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Archive for April, 2008

Azaleas at dusk

The next week is going to be quite busy (as the past two have been…), so I’m afraid my non-writing streak will continue for a while longer. I apologize, but it is the Golden Week and I hope at the end of it I will be equipped with stories to share and pictures to show.

While there are no particular events or festivals to witness this holiday season, there are tons of places to visit, and things to do in and around Japan. Hiking season is again on and there are flower parks in full bloom. Check out the temples or parks with Wisterias, Peonies, Azaleas and Roses.  I wish everyone a very happy Golden Week!

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A few months ago, I blogged about still being a Gaijin in Japan, in this post: Take the Gaijin Test. Recently, I have come to realize I’ve been doing a lot of things I swore I’d never do, and which I poked fun at in the first few months/years I’d been in Japan. Embarrassing to admit, but here are the Ten Reasons I think I’m Turning Japanese:

1. I sleep on the train (sometimes).

2. I do the bow and single-hand cutting combination to cut through lines and get people to move over in public transport.

3. I take home my “gomi (trash)” in a plastic bag and recycle it.

4. I feel uncomfortable if I’m not wearing stockings or socks, especially when visiting a home of a Japanese friend.

5. I make pretty bento, and own more than three pretty bento recipe books.

6. I do sudoku.

7. I carry two or three bags on the crook of my arm.

8. I don’t get bothered by terrible English signs (but in my case, anymore, as it just got to a point where it ceased to be funny).

9. I understand and use the expressions “natsukashii”, “mendoukusai”, “bimio” and “mottainai” but still can’t properly translate them.

10. I do the head-bending and sucking in of air when asked a difficult question I’d rather not answer…

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I just went to see the grandmommy of shidare-zakuras… it was literally the grandmother of a 150-year-old weeping cherry blossom tree in Fukushima and the parent of another several hundred-year-old cherry tree in the same area. The Takizakura of Miharu is about 1000 years old. According to our tour guide, the hollow trunk of the tree makes it difficult to determine its exact age.

The Takizakura was in half-bloom when we visited. But it made it no less grand. Upon first sight, a sense of humbleness fills you. Incomparable to any other tree I’ve seen so far, it stood in the middle of a sloping hill. As we picnicked on the opposite hill, we couldn’t but admire its grandeur as a cherry blossom tree.

There were a hundred or so people visiting. I’m sure come the weekend, the place will be packed as the best viewing time is on the 19th and 20th of April.

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The Hanami Season is not over yet! For those die-hard cherry blossom fans like me, Tohoku is the place to visit in the coming weeks. I’ve been longingly looking at a poster on my station’s wall featuring the places in the Tohoku and Yamanashi-Nagano area that will be in bloom from the middle of April to the beginning of May, and I couldn’t help but wish that the cherry blossoms lasted longer, and that I had enough time to see all these places. But as it turns out, I can only see a few places a year.

This year, I will be visiting Miharu in Fukushima to see the Takizakura. Other places on the poster were:

Koushinetsu (甲信越, Yamanashi, Nagano and Niigata)

Shinden no Ooitozakura in Yamanashi (mid- to late April)

Takatoo Castle Ruins in Nagano (early to mid-April)

Matsumoto Castle in Nagano (early to mid- April)

Yahiko Shrine in Niigata (early to late April)

Takada Castle in Niigata (early to mid-April), famous for its night lights

Southern Tohoku (南東北, Yamagata, Miyagi and Fukushima)

Okitama Sakura-Kairou in Yamagata (mid- to late April)

Yonezawa in Yamagata (late April to early May)

Hitome Senbon Zakura in Miyagi (mid- to late April)

Hanamiyama Park in Fukushima (early to late April)

Miharu in Fukushima (mid- to late April)

Aizu-Wakamatsu Tsuruga Castle in Fukushima (mid- to late April)

Northern Tohoku (北東北, Aomori, Akita and Iwate)

Hirosaki Park in Aomori (late April to early May)

Kanagi and Ashino Park in Aomori (late April to early May)

Kakunodate in Akita (late April to early May)

Chiaki Park in Akita (mid- to late April)

Kitakami Tenshochi Park in Iwate (mid- to late April)

Koiwai Farm in Iwate (late April to early May)

Tune in again for more information on flower parks and spring events!

