wasted. It allows me to make more mistakes and not feel set back.

2. Buying all the different materials 

It's opened up a whole new world of acrylic plastics, woods, plywood, metal... I've even had a go at engraving ceramic stoneware (it looked super cool - watch this space!) 

3. Speedy turnaround times

Having an in-house laser means I can cut and make orders super quickly. No anxiously waiting for the delivery man - hurrah!

4. Custom orders

Making one off pieces, custom designs and personalised jewellery is SO much easier. I've had the pleasure of making some brilliant, daft and downright crazy designs. My favourite has to be the brooch of a customers face - a gift for his girlfriend. Lucky girl!

5. Feeling more like a maker! 

It's so good to be fully involved in every aspect of making my jewellery. Although I've always designed, painted and assembled each piece myself, I've always felt like I was cheating a little sending it away to be cut elsewhere! 


So there it is! I'm super happy with my laser cutter, although it's definitely not been without its problems. The week it was delivered must have been the coldest all winter, and it reached -4 degrees overnight. The laser tube froze and cracked. I made the sensible decision to insulate the shed that weekend!

laser radiation

Would you like a custom or personalised piece of laser cut jewellery? Please get in touch! I would love to hear your ideas.


Japan Diary - Yokohama + Kamakura

JapanKate Rowland2 Comments

Konnichiwa! At the moment I am in Japan, spending a couple of weeks with my boyfriend Tony, who moved here in April. He's had a few days off work and we've been exploring Yokohama and Kamakura, about an hour outside Tokyo. It's an exhilarating, overwhelming country, and I'm not really sure where to start in describing it!

A Mt. Fuji themed miniature garden in Yokohama!

A Mt. Fuji themed miniature garden in Yokohama!

We visited Yokohama on Sunday, thinking it would be a good idea to go for a run, and then walk around Yamashita Park on the waterfront. It was almost 30 degrees, so the run was very hard work! We rewarded ourselves afterwards with some interesting food from a street food market, a kind of deep fried creamy crab paste with tomato sauce. Sounds weird. It was weird.


Throughout the Yokohama bay area at the moment is the Yokohama Garden Necklace, a festival of flowers and colour, and it is completely stunning. Blooms everywhere you look! It smells wonderful too.

On Monday we visited Kamakura, a former capital of Japan. In the 12th - 14th centuries it was the home to the Shogunate and the centre of political Japan. It's a complete contrast to the crowded, concrete jungle of Yokohama and Tokyo! There were trees, yay, and wooden buildings, wowee! We travelled there on the Enoshima Electric Railway, which may just be the cutest train I've ever seen.

enoshima electric railway
The entrance to Hase-dera Buddhist temple.

The entrance to Hase-dera Buddhist temple.

The giant Buddha at Kotoku-in

The giant Buddha at Kotoku-in

This buddha at Kotoku-in temple was cast in the 13th century (how!?), and has survived the building it was housed in, as well as numerous major earthquakes and tsunamis. It's an incredibly imposing statue, just imagine how impressive that would be in 1252! There are countless other temples in Kamakura city, and we'll definitely be making a return trip some time to see more.

Have you been to Yokohama or Kamakura, or anywhere else wonderful in Japan? If you have any travel tips, I'd love to hear them!

Kate x

It's happening again...

Jewellery, Shop, New InKate RowlandComment

The very first brooch I ever laser cut was a Twin Peaks themed pin for my super fan friend. In fact, it was the Diane brooch that's still for sale in my shop today! She got me hooked on the show and I'm so grateful - the Twin Peaks pins I made were an amazing starting point for my business, and they've been stocked in some super cool shops around the world, even in The Great Northern Hotel itself (real name Salish Lodge). 

Needless to say I'm SUPER excited for the return of Twin Peaks, which airs tonight! I've tracked down someone with Sky Atlantic to reord it for me, yipeeeeeee. I'll be watching with a big slice of cherry pie and a mug of coffee. Black of course. 


I've designed a collection of three brand new Twin Peaks brooches in time for the new series, as well as these super cute round glossy stickers, featuring original gouache artwork.  Each brooch features acrylic detail and hand painted details!


 Take a look at the shop now!

I'd love to hear what you think of the new show too - please get in touch in the comments or via social media!

Kate x