The Top 5 Christmas Movies

It’s almost Christmas! Have you been watching any holiday movies?

I feel like in Japan, where Christmas is more of a commercial event and weirdly a romantic holiday, Christmas movies are essential for getting into the holiday spirit. Which is why (just in case you haven’t been watching already) I’m going to share my favorite Christmas movies with you today. And even if you aren’t into Christmas, you can just consider this a list of educational material on a certain pagan festival 😉

Here are my favorites:

“Karen: So what’s this big news, then?

Daisy: We’ve been given our parts in the nativity play. And I’m the lobster.

Karen: The lobster?

Daisy: Yeah!

Karen: In the nativity play?

Daisy: Yeah, FIRST lobster.

Karen: There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?

Daisy: Duh.”

I love this movie for three reasons: (1) British English, (2) tons of merry humor, and (3) Colin Firth. Need I say more?

“Bah, humbug.”

I grew up watching the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol, long before I even knew of Charles Dickens. The ghost scenes always made me inch closer to my parents but it was always a holiday favorite for our family. I didn’t realize there were so many versions though!

“Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.”

Yes, it is a wonderful life, especially when you’re watching this! Can you believe that this classic holiday movie came out in 1946 but took over 20 years for it to become as popular as it is today? In Japanese the title is “Subarashiki-kana, Jinsei (素晴らしき哉、人生!).” I think this was my dad’s favorite holiday movie and we used to watch this every year when it was on television. The angel-in-training is a dear and the last scene always makes me emotional.

“Keep the change, ya filthy animal.”

After all these years, I still adore this movie. It is a beautiful Christmas movie set in Chicago (my favorite city!) and you will laugh and laugh over how smart this kid is. But my favorite part is the interaction he has with his next door neighbor. It always reminds me that people may not be what they seem. Also, all the crazy 90s outfits in the movie are just too fabulous.

” He would get these far-off looks in his eyes and he would say ‘Life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan’. I just wish I’d realized at the time, he was talking about MY life.”

My favorite Christmas movie of all time!!! I know you’ve all seen it. It’s so good I sometimes even watch it in the middle of the year and not just because this movie is also set in Chicago. Lucy and Jack are the lead characters but what makes this movie even more special is the fabulous cast they have surrounding these two. It’s the most heartwarming story ever, that will make you laugh and cry, quite possibly at the same time. And I’d know, I’ve watched it twice already this year 😉

So there’s my list! Happy holidays, everyone! xx

(images via here, here, here, here and here)

The Old Photos: Hinamatsuri

Today is Hinamatsuri (雛祭り) in Japan!
Hinamatsuri is also known as Girl’s Day in English, which doesn’t sound quite as festive. But it’s a special day where families pray for the happiness and health of their young girls.
I personally haven’t celebrated this day in awhile but I remember we did when I was younger. I even found this picture of us kids posing beside a beautiful display of Hinamatsuri dolls!
You’ll notice tradition becomes a bit more casual when you’re living on the other side of the Pacific, as we have both girls and boys in the picture. But a celebration is a celebration and this is how Hinamatsuri in rural Michigan looked like in 1988 (or somewhere around there!) 😀

The New Years Eve in Ehime

Hello everyone! Hope you’re all recovering from the new years holiday.
I had a really great time in Ehime at my parents place. So much so that it’s been a struggle getting back into work-mode this week. But somehow I got through the week. I’m hoping next week will be a little bit easier because it’s a four-day work week.
Anyways, here are some photos from Ehime:
Every day started and ended with these mikan in Ehime.
Ehime is known for their delicious mikan (mandarin oranges). We buy them by the boxes because we all love eating these mikan during the winter. Our family of six ate a total of two store bought 10kg boxes in a week. Not to mention the other mikan we ate from the trees growing in the yard (pictured above).
But I did manage to pry myself away from the box of mikan and get out and about for a bit. On the last day of the year, I was still making my nengajo and in the evening I made a mad dash to the town post office to make it in time for the mail pick-up. I took a detour around the local port before heading back home to watch the Kohaku show on TV with the family. 
Watching this NHK program has become kind of a tradition…my parents tell us stories and information about the older singers and my sister’s keep us up-to-date on who is who in the younger generation. Since I don’t have a TV in my apartment, I don’t have any information to offer so I usually just sing along with all the songs that I know. All the while eating mikan, of course 🙂
Do you have new years eve traditions? Did you watch Kohaku this year (if you’re in Japan)?