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Yakitori

Yakitori(焼き鳥), which is literally grilled bird, is Japanese chicken barbecue on skewers. Over the last few weekends, I’ve been subsisting on a diet of Yakitori and Ramune. Festival stalls often sell Yakitori and other Kushiyaki (串焼き, skewered food). Every time I think of Yakitori, though, I remember this one time when I went to a very greasy, seriously low-class, but extremely popular Yakitori place in the city next to where I lived.

I was invited to celebrate the promotion to black belt of one of my dojo sempais. The shihan, our sensei, insisted that we go to this place that was really famous in the area for its Yakitori. I had never been to a place like it before, nor have I been to one since then. It was in a run-down building, between an antique-looking store and some non-descript dwelling of some sort. The place was covered in smoke and the diners looked a bit scary. I wasn’t the least bit scared, however, since there were 5 black belters in our group, and the people there all seemed to know sensei. The servers didn’t look all that hygienic, but the smell from the grill was amazing…

Sensei and the other people in our group started calling out orders, something something yaki and yaki something… and then came the food… there were all kinds of chicken parts on skewers, some familiar-looking, but others slimy- and shiny-looking, I had no idea what they were, but sensei made me eat everything. I’m not exactly sure what went into my tummy that day, but I do remember they were the tastiest Yakitori I’ve ever had.

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Shinjuku Gyoen is another popular Tokyo Hanami destination. It is a large park with three garden types: a traditional Japanese garden, an English landscape garden and a symmetrical arranged French garden. It would take an estimated hour and a half to fully cover the gardens.

When I got there, there were already people enjoying the blossoms. People were picnicking on the wide lawns and a few were even painting pictures. The Shinjuku skyscrapers could be seen beyond the cherry blossoms, and it made for a pleasant view, instead of harming the landscape scene. Too bad the weather wasn’t the greatest…

A lot of people also had there cameras out, though, most of them with huge lenses and heavy-duty tripods. Unlike the other parks, there was a lack of crowds on that day I went. Although there were a lot of people, it was less than I anticipated.

After the cherry blossoms, I expect the garden will be covered in other blooms. The closest station is probably Shinjuku-gyoenmae. But there are exits to Sendagaya and Shinjuku, too.

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One of my favorite destinations in Tokyo for the Cherry Blossoms is Chidorigafuchi. I know I have a lot of favorites, but if I had to choose between Ueno Park, Sumida Park, Yoyogi Park, etc. etc. I’d choose to go to Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park. While most parks allow viewers to bring their mats and party under the blossoms, Chidorigafuchi doesn’t allow picnics and only viewing is what people go there for, which is ideal for amateur photography buffs like me…

Chidorigafuchi is the North-Eastern moat of the Imperial Palace. Hanami can be done from the moat on a rowboat. I’m sure a night boat ride would be really romantic but I was there in the late afternoon until early evening, however, and rowing out into the dark waters just gave me chills…

The Chiyoda Tourist Association (I’m not sure what it’s called) did a good job of coordinating the cherry blossom viewing and subsequent night lights. The place was clean and while it was crowded, the crowds were orderly. I got there quite early though, and I was able to get photos before the crowds came. It was crazy on my way back though… the line went all the way up to Kudanshita Station.

After Chidorigafuchi, I headed to Yasukuni Shrine, where there were dozens of food stands offering different kinds of festival food: Yakitori, Okonomiyaki, Jaga-bata, Yakisoba, Oden, Shioyaki Ayu, Crepes, and other really tasty-looking goodies.

There was a Noh play in Yasukuni, which I want to see some other time. The drum rolls and flutes (I think…) could be heard outside, though. For those interested, the lights are still going to be on this weekend.

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