The Sign of Spring in Tokyo

Despite the snowy weekends we’ve been having in Tokyo (here and here), blossoms have been popping up here and there.
And you know what that means!
It’s a sign. The very best sign of all. It means warmer days are just around the corner (which is all I need really) and mother earth is starting to snuggle out of her winter blanket so we can enjoy her magical spring transformation (obviously I’ve forgotten how bad my hay fever is during the winter…but I don’t care!). Can. Not. Wait.
Major blossoms in Japan are ume (梅 – plum) and sakura (桜 – cherry). I love the ume for its delicate and fragrant blossoms and the sakura for its lush gorgeous trees. 
I’ve been seeing ume blossoms around the city but my absolute favorite blossom of all time is this yellow blossom. It’s called Robai in Japanese and Winter Sweet in English. (The kanji for Robai uses the characters wax (蠟) + plum (梅), apparently got the name from the fact that the blossoms look like waxwork.) It has an strong sweet fragrance and I couldn’t make up my mind whether to snap a shot or just keep on sniffing.
Aren’t they gorgeous?

PS: If you want to see ume blossoms in Tokyo, here is a great guide to the best spots!

The Snow in Black and White

Well, it snowed AGAIN in Tokyo this weekend! (Miracles DO happen!)
So naturally, I took this to mean that I can post even more snow photos here! But just to keep things from getting stale, I decided to post black and white photos so it wouldn’t just be another snow post…it would be the black and white snow post! Ha.
I took most of these photos while walking through Shinjuku on my way to meet a friend in Shibuya. The view from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building was an ocean of white. How amazing is that? It’s not a view we see too often in Tokyo. I also stopped by Shinjuku Gyoen and had a hard time resisting the urge to make snow angels. And you can see in one of the photos but the lake in the park had frozen over!
Don’t you love how quiet it gets right after a snow fall? x
Here are some photos:

The Bookstores in Jimbocho

Jimbocho is famous for their used bookstores. 
There are rows and rows of books, both inside and outside of the stores, just waiting for someone to come pick them up. So many different genres can be found in an array of colors and sizes. It’s really a kind of organized chaos of books. I love it.
Jimbocho (神保町) is a corner of Tokyo, located in Chiyoda ward, and it has a very interesting history with books. There’s said to be approximately 180 used bookstores in the Jimbocho area.
During the Edo era, many samurai residences, or buke-yashiki (武家屋敷), were located around this area. After the Meiji Ishin (明治維新), when the Tokugawa shogunate crumbled, many of the lords and vassals who resided in this area moved back home or headed to Shizuoka with Tokugawa Keiki (徳川慶喜), and a large part of this area was left vacant.
When the new government started, not only was this area a residence for new officials, but many schools and hospitals were built in the large vacant areas as well. Many well-known schools such as University of Tokyo, Gakushuin University, Juntendo University, Meiji University, Chuo University were first established in this area during the Meiji era. Because there were so many schools located here, inevitably the number of professors, students, and researchers in the area increased, along with the need for books. And as students tend to be poor in any day and age, the need for used books also increased!
So that was apparently the start of Jimbocho’s affiliation with books. The Jimbocho area has seen its share of difficult times, from the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, which burned down the entire area, to during the war, when food was scarce. But each time the bookstores got back on their feet in search of books to sell in their store.
It had been awhile since I’d been to Jimbocho and, even though I didn’t buy anything, it was a great way to spend the afternoon. I poked my nose into a lot of bookstores. My favorites were the used bookstore with design/art books, old old old Japanese calligraphy books, and the one with classic English books. But there were too many to see at once so I want to drop by again. And hopefully next time, I’ll be able to make up my mind about which book I want to take home with me this time!
Here are some photos:

The Afternoon at Arms Burger Shop

I completely forgot about these photos!
My high school friend has the cutest dog (seen here before) and sometimes we go to Yoyogi Park to let him roam and run wherever he pleases. We also like to stop by this little burger shop Arms because they allow dogs inside with you. It’s the perfect nook to warm up and relax in.
Here are some photos of the tiny but ferocious (not really) Leo and his people:

The Day It Snowed In Tokyo

I know, I know. Everyone is tired of seeing snow photos from Tokyo.
But I can’t help it. I love love love snow. I dislike winter (with a passion), but snow makes the cold, the dry air, the shorter days all worth it. I was telling a friend yesterday that everyone needs snow in their lives. They really do.
I was born in Okinawa and it never snows there. My grandma, who still lives in Okinawa, actually called me this weekend to make sure I hadn’t fallen on ice and cracked my head open or gotten buried under all the snow. I love her. She mentioned this winter was a cold one for Japan and that temperatures even fell to 18C in Okinawa yesterday…I had to tell her that sounded like paradise 😀
Anyways, I don’t remember the very first time I saw snow but my parents tell me that my sister and I were outside playing in the snow EVERY SINGLE DAY. Pretty sure it’s true because I have a lot of memories of us (and photos, of course) playing in the snow (like here and here). Snow was magical to us. And in Tokyo, where it snows only once a year, if at all, it still hasn’t lost its magic for me!
Here are some snow photos:

The Hatsumode in Kurashiki

There is nothing quite like walking around town wearing a kimono.

