Tag Archives: Spring

Spring is Here!

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The weather here in Tokyo has been insanely nice for the past couple of weeks. Although it’s technically still winter, the end of February and the beginning of March have been absolutely beautiful, in the mid to high sixties. In Japan, this means the blooming of the iconic Ume trees, or Japanese plum: the bright pink flowering trees that closely resemble the more famous Sakura, or cherry blossom, which blooms a few weeks later, in April.

Very close to where I’m living in Shinagawa, the Ume have been in full bloom in Rinshi no Mori Koen, something I discovered by accident while out for a run. The park was packed with people picnicking under the trees, taking pictures and spending time with their families. The park itself is gorgeous any day, full of winding trails and one of the most diverse collection of trees in Japan (it was formerly a government run arboretum), but the blooming trees really made it look picturesque, the kind of platonic ideal people think of when they think of Japan.

The other day, we had an undergraduate holiday in the middle of the week. After sleeping in, which was much needed, midterms are in full swing here, I decided to take my bike and head out to Setagaya to see the Todoroki Ravine, the only ravine within Tokyo, tucked away in the quiet residential neighborhood of Todoroki. It took about an hour by bicycle to get to from my house, but it was a very easy and pleasant ride that basically stayed on the same major road the entire time, something which I was incredibly excited to see when I pulled up the directions on Google. Even after living here for (almost) two semesters, navigating unknown parts of the city on a bike is still very daunting.

The park is easy to miss; hidden from the street, you have to go down a steep flight of steps that lead down the side of the cliff to a path below. At the bottom of the ravine is a small river, and the path follows along, crossing here and there, leading to a waterfall capped with stone dragon heads and a small shop selling Japanese snacks and sweets at the end, all in the shadow of a large temple.

The ravine is gorgeous, filled with lush green trees and shrubs. Like many of these secluded green spots within the city, I have trouble remembering that I’m in the most populated metropolis on earth. These places definitely do not fit the image I had of Tokyo before I came over here, all hellishly crowded commuter trains and Blade Runner-esque neon cityscapes. Tokyo, of course, is full of those, but also so much more. I read recently in an article published by the Guardian that “Tokyo is a million different cities”, something that I’ve come to agree with wholeheartedly, and not just because of the way the different wards are incorporated. The city can feel like a world in and of itself.

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A Must-Visit in Japan: Sakura Spots

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IMG_20150402_204512Another one of my list-toppers, which should have a place on your travel checklist as well, is a good sakura spot: a beautiful place in Japan that showcases sakura when they appear in early spring. Sakura can be seen in many countries around the world, but in Japan they have an altogether different meaning for the nation’s people. Take time out in January to view the gorgeous blossoms if you visit the southern part of Japan, and in late March or early April if you’re near in the north near Tokyo. Bring a picnic blanket and some friends to check them out, or swing by a sakura spot alone after classes. Whatever the situation, be sure to give yourself some time to appreciate their brief presence — it’ll make for a relaxing break from the stress of your daily life, and some breathtaking photos!

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Sakura on a street in the girls’ dorm neighborhood (near Life grocery store!).

What are sakura?

桜 (さくら): Sakura is the Japanese term for cherry blossoms — the small beautiful light pink or white flowers that bloom on cherry trees for just a few weeks after winter, when the weather becomes warmer. Sakura refers to the Japanese cherry tree, which is pretty much just an ornamental tree, and doesn’t bear fruits.

 

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❤ Fallen sakura petals! ❤

What do sakura mean for the Japanese?

Sakura are a significant part of Japanese culture, and have had an appearance in Japanese art and literature for centuries. They signify the transience of life — the short time humans have on this Earth to live and to love — because they bloom briefly and fall to the ground in a number of days. In this way, sakura are also associated with a Japanese term I learned of in a literature course here at TUJ, 物の哀れ (もののあわれ) mono no aware. The term describes the sad but reflective feeling that comes along with the transience of things on Earth and in life, but in Japan this idea, along with viewing sakura in the spring time, seems to signal a chance to take a “time-out” from life to appreciate the concept itself and your own life. It’s also a time to connect with nature, and in Japan sakura viewing is an important part of your spring.

What is hanami?

