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Missing the Sakura

Shidarezakura For the first time in six years, I am missing the cherry bloom in Japan. Not like spending time in Southern California is a bad thing, but I can’t help feeling pangs of regret thinking of the fluffy clouds of white and light pink adorning Japan in this moment. All I can offer this year is a link to my Sakura Archives

Things Japanese XXVII

Protective fence at a construction site in Tokyo's Ueno Park.

Protective fence at a construction site in Tokyo’s Ueno Park.

When addressing the public, especially when there’s actually a serious message (such as e.g. disaster prevention), Japan often uses cute characters as vehicles (see more of that here and here). This protective barrier keeping pedestrians away from a construction site is very much in line with this phenomenon. The cute female construction worker bowing respectfully to atone for the inconvenience caused caught my eye in Ueno Park. Continue Reading »

Japanese Toys

Woody Puddy salad cutting set

Woody Puddy salad cutting set

Being with my little one in Japan, I wasn’t going to deprive her of the cuteness of Japanese toys. While the Japanese seem to have a particular love affair with plastic, I couldn’t quite deny my German heritage which comes with the belief that a good toy should be made of wood… But Northern European expats (and everyone else loving wooden toys) take heart – it is entirely possible to dodge the Anpanman plastic bullet: Japan also caters for your toy needs!
Japan being a nation infatuated with their knives, a very popular toy genre is the food cutting toy. I found Woody Puddy a maker of high quality items, the wooden fruits and vegetables being held together by little magnets (which gives the added benefit that you can put together “Frankenfruit”). Pictured above is their salad set, but there’s no fruit or vegetable that you can’t purchase from them separately (and hands down – who wouldn’t want a tiny wooden renkon split up into segments?).
Mother Garden Wafu tea and sweets set

Mother Garden Wafu tea and sweets set

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A pine tree in the famous Kenroku-en

A pine tree in the famous Kenroku-en

As most other trees fade into the background during the winter months, matsu, the pine, unchanged in its looks, takes center stage. Any Japanese garden worth its money and most Buddhist temples will sport beautifully sculpted pine trees on their grounds, the work of many decades of intensive gardening.
Pine trees in Tokyo's Kyu-Shiba Rikyu garden

Pine trees in Tokyo’s Kyu-Shiba Rikyu garden

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Kyu-Shiba-Rikyu Garden seen from the overpass over the train line We’ve always enjoyed visiting Tokyo’s gardens. The Hama-rikyu Garden at Tokyo Bay has been a long-time favorite. But for the sake of novelty, we decided to try this time the Kyu-Shiba-Rikyu Garden which is not far away. As it turns out, we had been wrong to ignore this garden for so long, as it is quite large and full of surprises. Located opposite of Hamamatsucho Station, wedged between Tokyo’s main train artery and an Expressway, this landscape garden holds its ground among modern high rise buildings. From the overpass crossing the tracks, one has a nice view of the whole garden (but beware, the only entrance is on the opposite side). High rises soaring up behind a flaming red tree in Tokyo's Kyu-Shiba-Rikyu garden. Continue Reading »

Year of the Horse Tenugui Another year has passed and it’s time again to wish my readers a Happy New Year! This year is the Year of the Horse in the Chinese Zodiac. To our satisfaction, we were once more able to get our customary tenugui (again from the Shin-Marunouchi Building) and specially decorated sake barrel bottle. I hope that also this year will be full of cool Japanese stuff to write about here on Chipango and that you, my readers, will stay with me also for the year to come.
Sake bottle in the shape of a sake barrel painted with horse motive

Visit to Ikaho Onsen

View of the snowy mountain ranges with distinctive volcanic cones from Ikaho Onsen

View of the snowy mountain ranges with distinctive volcanic cones from Ikaho Onsen

Visiting a hot spring town is a quintessential part of the Japanese experience, so obviously we could not miss out on that. Since our Japan map still has many empty patches, we tried a new region this time, namely Gunma (群馬) prefecture. Ikaho Onsen (伊香保温泉) recommends itself for an overnight trip as it can be reached within two hours from Tokyo (shinkansen plus local train plus bus, or shinkansen plus bus). Located on a mountain slope, Ikaho Onsen commands beautiful views of the plain below surrounded by mountain ranges.
The bottom of the Ishidangai, the famous 360 stone steps leading up through the town of Ikaho Onsen.

The bottom of the Ishidangai, the famous 360 stone steps leading up through the town of Ikaho Onsen.

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