The New Years Hatsumode in Imabari

wp-image-99594862jpeg.jpeg

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:

wp-image-448335632jpeg.jpeg

wp-image-1125539517jpeg.jpeg

wp-image-1711664673jpeg.jpeg

wp-image-996415660jpeg.jpeg

wp-image-250350418jpeg.jpeg

wp-image-1807082804jpeg.jpeg

wp-image-1778321512jpeg.jpeg

wp-image-606743879jpeg.jpeg

wp-image-348631547jpeg.jpeg

wp-image-1302427378jpeg.jpeg

wp-image-1125350656jpeg.jpeg

wp-image-1005521707jpeg.jpeg

wp-image-825773893jpeg.jpeg

The Valentine’s Day Hearts

Nothing calms the soul like baking.
Every year I bake something sweet and make homemade cards for a certain few who feel that store-bought Valentine’s Day chocolates are not meaningful enough for them. I have the quirkiest coworkers.
This year, I decided on bite size sugar cookies and had tons of fun with the frosting. What is it about gradations? I just love it.
If you’ve ever made frosted cookies, you’ll know that frosting cookies can be time consuming. Even more so if you don’t have professional frosting gear and have to use a butter knife. At the same time though, the quiet time just frosting one cookie after another can be quite therapeutic. 
Especially with Mairi Campbell singing in the background 🙂 
Happy Valentine’s Day!

What is your favorite cookie recipe? I’d love recommendations!

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 Merry Camellias in Tokyo

Aren’t these camellias gorgeous? They are blooming all around Tokyo and it feels like nature is celebrating the holiday season, too! 
Will you be doing something for Christmas this year? I have not officially celebrated Christmas in a while now because in Japan the 25th is a regular work day and it’s just easier for the whole family to get together on new years, which is an official holiday.
But this year, by the time you read this, I will be in the air heading to DC to see my non-Japanese family to celebrate Christmas together! I’m so excited!
It was a last minute decision but I’m so glad I’m going. Because as much as I’ve grown to love the Japanese New Year and its traditions, sometimes I like to have a bit of non-commercial Christmas as well. I’ve missed the family Christmas trees, giving gifts and singing hymns at church. 
So to those who celebrate, I wish you a very merry Christmas! x 

The camellia bushes around Tokyo look to be celebrating the holidays, too!

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 Star Spangled Afternoon with Friends

It’s not very often I get to celebrate Fourth of July in Japan (for obvious reasons).
Growing up in rural Michigan though, it was one of my favorite holidays. Independence Day meant an afternoon at the beach or a picnic by the river, unless you were in the local town parade, followed by fireworks at night.
The fireworks show was fantastic! (Well, I hadn’t seen Japanese fireworks yet.) Most of the townfolk would be there. Kids running around with glow sticks, teenagers hanging out in groups (way too cool to sit with their parents), and adults chatting away with neighbors while passing out food and drinks. It was always truley a blast! 😉
I wasn’t planning on doing anything special this year, until my friends decided to get together on the 4th. Then I could not help myself. I had to make a patriotic pie (technically a cheesecake) to celebrate! (I made a fruit stick side dish, too…but whatever, in my head it goes with the pie.)
Let me tell you, I was not the only one excited for Fourth of July. Our lovely hosts E and M just had a darling daughter two months ago and she was totally on top of things. Look at her awesome stars and stripes tshirt! She is just the cutest. I’m sure you can tell from the pictures, this girl has got spunk. We were completely charmed by her the entire day!
And how can you not be when she smiles even in her sleep? So sweet!
I love that we all got to celebrate Independence Day together. We got to catch up on what everyone has been up to, all the while eating delicious homemade pizza, macaroni & cheese, and pie (i.e. cheesecake). It doesn’t get much more American than that, right?
Hope you all had an amazing weekend, too! x

The night ended with a big ole yawn! 😀

The Hinamatsuri Display at Keio Plaza Hotel

What? Hinamatsuri is over?
Yes, well, you’re right. It was last week. But I’m posting this anyway because some parts of Japan celebrate Hinamatsuri according to the old calendar (which would really be April 21 this year, but as the day changes year to year, people usually just celebrate it a month later on April 3rd…I know, so confusing!).
Although Hinamatsuri is not an official you-don’t-have-to-go-to-work holiday, it’s still celebrated quite widely in Japan (and sometimes abroad), especially is you have girls in the family.
Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku brings out this beautiful display of Hina-dolls (雛人形) every year during this season. But what’s even more eye-catching (for me) is the thousands of hanging ornaments made from vintage kimono fabric surrounding the display. There are over 5,500 ornaments, each handmade with love and hope for a child’s happiness.
Did you celebrate Hinamatsuri? Or see Hina doll displays?
I think this daikon radish was my favorite ornament for some reason.
The emperor and empress.
This will be displayed until March 31st at Keio Plaza Hotel.

