The September Link Love


Hello there September!

I could have sworn I had a few more weeks of my birthday month…but alas it is over and we are heading straight into fall, it seems. Not sure how I feel about this.

Last month, my Obon break consisted of three flights, five airports, and a typhoon! So much for swimming in the ocean every day. But I did get to spend quite a bit of time on or around the Seto Inland Sea, so I can’t really complain. And there is nothing like the joy of seeing good friends and family to fill your day with smiles! So glad I got to see everyone!

This month we have two holidays in Japan, the Respect for the Aged Day is on the 15th and the Autumn Equinox is on the 23rd. It’s a little early but I’m planning on doing a big fall cleaning of my apartment because I’ll be away again at the end of the year (which is when we usually do our big once-a-year house cleaning in Japan). 
And also because my optometrist may have mentioned that my blood tested positive for house dust and mold allergies last week. Is that even a thing? (My itchy eyes seem to be telling me yes.)

I’m also looking forward to another wedding and catching up with high school friends this month! What are you up to in September? Hope there’s less rain and more sun this month! x

——————————————————-Link Love——————————————————-

Ready-to-eat version of the rice curry from my university cafeteria is now on sale.

– Trying to remember these yoga moves at work.

– This music video by Cameroonian singer-songwriter Irma is amazing.

– Would love to go on a long trip with just a carry-on!

Imabari posts coming soon!

The Fireworks in Ichikawa

Did you go to a firework festival this summer?
The annual fireworks at Edo River (江戸川, edo-gawa) is always on the first weekend of August. This firework festival is one of the biggest ones in the greater Tokyo area. 
It’s a little bit confusing because it has two names. Edogawa ward in Tokyo began this annual firework festival along the river in 1976 and they call it the Edogawa-ku Firework Festival (江戸川区花火大会). But then in 1985, Ichikawa city in Chiba, which is right across the river from Edogawa ward, joined in on hosting the firework festival, calling it the Ichikawa Shimin Noryo Firework Festival (市川市民納涼花火大会). So technically it’s the same firework festival with a different name, depending on where you watch it from.  
I know Dru was on the other side but I like watching from the Ichikawa side of the river because you don’t have to save your place during the middle of the night to get a decent spot. Last year, there were approximately 490 thousand people on the Ichikawa side and a whopping 900 thousand people on the Edogawa side.
A lot of people take pride in which side they watch from. I was told by my coworker, who defines himself as a true Edokko (江戸っ子), that someone who was born and raised in Tokyo would never cross over to Chiba to watch the fireworks. But me? I was born in Okinawa and I could really care less about which side I watch it from, so naturally I choose the side that has less people and a larger space.
Like last year, we had a little picnic in the evening before the fireworks. I love festival food, it’s so good! We ate and talked while watching the sun go down, which was beautiful in itself. And when the fireworks finally started with a huge bang, we were ready to be entertained!
Here are some photos:
The festival stalls selling everything from yaki-soba to shaved ice!
A photo in between buying food from the stalls.
It was a beautiful sunny day!
You can never have too much festival food! 
We celebrated my bestie’s birthday with a candle in the jyaga-bata! 😀
Happy 30th birthday to D!
The beautiful sun setting across the river (that’s the Edogawa side of the river).
The festival starts with the traditional 1,000 fireworks in the first 5 seconds!
These are my favorite fireworks, with just one color…simple but stunning!
What a night. Hoping to be here next year, too!

