Hello, I’m Holly

I am a freelance illustrator headed to Kyoto in October to learn Japanese.

  • Why Japan?

    Well… why not Japan?

    I’ve been wanting to go back since my last visit in April 2019. I had been dreaming of going for years, and when we arrived it soon became a place I knew I’d fall in love with. With everything that has happened over the last couple of years the inability to travel only made me want to go more.

    The more things start to fall into place for my upcoming trip, the more I find myself reflecting on my past one. The things we did, the places we saw, would it still be as much fun on my own?

    Josh and I went for 16 days, with a brief stop-over in Rome on the way there. There is a comfort to having someone with you at every step of a journey like that. Especially once you learn how not to step on each other’s toes and you look out for each other – able to notice the first signs of tiredness or hanger. You develop a rhythm that really allows your travels to turn into an adventure. To spur each other on to get up at the crack of dawn to go see the Fushimi Inari Shrine before it swarms with tourists. To build the confidence to try new foods and order off a menu with no English, only pictures.

    The more I recall, the more I wonder – will I still be as brave to try new things when I’m on my own? Will the company of strangers inspire just as much courage? How long will a 12-hour flight feel when you don’t know the person sitting next to you?

    But all these worries melt away in the face of one question – is that a reason not to go? Of course not.

    What I am hoping to do now (visa allowing) will be an entirely different experience – going for 4/5 weeks instead of 16 days. Those 16 days were spent on the move, continuously exploring, and starting in Tokyo – we had planned our own golden route.

    Most of my 4/5 weeks will be spent studying Japanese in Kyoto, and the last week will be a guided tour going Tokyo -> Nikko -> Kyoto. I have booked through Global Work & Travel, with a few things to iron out – flights should be confirmed within the next week and the visa process starts a little closer to my leaving date of October 1st.

    Follow along as I reminisce on my past trip, plan my upcoming one, find inspiration and make artwork along the way.

    Find me on Instagram @hollymrichards

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    Japan Influences in My Studio

    As a country that has long inspired me, as a person, not just an artist, it wouldn’t come as a surprise that there are signs of Japan all throughout my studio space.

    While it might be lacking in Art specifically from Japan, there are pieces inspired by Japan.

    Like this wonderful print of Shuri Castle’s Main Gate in Okinawa by StudioYoko alongside a collection of ‘visit Japan’ books. A Geek In Japan gives a fantastic overview of most aspects of Japan.

    And I have books on Japanese Art – Hiroshige, Hokusai, Japanese Art Close Up and Something Wicked From Japan – Ghosts, Demons & Yokai from Ukiyo-e Masterpieces. All alongside a wonderful No-Face figure from Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away.

    As well as books on Japanese folklore, yokai, and mythology. Notice the four books by Matthew Meyer who continues to write extensively on the subject of yokai in Japan. When I am short on inspiration I pick up one of these books to give that buzz I need. One of these days I will do my own exploration into the subject of yokai in my own art style.

    Kitsune Plush by Scandy_girl x Makeship

    These are just Japan-related books for art and inspiration – I also have a bunch of other books on Japan, by Japanese authors, about learning Japanese etc. but I’ll save Japan on My Bookshelf for its own post.

    I also have art supplies from Japan!

    These watercolours are fantastic to use, such a wonderful range of colours. Here’s a sneak peek of a work in progress made with them:

    I also have a selection of different brush pens, fine liners etc. The different qualities of lines you can get from the variety of different pens make them great tools for drawing. Even when they run low on ink they’re still fantastic for texture.

    I picked up this sketchbook from my previous trip to Japan and have yet to use it – are you ever unsure of starting a new sketchbook/notebook for fear of not creating something ‘worthy’ of it? I think I need to dive in and get over that fear of the blank page. I can always pick up a new one the next time I go!

    The circle on the front is ensō – a symbol that has great importance in Japanese Calligraphy and Zen Buddhism. According to the writing on the packaging:

    Enso – circle –

    The circle stands for the connections between all things in the universe. Everything connects in one big circle.

    I’m sure I’m missing things, let me know if you want to see my studio space in more than just the Japan-themed close-ups!

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    Writing in Japanese

    As an artist, learning to write in Japanese is something that greatly appeals to me. Each character requires specific brush strokes and is almost like a piece of art in itself.

    Japanese Calligraphy even has its own art form in Shodo 書道 (enough to dedicate an entire post to later).

    You can learn plenty of hiragana and katakana, even kanji without writing them down. But the more you write, the easier it becomes, the more you can remember them and the faster you can get on with your Japanese learning.

