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Battle for Borscht

As well as inscribing amazing sites of historic, natural and cultural interest UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) also recognises ‘intangible cultural heritage‘ which the organisation describes as ‘the practices, expressions, knowledge and skills that communities, groups and sometimes individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage.’ And this can, of course, include food.

Ukraine is vying to declare borscht, the delicious, hearty soup which has beetroot as one of its primary ingredients, as a heritage designation for this country. This may cause some consternation with Ukraine’s neighbours, many of which, including notably Russia and Poland, where the soup is very popular indeed, who might want to claim borscht as their own.

There are many, many recipes for Borscht which include a number of variations on the ingredients, but Ukraine’s argument for UNESCO heritage status is that the preparation of this soup also involves many other cultural elements.

You can read about the bravura bid for borscht’s definitive distinction here.

Luggage Restrictions on the Shinkansen in Japan – And a Solution

From May 2020 the Tokkaido shinkansen (bullet trains) have introduced new rules regarding oversized luggage. You can find the details and FAQ here.

Actually, this is a good idea. The shinkansen is the most marvellous way to travel – it’s fast, efficient and great value if you have a Japan Rail Pass.

It’s also extremely comfortable, with plenty of legroom and reclining seats if those are your sort of thing (and they’re not too intrusive for the person sitting behind you).

However, on our most recent trip to Japan just a few months ago we noticed that a significant number of visitors had excessively large and bulky hard cases which were difficult to manoeuvre onto the train and took up a lot of space, making things cramped for other passengers. We always try to travel light – we pack just enough clothes and basic toiletries for the trip into soft luggage bags. We especially like the trundler style that have multiple handles or can convert into rucksacks just in case you encounter a lot of stairs. We find that these are by far the easiest to journey through the country, especially as so much of the travel is on public transport. And if there is anything you have forgotten to bring to Japan you will almost certainly be able to find it and buy it when you arrive. Uniqlo and Muji are brands which are well known worldwide, can be found in most Japanese cities, and they will most likely have sizes suitable for western people.

If you really can’t travel light there is a solution: the amazing takkyuubin. It’s a luggage forwarding service that will get your bags from one end of the country to the other overnight. It’s reasonably priced and highly efficient.  Although there are many companies, the most well known is Yamato Transport Co , characterised by its kuroneko – black cat – logo whereby a black cat is carrying a black kitten. If you’ve ever seen Studio Ghibli’s delightful anime Kiki’s Delivery Service, based on the book by Eiko Kadono, the Japanese title is Majo no Takkyuubin – Witch’s Delivery Service – and Kiki’s black cat Jiji is highly reminiscent of the Yamato cat.

We have used this service many times and it has always been exceptionally good. Every hotel or ryokan we have stayed at has been entirely helpful in arranging the transportation (Say, “Takkyuubin dekimasu ka?”) and the helpful staff will fill out the forms for the luggage destination in Japanese for you. (You can say, “Nihongo o kakemasen” – I can’t write Japanese). They will often telephone the destination hotel to check that it’s okay for them to receive your luggage and they will hold luggage for a few days if needed. You need to do a little preparation – it’s advisable to send bags the evening before you travel at the latest.

Then you can swan up to the railway station the following morning carrying just a day pack. You can buy a delicious bento (box lunch) at the station for a tasty treat as you travel,  possibly indulge in a cold beer or cup of sake too, and enjoy the shinkansen experience without struggling with heavy luggage or inconveniencing other people. When you arrive at your hotel your bags will be waiting for you and the rest of the day is yours to enjoy. Such a pleasurable way to travel.