The Hanami Under the Camellia Tree

No cherry blossom season in Japan is complete without hanami.
Hanami is pretty much a picnic under the cherry blossoms. So you would think that it’s as easy as a picnic blanket in one hand and a six-pack of beer in the other. Well, it’s a little bit more complicated than that.
For one, it’s hard to pinpoint when the cherry blossoms will be in full bloom, even with the announcement of the cherry blossom forecast as early as a month before. Especially if you only have weekends (like me).
For another, spring weather is extremely unstable and that means it rains quite often. So not only do you hope the blossoms are blooming but you also have to hang a teru-teru-bozu and pray it doesn’t rain on your hanami day.
And finally, this hanami season is also the end of the fiscal year for most companies and spring break for many students. Which can mean full schedules for everyone and is quite difficult to find a day when everyone is able to come. I actually have a coworker who sets a date for hanami with friends a year ahead.
Well, my baby sister was flying in to stay with me for a few days before heading back to school at the end of March so we decided on this day to get together. It was a gorgeous afternoon with the sun shining through the trees, perfect for hanami.
Except none of the cherry trees had blossoms!
Ha! Ah well, I knew the unusually warm weather was too good to be true. Although it didn’t stop us one bit from having a good time. We spotted a camellia tree in full bloom and decided that one blossom was good as the other! x
Did you have the perfect hanami day this season?
We got burgers from my favorite burger shop! Yum!
Did you try the easter kitkats? (It was way too sweet for me…but cute, right?)
My sister flew in this morning and brought homemade ohagi that my mom made for us.

The Wedding in Melbourne

I have been waiting for this wedding forever!
My amazing friend M got engaged last year and I’ve been looking forward to this day ever since. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Melbourne. Actually, I don’t even remember what the weather was like but there was so much happiness surrounding all of us there that it couldn’t be described any other way!
It started with an intimate wedding ceremony at the Old Treasury Building, filled with joy and laughter, which continued on to the lovely reception party. There were many toasts, dancing, and just all around good cheer throughout the night.
I personally was a little nervous at the reception because I was asked by M to do the speech. And if you know me, you know about my stage fright. Which is why I wrote every word down so my mind couldn’t go blank (unless the impossible happened and I forgot how to read…). 
I am so inadequate when it comes to words. But I did try to articulate how warm and amazing both M and J are. Maybe you can tell me if it came through because I thought I’d share my speech here so you could get to know a little about the newlyweds. Here it is…

Hello everyone. I’d like to thank J and M for letting me share this special day with them.

My name is Kaori and I am M’s friend from college. I don’t exactly remember when we first met because we had so many classes together, but M is one of those girls that is genuinely kind and makes everyone feel welcome in her circle of friends. I am incredibly lucky to have a friend who has such a big heart like her in my life.

Most of you know the story of how M met J. He was passing through Japan during his vacation and happened to meet M at a mutual friend’s place. When we heard from M how she’d met this “someone”…I’m sure we all had some questions.

Questions such as: (a) who is this grown man that takes over a month of vacation from work, which is unheard of in Japan, (b) is he really as nice a guy as M says he is? and (c) how do we know he’s not a serial killer? (So sorry J)

Well, when I finally got a chance to meet J, it was hard to stay suspicious because I saw just how happy he made M. Also, it is nearly impossible to resist his natural charm, which we like to call “J magic.”

Although, there was a time early on in their relationship, I remember M half whispering to me, “I can’t hold hands with J.” I thought this was because maybe he doesn’t like to hold hands…but no. M explained that it was because he is so expressive with both of his hands that it was impossible to hold on! We both had a good laugh over this quirk.

One thing about M is that, although she may seem a little shy or quiet, she is truley one of the bravest people I know. She jumped at the chance to go to grad school, even though it meant moving to a new country. She continues to challenge herself, be it sharing her art work at a gallery or taking up driving (pedestrians of Melbourne, you have been warned!) and I simply admire her for being so strong. She is the best mix of sweet and fierce.

As you know, M is an amazing teacher to her kindergarten children, so I’d like to close this speech with a passage from the famous Dr. Seuss. 

“People are weird. When we find someone with weirdness that is compatible with ours, we team up and call it love.” 