Hanami (花見/はなみ) is a word for the act of viewing sakura; hana (花) means “flower” (and was at one time used to mean only sakura, not necessarily all flowers), and mi (見/見る) means “eyes” or “to watch.” Hanami is the act of picnicking under sakura trees to view their blossoms with friends. Usually people find grassy spots that have many sakura trees around them to picnic under, and a lot of people turn out to celebrate the custom. One of the more popular and unexpected spots for sakura I passed by quite a few times was Arisugawa Memorial Park (有栖川宮記念公園), which is the park that beautifully encases Tokyo Metropolitan Library (東京都立図書館).

Groups of friends and families gathering in the park outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Library.

Groups of friends and families gathering in the park outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Library.

Be sure to check out some sakura if you study abroad in Tokyo – it’s worth your time! Take a walk in a park, stroll across a bridge, or pick a spot to have lunch with friends if the weather is nice! Have fun!

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Kumano Kodo Nature Hiking & Ise Grand Shrine Trip: Part 1

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Taking the night bus to Mie (approximately 400 miles away from Tokyo), those attending this TUJ trip awoke in the morning to find a lovely beach!

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Even though it was around 5:30AM, the sun and sea was refreshing and energizing (not to say we all didn’t nap after getting back on the coach).

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  After a bit of driving, we arrived at our first hiking site. It was a short trek up the mountain, very enjoyable for an early morning walk.

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  The trees were absolutely incredible, rising far above us but still allowing sun to dance around.

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  We discovered that the cedars were sacred objects themselves, most over 800 years old!

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  As we went further on, we found many other people making the pilgrimage up to the shrine at the peak. White is a traditional color to wear when making this pilgrimage.

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  The weather was perfect for hiking with a cool breeze and warm sun all day.

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  The peak offered a beautiful view of the valley, with cherry blossoms blooming and blue mountains fading into the horizon.

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  There were a surprising amount of people at the peak’s temple! Everyone was thankful to have completed the numerous amount of stairs leading up.

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  Each temple offers a stream of fresh water accompanied with a series of bamboo ladles to cleanse the hands and the spirit. There is a particular ritual of scooping and rinsing the mouth, which left me feeling cool and refreshed.

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Hanami: Flower Viewing

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We are so unbelievably lucky to be in Japan during the spring. This is arguably the most beautiful location to experience the changing of the seasons!

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This is the view from my window! All of a sudden our neighborhood is filled with huge, blossoming cherry trees.

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The early morning is my favorite time to take walks on the edges of the canal by the Kitazono Dormitory. There are sakura (cherry blossom) trees lining both sides as far as the eye can see.

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 It feels like a dream to find such unbelievable flowers at every corner.

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It’s amazing how beautiful the city contrasts with the flowers. Tokyo is the largest metropolis on Earth, but there are blossoms everywhere!

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 This was the view from the train track as I stepped onto Naka-Meguro station. This neighborhood is known for it’s great blossoms and delicious street food.

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There were so many people celebrating the hanami (flower viewing) season!

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As the wind blows, the blossoms drift down into the streets and the canals. After a few days, the ground will be filled with petals.

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These lanterns lined the edges of the canal, enhancing the pinkness of the blossoms as night fell.

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Carolyn and I had such a lovely time enjoying the sakura trees; it was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Seizing Moments

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Spring is finally here in Japan.  The cherry blossoms are almost in full bloom.  Which means over the next few weeks I maybe invited to a few 花見 (hanami) parties by my friends.  Although spring is a symbol for new beginnings, there are so many things around me that seem to be ending.  The semester is finally coming to an end.  Some of my Japanese friends have graduated and are now entering the working society.  My study abroad friends are preparing to assimilate back into American society; everyday I see leftover Domino’s pizza boxes in the dorm trash cans, and other various American brands.  Even I myself brought a few boxes of Pringle’s recently, I guess my food cravings are subconscious indicators of homesickness.  Even with all of these things coming to a close around me, I feel like my adventure in Japan is still unfolding.  I have decided to extend my stay for the summer semester, and take in as much as I can in these next four months.

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Imperial Palace Grounds

It’s almost weird to feel accustomed to living in a place other than my home.  The first six weeks just felt like an extended vacation.  As time progressed, the repetitive school schedule began to reflect in my attitude.  I began to feel more and more apart of the society.  Unconsciously, I started to use Japanese gestures and expressions in my daily conversation, even if I was speaking in English.  I developed a “Where’s Waldo” mentality; some days I felt as if I blended in to the point at which I could not be distinguished from other Japanese.  Then moments later I’d snap out of it, looking around the train and seeing so many faces that don’t like mine.  It almost feels like a dream.