The Blueberry Picking in Koigakubo

Some days I desperately crave fresh blueberries.
This was one of those days and I headed to the local supermarket. But all they had were the small teeny tiny plastic packets of 20 or so blueberries that cost 400 yen. Growing up in Michigan, it’s nearly impossible for me to pay so much for so little. I should be used to it by now, but I can’t. So I decided that I might as well go pick some myself.
I couldn’t go all the way to Saitama like last summer, so I hopped on a train for Kokubunji. 
Blueberries were first introduced to Japan in 1951 and the first blueberry farm opened in Tokyo’s Kodaira-shi (小平市) in 1968. In the 90s, blueberries became popular in Japan due to their richness in anthocyanin and more and more farms began to produce blueberries. Even in Tokyo, several of the cities and wards have started promoting blueberry farms. So I just went through the list and randomly chose one near Koigakubo Station on the Seibu Kokubunji Line.
Matsumoto Engei (松本園芸) had a corner of their land dedicated to blueberries, but as it was still early in the season, I actually had the whole area to myself! I was handed a basket, which I learned you wrap around your waist, to pick blueberries. I felt like a professional.
It was a hot day but it felt good standing outside, stepping from bush to bush in search of blueberries. So much so that I definitely picked more than I had planned on. But it didn’t take long to come to the conclusion that there can be not such thing as too many blueberries, so I picked a little more (I really couldn’t stop) and then headed to the checkout.
The lady at the checkout who weighed my blueberries was so nice and friendly. We got to talking and I realized that their specialty is in producing poinsettias for Christmas. She showed me around their greenhouse which was already growing poinsettias in rows and rows of planters. It was all very interesting and she made my day by giving me a beautiful hibiscus plant as a gift on my way out!
It always amazes me how farmers can be so generous. I know that they give things away because they aren’t able to sell them. But still, vegetables and flowers are quite expensive at times for me and the gesture always brightens my day. Especially because the hibiscus reminds me of Okinawa!
 So, did you go blueberry picking this summer? (FYI: there’s still time to go!) x
Here are some photos:

I cannot get over how beautiful the shades of gradation are on blueberries!
This is my pretty hibiscus plant!
I made blueberry lemon cheese tart when I got home…then promptly fell asleep 😀

MATSUMOTO ENGEI (松本園芸)
2-39-6 Higashi-tokura, Kokubunji-shi, Tokyo JAPAN
東京都国分寺市東戸倉2-39-6
TEL: 042 321 7865
Blueberry Picking: 200 yen / 100g

The Wedding in Nasu

It was a glorious day in Nasu!
The perfect day for an outdoor wedding ceremony, which is quite rare in Japan. The outdoor weddings, not the perfect day (we have plenty of those!). June brides always run the risk of being rained (or even typhoon-ed) out on their wedding, so you know the gods must have been smiling down on this betrothal.
My friends and I sat on stone benches while we watched the ceremony take place in front of the beautiful green backdrop. The bride and groom looked a little nervous during the ceremony but once we all made our way inside for the reception, the newlyweds looked like they were having a great time! This celebration of love was the perfect way to end our weekend in Nasu!
Here are some photos:

Waiting for the ceremony to start outside…full of komorebi (木洩れ日)!

Pretty excited for the wedding to start 😀
Even the birds were chirping to celebrate their happiness!
Miffy and her man wearing the traditional Japanese kimono welcomed us at the reception.
We had a very enthusiastic speech right before the kampai!
It was almost too pretty to eat…almost.
The cutting of their delicious cake!
During the reception, they changed into different outfits…I loved the blue dress on her!
I didn’t get the bouquet draw…but I did get waffers! 😀
We sneaked into their wedding photos shoot. hehe.
One of the perks of attending a reception is you get to take home flowers when it’s over! Yay!
Heading back to Tokyo!
1859 Takaku-otsu, Nasu-machi Nasu-gun, Tochigi JAPAN
栃木県那須郡那須町高久乙上ノ林1859
TEL: 028 778 7577

The Alpaca Farm in Nasu (and How to Get There)

Prepare to be charmed!

During our weekend in Nasu, we hopped on a bus from Nasu-yumoto to go say hi to alpacas! 

Nasu Alpaca Farm is the largest of its kind in Japan, with over 400 alpacas. In 1999, they started off with 200 alpacas that were chartered by air to Japan from the Andes. Although they struggled with taking care of the alpacas at first due to various reasons such as lack of medicine and medical knowledge regarding alpacas, after visitations from American veterinarians and importing medicine, the birthrate has stabilized in the recent years. 

The farm itself was fairly large and my friend and I started out just taking a stroll through the designated path, looking in on the alpacas roaming around inside the fenced areas. With their big fluffy body, perky ears, and eyes with the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen, it was pretty darn hard not to fall for these shy but charming animals.


I’d actually never heard of alpacas until the Japanese fiber company Kuraray made a series of commercials featuring a fluffy white alpaca. I wasn’t too sure what this commercial was actually promoting (…and still don’t really) but it made a pretty big impression in Japan and alpacas became well known around 2009.

Obviously it’s been a while since then but when my friend mentioned that there was an alpaca farm in Nasu, I had to go and see what these alpacas were all about! And lucky for us, we bumped into a Peruvian alpaca expert while we were there, who was kind enough to show us around and answer all our questions.