I’m sure anyone who has seen M and J together knows that they are definitely a team, even if they don’t hold hands all the time. I love you both and wish you nothing but the best in your marriage…to M and J! xx

Here are some photos of the beautiful wedding day:
The ceremony room at the Old Treasury Building.
The lovely bride walking down the aisle with her father (who looks like the emperor of Japan!).
The ceremony was beautiful!
Officially married!!!
Whoop whoop!
M and J stepping outside and cheered on by the crowd 🙂
We all took turns taking photos in front of the building.
Me in my dress I found for the wedding this spring and R in the suit he got the day before ;D
M and J in the traditional Japanese wedding kimono. We wrote messages on it at the reception.
We had an amazing table at the reception and it was fun getting to know everyone.
Don’t you just love the groom’s enthusiasm? x
Loved the Malaysian style toast of Yam Seng, meaning “drink to success!”
My vegetarian dish was delicious! So good!
Gosh, these two…they really are the best.
Completely out of focus but for some reason one of my favorite photos…very dreamy!
After their waltz they did the cutest rendition to this Frozen song! ;D
So blessed to be able to share this special day! Much love. x

The Halloween Day in Disneyland

 

Tokyo Disneyland is famous for introducing Halloween to Japan.

Truthfully, Halloween isn’t even in my list of top ten favorite holidays. I’m not sure if it’s because everything is all spooky, or because I’m just not that into costumes, or simply because I don’t like the color orange.

But my high school friends from Kyoto were in town and they wanted to go to Disneyland so I was game, as were my sisters and another high school friend. It was extra fun because my friend has a six-year-old son and there is nothing like experiencing the Disney magic with a real child (you know, not just the inner child in all of us).

It’s been years since I’ve braved Disneyland from the morning (especially on a holiday weekend!), so my sisters and I joined my friends from 3pm with the starlight passport. We did things that we usually wouldn’t do, like watch the Halloween parade or ride some of the smaller rides, and it made the day that much more interesting!

We stayed until the very end and when the park closed, we headed back to the station. My friend’s son, who had been up since 7am, still had enough energy to shout out “Tanoshi-katta! (That was fun!)

Mission accomplished! 😀

Did you know that Disneyland now has new passport tickets?
How cute is this couple? 😀
No trip to Disney is complete without popcorn! This was the curry flavor…yum!
The Happy Halloween Harvest parade was full of pumpkins, of course!
I now know why people watch parades…it gives them time to sit and rest! Group picture!
H is holding on to our 3D glasses for us…does this make him see 6D?
Getting ready to see Mickey’s PhilharMagic show!
Cinderella’s castle lit up in the night.
The Haunted Mansion was a lot more haunted than usual for Halloween.
And laugh, we did!
If you’re into Halloween, you can enjoy the decorations at Disneyland until October 31st!

The Other Typhoon Day in Kobe

I sort of forgot about my blog posts from summer break.
But this typhoon passing through Japan yet again (the wind is howling outside at the moment) reminded me that I still had photos from my trip to Kobe this summer, which was also during a typhoon! A couple of typhoons ago, to be exact.
One thing I love about large railway stations is that they are connected to various buildings and have underground passages that make it easy to get around and enjoy your day without getting drenched. Especially when there is a typhoon passing through. No umbrella can stand against those crazy typhoon winds so I don’t even try.
In Tokyo we have places like Shinjuku station, Tokyo station, and Shibuya station. The city of Kobe has Sannomiya Station. My best friend from high school (who I went to Yakushima with in May!) was in Kobe with her family so we decided to meet up at Sannomiya station that day. 
I checked out of my hotel and made my way to the station earlier in the morning because I knew that the typhoon was going to hit around noon. I got to look out the window as the rain and winds got stronger while waiting for my friend, who also got to the station early just in case the trains stopped.
We found a nice cafe and spent the morning chatting away and catching up with each other. Once we start talking, it’s hard to stop us girls! We barely noticed the craziness outside and before we knew it, the rain had stopped. So we took advantage of it and ventured outside to see a little more of Kobe, before I had to head to the airport.
Kobe is such a beautiful city. I love it. And although I was only there for two full days, I got to see my dearest friends and had an amazing time! I am already looking forward to the next time, preferably without a typhoon though! 😀
Here are some photos:
We found a cafe in one of the retail facilities. The risotto lunch set was delicious!
The streets of Kobe after the typhoon.
The flowers survived, as did the lovely flower planter.
Every time we are in Kobe together, we end up just sitting on this couch and talking!
A Jizo for retail prosperity sitting in the corner of a shopping street. Look at that smile!
Too soon it was time to head to the airport. So convenient that we can use Pasmo in Kobe now.
Headed to Itami Airport in Osaka on the Hankyu Kobe Line. So retro, I love it!
Mint Kobe 8F, 7-1-1 Kumoi-dori Chuo-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyogo
兵庫県神戸市中央区雲井通7-1-1 ミント神戸8F
TEL: 078 200 4730
OPEN: 11:00am-11:00pm