Tiny flowers growing in our yard.
I love these old wooden walls.
Not only do we eat mikan, we include them in our new years decorations, too!
Small boats just bobbin around in the water.
Notice the number four is missing.
We had amazing sunsets.
Toshi-koshi Soba and the NHK Kohaku show.
We rose extra early on new years day to see the first sunrise…isn’t it pretty? 😀

The Holiday Weekend in Yokohama

Aren’t these the cutest Christmas reindeers (aka poodles) you’ve ever seen?
While many other countries may have a day off to celebrate Christmas on the 25th, here in Japan it is not an official holiday. So a lot of people get together over the weekend or on the 23rd, which actually is an official holiday here (it’s our Emperor’s birthday!).
I ended up in Yokohama this weekend with my Japanese friends, who currently live in South Korea, and their Chinese-Malay friends, currently visiting Japan from Malaysia. We went by Chinatown and had lunch at Bawarou, a Taiwanese restaurant that actually had vegetarian options. It was really good and the owner was quite the character.
After learning how to count from one to ten in Chinese, Korean, and Malay (this is what happens when everyone speaks a different language), we took a walk down the pier. Yokohama has so much history, it’s really interesting learning about how the port opened and evolved. Also, the view is pretty amazing, too.
Our Malaysian friends wanted to try ice skating so we stopped by the Red Brick Warehouse, which we call Aka-renga. Every winter they have a popular outdoor skating rink in their event space. It’s very crowded so it’s not the place to practice your triple axels, but skating with friends is always fun. Especially when it’s someone’s first time on ice. The girls had previous experience so they were very good but their dad had never ice skated before. He was like bambi on the ice! Teehee!
We had tons of fun and I’m glad we got to spend our holiday weekend together. And even though I’ll be working on Christmas day, I’ll still be in a festive mood for sure! (Especially since everyone on the other side of my emails will be on holiday and I won’t have that much to do anyways ;D)
Wishing you all a very merry Christmas from Japan! x

The Christmas Apple and Cranberry Chutney

One of the greatest things about this holiday season is the food.
I was beyond excited when my friend V, who is an amazing artist in the kitchen, brought me this homemade Christmas apple and cranberry chutney!!!
Have you ever tried chutney before?
I hadn’t heard of it before but I looked it up and the internet said that it goes well with cheddar cheese. I’ve been making chutney grilled cheddar cheese sandwiches ever since with everything from regular bread, brown bread, and even raisin whole wheat bread. So so good. (If I ate meat, I’d put the chutney on that, too!)
So it’s really no surprise that this lovely bin of chutney did not last until Christmas day. I made my last sandwich today. So sad that my chutney season is over but so grateful to V for letting me experience the joy of chutney in the first place. Thank you, V! x

The Christmas Tree at Kitte

For a country that doesn’t technically celebrate Christmas in the religious sense, we really do have a lot of Christmas trees displayed all over Tokyo.
Not that I’m complaining. I love Christmas trees. I’ve seen quite a few different Christmas trees this season (like this) but I think I have finally found my favorite!
The one that had me oohing and ahhing is this Christmas tree covered in snow. It’s the one currently on display at KITTE Marunouchi, a new retail facility that opened this March.
It doesn’t have any illumination lights or decorations on it, it’s just a tree covered in snow but I think the simplicity of it all is what pulls me. I love it. This Christmas tree is one of the tallest indoor trees in Japan, standing a whopping 14.5 meters high inside the atrium. It was designed by Makoto Tanijiri, a Japanese architect, and will be on display here until December 25th.
KITTE is definitely one of my favorite retail facilities in Tokyo. The selection of stores is great and the outdoor roof has a fantastic view of Tokyo station, which was also renovated recently. It also has photos of the old Tokyo Central Post building displayed in various parts of the facility, which I also love. I’m glad they were able to preserve a part of the building exterior, which was originally designed by Tetsuro Yoshida and completed in 1933. Lots of history there.
So if you’re in the area this weekend and looking for something to do, stop by to ooh and ahh over this lovely tree, go (window) shopping, and/or gaze out across Tokyo station from the roof! You’ll love doing at least one, if not all, of the above. x