He explained that at this farm the alpacas get a haircut every two years. We were there a week ahead of their shearing season so they were at their peak fluffiness! We also learned that alpacas are native to the Andes region. When I asked about the alpacas in the wild, he surprised me by mentioning that currently all the alpacas are domesticated and have been that way for a while now. Who knew?


Alpacas are famous for their fleece, which is soft and water resistant. For that reason, very fine alpaca fiber is extremely valuable. One of the quirky things I noticed is that alpacas don’t have any upper front teeth. They apparently don’t need it as they feed on grass. Oh, and when they pee? They do it for a really really long time. At least a couple of minutes. (Too much information?)


I’m so glad we bumped into our “guide” because we had an amazing time learning about alpacas. He introduced us to the famous alpaca from the Kuraray commercials with the same amount of enthusiasm as when he introduced us to a blind alpaca. He said that sometimes they are born blind and/or deaf but receive the same amount of care and friendship from both the staff and the other alpacas. And I believe him because the minute he started talking, the blind alpaca perked up its ear and moseyed on over to be pet by him. It completely warmed my heart.

Have you ever spent time with alpacas? They are the sweetest animals ever. If you’re ever in Nasu, you may enjoy an afternoon with an alpaca or two! x

Here are some photos:

Entrance was 800 yen for adults, 600 yen for jr high/high schoolers, and 400 yen for kids.
A brown alpaca enjoying the sunny day out in the field.
See? No front upper teeth!
When alpacas sit down, their hind legs look like they’re kneeling.
Dainty legs!
This is my favorite picture of all time! Look at that expression!
This is the white alpaca from the commercial!
This was the baby corner, they were born this spring!
How can you resist this charming look?
This dark chocolate alpaca was prancing around for us to see.
Isn’t this the fluffiest alpaca ever?
Our amazing guide taking an alpaca out for a walk.
This was his if-you-have-clean-hands-you-may-pat-me look (in my head).
So soft and warm!
We had a great day with our new furry friends!
1083 Oshima Nasu-machi, Nasu-gun, Tochigi JAPAN
栃木県那須郡那須町大字大島1083
TEL: 0287-77-1197
OPEN: 10:00am-4:00pm (closed Thursdays)
Entrance Fee: 800 yen


TRANSPORTATION TO THE NASU ALPACA FARM


I’ve gotten quite a few inquiries regarding how to get to the Alpaca Farm so I thought I’d add a little bit more information on that here.

So the bad news is, there is no public transportation from the nearest station to the Alpaca Farm on a daily basis.

The closest train station is Shin-Shirakawa Station on the JR Line. Both the Tohoku Shinkansen and local trains stop here and the station is approximately 15km away from the Alpaca Farm. Your choice is to rent a car (6,000-12,000yen for 12 hours, depending on the car) or to take a taxi (approximately 8,000yen one way).

Obviously this is quite a hassle for many, not to mention expensive. For those who do not have a drivers license or deep pockets to hire a taxi (like me!), you have two other choices.

1. TAKE THE BUS
I previously mentioned that there is no public transportation to the Alpaca Farm. But there IS a bus that operates for a limited time during certain times of the year, which is what we used as transportation in my post above. The bus operation varies from year to year, but I believe they operate both in the spring and fall. We were luckily traveling during the spring period and this bus is what we took to get to the Alpaca Farm.

Tsutsuji-goThe bus that operates during the spring season is called Tsutsuji-go (i.e. Azalea bus), probably because it coincides with the azalea season in the Nasu highlands. From the past couple of years, it seems that Tsutsuji-go operates from end of April/early May to mid to late June, depending on the year.

Momiji-goThe other bus that operates in the fall is called Momiji-go (i.e. Japanese Maple bus), again probably because it coincides with the fall foliage season when trees change color. This period seems to vary by year but basically Momiji-go runs from mid to late September to late October/early November.

The operating season for both of these buses seem to be announced within a month prior so it can be nerve-wrecking for people who want to plan ahead. But if you are lucky to be traveling during that season, you can get on the bus at Nasu Yumoto (in front of the Nasu-cho Kanko Kyokai-mae, i.e. Nasu Tourism Assosication) and they will drop you off at Nasu Alpaca Farm.

