The Silver Week in Ehime

Heading home for the holidays is always a treat.

This September, the 5-day holiday Silver Week was back on the calendar and gave us an extra long weekend.

Silver Week first became an “official term” in 2009, when the stars first perfectly aligned. It’s a combination of the weekend, Respect for the Aged Day and Autumn Equinox Day. As one holiday is always on a Monday, due to the Happy Monday System, and the other an astronomically determined holiday, depending on the year, it becomes a consecutive holiday. And with the help of a law that automatically makes the day sandwiched between public holidays a holiday of its own, it becomes a 5-day weekend.

God bless whoever made that law.

My baby sister was staying with me in September, which I loved. Living alone has its perks but having someone there to welcome you with an “Okaeri-nasai!” is pretty great, too. Not to mention, not having to do the dishes by yourself. Ha.

As Silver Week isn’t due back on the calender until 2026, my sisters and I took full advantage of it this year to head back home to Ehime. We rarely fly home together, due to schedule conflicts, but this time I got to take extra time off work and my baby sister and I both got on the same flight to Matsuyama. Other than the usual family dinners and catching each other up on everything, I’ve noticed that there are certain things our family does every time we’re back together at home.

  1. We bring out the old family albums and go through them for the millionth time. There are some photos that just crack everyone up each time. I wish I had a record of everything we remember and notice from these photos. Sometimes all six of us have different memories from the same photo, which I find fascinating.
  2. We play the piano and any other instrument lying around. Seeing how close our neighbors live, my dad rarely plays the trumpet at home. But both my parents play the ocarina, half of us play the piano, and my dad and baby sister have a great voice. Not quite the Japanese Von Trapp family, but we do appreciate music. And my brother lets us know whether it’s good music or not with his facial expression 🙂
  3. This is just us girls (mom+sisters) but we have a drawer full of manga we collected during our junior high/high school years. I have a number of Mitsuru Adachi‘s older manga. Also very old school manga like Hot Road and Tenshi Nanka Janai. My sisters also have various series such as Naruto and One Piece. When we have the time, we all just grab a manga and dive in. This time I finally read the entire series of Slam Dunk! (And yes, it was good as every one says it is!)

Wow, this ended up being a fairly long post. But then again, I do tend to be long-winded when it comes to family. Don’t we all? (What, no?)

Well, I have a few other Silver Week posts coming up, so you’ve been warned!

Here are some photos:

What are some things you always do when you’re with family? x

The Istanbul Diaries: Blue Mosque and Baked Potato

The first time I heard the call to prayer, we were just stepping out of Hagia Sophia.
Not knowing what a call to prayer would be like, I didn’t know what to expect when I read that you would hear them all over the city. At first I didn’t even realize what the musical voice was that poured out from the minaret speakers. The echo of the voices felt very foreign but beautifully hypnotic.
I later learned that verses of the Koran are read back and forth by the muezzins of Hagia Sophia and the neighboring mosque, Sultan Ahmed Camii, or better known as the Blue Mosque. (Listen here.)
The Blue Mosque is considered to be one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. It was completed in 1616 (to put things in perspective, that’s about 1000 years after the current Hagia Sophia structure was built) during the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I. If you’re in the old city of Constantinople, the magnificent domes and six minarets are hard to miss. 
R and I made our way over to the mosque, where there was an entrance for visitors. After standing in line like Disneyland, we were allowed inside where the back half of the mosque was sectioned off for visitors.
It’s interesting because the name Blue Mosque refers to the blue Iznik tiles that cover the walls. But my eyes were more drawn to the beautiful red carpet that covered the entire floor, where there were people praying in the front half of the mosque (although I’m guessing many were also non-local Muslim visitors because they were taking pictures and videos after praying, too).
Honestly, the visitors area was extremely crowded and I was ready to get out of there after 5 minutes. It was only the second mosque I’d ever been inside (coincidentally that was also with R), and the interior design and tiles were beautiful…but I think it was the crowds that did me in. I’m sure there is a much more calm and reverent atmosphere during the prayer and Friday worship hours, but at that moment I didn’t feel a connection with the place.
But what I did love is the courtyard of the mosque. The architecture is fabulous and the breeze that flows through the arcade along the walls makes this place a perfect spot to sit and people watch. Staring up at the beautiful domes from below, it’s incredible to think that someone built this massive mosque.
All in all, I think it was worth the visit, especially when you include the yummy baked potato we ate just outside of the Sultan Ahmed Park, which lies between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The guy at the food vendor made the largest and most colorful baked potato I’ve ever seen.
When we ordered, he cut open the baked potato and proceeded to mix the inside until it was more like a mashed potato. Then he asked us about toppings, most of which we said yes to. At one point he asked us if we wanted “American salad,” which ended up being potato salad! I though the potato on potato concept was hilarious but it ended up being delicious. Really, you’d be surprised.
Here are some photos of the Blue Mosque and the crazy baked potato:

Sultanahmet Cami, 34122 Sultanahmet, Fatih, İstanbul, TURKEY
TEL: +90 212 518 1319
HOURS: Open to visitors outside of prayer hours

The Istanbul Diaries: Hagia Sophia

Where do I even start?
There were just so many interesting places to see in Istanbul. It’s mind boggling, especially when it’s your first time there. R and I decided we wanted to cover a mix of famous landmarks (because they’re famous for a reason, right?) and a little random exploring.
Our first destination was the ever famous Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya in Tukish.
This beautiful landmark has been a museum since 1935, but it has quite the colorful history. It was a Christian cathedral for 916 years, then later renovated and used as a mosque for 482 years. You can read about the long history here but I can tell you, this landmark has seen a whole lot of change.
The original church was completed in 360 during the reign of Constantius II, although it was his father, Constantine the Great, who ordered it to be built. I learned that this original church burned down during the riots of 404. A second church was built during the reign of Theodosius the Great, which later also burned down during another riot in 532. So it’s actually the structure of the third church, built under Emperor Justinian I in 537, which still stands today.
After reading a little into the history of Constantinople, I am amazed Hagia Sophia actually withstood all the riots and occasional earthquakes that came thereafter. But thank goodness it did because Hagia Sophia is a beauty. The exterior is light and shades of pastel pink and blue, whereas the interior is very dark and gold. To me, it felt very masculine inside.
It’s said that when Justinian I saw the completed Hagia Sophia, he exclaimed, “Solomon, I have outdone thee!” Despite the restoration and conservation work still underway inside Hagia Sophia (you can’t really see it in the photos but the left side of the ground floor was full of scaffolding), I have to agree, it is fabulously grand.
R and I borrowed an audio guide at the entrance and slowly walked around the grounds, breathing in the rich history of Hagia Sophia.
Here are a few photos of what we saw:

Hagia Sophia Square, Sultanahmet Fatih, Istanbul, TURKEY
TEL: +90 (212) 522 17 50
HOURS: Summer 9:00am-7:00pm (final entry 6pm)
             Winter 9:00am-5:00pm (final entry 4pm)
FEE: 30 Turkish Lira

The 5 Things That Surprised Me About Istanbul

I am finally braving the piles and piles of photos that are virtually in my SD card to share with you my amazing trip to Istanbul.

I know, it’s about time.

Well, there is much to tell. But I thought I’d start with some things I did not know about Istanbul. This trip was originally supposed to be to London, where I would meet up with my travel buddy R. But somehow we ended up changing destinations to Turkey, which was fate because I’ve always been curious about this country.

On the other hand, because it was last minute we didn’t have much time to research. R and I actually first started discussing potential places to go…the day we left for Istanbul. But just jumping into this historic city head first was thrilling and gave us a chance to learn certain things first hand.

So before I get into all that we experienced and saw, here are some things that surprised me about Istanbul during our five glorious days there:

1. MOSQUES EVERYWHERE – This may be one of those “duh!” statements. I knew there were many famous mosques, I just didn’t realize how many other regular mosques there were.

