The Picnic at Shinjuku Gyoen

Sunday was the perfect day for an afternoon picnic, especially when it meant catching up with my favorite creative girl from New York while she was in town.

The great thing about Shinjuku Gyoen is that it’s never too crowded (well, maybe except for hanami season) and it really is a green oasis in the middle of the city. The warm fall sun and cool breeze felt amazing as we spent the afternoon chatting away.

I wish I had more days like this. It’s so relaxing and nothing beats being with friends.

But all too soon, the melody signifying the park closing began to play…so we packed up and stepped back outside into the city.

Just a side note, did you know that the song that notifies people of facilities closing here sounds like Auld Lang Syne, but it’s actually the Farewell Waltz from the old movie Waterloo Bridge? I mean, that song is also based on Auld Lang Syne so technically it’s the same thing. But who knew that this tragic movie was so popular in Japan that the soundtrack was used as a way to let people know that something is ending?

The things you learn when you’re fact checking your blog post.

Anyways, I didn’t really take all that many photos (too busy talking as always) but here are a few smiles from our picnic 🙂

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The Omoshiro Tube at Hitachi Seaside Park

Did you think all there is at the Hitachi Seaside Park were rolling hills of Nemophilia flowers?

Nope, nope, nope.

This nationally operated park is fairly large and has everything from barbecue corners to cycling courses. There is also a playground of sorts in an area called Pleasure Garden. (*insert innuendo of choice here*). It’s actually a pretty popular spot, though random, with anime themed attractions, semi-roller coasters and even a bmx course.

But we were only interested in one thing…the Omoshiro Tube!!!

This orange tube of fun (which is literally what the name means) is over 400 meters long and it twists and turns around this corner of the park. It is part obstacle course, part observation deck and we had tons of fun on it, as the name indicated!

So if you’re ever at Hitachi Seaside Park to see the flowers, do so. But take some time to see other areas as well. Like the ferris wheel or the beach area by the ocean that we didn’t have time for. It’s definitely worth visiting.

On our way back to Tokyo, we stopped by a parking area on the highway that had a giant Hello Kitty vending machine. Naturally we had to take a photo of it…but just as we were snapping pictures, a man with five dogs walks by.

I’ve seen two, maybe even three, dogs but this man had FIVE.

Hello Kitty vending machine took to the back burner and we were all over the dogs, which according to the nice owner were a mom and her kids. They were so well behaved and sweet as can be, my friends and I were smitten.

You just never know who you’ll meet on the highway! x

Here are some photos:

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The Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki

Something about fields of blue that make even rainy days seem bright!

Nemophila flowers in Hitachi Seaside Park (or Hitachi Kaihin Koen in Japanese) are becoming incredibly famous and this park is a popular place to be during Golden Week. These are pictures from last year, actually, but I thought now would be the perfect time to share as any!

I went by car with some friends on a rainy day. It wasn’t suppose to rain but you know how spring likes to trick you that way. But when you’re with your friends, it really doesn’t matter. We bought ourselves an ice cream cone and took a walk around the park.

We were walking up a hill when a little girl passed us in a rush, pumping her arms in an effort to reach the top of the hills as fast as her little legs could carry her. My friends and I were chatting about how lazy we were, watching her leave us in the dust.

When we finally did reach the top of the hill, the scene before us was pretty incredible. I later learned that the hill is called Miharashi-no-Oka (translated: Hill with View) and is 58 meters above sea level. You could see past the blue fields that surrounded us to the green woods beyond, including a big ole ferris wheel. You could even see the ocean, which surprised me.

Just as I was wishing we had better weather for the view, I noticed the little girl that had rushed past us before, wandering around with a half sob on her face. I recognized this look, the brave face of a little one frantically looking for the familiar face of a parent while their heart beats a thousand miles a minute. I’m sure we’ve all had that exact same expression on our faces in the earlier years of our lives.

After a quick look around to see if someone was looking for her, I went over to crouch down and asked her if she was lost. With quivering lips, she nodded her head. So then I asked her what her name was. She mumbled something but I couldn’t quite manage to catch her name, so I asked her again, leaning in closer to hear. She must have though I was deaf because she stuck her mouth literally to my ear and shouted “MANA-CHAN!”