The Fun Rainy Day in Kobe

Well, that didn’t happen. Not that I’m complaining though, I love a good typhoon. And there will always be another high school baseball Koshien tournament. Maybe even my own high school will make it there someday! (You’d think with me attending two high schools, the chances for this would multiply…)

Best of all, the typhoon gave me a chance to just relax indoors with my amazing friends who braved the weather and came out to see me! Nothing beats that!

As often as I get on and off airplanes, it’s rare that someone is waiting for me at the airport. I usually quickly get on a bus or train after I’ve gone through baggage claim. But this time, I got off the flight at Kobe Airport and my lovely friends were there waiting for me! Isn’t that the best surprise?


We’ve mostly gotten together when they’ve been in Tokyo (here, here, and here) so it was fun getting a chance to get together in their beautiful city of Kobe this time. Well, we mostly just talked a lot while walking around or eating. But in all honesty, that’s all I really need when I’m in good company!

Here are some photos:

I can’t get enough of this handsome little man, he’s grown so much!
Starting off the day right with Kobe coffee and waffles at UCC Cafe Plaza…YUM! 
We walked through Ikuta Shrine, exploring a bit of the city once the rain stopped.
Ikuta Shrine is one of the oldest shrines in the country, founded in the 3rd century.
Isn’t this building so quirky? Shows us how to fold…the building? 😀
For lunch I had this delicious couscous dish! Loved this Tunisian restaurant!
My lovely friends…best hosts ever! x
Once it started raining again, we headed to a shopping center. Specifically this gelato shop!
Here I’d just asked little A if he was ready to eat gelato…I think that smile says he was!
It took forever to choose but we adults settled on this!
How do I say delicious in French? It was so good!
A pretty sunset outside of our dinner restaurant.
The Hawaiian flavored coffee was delicious, especially this latte!
Had an amazing time because I got to spend the day with my favorite family in Kobe! x


Kobe Kotsu Center 2F, 1-10-1 Sannomiya Chuo-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyogo JAPAN
兵庫県神戸市中央区三宮町1-10-1 神戸交通センタービル2F
TEL: 078-391-4057
OPEN: 8:00am-9:00pm
1-2-1 Shimo-yamate-dori Chuo-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyogo JAPAN
兵庫県神戸市中央区下山手通1丁目2-1
Hankyu Nishinomiy Gardens, 14-2 Takamatsu-cho, Nishinomiya-shi, Hyogo JAPAN
兵庫県西宮市 高松町14−2 阪急西宮ガーデンズ
OPEN: 10:00am-9:00pm

Hankyu Nishinomiy Gardens, 14-2 Takamatsu-cho, Nishinomiya-shi, Hyogo JAPAN
兵庫県西宮市 高松町14−2 阪急西宮ガーデンズ
OPEN: 11:00am-11:00pm

The Afternoon with the Kiddos: Part Two

There’s really nothing as sweet or as loud as happy children, am I right?
Just like last year, we gathered at my coworker’s house for an afternoon of fun with the kids. I could not believe how much baby L had grown! She was so tiny before! Her brother R now talks non-stop and it’s the cutest thing trying to decipher what he is saying. He is a huge Mike fan (from Monsters Inc) and is very serious about operating the trains!
The twins are in fourth grade and were great “older sisters” to L and R. We spent a large part of the afternoon constructing an intricate railway system together. We had multiple trains moving in every direction and R was in charge of keeping them on track. It was quite the job, which included a lot of shouting and jumping up and down.
It’s not everyday I get to spend an afternoon with so many entertaining kids all at once. I definitely had a great time. Nothing better than hearing kids giggling together. Makes me smile, too!
But I’m not going to lie…I fell fast asleep the minute I got home ;D
Here are some photos:

My coworker makes the most amazing felt art…isn’t this amazing?
The twins are better at cellphone games than I am.
A miracle I was able to get this group picture!
She is so grown! I still can’t get over it!
The kids watching Totoro while we got ready for lunch.
Happy railroad construction workers!
“I’ve been working on a railroad…all the live-long day!”
I laugh every time I see these photos, these girls are so silly! 😀

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 Birthday Fun at Disneyland

Have you ever been to Disney in the rain?
My baby sister turned nineteen in June and she wanted to go to an amusement park to celebrate so we (my sisters and bff) decided on Disneyland! Unfortunately, the forecast for that weekend predicted rain and wouldn’t you know it, the forecast was accurate. Not that that could stop us. We donned our rain coats and boots and headed out for a day of fun and celebration!
My sister got a birthday sticker with her name on it at the entrance so every time a cast member (i.e. an employee of Disney) noticed her sticker, they would give her a “Otanjo-bi omedeto-gozaimasu! (Happy birthday!)” greeting. It was apparently a little embarrassing for her, which made it all the more hilarious for the rest of us.
Even though we opted for the Starlight Passport (entrance from 3pm on weekends), probably due to the rain, the lines at Disneyland weren’t as long as usual and we actually got to go on quite a few rides. Here is our list:
I’ve said this before but the most important thing you need to remember when going to Disneyland is to go with people you know you like and can talk to for hours. Because that is what you will be doing most of the time, standing in line and waiting to get on the rides. I once came here on a first date and…oh the horror! Needless to say, there was no second date.
So for us four (we go to Disney together often), it’s really great because we always have tons to talk about and catch up on that it’s almost like sitting in a cafe and having a gabfest, except we get to go on rides every hour. How great is that?
Anyways, we got to celebrate my baby sister’s birthday with candles I brought from home. I cannot believe she’s nineteen already. Until last year, she was still in high school and since she was in boarding school, it’s been a while since we got to celebrate together in person. So this year, it felt extra special to get to celebrate her special day together!
Here are some photos of birthday fun in Disneyland:
Starlight Passports are perfect for weekend fun in Disneyland!

My sister’s birthday sticker (anyone can get one at the entrance!).
Smiles while waiting in line for Pirates of Carribean.
We got our raincoats at the 100 yen shop (much cheaper than buying one inside Disneyland!).
Yes, it was June. Apparently Easter in Japan lasts much longer than elsewhere.
Waiting in line is always a great time for photos!
In line for the new Monsters Inc ride…yay for rainy dais and shorter lines!
This scene reminded me that I really need to watch this movie (never seen it before!).
These two know their games and  are quite serious about how well they do on the ride.
Waiting to watch Mickey’s PhilharMagic with our awesome 3D glasses!
Group picture! These rain coats made everything easier, no need for umbrellas.
There were plenty of people who were using umbrellas, too. Very pretty from above!
We rode one of my favorites, Bit Thunder Mountain. Great ride to scream your head off.
Everything looks even prettier when the sun goes down.
Someone looks like E.T.
Celebrating my sister’s birthday by sticking candles in her dessert 😀
We couldn’t find a number one candle so we used a regular one to compensate…can you tell? Haha.
Just turned nineteen and already a strong, beautiful, logical girl. So proud of her.
This Toy Story ride is a favorite of both of my sisters…because you play for points.
I never get a good score because my aim sucks and also because I’m taking photos like this!
Thank you Disneyland for letting us celebrate a special day here! We’ll be back! xx