I’m not quite sure why it feels so great. Maybe because I don’t wear it regularly so the occasion feels special. Or maybe because it wraps beautifully around a woman, especially one with no butt and no boobs. Either way, I love it and never pass up an opportunity to wear one.

During our new years holiday in Ehime, my sister and I decided to stop by Kurashiki (倉敷), a small town in Okayama prefecture, before heading back home to Tokyo. And because Hatsumode (the first visit to a shrine or temple in the new year) is a special occasion, we decided to get dressed up!

The process of putting on the kimono is called Kitsuke in Japanese.
We rented the kimono for the afternoon at Kurashiki Kimono Komachi.
So many beautiful stores are located within Kurashiki’s historical quarter.
The official flower of Kurashiki is Fuji (Japanese Wisteria).
Okayama prefecture is famous for their Bizen-yaki pottery.
I thought the persimmons hanging from the naked tree above the torii was quaint.
For hatsumode, we went to Achi Shrine (阿智神社), a 1,700 year old shrine which sits atop Mount Tsurugata (鶴形山 tsurugata-yama). This mountain is located in the corner of the Kurashiki’s historical quarter and in the olden days it was an island surrounded by the waters of the Seto Inland Sea (瀬戸内海). For that reason, Munakata Sanjojin (宗像三女神), known as the three goddesses of the sea and voyages, is enshrined here.
Did I mention this was a mountain? Even though it was a little mountain, it was quite the challenge walking up all those steps in our kimonos. Literally an uphill battle. But Achi Shrine was not only beautiful itself but the grounds had an amazing view of the city of Kurashiki. So glad we went up there. 
I wasn’t counting how many steps we climbed but Achi Shrine apparently has a name for each set of steps. The first set has a total of eighty eight steps and is named Beiju hill (米寿坂). We call being eighty eight years old Beiju because the kanji for Bei (米) can be broken down to the kanji for eighty eight (八十八). The next set has a total of sixty one steps. It is called Kanreki hill (還暦坂). This comes from our Kanreki celebration in Japan when someone becomes sixty, which is considered sixty one in the traditional kazoe-doshi age system.
Finally the last set of stairs is thirty three steps, called Yakubarai hill (厄払坂) and it refers to the superstition of Yakudoshi (厄年), a year of bad luck, which is said to be the year a woman turns thirty three in the old age system. (The men have a different age for their Yakudoshi). This hits home because technically this year is my Yakudoshi (I turn thirty two this year…eek!).
I always think it’s interesting how many things have a deeper meaning in Japan, even the number of steps to climb up to a shrine. 
Here are some more pictures of Achi Shrine and Kurashiki:
The entrance to Achi Shrine was in full new years festive mode.
The Zuishin-mon (随神門) and the Yakubarai hill (厄払坂).
Many people writing out their prayers and wishes on the wooden Ema (絵馬).
Kimono photos in front of the main shrine.
The Ema (絵馬) at Achi Shrine reminded me of Black Beauty 🙂
So many different kinds of Omamori (お守り) to choose from!
My sister and I always pick up an Omikuji (御神籤), which tells your fortune.
Mine had many wise words for me, such as “health is very important.” So true.
Achi Shrine had a place for people to tie their Omikuji according to your year of birth!
My favorite view of the city below…so many lovely roofs.
Walking down Kanreki hill (還暦坂).
Old wooden buildings standing in the historical district.
I love new years decorations so much…I could start a blog.
We didn’t have time but the Ohara Museum of Art is on my list of places to visit next time!
Traditional hand towel shop….I didn’t trust myself to go inside.
Tiny new years decorations right outside of a shop entrance.
Various types of Okaki, a rice snack. We took forever to choose!
My sister ended up getting the red shiso flavor and I got the yuzu black pepper flavor. Yum!

My sister standing by the famous Kurashiki river.
We had such a great time in Kurashiki…already looking forward to going back this summer! 😀

The Results of Stress Baking

I’ve always liked the process of baking something.

But I’ve come to realize that I stress bake. I’m not even sure that’s an official word, but I tend to bake when I’m stressed. And because winter is not my best season, I’ve been baking like a maniac for the last month or so.

The good thing is, it always makes me feel better and I get something yummy to eat!

I think it’s the whole process of measuring, mixing, kneading, whisking. It’s a great stress reliever. Not to mention the aroma therapy of baked goods that fills my apartment once it’s in the oven.
What are some of the things you do to de-stress? And since winter is not yet over…do you have a good recipe of something for me to bake? 😀