If I had done my research before my trip, I would have known that there are over 3,000 mosques in Istanbul. It was beautiful seeing five mosques from my hotel window, especially at night when the minarets were lit up. Stumbling across so many mosques was also a god-send when you needed to use the bathroom. Or a quiet place to calm yourself in the midst of the beautiful chaos that is Istanbul.

2. THE HEAT – Or should I say, the lack thereof? Summer in Tokyo is a million times more stifling than in Istanbul, or so the Iranian man sitting next to me on the flight to Istanbul told me. I thought he was kidding.

But lo and behold, he wasn’t. I always imagined Turkey to be so much more hot than Tokyo, and temperature-wise some places might be, but the lack of humidity made Istanbul feel quite cool. July is apparently their hottest month, and during the day it really was hot, but I was wearing sweatshirts at night because of the cool wind!

3. MEN LOVE CHILDREN – Living in Tokyo, it seems like we all tend to keep to ourselves when out in public. Especially in very public places, you just don’t go around tickling the feet of a stranger’s baby (unless it’s a dog, maybe).

Well, in Istanbul you can because everyone loves babies, it seems. Especially the men! It was interesting riding on trains and ferries, seeing teenage guys acting all fly until a baby starts fussing next to them, and they all hurry to entertain. Or a grumpy old grandpa would eyebrow tricks to make a child smile.

And it goes both ways, the parents don’t seem suspicious of strangers when it comes to their children. They will just say, “Oh she likes you!” and sometimes even ask for a picture (yes, I entertained my share of babies on ferries and in mosques). I have to say I love how everyone appreciates children in Istanbul. We were there during the Ramazan Bayrami holiday, when many families are out and about, but I didn’t see one child have a tantrum. Did I miss all the tantrum throwing kids in Istanbul, or is Istanbul possibly the village raising a child?

4. STRAY CATS AND DOGS – Although we have our fair share of cats roaming my neighborhood, the number of stray cats in Istanbul was still surprising. In the city, the islands, pretty much everywhere!

What I wasn’t used to were the stray dogs, which I’ve never seen in my neighborhood, or anywhere in Japan, really. Not only were they stray dogs, they were BIG stray dogs. Big beautiful labradors and huskies. I didn’t see a single chihuahua or toy poodle. It’s quite the surprise when you glance over and see a huge dog staring at you. I almost screamed a couple of times at first but you get used to it after awhile, especially since they are all tame and friendly.


5. NOT VERY MANY PEOPLE SPEAK ENGLISH – I know, I know. Japan shouldn’t be talking. And no, I don’t expect every place I go to be full of English speakers. I admit that I absolutely failed at learning Turkish. Shame on me. I did try. But I will do better next time, promise.

But what I wanted to say here is that despite not very many people being able to communicate in English, they were enthusiastic about helping us out using slowly pronounced Turkish words and huge hand gestures. Everyone was fantastic. We were rescued by local people countless times.

They say that it’s the people you meet that make a place special, and it was exactly that for us. We were truly blessed.

Have you ever been to Istanbul? Were you surprised by anything?
We had an amazing time! There will be more Istanbul photos on the way! xx

The Afternoon in Chichibu

Chichibu may be famous for their matsuri and Shibazakura, but there is much more to this region.

Even if just around the train station.

On my way back from Hitsuji-yama Park, I had a little time to wander. I discovered a city surrounded by mountains, filled with interesting temples and local shops. The streets were quiet but full of charm.

The temple I stumbled upon was Nosaka-ji (野坂寺), which is the twelfth temple in the Chichibu 34 sacred temple pilgrimage. This temple may be one of my all time favorites because it was so quirky.

Right at the entrance, you come face to face with a lovely Azukari Kannon (預かり観音), a Kannon that will gather your worries, anger, sickness, and whatever else may be burdening you. There is also a gorgeous wood carving of the Mountain God. I won’t mention everything but there was just a lot of interesting things to see, you’ll have to go discover for yourself.

