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 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 Day in Tochigi City

In September, I found myself in Tochigi City for the first time.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even know there was a city called Tochigi. More often than not, cities like Nasu and Nikko come to mind when you mention Tochigi prefecture. Even more interesting, although the city is the namesake of the prefecture, it is actually not the capital (it’s Utsunomiya City!).

That being said, Tochigi City is a far cry from a dead beat town, often referred to as “Kanto’s Kurashiki.” (If you don’t know, Kurashiki is a city in Okayama prefecture with a famous historical district) This pretty much means that Tochigi City has many old traditional Japanese buildings, which I can appreciate. I love cities that work to preserve their history.

In early September, several typhoons passed by (or close by) Japan, which resulted in unprecedented rain and lead to heavy flooding in certain areas. Most of the largely affected areas where along Kinu River, which the media focused on. But there were many other areas that were affected by flooding, Tochigi City being one of them.

I have to say, I really appreciate the network of friends I gained when I had an opportunity to volunteer in Miyagi. We all lead very different lives, but one thing is the same…once you start it’s hard to stop. So when my contact at the local social welfare council (they are usually in charge of volunteers for disaster relief) mentioned a lack of volunteers in certain areas, I asked to join in and to my surprise, there were very many familiar faces!

My team was given an assignment to clear out everything from inside a large storage garage, which was filled with old family memorabilia. If you know anything about the older generation in Japan, it’s that they don’t throw anything away. The garage had been sitting in flood water for awhile before it drained away so most boxes were soggy and starting to mold. Our job was to bring everything out and divide the items according to the city’s trash disposal rules.

The older owners were working along side us, too. It’s always so difficult to know what to say or do to not make the experience even more hard than it is for them. I can’t imagine what it’s like for them to have to throw so many things with memories away, so suddenly.

They had already stripped everything from their house and so it was just the garage that was left. We worked on it from 10am to 3pm, with a lunch break in the middle. It was just enough time to call the city to come pick everything up to dispose.

This was my first time seeing a garbage truck come to do private pick-ups. We all helped throw everything in, which was an experience on its own.

By the end of the day, we were pretty filthy but it felt good to be of some help to the owners, who jokingly said they’d see us all next week. I took that to mean they were satisfied with our work 🙂

We drove back to Tokyo after checking out at the local volunteer center. Tochigi City was so close that I was back at home by 8pm, which was much much shorter than our days driving back from Miyagi. Now that I know how lovely the city is, I think I’ll try going back as a visitor one of these days.

And I hope by then, the city will have bounced back from the flooding. x

A spot of fall.
Things at the volunteer center.
Energy drink before the manual labor.

It was raining that morning, too.
 You can see how high the flood water was.

We took a break for lunch and explored a bit of the city.
We ate lunch here!

The ramen was delicious 🙂

Rubber boots and work gloves are a must.
The amazingly efficient city workers.

Our day ended at the city hall.
Took a break at Hanyu parking area. 

Tochigi is famous for lemon milk, which I love.

Until next time, Tochigi. x


10-14 Yamato-cho, Tochigi-shi, Tochigi JAPAN
栃木県栃木市倭町10-14
TEL: 0282 25 7556
HOURS: weekdays  11:30am-3:00pm, 5:30pm-9:30pm
               weekend and holidays  11:30am-9:00pm

The Addiction to Leaf Gradations

First step to recovery is to admit.
So you heard it here first…I am addicted to fall foliage. More specifically, cherry tree leaves.
Last year, I had fun with colored leaves. But this year, I’ve gone a step further and discovered the beauty of dried colored leaves, if only because I left the leaves out too long after taking a photo.
Aren’t they beautiful?

How are you enjoying fall? x

The Handful of Fall Leaves

I love fall, especially when the leaves start to change colors!

I was especially loving it today on my way to work. I always walk along a river that has miles of cherry trees on both sides. You might think cherry tree leaves just turn brown. Well, they do. But they actually change to different shades of yellow, orange, and red…before quickly turning brown.

So this morning I started picking up the pretty ones…and before I knew it, I had a whole handful (with a few other types of leaves thrown in)!

I was also late for work. (If you saw a crazy woman with a handful of leaves running her butt off this morning in Shinjuku, that would be me.) But it was worth it because these leaves are so pretty!

What do you love about fall? x

The Beauty of Shinjuku Gyoen

The end of the year is always a busy time for me (and everyone else, it seems).
But last Thursday, I woke up tired after another night of nomikai (which was really fun!) and needed some time to myself. So I went to the one place I can always count on to calm me and at the same time fill me with energy…Shinjuku Gyoen.
I was pretty sure all the leaves would have fallen by now and I would just be seeing branches against the blue sky. That would have been enough for me.
Well, I was wrong.
Even though the ginkgo trees had started to loose their yellow leaves by the dozen, the Japanese maple trees had just started to change color everywhere. Spots of orange, red, and purple could be seen throughout the park paths, lit up by the rays of sunlight. And it was beautiful.

This is the one place. The one place I know where I can always come to relax. To hear myself think without the chaos. And always leave feeling refreshed, even if it’s during a short lunch break.
 Hope you have a moment to of quiet or calm during this busy season, too! x