The New Years Hatsumode in Imabari

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I am one of those people who love the new year. How about you?

For me, I think it’s the sense of starting anew. So many possibilities in the new year. And yes, I know it’s just a regular morning of another day…but it just feels different. Special somehow.

I think it was a couple of new year holidays ago that my whole family went to Okinawa to be with my grandma. It was after my grandpa had passed away and it was just really lovely getting to be together, welcoming another new year together.

And during that trip, my grandma mentioned that we should go see Hatsu-hino-de at my grandpa’s grave (which may sound creepy but Okinawan graves are like tiny stone houses with a large space in front of it for family gatherings!) because it has a great view of the sunrise. So thus began this tradition of going to see Hatsu-hino-de.

It’s not always everyone, and it’s not always planned ahead of time. But for the past few years I’ve dragged myself out of bed at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise burst through the clouds. And it’s pretty great. I love the anticipation of watching the sky turn brighter, and how the sun feels against my chilled face once it shows itself.

This year, I asked my sister if she wanted to bike to Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge, which is part of the Shimanami-kaido. My second cousin had recommended it the previous year and I wanted to go, but my sister is smart and instead recruited my mom into going and driving us over. Ha.

Here are some photos:

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The Three Musketeers in Ikea

Shopping for a bunk bed at Ikea ended up taking all day.

Not that it took that long to choose. I had actually narrowed down the bed we wanted online and we were technically just there to buy it. But you know how it is…we had to try out every couch, gush over the system kitchen that would never fit into my apartment and ponder over how many pots for plants I need (and by need, I mean want).

We also took a break and ate at the Ikea restaurant. Not only are their dishes very cheap, they had a vegetarian dish on their menu, too! We all tried the Veggie Ball Kurozu Ankake and it was really good!

At the end of the afternoon, we finally got around to buying our bunk bed, which we somehow maneuvered into our tiny car. It was a tight fit going back home but I had tons of fun. Mission accomplished! 😀


IKEA SHINMISATO
2-2-2 ShinMisato Lala, Misato, Saitama JAPAN
TEL: 0570 01 3900
HOURS: Mon-Fri 10:00am-9:00pm, Sat-Sun 9:00am-9:00pm

The Quick Visit to Oyamazumi Shrine

Isn’t this tree magnificent? It stands front and center on the grounds of the Oyamazumi Shrine.

Located on the island of Omishima, Oyamazumi Shrine is said to have been built in 594. It is the head shrine to over ten thousand Yamazumi and Mishima shrines throughout Japan and many come to pray to Oyamazumi-no-kami, the God of mountains, sea and war.

The shrine itself is surrounded by many camphor trees, but there is one you can’t miss. Said to be over 2,600 years old, it stretches its branches across the sky from where it stands in the center of the shrine grounds. It even has a name, “Ochi-no-mikoto-oteue-no-kusunoki (乎知命御手植の楠),” so you know it’s pretty special.

It may have been due to the surrounding trees but the grounds of the shrine felt very quiet, even though there were many people about. We unfortunately didn’t have time to visit the Treasure museum, which looked really interesting. I’m hoping I can visit some day. Apparently in the ancient days, whenever someone won a war after praying for victory at this shrine, they would gift their armor as a tribute to the Oyamazumi God. So they have quite the collection here, many which are designated as a National Treasure. I’ve heard rumors of a body armor that may or may not have belonged to a female.

Also, if you’re in Japan, you may have heard of Hitori-zumo (一人角力), an important match where a sumo wrestler goes against the Spirit of Rice (稲の精霊). The outcome is said to have an affect on the year’s harvest. Good thing so far the Spirit of Rice has won every time 😉

Here are some photos:

 
 
 

OYAMAZUMI SHRINE (大山祇神社)
3227 Miyaura, Omishima-cho, Imabari JAPAN
愛媛県今治市大三島町宮浦3327番地
TEL: 0897 82 0032

OYAMAZUMI SHRINE TREASURE MUSEUM (大山祇神社 国宝館)
TEL: 0897 82 0032
HOURS: 8:30am-5:00pm
FEE: Adults 1,000 yen, Students 800 yen, Children 400 yen

The Christmas With My DC Family

Dropped down in DC for Christmas! Whoop whoop!

I’m so glad I found a last minute ticket to see my favorite non-Japanese family! The girls had grown so much. K talks more than ever, and you know how entertaining that is. I actually have a list of funny quotes. Little J is just starting to walk around and she loves to make funny faces. They sure know how to make Auntie Kaori laugh and laugh and laugh 😉

Waking up on Christmas morning and opening presents. Boy, I hadn’t done this in YEARS. Much more exciting than my usual morning commute to work, which I would have been doing in Japan, that’s for sure. We had tons of fun oohing and ahhing over all the presents. I even found myself a present under the Christmas tree (it’s already hanging on my wall)!