The Day in Kagoshima

After our amazing trip to Yakushima, we came back to Kagoshima and I got to spend the whole weekend with S and her husband before heading back to reality (aka Tokyo). 
Kagoshima is a really beautiful prefecture surrounded by many volcanic mountains (most of which aren’t active anymore). This means that they also have many onsen (温泉), or hot springs, to enjoy. Kagoshima is famous for many things including Sakura-jima (桜島), the still active volcano, and Kuro-buta (黒豚), the Kagoshima black pig (which I’ve never eaten because I’m vegetarian…but I hear it’s really good!).
They also seem to be very proud of the rich history they have, such as the Satsuma-han (薩摩藩), and you will see statues of various scenes from history all around the city. You can even listen to a recorded explanation of each scene. If you’re into history, you’ll love it.
The city of Kagoshima also has a very convenient tram system. One of the things I noticed was that every tram station had grass growing on the tramway. Apparently this is one of the city’s countermeasures for the urban heat-island effect which they started in 2006. And according to data regarding these areas, not only has the temperature gone down but so has the noise level. Isn’t that great?
I have a few more Kagoshima posts coming up, but until then, here are some photos of our day hanging out in the city! x
The beautiful tram station in front of the JR Kagoshima-chuo Station.
The statues of a scene in Kagoshima history…my friend said they are life-size statues!
Heading to the organic chikyu-batake cafe for lunch!
I got the delicious korokke set, which also included a salad bar.
We had a choice of regular, brown, or black rice to go with our set menu.
The tempura set looked delicious, too. You can see we were pretty happy with our lunch!
Kagoshima is also known for their Shiro-kuma shaved ice. Yum!
S and her husband are always fun to hang out with…love them both!
The prestigious Hotel Shiroyama has a fantastic view of Sakura-jima.
It also has a great view of the city below…and it’s all free! 😀

CHIKYU-BATAKE CAFE (地球畑カフェ 草原をわたる船)
3-17-1 Shimo-arata
Kagoshima-shi, Kagoshima JAPAN
鹿児島県鹿児島市下荒田3丁目17番1号
TEL: 099-201-7000
HOURS: 11:00am-10:00pm (closed Tuesdays)

HOTEL SHIROYAMA
41-1 Shinshoin-cho
Kagoshima-shi, Kagoshima JAPAN
鹿児島県鹿児島市新照院町41番1号
TEL: 099-224-2211

The First Day in Yakushima

You guys…I took way too many photos.
It’s taking me forever to narrow down my choices. Which is understandable because my best friend S and I had been planning this girls trip for a few months now. I hadn’t been down to Kagoshima since her wedding three years ago, so when I told her I was coming for a short visit, she suggested we take a trip further south to Yakushima. Of course, I was all for it. I mean, it’s been on my bucket list forever! So you understand why I ended up taking so many photos, right?
In the mean time, here are a few highlights from the first day of our trip to Yakushima!

The Rocket Jetfoil took us from Kagoshima port to Yakushima in two hours.

First thing we did was drive our rental car in search for food and we found this cafe!

Still itchy and puffy but happy as can be on to be on this island.

Yummy curry and pasta for brunch…we were pretty hungry.

We did a little shopping at Yakushima Messenger, an outdoor shop with hiking gear.

I bought a pair of socks for our hike the next day…too cute to resist!

We then stopped by a tiny cafe to drink Tankan juice and eat Kozuki Dango.

They look different but tasted just like the mu-chi we eat in Okinawa!

S and I always eat and drink our way through trips, no matter where we are! 😀

We were in awe of this beautiful Toroki Waterfall (トローキの滝), which flows into the sea.
We also decided to take a canopy walk through the woods…fun but kind of scary.
But we got to see views like this above all the tall trees!

After that we stopped by a tea farm and had delicious green tea soft-serve…so good!
We finally headed back to Miyanoura to check-in to our lodge, which was right by the river.
I cannot recommend this lodge enough…such a great place to stay!

We took a little time to explore the area around our cabin.
Our cabin was so spacious and had the best view of the river outside our terrace.

Ferns and moss…I took thousands of pictures, I love them so.

Isn’t this amazing? S and I decided to eat breakfast the next morning down by the river.
After checking-in our lodge, we drove out to Nagata Inaka-hama Beach.
It was too cold to swim but we had fun getting our feet wet and seeing the gorgeous sunset.

By the time we got back, it was pitch black. But we got to see fireflies in the woods!

We ended our long day soaking in the bath…so relaxing!

More to come soon…! x