The Omoshiro Tube at Hitachi Seaside Park

Did you think all there is at the Hitachi Seaside Park were rolling hills of Nemophilia flowers?

Nope, nope, nope.

This nationally operated park is fairly large and has everything from barbecue corners to cycling courses. There is also a playground of sorts in an area called Pleasure Garden. (*insert innuendo of choice here*). It’s actually a pretty popular spot, though random, with anime themed attractions, semi-roller coasters and even a bmx course.

But we were only interested in one thing…the Omoshiro Tube!!!

This orange tube of fun (which is literally what the name means) is over 400 meters long and it twists and turns around this corner of the park. It is part obstacle course, part observation deck and we had tons of fun on it, as the name indicated!

So if you’re ever at Hitachi Seaside Park to see the flowers, do so. But take some time to see other areas as well. Like the ferris wheel or the beach area by the ocean that we didn’t have time for. It’s definitely worth visiting.

On our way back to Tokyo, we stopped by a parking area on the highway that had a giant Hello Kitty vending machine. Naturally we had to take a photo of it…but just as we were snapping pictures, a man with five dogs walks by.

I’ve seen two, maybe even three, dogs but this man had FIVE.

Hello Kitty vending machine took to the back burner and we were all over the dogs, which according to the nice owner were a mom and her kids. They were so well behaved and sweet as can be, my friends and I were smitten.

You just never know who you’ll meet on the highway! x

Here are some photos:

The Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki

Something about fields of blue that make even rainy days seem bright!

Nemophila flowers in Hitachi Seaside Park (or Hitachi Kaihin Koen in Japanese) are becoming incredibly famous and this park is a popular place to be during Golden Week. These are pictures from last year, actually, but I thought now would be the perfect time to share as any!

I went by car with some friends on a rainy day. It wasn’t suppose to rain but you know how spring likes to trick you that way. But when you’re with your friends, it really doesn’t matter. We bought ourselves an ice cream cone and took a walk around the park.

We were walking up a hill when a little girl passed us in a rush, pumping her arms in an effort to reach the top of the hills as fast as her little legs could carry her. My friends and I were chatting about how lazy we were, watching her leave us in the dust.

When we finally did reach the top of the hill, the scene before us was pretty incredible. I later learned that the hill is called Miharashi-no-Oka (translated: Hill with View) and is 58 meters above sea level. You could see past the blue fields that surrounded us to the green woods beyond, including a big ole ferris wheel. You could even see the ocean, which surprised me.

Just as I was wishing we had better weather for the view, I noticed the little girl that had rushed past us before, wandering around with a half sob on her face. I recognized this look, the brave face of a little one frantically looking for the familiar face of a parent while their heart beats a thousand miles a minute. I’m sure we’ve all had that exact same expression on our faces in the earlier years of our lives.

After a quick look around to see if someone was looking for her, I went over to crouch down and asked her if she was lost. With quivering lips, she nodded her head. So then I asked her what her name was. She mumbled something but I couldn’t quite manage to catch her name, so I asked her again, leaning in closer to hear. She must have though I was deaf because she stuck her mouth literally to my ear and shouted “MANA-CHAN!”

She had my ears ringing but bless her, I did get her name 😉

My friends and I called out for her parents and they were soon there, huffing and puffing up the hill. Apparently Mana-chan had really left them in the dust and they had just reached the top. The sudden relief on her face was apparent as she was scooped up into her dad’s arms and all was well in the universe again. Awww.

Satisfied that we had done our civic duty, we headed back down the hill. It was a good day!

Here are some photos:

HITACHI SEASIDE PARK (国営ひたち海浜公園)
605-4 Onuma Mawatari, Hitachinaka-shi, Ibaraki JAPAN
茨城県ひたちなか市馬渡字大沼605-4
TEL: 029 265 9001

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 Many Airports and Flights

When I think back on the holidays, the memories of Christmas morning, New Years sunrise, and good jolly time with family is what comes to mind.

But when I look at my photo library on my cellphone, I realized that there were just as many photos of my time at various airports and on flights. In the span of two weeks, I went through five different airports and (mostly slept through) six flights.