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The emptiest train I’ve ever been on in Tokyo

As I write this on my birthday, reflecting back on the time spent here so far, I can say that there is one lasting lesson I’ve learned while living here.  Live Life in the Moment.  A year ago today I had lost all my intentions of coming to Japan.  Family and friends were worried because of 3/11, and tried everything they could to persuade me not to take the flight across the Pacific.  I let their thoughts get the best of me and gave up.  Fortunately, I remembered months later that I had to do this.  This is experience has taught me so many things I may have never realized had I let my family get the best of me.  Although I have no reason to, I kind of feel selfish for being in that small percentage of college students that study abroad.  My friends back at home always joke with me about how jealous they are because they are still in America.  People (including myself) always have an excuse for why they can’t do something.  If anything I hope that my experiences influence others to find a way around those excuses.  Every college student needs to do this!

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Mango Snowballs and Dragon Parades

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Mango Snowballs and Dragon Parades

Spring is here! And that means – go to Yokohama’s Chinatown and see how spring flings are really flung.

Did you know Yokohama’s known for its diversity here in Japan? I know I didn’t, but there are huge cultural communities here, including Hispanics, Indians,  Filipinos, Koreans, and more. One of the biggest hotspots though is Yokohama’s Chinatown, Yokohama Chukagai (横浜中華街). There are other Chinatowns riddled throughout Japan, like Kobe Chinatown and Nagasaki Chinatown, but Yokohama’s is arguably the most well-known.

On top of being one of the biggest Chinatowns around, it also throws some of the biggest parties. While Haru and her host family didn’t get to go to Chinatown for Chinese New Years (it would have been impossible to navigate around anyway), they got to go see this particular event: The Spring Festival (春節).

Parents even had little kids sitting on their heads just get a glimpse of the show.

Of course, it’s to see one of these – and to get one to “bite” your head to make you smart (頭がいい). Luckily, I was inside Haru’s bag when all this was going on. I’ll be honest and tell you I don’t like seas made of people and scary dragons flying around the place.

Nearby to  the event grounds is a really famous temple, Kanteibyō (関帝廟). It’s another must see here in Chukagai!

After that, it was time to tour the rest of town. Including, food, food, and more food. Here’s a “mango snowball” which is shaved ice with mangoes on top. But there is something unique about the shaved ice because it melts in your mouth in such a way, that it feels more like snow than shaved ice.

Haru also bought ice cream (again) in the middle of a cold spell. It may look like vanilla ice cream, but this is actually almond flavored. If you’ve never tried almond ice cream, you really should. It’ll turn anyone into a sweet tooth addict.

Now, some foods are made of ice. But others come in plastic or billboard.

Later when it was finally time to visit Yamashita Park (山下公園), I wanted to get some fresh air. I was really groggy at first. But soon came to realize this place had been very different than anywhere else I had been to in Japan so far.

But even with Haru and Kristina, I still felt… lonely.

Haru loves the sea though, and made sure she and Kristina spent plenty of time looking around the boardwalk and taking pictures. Beyond where I’m pointing is Sakuragicho (桜木町). It’s got a ferris wheel there, but unfortunately, we didn’t get to go on it.

I garnered a lot of attention from other visitors, including a sweet, old lady, who was the only one unafraid of coming up to Haru and telling her I was adorable. She really brightened up my day! It’s always nicer to hear people say that, than hear people say how creepy I look. Really now! I’m right there, and I understand everything perfectly too. I just can’t say anything or look angry – the downsides of being born with a resin face.

Behind her was the Hikawa Maru (氷川丸), an old Japanese Ocean Liner. This old ship survived World War 2, and has a very long history. Now, it’s a floating museum, which Haru was too much of a lazy-bum to go see. But seeing it from afar was already pretty cool. SHIP AHOY, MATEYS!

At the end of the day, I couldn’t help but have a look at the nice sunset. Yamashita Park is known as a popular site for couples and friends to meet. Haru tells me Valentine’s Day is next week, so it will be very crowded then. I might as well get a good look at the place while the quiet lasts.

Omake (おまけ) – extra things – including possessed, singing pandas, Hello Kitty pandas, and panda doorways. In other words, a whole lot of pandas.

Rowan