Then we had yummy pancakes and stayed in PJs all day. Best. Christmas. Ever.

Here are some jolly photos:

The Christmas tree was so pretty, I couldn’t stop taking pictures!
Uh oh, santa forgot his reindeer!
Twas a fun morning full of shouts of joy and ripped wrapping paper! 
Oh wait, here’s another lost reindeer!
Full of sweet moments like this.
And giggling fun moments like this.
Someone is super excited about her new book!
First reindeers and now a Christmas angel is here!
K made me a beautiful painting of the ocean and trees!
Crazy fun Christmas day with this familia! How crazy was your holiday? x

The Cycle to the Northern Tip of Imabari

Isn’t this a great view?

You may have heard that Imabari is promoting itself as a cycling town. And it seems to be catching on, I see more cyclists on the streets everytime I go back home.

Well, when my dad first retired a couple years ago, he bought a bike with 16 gears. My dad’s cousin had been participating in the Shimanami Kaido bike race that the city promotes and invited my dad to join her. I should mention that my daddy is the best but not really the fittest person on the planet. So we were all pretty excited when we learned that he would be cycling and getting in some exercise!

After the weekend of the race, I called home to see how he did in the race. He said, “yokatta yo (it was okay).” But he didn’t sound 100% satisfied. He also said that he’d be entering the next race and was determined to make better time and I thought, wow he’s really getting into cycling! My dad gave the phone over to my mom and I expressed how impressed I was that he was actually training and getting exercise through this race. But she says, “Nani itteru no (What are you talking about)?”

“Gear no ohii bike wo katta dake yo (He just bought another bike with more gears)!”

So as you can imagine, my daddy’s cycling career did not last, although he did get a better time in his next (and last) race, and now we just have two great bicycles sitting in the garage.

Well, this Silver Week, my sisters and I decided to make use of the bicycles. We didn’t do the Shimanami Kaido course (like Dru did!) but kept it local and went to my favorite corner of Imabari.

Osumi Kaigan Park is a very local spot at the northern tip of Imabari. We’ve been swimming here since we were younger, visiting our late grandmother, and I have a ton of great memories. What’s great for hardcore cyclists is that Osumi Kaigan also has camping grounds. So you can pitch a tent and even have a barbeque by the sea. There’s also an observatory with a great view of both the Seto Inland Sea and the Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge.

We had a fun afternoon cruising the streets of Imabari. Definitely got our dose of exercise that day!

Here are some photos:

Promoting the city of cyclists! (I think this should be a poster…ha)
Imabari’s bike lanes are a pretty sea blue.
I brought my penny with me from Tokyo!
The stairs up to the observatory.

Do you see the tent below?
So…the observatory is probably better in the winter?

King of the mountain!
I never tire of this view

What do you think of this spot?


OSUMI KAIGAN PARK (大角海岸公園) 
893-1 Otsu Namikata-cho, Imabari-shi Ehime JAPAN
愛媛県今治市波方町波方乙893-1
PARKING: 80 cars
ENTRANCE FEE: free

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 Turkey-less Thanksgiving Dinner

Happy Thanksgiving (to those who celebrate Thanksgiving)!!!

This is definitely one of those holidays that will probably never come into Japan, despite this country’s love for importing holidays, such as Halloween and Easter. For one, Japan never had any Native Americans that taught the pilgrims, that never came to Japan, how to grow corn and sat down together for a meal after a good harvest season. But more importantly, it’s almost impossible to roast a whole turkey in Japan’s tiny microwave ovens.

But I’v always loved this holiday from my childhood days growing up in Michigan and since my sister was heading over to my place for the weekend, I invited the girls over for an early Thanksgiving dinner, sans the turkey.

I was up and early, running back and forth to the supermarket, cooking and baking my butt off. It’s always fun putting a dinner together for family and friends, I get pretty excited about things like this. At the same time, I often get in over my head with ideas too difficult to execute by myself. This year though, I was surprisingly level headed throughout the whole process and had a great time in the kitchen, even though it was just me, my oven and reruns of Sherlock in the back ground.

The menu consisted of apple cranberry walnut salad, pumpkin soup, blooming onion bread, mashed potatoes, broccoli and macaroni casserole, green bean avocado fried rice, spinach balls, and bread stuffing. For dessert, there was pumpkin pie and apple pie, which I baked the day before.

When everyone came over, they helped set the table and then (after a quick photo session of the food, hehe) we all dug in! It was all SO GOOD!