A piece of advice. If you ever discover a temple with a cemetery on the side of a mountain, climb to the highest grave. You won’t regret it. I loved seeing the view from above. My ancestors on both my parents sides have a great view from the family grave, which we took full advantage of this new years. I’m sure they won’t mind sharing a view with you for a while, especially if they haven’t had visitors in a while.

I passed by a beautiful shelf of white wisteria (which I didn’t even know existed), a large elementary school with a great view of Mount Buko, and retro shops that were so cute that I had to stop and snap photos of.

Then I discovered an amazing local bakery, where I ended up buying much more than I could eat. The bakery prides itself in using natural yeast, domestic flour and other organic produce. If you, unlike me, have self restraint and only get one thing, I would suggest the Aosa Bagel. I didn’t even know this existed but it was delicious!

I’m already looking forward to my next time in Chichibu. x

Have you been to Chichibu? Isn’t it charming?
NOSAKA TEMPLE (野坂寺)
2-12-25 Nosaka-machi Chichibu-shi, Saitama JAPAN
埼玉県秩父市野坂町2-12-25
1-18-12 Nosaka-machi Chichibu-shi, Saitama JAPAN
埼玉県秩父市野坂町1-18-12
TEL: 0494 25 7373
HOURS: 10:00am-6:30pm (Closed Tuesdays/Fridays)

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 Afternoon at the National Museum of Singapore

Museums are a great way to learn about a country’s history. 
Which is why I was looking forward to visiting the National Museum of Singapore, located just a short walk from Dhoby Ghaut station, right by Fort Canning (for those of you who know Singapore…I think it’s a park?).
I love how it says on their website that they are “Singapore’s oldest museum with the youngest and most innovative soul,” because it’s true. The museum was both historical and modern at the same time. Their design game was spot on.
R and I had a quick bite to eat before heading to see the exhibits. There was a photography gallery but what I was excited to see was the Singapura: 700 Years exhibit that had opened the day before, in celebration of Singapore’s 50 years of independence.
I knew that Japan had occupied Singapore for a time (well, I read it in a Japanese travel guide for Singapore and it said that it could still be a sticky subject so be humble…which is not bad advice at all). But other than that, I had no knowledge of their history so this unique exhibit allowed me to see how Singapore grew from a small village to the financial capital of Asia that it is now.
We had just gotten past the first couple of sections and R says to me, “This is so nice how peacefully this country has evolved,” referring to Ancient Singapore and the British Colonization that made Singapore an international port. Then we turned a corner to see the section on the Japanese occupation during WWII and he turns to me and says, “Oh.”
Yes, oh. Well, you know it’s never the greatest feeling seeing your country’s not-so-proud moments in the past. But…my thought is, the more you know about it, the less the chance of repeating it in the future. It’s more sensible not to shy away from the past. 
Looking through the visual gallery of scenes during the occupation, watching the short documentary video of interviews with the Singaporean people who lived through it, and reading the facts and data regarding the war…it gave me a sense of what those 3 years of suffering through Japanese occupation must have been like for the people of Singapore and it once again confirmed my belief that nothing good ever comes from war. 
The following sections were just as interesting, displaying photos of post-war Singapore and another section on how it led to an independent Singapore.
I think this exhibit was the perfect way to learn about Singapore’s history and get a feel of how the country has evolved. It had the perfect amount of information in each section, giving you just enough to be curious and want to learn more on your own. Not to mention how visually appealing all the displays were. I really loved this exhibition.
And if you’re really into it, you can always take the quiz at the very end that tests your knowledge of Singapore’s history!
Do you like learning the history of other countries? Do you go to museums?

(photo by R)

93 Stamford Road, Singapore 178897
TEL: +65 6332 3659
HOURS: 10:00am-6:00pm
FEE: Exhibition fee for non-residents 6.00SGD