You may have already noticed that Nasu Yumoto is quite far from the nearest train station. So what we did is, took the local bus (Toya Transportation Bus) from Nasu Shiobara JR Station (you can also get on at the neighboring Kuro-iso JR Station) to Nasu Yumoto (approx. 50-60min), then changed onto the Tsutsuji-go bus all the way to the Alpaca Farm (approx. 30min).

Both the Tsutsuji-go and Momiji-go operate three round trips, meaning 3 buses to go and 3 buses to get back, so make sure you check the time schedule so you don’t miss the last bus. When we went, we took the 11:40am bus and got there a little past noon. Then we took the 3pm bus back to Nasu Yumoto and got there around 3:30pm.

For your reference, here is when the bus was operating from previous years:
2017  Spring: Apr 29 – Jun 4  /  Fall: TBD
2016  Spring: Apr 29 – Jun 5  /  Fall: Sep 17 – Oct 23
2015  Spring: May 2 – Jun 14  /  Fall: Sep 19 – Oct 25
2014  Spring: Apr 26 – Jun 29  /  Fall: Oct 11 – Nov 3
*For up-to-date details on Tsutsuji-go/Momiji-go bus schedules, please contact Nasu Tourism Association at +81 (0)287 76 2619.

2. TAKE A BUS TOUR FROM TOKYO
There are bus tours from Tokyo that will take you to and from the Alpaca Farm. You can book through travel agencies such as H.I.S. or Hato Bus, and you won’t have to worry about any of the transportation logistics in between. The price is also quite reasonable, somewhere in the range of 7,000 to 9,000yen.

Of course, there is always a down-side to tours, such as not being able to spend as much time as you would like at the Alpaca Farm, due to the tour schedule, which will most likely include other stops along the way. But on the other hand, you’ll get to see other places in the Nasu area, which are likely difficult to access without a car, so depending on the itinerary it could end up being a win-win situation.

For your reference, here are some bus tours:
H.I.S. Tour: Alpaca Farm – Nasu Beer Garden – Strawberry Picking from Shinjuku
Hato Bus Tour: Strawberry Picking – Nasu Beer Garden – Alpaca Farm from Ikebukuro
*These tours are as of April 2017 and may not be current.

I hope this helps! x

The Old Photos: Kobe 2009

 
Guess where I’m headed tonight?

I’m off to Kobe for the weekend to see my lovely friends before heading down to Imabari to spend Obon with family! I do love this city so. It’s a beautiful blend of Japanese and foreign culture, due to it being one of Japan’s early port cities. These pictures are from when I was there in December 2009.

There’s a typhoon headed our way but I’m hoping we miraculously have great weather because I really want to go to Koshien stadium to see the high school baseball tournament that starts this weekend! I was on the baseball team in high school (as a “manager,” not a player) and it’s every team’s dream to make it to koshien one day. I’ve actually never been to Koshien stadium before so this is huge. I mean, HUGE. Early morning practice, weekly practice games, handmade omamori. All of it was for that summer koshien dream, and although my high school never made it past the prefectural tournament, even to this day we still bond over those memories. (Although there have been questions lately regarding this culture.) So even though the forecast says 80% chance of rain, I’m hoping it clears up just a little for me!

We’ll have to see how the typhoon feels. But whatever happens, I’m excited to be heading to Kobe! Wishing you all a wonderful weekend as well! x

