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"Photographing" the Temple of Heaven - a new friend - Snapshots

“Photographing” the Temple of Heaven – a new friend – Snapshots

Can or should you bring your small children on a trip to Beijing? We have recently spent a week there with our toddler daughter, so here are my two cents. One concern is certainly the rampant air pollution, which has been all over the news during the last two winters. While for me, this excludes a visit in winter, in summer matters are much better. Spikes in the pollution levels do occur (aqicn.org offers hourly updates), but they often last only a few hours and can be worked around. Windy days (after the first dust cloud has blown off) even offer quite good air quality. We found however the very high temperatures quite challenging and ended up spending more time indoors with our daughter than we would have hoped for (we seem to have been especially unlucky, but maybe one should rather aim for earlier in spring or autumn instead?). Continue Reading »

View across Kunming Lake to Longevity Hill (Summer Palace)

View across Kunming Lake to Longevity Hill (Summer Palace)

On our way to Japan, we recently spent one week in Beijing. Due to circumstances (chiefly the facts that the Chinese Academy of Sciences is located very far away from most sights, and that we hit a hot spell with up to 41 degrees C), we were only able to see two of the major sights, namely the Summer Palace (the only sight relatively close to us) and the Temple of Heaven in the center of town. These, however, are truly impressive.
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests at the Temple of Heaven

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests at the Temple of Heaven

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Reffert-Japanese-food-tempura-renkon As I am getting mentally ready for our next trip to Japan, I am starting to fantasize about all the food I’ll be eating there. What does one eat in Japan? Sushi, tempura, sure. But these are just the stereotypical choices the whole world knows about. There are many small food items and snacks I am missing when I am out of Japan. Since I have a sweet tooth, things like Dorayaki and Daifuku mochi are coming to mind. And sofuto cream (soft serve ice cream), in particular the typically Japanese flavors of matcha and black sesame! But I will be also totally eating Japanese veggies like edamame, renkon and daikon. I am looking forward to red miso soup, and am even craving some yakisoba. For snacks bought at street stalls, also mitarashi dango is on my list. And nikuman! And a nice cold Asahi Clear beer! Which of course makes me think of senbei, arare and beika (rice cracker based snacks that are often consumed with beer). Continue Reading »

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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