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 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 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 Kurushima Straight Boat Tour

I went on my first Kurushima Straight (来島海峡) boat tour this summer!
My parents and my sister drove out to Oshima Island (大島), which is the first exit off Shimanami Kaido (しまなみ海道) from Imabari (今治), to take a boat tour of the Kurushima Straight tidal currents. Kurushima Straight is said to have one of the three most rapid currents in Japan, along with Kanmon Straight (関門海峡) and Naruto Straight (鳴門海峡). I’ve never been to either of them so I couldn’t really compare…but the boat ride was fun!
As Kurushima Straight is located in the middle of Seto Inland Sea (瀬戸内海) and leads to both Kyushu and Kansai areas, it is considered an important international route for many ships and vessels. But in the olden days, it was also considered a very difficult place to navigate, due to the narrow routes and the unpredictable rapid currents. The tour guide mentioned that the speed of the current whirlpools at times exceeded 10 knots (not that I know what that means…I’m guessing very fast).
The boat tour took us under Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge (来島海峡大橋), which is part of Shimanami Kaido, and towards the Kurushima Straight tidal currents. We also navigated around islands such as Kojima (小島) and Kurushima (来島), before going by Hashihama Port (波止浜港) to see various ships that are docked there.
I had a great time on the tour, especially with the wind blowing in my hair. It felt great and the waves and tidal currents made for a thrilling boat ride. If you’re ever in the area, I would definitely recommend this 40 minute boat tour to learn about the history and experience the tidal currents!
While we were on Oshima, we also stopped by the Imabari City Murakami Suigun Museum, which is all about the pirates that roamed and guarded the Seto Inland Sea. We also stopped by a roadside station to try the local soft serve and mikan juice. So so good!
Who knew Oshima could be so much fun?
Here are some photos:
Our tickets for the Kurushima Straight tidal current boat tour.
Big smiles all around…even though we had to wear orange life jackets!
Some parts of the straight are so calm you’d never know…
 
The anchorage (left photo) is a 150,000 block of concrete that secures the bridge cables. 
Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge is the first bridge consisting of three successive suspension bridges in the world.
Everyone’s eyes were glued to the large current whirlpools.
Not only did we see the whirlpool but we felt the pull on the boat as well.
My first time seeing the bridge from underneath!
Many of the smaller islands still have a small community of people living there.
Hashihama Port is home to Imabari Shipbuilding, Japan’s largest ship building company.
The water looks so peaceful from here.
There were many smaller boats out and about as well.
We had a great time on the boat tour!
This was the boat that took us around the Kurushima Straight.
Mikan and lemon soft serve and ponkan juice! Yum!
My ticket to Imabari City Murakamisuigun Museum
Ships with the “上” flag were able to pass through the straight safely back in the day.
I’ve discovered that Imabari may be a small city but it is rich with history.
Bari-san and his lady dressed up to promote Imabari!

The New Years Eve in Ehime

Hello everyone! Hope you’re all recovering from the new years holiday.
I had a really great time in Ehime at my parents place. So much so that it’s been a struggle getting back into work-mode this week. But somehow I got through the week. I’m hoping next week will be a little bit easier because it’s a four-day work week.
Anyways, here are some photos from Ehime:
Every day started and ended with these mikan in Ehime.
Ehime is known for their delicious mikan (mandarin oranges). We buy them by the boxes because we all love eating these mikan during the winter. Our family of six ate a total of two store bought 10kg boxes in a week. Not to mention the other mikan we ate from the trees growing in the yard (pictured above).
But I did manage to pry myself away from the box of mikan and get out and about for a bit. On the last day of the year, I was still making my nengajo and in the evening I made a mad dash to the town post office to make it in time for the mail pick-up. I took a detour around the local port before heading back home to watch the Kohaku show on TV with the family. 
Watching this NHK program has become kind of a tradition…my parents tell us stories and information about the older singers and my sister’s keep us up-to-date on who is who in the younger generation. Since I don’t have a TV in my apartment, I don’t have any information to offer so I usually just sing along with all the songs that I know. All the while eating mikan, of course 🙂
Do you have new years eve traditions? Did you watch Kohaku this year (if you’re in Japan)?

Tiny flowers growing in our yard.
I love these old wooden walls.
Not only do we eat mikan, we include them in our new years decorations, too!
Small boats just bobbin around in the water.
Notice the number four is missing.
We had amazing sunsets.
Toshi-koshi Soba and the NHK Kohaku show.
We rose extra early on new years day to see the first sunrise…isn’t it pretty? 😀

The Little Town by the Sea

I’ve finally started getting back into work mode. Just in the nick of time because we’ve been busy at the office. But I haven’t had time to go through the pictures from my time at home in Ehime during obon break. So I thought I’d take you on a little evening walk (the only time people venture outside because it’s so hot) around my parents house. 
Here are some pictures:

There are many rice fields around town…and the prefecture, too.
There are also many ports for ferries and various ships along the shore.
Knots and nails.
You can see private boats like this, too.
The Seto Inland Sea has fast tidal currents…always rushing somewhere.
My grandma’s old bike that I still use to get around town.