The Day Exploring Nasu

I really had no idea Nasu-kogen (那須高原) was so close to Tokyo.
This was over two months ago, but I was in Nasu (那須) for the weekend to attend a friend’s wedding! I was really excited about this weekend because I hadn’t been to a wedding in a while (love feeling the love!) and technically this was my first time stepping into Tochigi prefecture, which is where Nasu is located.
Nasu, along with Karuizawa (軽井沢), are the top two summer resorts for people in the Kanto area because of the cooler weather, due to their location in the highlands. We call these places hishochi (避暑地) in Japanese, which translates to “land evading heat.” And I can definitely vouch for that. The weekend we were in Nasu, Tokyo was apparently hit with the first heatwave of the season but we didn’t feel any of it, especially up in the mountains.
I would recommend a rental car if you’re ever in Nasu. Everything is located pretty far from the main shinkansen/train station and it makes exploring much easier. But since the main reason my friend and I were there was for the wedding, we stuck with trains and buses to explore a bit of Nasu.
We took the bus from Nasu Shiobara station to Nasu Yumoto (那須湯本), a place that has been famous for their onsen (hot springs) since they discovered the very first one, Shika-no-yu (鹿の湯), over 1,380 years ago in year 630 (read more about the history in Japanese here). They also established the Nasu Onsen Shrine (那須温泉神社) close by around the same time. 
We took a short walk through the Nasu Onsen Shrine premises and then down below to take in the amazing sight of hundreds of jizo standing along the mountain side. They are called Sentai Jizo (千体地蔵), which means one thousand jizos, but in reality they still have a bit to go to reach that number. A local craftsman started handcrafting these jizos in 1978 and continues to do so today with prayers for peace.
I noticed that this whole valley was mostly rock and sand, even though the surrounding mountains were lush with greenery. You could say the fault lies on a large rock that sits there called Sessho-seki (殺生石), which translates to “rock that kills the living.” People in the olden days believed the rock had a spirit within it and named it Sessho-seki because they saw many plants and even animals that came near it suddenly die. There’s even a famous legendary story regarding Sessho-seki (read here).
We now know that the real reason this happened is due to toxic gas, such as hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide, which sprouted from the ground surrounding Sessho-seki. You can still smell the odor quite distinctively and even to this day, certain areas around Sessho-seki are blocked off due to the harmful fumes. Isn’t that scary? Although if you got a whiff of the smell like I did, you’d know right away that it can’t be that great for you. It smelled worse than the onsen mud pack in Kagoshima!
Speaking of onsen, my friend and I didn’t have time for that but we did manage to relax in an ashi-yu (足湯), which is an onsen for your feet. It’s the perfect way to rest your feet after walking around for awhile. We also ate soba before heading off to visit Nasu Alpaca Farm, because who doesn’t want to hang with Alpacas? (Blog post to come soon!) We really had a great time getting to know Nasu. It’s on my list of places to revisit…I bet late fall in Nasu is gorgeous!
Here are some photos:
It’s been awhile since my last Shinkansen ride…they really are fast.
Nasu-shiobara Station is where most people get off to go to Nasu Yumoto.
I forgot what they are called but they were handing out these fish in front of the soba shop!
We had lunch at Nasu Yumoto…nothing like cold soba in the summer!
This was the entrance to the Nasu Onsen Shrine (那須温泉神社).
This was the path leading up to it…and silly me, I forgot to take a photo of the main shrine!
Apparently even the famous poet Basho Matsuo (松尾芭蕉) passed through Nasu.
Steep stairs leading up to the Atago Shrine (愛宕神社) located by the Onsen Shrine.
The view of the valley below…we could already smell the sulfur odor from here.
The creepy Sessho-seki that kills everything that comes near it.
Even today there is a fence blocking us from getting closer.
The story of Sessho-seki.
One of the handmade jizo…many people place coins at the feet of the jizo for their own prayers.
Many of the Jizo had crocheted hats and scarves wrapped around them.
My omikuji from Nasu Onsen Shrine…it said that change was coming. Hmmm.
Nasu is also known for their fresh fruit and vegetables. These dips were on sale.
The ashi-yu felt amazing, even though the water was really hot at first.
Located at the foot of Nasu Onsen Shrine, it’s free for anyone to dip their feet into.
We ended the day near Kuro-iso Station (黒磯駅).
I had soba for dinner even though I had it for lunch, too. So good!
182-22 Yumoto Nasu-machi, Nasu-gun, Tochigi JAPAN
栃木県那須郡那須町湯本182-22
TEL: 0287-76-3230
OPEN: 11:00am until noodles sell out (closed Tuesdays)
ZARU SOBA: 700 yen
182 Yumoto Nasu-machi, Nasu-gun, Tochigi JAPAN
栃木県那須郡那須町大字湯本182
TEL: 0287-76-2306
OMIKUJI: 100 yen
KONBAIRO NO YU (こんばいろの湯)
182-14 Yumoto Nasu-machi, Nasu-gun, Tochigi JAPAN
栃木県那須郡那須町大字湯本182-14
TEL: 0287-76-2619
OPEN: 9:00am-6:00pm
4-4 Honcho, Nasushiohara-shi, Tochigi JAPAN
栃木県那須塩原市本町4-4
TEL: 0287-62-0007
OPEN: 11:00am-8:00pm