    To begin with I’ll just look at things relevant to Hiragana.

    Things to look out for

    There are certain rules to follow that help characters look more recognisable. Human Japanese breaks down things to look out for in each character, which is really beneficial. I’m just going to go over the basics and what I have found works for me so far.


    Making sure you remember the hane on certain strokes is key. Hane is the upward turn at the bottom of a stroke of a kanji or character.

    Characters using Hane

    In hiragana, some characters to look out for hane on are:

    い , け ,こ , に , は , ほ , り

    ( i, ke, ko, ni, ha, ho and ri)

    Similar looking characters

    Some characters appear very similar and can be muddled when you’re first starting out.

    さ ち , ぬ め , ね れ

    (sa and chi, nu and me, ne and re)

    Getting around this is easy with time and repetition, particularly learning the characters in their lines on the Gojūon (五十音) table.

    ( Gojūon fifty sounds)

    Practicing the hiragana characters in the order of this table will help ensure you don’t forget any in your studies.

    I find it really helpful to try and write through the Gojūon table in both Hiragana and Katakana every day to help really commit the characters to memory.

    There are plenty of different types of brush pens out there – ideally you want one with a slightly flexible tip – these Tombow Fudenosuke Set of 2 are a good starting point, with different flexibility in the nib, and you can comfortably write the characters quite small. Shop around and you can find them for a decent price too!

    I may do a later post about different brush pens if anyone is interested.

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    The Anxieties of Post-Pandemic Travel

    Travelling currently is nothing short of a challenge. Even going with a company that sorts everything for you there is a level of uncertainty.

    Things are taking longer than they should and no one can give you a solid reason why. From staff shortages at airports across the globe, varying government restrictions, and new waves and variants of covid, it’s a wonder that we can even travel at all.

    Outside of Japan’s own extra complications with visa requirements and ERFS forms, my sister’s university trip to Arizona is hitting similar snags. Things just take more time to get sorted, and there’s not much we can do other than wait.

    Some things may be expected, like wearing a mask all the time, or in busy public areas. This is something that can be prepared for, both physically and mentally.

    There are also some concerns about the reality of what happens when you do arrive – will it be stressful? Is luggage likely to get lost? If I’m studying a language and have to wear a mask all the time will that hinder my learning?

    Things can change week by week and it’s hard to know if your trip will go ahead at all. I know that there is a part of me that is ready for my trip to be postponed, waiting for everything to either fall into place or fall apart.

    But I remain optimistic. Learning a little Japanese every day feels like preparing for my trip in a way that I can control. As well as listening to the Abroad in Japan podcast, which keeps me sane.

    I am fairly confident that when things all come together it will happen all at once and I will have a new set of worries.

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    Tokyo – Cherry Blossoms

    April 2019

    On our second day in Tokyo, we went cherry blossom hunting.

    In Japan, cherry blossoms are called sakura.

    In Hiragana: さくら Kanji: 桜

    We walked around a lot of the city, making sure to head to Shinjuku Gyoen for golden hour as we’d heard that was one of the best places to go.

    As you can tell, we took a lot of photographs that day. And Tokyo absolutely delivered on the cherry blossom front.

    We did more than just look at cherry blossoms on our second day but I thought this was deserving of its own post/photo dump.

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    Japan Content!

    So you want to find more people to tell you about Japan?

    Me too.

    These are the people I currently follow across multiple different platforms:

    Abroad in Japan Podcast – Chris Broad and Pete Davidson talk all things Japan. Chris has lived in Japan for 10 years no w.


    Abroad in Japan YouTube channel – particularly worth looking at the wonderful Journey Across Japan Series

    Sharmeleon – Sharla has been living in Japan for 15 years now!


    Lisa in Japan – Tokyo Photographer

    Anocam – Tokyo Photographer

    Ryokan Wanderings – Travel Blogger

    I am five feet two – Videographer and Photographer

    Gao_Yongle – Designer in Kyoto

    Ig Haruchan – Kyoto Osaka Photography

    Okirakuoki – Cats in Japan Photography

    Frame of Travel – Japan Street and Travel Photography

    Yuji87 – Japanese Street Photography

    Tokyo_one – Tokyo Photographer

    Shukei122 – Japan Travel Vlog

    Criss1016 – Travel Photography

    Liam Wong – Photographer

    Let me know who else I should be following!

About Me

Based in the South of England, I am a freelance illustrator, writer, and lover of mythology, folklore and all things Japan.

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