The New Years Back in Tokyo

I know I am pushing the limit by still posting new years related photos.
But I promise these are my very last. They were all taken after coming back to Tokyo and slipping back into reality. Cold windy days. So to brighten up my days, I did what any normal person would do and stuffed myself with delicious food and snacks! Oh and flowers!
Here are some photos:
The whiff of smoke is said to heal the places is touches.
regional omiyage // hozomon // omikuji drawers // strawberry daifuku
My omikuji…so crazy but I got dai-kichi (大吉) again! (three in a row!)
The ingredients for Nanakusa-gayu (七草粥), traditionally eaten on January 7th.
chinatown sweets are the prettiest // plump white flowers with a shade of pink
Nothing like gorgeous weekend flowers and snowflake nails to start of this year right! x

The Chi-no-wa at Konno Hachimangu Shrine

You don’t know how happy I was when I saw that Ru had written about Konno Hachimangu (金王八幡宮) in her recent post. It reminded me that I had a few photos of the same shrine from the end of the year so I thought I’d just let you go to her post to learn about this lovely shrine. You know I love reading about something a hundred times more than writing about it. (It has a surprising connection to mathematics, which I did not know!)

Because it was the end of the year, they had the Chi-no-wa (茅の輪) set up. It is a large ring, used as part of the purification ritual called Oh-harai (大祓い) to get rid of all the bad luck in the past year.

It was my first time seeing an actual chi-no-wa so I had to read the instructions. You start by walking through the ring, then go around the left and walk through again, then go around to the right and walk through for the final time. (You can see the instructions in the photo below.)

I think it had instant results because I picked an omikuji (おみくじ) and I got dai-kichi (大吉), the best one! Hurrah!

Here are some photos (and read about the shrine here):

The Hatsuhinode in Okinawa

The new years holiday has passed and things are pretty much back to ‘normal’ now. I fell off the blogging wagon for a bit, but am hopefully on a roll to share with you some photos from my family trip to Okinawa!
This was our hatsuhinode (初日の出).

Ever since I started living alone, I’ve been going home to my parent’s place for the new years holiday. First it was Akita, then Osaka, and now Imabari. I can’t imagine not spending the holidays with family (probably because I don’t have a family of my own yet). So despite the expensive airfare and crazy holiday traffice, I always head home.

But this new years holiday, I decided we should all head down to Okinawa to spend new years with grandma. Because we moved around a lot, I never got the chance to spend vast amounts of time with my grandma after moving away from Okinawa when I was four. I send letters and we talk on the phone…but you know, it’s still nothing compared to actually spending time together.

Last time we were in Okinawa for Golden Week, we were only there together for four days and my baby sister was still in boarding school and couldn’t be there. But now that my parents are retired, they’re a lot more flexible with their schedule, so I thought what better time than now for a family trip to Okinawa? Especially when this years new years holiday gave us nine consecutive days off of work?

It ended up being the best idea ever.

The warmer weather was just what everyone needed, we got to catch up with old friends and family, and best of all, my grandma kept on telling me how happy she was to have everyone there for the holidays!

Made me so happy.

One of the things my grandma and I were excited about leading up to this trip was hatsuhinode, the first light of the year. And despite the weather forecast for a cloudy day, I kept my hopes up that we would be able to see a peak of the first sunrise together.

My uncle’s family drove down to see the sunrise with us. We all gathered (this may wound weird…) at my grandpa’s grave, because it has a really great view of the sea facing east. You’ll see that Okinawan graves are much larger than the one’s in mainland Japan. We waited in the cold for quite sometime as large clouds blocked the sunrise. But because it was so windy, it blew the clouds away and we were soon basking in the warm rays of this year’s first sunrise!

For me, it was the best way to welcome the new year.

Here are some photos:

The morning started out with massive clouds covering the sky.
But as the sun rose, the clouds slowly moved away.
Everyone waiting to see the sunrise between the clouds.
And there it was! The first sunrise of 2015!
There were a lot of oohs and ahhhs as we all basked in the sunlight.
The clouds came rolling in again, giving us an even more dramatic sky.
Smiles and warm tea bottles.
After gazing at the ever changing sky for a while, it was time for family photos!
First family photo of the year!
We also brought new flowers for our grandpa and ancestor’s grave.
The view right before we left to go back home.
We all came back to eat breakfast together.
No better way to warm up than to eat hot oden and other new years dishes.
My sisters and cousins…we all decided waking up before dawn was worth it! x