She had my ears ringing but bless her, I did get her name 😉

My friends and I called out for her parents and they were soon there, huffing and puffing up the hill. Apparently Mana-chan had really left them in the dust and they had just reached the top. The sudden relief on her face was apparent as she was scooped up into her dad’s arms and all was well in the universe again. Awww.

Satisfied that we had done our civic duty, we headed back down the hill. It was a good day!

Here are some photos:

 

HITACHI SEASIDE PARK (国営ひたち海浜公園)
605-4 Onuma Mawatari, Hitachinaka-shi, Ibaraki JAPAN
茨城県ひたちなか市馬渡字大沼605-4
TEL: 029 265 9001

The Picnic and Chrysanthemums at Shinjuku Gyoen

Slow weekends are the best.

My best friend and I walked to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden again one weekend. We found a good spot to settle and had a brunch picnic. What is it about eating outside that makes everything taste so good?

We also stopped by the chrysanthemum festival. I’d never seen so many different types of chrysanthemum and was very impressed with the dome shaped chrysanthemum art. Did you know that it is all just one chrysanthemum plant? There are over 550 flowers and each one is placed in a specific position over the course of a year as they grow. Pretty amazing.

The sun was shining from between the clouds and it was a really great morning. Then suddenly the clouds started getting heavier and we had just enough time to see the chrysanthemum festival before the sky opened and it began to rain.

We headed home, patting ourselves on the back for our perfect timing.

Here are some photos:

The Shibazakura Hill in Chichibu

I feel like every other blog post lately is of flowers.
Then again, it is spring! The season where everything starts to bloom. That’s a good reason, right? You’ll just have to bare with me for a bit longer! (Yes, I do have a few more in store…)
Right before Golden Week, I got itchy feet and hopped on a train headed to Chichibu (秩父), a corner of Saitama Prefecture surrounded by mountains. It’s a really great spot to explore and hike, about 1.5 hours from Shinjuku by train. As much as I love living in the city (and I really do), sometimes the inner inaka in me craves nature. Thankfully, it’s not too difficult to get away from the city in Tokyo (although it doesn’t necessarily mean that you get away from the crowds).
It was Shibazakura season at Hitsuji-yama Park (羊山公園).

Shibazakura, phlox subulata or moss phlox in English, is originally from North America. The flowers look like small cherry blossoms and cover the ground like grass, thus the name Shibazakura in Japanese (shiba=grass, sakura=cherry blossoms).

There were nine different types of Shibazakura that cover the 17,600 sqm (4.3 acres) hillside in various colors. The design is based on the traditional clothes the float riders wear participating in the Chichibu Yomatsuri, a very large festival in this area.

Although the flowers itself are very small and simple, seeing it cover the hill is quite impressive. I noticed a very sweet scent in the air from the Shibazakura, too. I may have gotten slightly high from that at one point. Did I also mention you get a fabulous view of the massive mountain, Bukosan (武甲山)? It was beautiful. And they also served sakura flavored soft serve!

Now doesn’t that make you want to go see this Shibazakura hill next year? x

6267 Omiya, Chichibu-shi, Saitama JAPAN
埼玉県秩父市 大宮6267
TEL: 0494 21 2277
ENTRANCE FEE: 300 yen

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 Elephant Slide in Kagurazaka

Taking a break from my travel posts…I thought I’d introduce you to these elephants!
Kagurazaka is a great spot to just wander the streets. On this particular day, I was heading toward Akagi shrine when I heard a screeching noise that could only be a dying crow or a child having tons of fun. It ended up being the latter.
I was curious what was going on so I followed the voices down the narrowest path there ever was and suddenly it opened up into a tiny park in the middle of a residential area. I love how this park feels like a secret, only people who know of it can see the entrance!
Then my eyes fell on these elephants. I also discovered what all the shouting was about. The kids were playing an intricate game of tag on the two elephants, which consists of a long slide (the nose), climbing rocks and pegs (the ears), and a tunnel (again the nose).
Akagi Children’s Park (赤城児童遊園) is a very narrow park and what land it has is a large slope, which this elephant slide utilizes to its full advantage. So creative! These elephants are gigantic and surprisingly not too friendly looking. But I like their droll expressions and more importantly, the kids don’t seem to care at all. The screaming was still going on when I left the park 😀
Aren’t these two elephants darling?

This is a path that leads to the top of the park.
Those tusks!
The slide down is quite long…yes, I somehow slide down but my butt didn’t fit at all!
What do you think of these elephants? x