Sitting on the side of the coast and watching the sea.

You can see the bridges from Shimanami-kaido, which links Hiroshima to Ehime, from here.

Doesn’t this quiet little town have the best views?

The Bary-san Chocolate

We seem to love mascot characters in Japan.
We pretty much have a mascot for everything. The most popular ones of late are the mascots of various cities throughout Japan called Yuru-kyara, which means something like loose characters in Japanese. Not sure whether they are called that because they aren’t official city mascots or because the characters are quite casual and quirky, but they are popular.
There’s even a Yuru-kyara Grand Prix every year, where people can vote for their favorite mascot. Last year, 880 mascots entered the contest. Told ya. I wasn’t kidding when I said we really love our mascots.
Imabari City, where my parents live, also has their own mascot character. His name is Bary-san (his profile in Japanese is here). He’s a pretty cute mascot, in my opinion.
Imabari is known for their yakitori (skewered chicken), so the mascot is a bird. His crown is the Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge, which is a bridge that connects the main land to the Shikoku Island (which is where Imabari City is located). It’s also apparently the longest suspension bridge in the world.
It doesn’t stop there. He is wearing a haramaki, which is a cloth that wraps around and warms your stomach, because Imabari is famous for their towels. I hear they make about 60% of the towels in Japan. Also, the little ship he’s carrying is a wallet, representing Imabari’s shipping industry.
Don’t you love the details and the story behind the character? I love it. Probably because I’m Japanese. Ha.
Anyways, Bary-san is not only my favorite…(drum roll please)…he was the winner of last year’s Yuru-kyara Grand Prix! Whoop! It’s pretty huge considering a lot of Japanese people don’t even know where Imabari City is.
But they are taking this chance to promote their city and Bary-san has even made his way into convenience stores all over Tokyo. He has his own Chiroru Chocolate (pictured), which are bite sized chocolates that come in many flavors. The Bary-san chocolates are orange flavored because the whole prefecture of Ehime, where Imabari City is located, is famous for producing oranges called Iyokan.
I found this chocolate at my local convenience store and had to get it. I loved the packaging with Bary-san saying different things in the local dialect. Too cute.
Doesn’t he grow on you? 😀
You can get Bary-san PC backgrounds for free here!

The Nanakusa Gayu

This is Nanagusa-gayu (七草粥).
It’s tradition in Japan to eat this on January 7th.
It’s a dish of rice porridge with
seven different types of wild herbs.
Nanagusa means seven herbs in Japanese.
It’s an old tradition that came to Japan from China
sometime during the Heian Period (794-1192).
We eat this in hopes for a healthy new year.
My mom also told me that the reason we have this tradition is because
we pretty much celebrate the new year by eating and drinking.
And we eat this rice porridge because it’s easily digested
and our poor overworked stomach can get some rest.
Plus the herbs are good for you.
The seven herbs are:
 Nazuna: Shepard’s Purse  
Hakobera: Common Chickweed  
Hotokenoza: Nipplewort
Suzuna: Turnip
Suzushiro: Radish

The Trip Back to Tokyo

Heading back to Tokyo today.
We took the express from Imabari and
headed to Takamatsu in the next prefecture.
Slept through most of the train ride
but caught a sight of the beautiful Seto Inland Sea.
We call it Seto Nai Kai.
It’s the ocean between mainland Japan
and the island of shikoku.
And there are apparently over 3,000 islands here.
The view is really fantastic.
We got to the airport with plenty of time to shop for souvenirs.
And we both went through airport security and
promptly got on separate airplanes.
The reason for this is that
my sister flies JAL and I fly ANA.
So this is how we always head to the airport.
Go together, get on different planes.
I landed in Tokyo a bit before my sister
but we met up at and went to Dean & Delica Cafe.
I love this place.
The yummy apple cider.
The pretty wood floor.
We were both beat but
it was a great way to end this trip.
Quiet time at the cafe to
recharge for work starting tomorrow.
Starting the year 2013 in Tokyo.
This is going to be my year.
I’m pretty sure of it.
03-5757-9605
Haneda International Airport Terminal 1
3-3-2 Haneda Airport
Ota-ku, Tokyo
Hours: 7am-9pm