I’ve learned that get-togethers like this are not really about the food. I mean, it kind of is…but it’s not. We could have had conbini bentos and it still would have tasted good, although not as Thanksgiving-y. For me, what makes the difference is that we were all enjoying this meal together. I personally miss my family the most around the holidays, so it was nice to have a full house (because my apartment is tiny, you know?) filled with chatter and laughter over dinner. The fact that we were all there enjoying the meal together is definitely what made it delicious!

I hope you’re enjoying time with friends and family this holiday season, too! x

Here are some photos:
 

Do you celebrate Thanksgiving? What is your favorite dish? x

The Birthday Weekend in Ibaraki

I started last month with a weekend with my sisters in Ibaraki.
When you have a sister living in Chiba, another in Ibaraki, and you in Tokyo…it’s going to take at least a weekend to spend quality time together. Especially when it involves a special birthday!
My baby sister turned twenty in June. TWENTY!!!
Hard to believe that she’s officially an adult now (twenty is the official age of adulthood in Japan). I’m still trying to get my mind around how in the world she grew up so fast. At the same time, I’m so incredibly proud of the strong and caring person that she has become. 
She’s busy with exams and classes in her second year of nursing school, but we dragged her away for a sleepover weekend and, most importantly, a birthday cake with candles!
You may know our family is big on candles. We believe that a cake is just a regular cake unless it has candles. Then and only then is it a birthday cake. We also tend to lean towards as many candles as your age (should be interesting what happens as we get older…).
We had no plans but to be lazy , which is sometimes the best kind of weekend when you’re together. Most of the photos are my view from the car, to and from the bus station and Y’s apartment, but you get the idea.
Yay for sister weekends and birthdays! x

How was your weekend? Have you ever been to Ibaraki?

The Year End Family Get Together in Okinawa

I’ve mentioned before that our family rarely does anything tourist-y in Okinawa. 
It is one of the top vacation spots for domestic travel in Japan. And I’m quite curious to explore this motherland of mine (I was born here). But I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve actually eaten out, much less hit the tourist attractions.
The reason for this is: family get-togethers.
We have a lot of these. Especially when we visit during the holidays. Okinawa is said to have a very strong sense of family and community, which means everyone comes to these gatherings. It can get very lively and last late into the night.
This time it was just my grandmother’s younger sister’s family and us (because there just wasn’t enough space to invite my grandmother’s other two sister’s families). We spent the entire day getting ready for the get-together, cleaning the house and cooking, cooking and cooking some more. Apparently, there really is no such thing as too much food on occasions like this. Or at least that’s what my grandma says.
We rarely get to spend time with our Okinawan-side of the family so it was really nice to have the time to catch up with all my relatives, especially with a feast like this! Oh, what a night!
What are your family get-togethers like?
Here are some photos:

My brother good and ready to eat!
Our second cousins teaching us a new pose…still have no idea what it was.
A lot of my favorite dishes…mmmh!
So hard to choose where to start with this much food!
Chimaki is delicious and filling, made from things like rice, beans, and meat.
It’s finally my turn to hand out otoshidama (お年玉) now 😀
My great aunt, grandma, and baby sister taking a break from eating to chat!
For once in my life, I was too busy eating and chatting to take photos…and you can see why! x

The Year End Osoji in Okinawa

After flying into Okinawa, we jumped right into the year end tradition of Osoji (大掃除).
Growing up in Michigan, my family always kept with the tradition of spring cleaning. It makes sense to open the windows and clean the house out once the cold weather goes away. Especially in Michigan, it’s just too darn cold to do any cleaning at the end of the year.
But in Japan, osoji is part of the sacred new years ritual of preparing your house for the god(s) that will visit you in the new year. It goes hand in hand with the kadomatsu (門松) and shi-me-kazari (注連飾り), which are also put up to welcome the god(s) into your home.
In the Edo Period, they called this year end cleaning Susu-harai (すす払い). Most families in Japan do osoji in the last couple of days of the year now, but previously susu-harai was done on the 13th of December. It was considered the day to start preparing for the new year.
My family is neither Shinto or Buddhists, but we keep with tradition because it’s easier to do hardcore cleaning when you have the whole family there. The more hands the better, right? And also, it’s just a great feeling to be able to welcome the new year with a clean house.
Do you do osoji at the end of the year?
Here are some photos:
My mom was in charge of the yard.
My baby sister and I were in charge of all the windows and doors.
My daddy was in charge of fixing and cleaning electronics around the house, like fans and lamps.
Did I mention we were in Okinawa? Perfect weather to open the windows and clean!
My other sister was in charge of vacuuming the entire place.
We washed all the curtains. If you look closely, you can see my brother by the window.
Grandma coming to peek at how everyone was doing in between her osoji in the kitchen.
It may seem like I was just taking photos the entire time, but I did my part…you have to believe me!
It felt really great to get the house in order before the new year!