The Miniature Holiday Wreath

Sometimes I like to get creative.
It’s rare (especially when it’s so cold everyday) but I’d been seeing a couple of houses with holiday wreaths on their doors. So when I saw these holly-like plants growing in the garden, I decided to make a miniature wreath from them (inspired by these mini holiday wreaths). 
This plant is called Sarcandra glabra, which we call Sen-ryo in Japanese. It’s a plant native to asia and I see them a lot in parks and gardens.
In Japan this plant has been considered a new years good luck plant for centuries. For one, the name Sen-ryo (千両) translates to thousands of ryo (ryo being the currency during the edo period), meaning wealth. The fact that the red berries grew during the new years season also factors in (red was considered a celebratory color). Many Sen-ryo plants are used in flower arrangements during the holiday season in Japan.
So I thought it was the perfect wreath to celebrate christmas slash new years. Now if only I can find a hook of some sort to put on my door so I can actually hang this wreath! 😀 x

The Christmas Tree Lighting

Have you put up your Christmas tree already (if you celebrate Christmas)?
I graduated from a Methodist university and every year they have a Christmas tree lighting ceremony on the Friday before Advent starts, which is usually the last Friday of November. It’s been a tradition since 1977 and all the students from kindergarten to post graduates are invited to attend, as well as parents, faculty, and alumni.
I loved this program when I was at the university. I mean how often do you get to stand in a crowd of Japanese people holding a candle and sing Christmas hymns with the choir outside? This rarely happens in Japan. We aren’t exactly in the land of Christmas caroling (although I’ve done that before, too). So I always embraced this opportunity to feel the Christmas spirit on campus.
Even the students who aren’t Christians (and most aren’t) are there to see the Christmas tree light up and you can feel the anticipation in the air throughout the whole program. A representative of each school (kindergarten, elementary, etc.) pushes a button to turn the lights on and each time a portion of the tree lights up, everyone gasps and claps. It’s kind of funny because this happens seven times until the whole tree is lit (we have a lot of schools crammed into this small campus) but sometimes you just can’t help yourself. It really is breathtaking!
This year I had a whim to go and I’m so glad I went. The regular candles had changed to penlight candles (much safer since everyone is holding a paper program) and the president of the university had changed, but the atmosphere of the program was still the same. I loved singing with everyone to Silent Night and Joy to the World. The older man standing next to us actually had a very lovely baritone voice. It was the perfect way to feel the Christmas spirit in a traditional way.
Hope you’re having a wonderful start to the Christmas season, too! x

The Sadaharu Aoki Chocorons

I know, I’ve been posting about chocolate way too often.
But our White Day was just last week
and I found myself with this amazing box of chocoron.
I had to share the pictures!
In case you didn’t know (like me)
Chocoron is a macaron covered in chocolate…YUM!!!

Also, they are apparently famous.
(I am so bad at remembering brand names)
These cute polk-a-dotted pieces of deliciousness
were created by the ever popular pâtissier Sadaharu Aoki.
Do you know him?
He is a pâtissier from Tokyo
currently based in Paris.
In 2007 he became a member of Relais Desserts.
He even won the Pudlo Paris award in 2011.
(which I believe means that he was the Pâtissier of the Year)
He has stores in Paris, Tokyo, and Taipei.
And he was one of the most popular pâtissier
for this year’s White Day in Japan.
I am ashamed to say that I did not know about him
until I googled him after devouring his delicious chocorons.
So good. So so good.
But I’m pretty sure if you eat more than two at once
you will pass out from too much of this chocolate goodness.
(yes, I could not stop at one and ate two…I am not superwoman!)
This box of chocorons had six flavors:
Green Tea, Chocolate, Citrus, Framboise, Cassis, and Coffee.
My favorites were Citrus and Coffee.
And Framboise, too.
Don’t they look delicious?

A big thank you to my coworkers
who waited in line for an hour and a half to
get us girls in our department this gift for White Day!