Despite my over ambitious flight schedule, I only missed one flight, which I think is pretty good for holiday travel. Then again, I am one of those people who likes airport security and only needs is a good book to keep me company. And maybe a bag of chex mix wouldn’t hurt.

I suspect my love of flights probably stems from the fact that I get motion sickness on most moving vehicles. All except airplanes. Thus flights are my safe haven. Kind of ironic, seeing as they are the only ones that provide you with a barf bag. But I get great views, time to read and sleep like a baby, all without turning green, so I’m happy!

What keeps you happy at airports and on flights?

My Detroit Airport layover…
This tunnel between the terminals was amaze-balls.
Intense colors changing to the beat of a holiday melody.
Catching up on reading at my gate.
You know what, I’ve heard horror stories but Delta wasn’t bad at all.
Someday I really want to explore Detroit.
Metro stations in DC remind me of batman and his cave.
One of my favorite airports, festive for the holidays.
Watching the guy throwing our luggage in the back while our plane gets ready.
Aisle seats aren’t too bad either.
God bless America, they feed you on every flight no matter how close your destination.
My layover at Detroit was short but it began to snow while we were boarding.
A slight delay to de-ice the aircraft…
Looking out the window and doodling during the delay.
Finally in the air, somewhere over Canada.
I can never get enough of this view. The world IS round!
Cotton candy pink clouds.
I did a lot of looking out the window, if you couldn’t tell.
Somewhere over Russia…looks pretty cold down there.
Well, equally cold up here, too.
Hello Chiba! Back in the motherland…a little too late to make my connecting flight.
Next day at Haneda, heading home to Ehime via Okayama airport.
Last flight of 2015.
Okayama station, where I get on the express train to Imabari.
The said express train, heading back to Okayama. Caught the 4:35am train…can you tell?
Okayama has the cutest packaging for its omiyage.
Waiting to board the airplane while watching Hakone Ekiden news…first flight of 2016.
The airplane landed in Haneda…and I headed straight to work to start the year!

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 Istanbul Diaries: Blue Mosque and Baked Potato

The first time I heard the call to prayer, we were just stepping out of Hagia Sophia.
Not knowing what a call to prayer would be like, I didn’t know what to expect when I read that you would hear them all over the city. At first I didn’t even realize what the musical voice was that poured out from the minaret speakers. The echo of the voices felt very foreign but beautifully hypnotic.
I later learned that verses of the Koran are read back and forth by the muezzins of Hagia Sophia and the neighboring mosque, Sultan Ahmed Camii, or better known as the Blue Mosque. (Listen here.)
The Blue Mosque is considered to be one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. It was completed in 1616 (to put things in perspective, that’s about 1000 years after the current Hagia Sophia structure was built) during the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I. If you’re in the old city of Constantinople, the magnificent domes and six minarets are hard to miss. 
R and I made our way over to the mosque, where there was an entrance for visitors. After standing in line like Disneyland, we were allowed inside where the back half of the mosque was sectioned off for visitors.
It’s interesting because the name Blue Mosque refers to the blue Iznik tiles that cover the walls. But my eyes were more drawn to the beautiful red carpet that covered the entire floor, where there were people praying in the front half of the mosque (although I’m guessing many were also non-local Muslim visitors because they were taking pictures and videos after praying, too).
Honestly, the visitors area was extremely crowded and I was ready to get out of there after 5 minutes. It was only the second mosque I’d ever been inside (coincidentally that was also with R), and the interior design and tiles were beautiful…but I think it was the crowds that did me in. I’m sure there is a much more calm and reverent atmosphere during the prayer and Friday worship hours, but at that moment I didn’t feel a connection with the place.
But what I did love is the courtyard of the mosque. The architecture is fabulous and the breeze that flows through the arcade along the walls makes this place a perfect spot to sit and people watch. Staring up at the beautiful domes from below, it’s incredible to think that someone built this massive mosque.
All in all, I think it was worth the visit, especially when you include the yummy baked potato we ate just outside of the Sultan Ahmed Park, which lies between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The guy at the food vendor made the largest and most colorful baked potato I’ve ever seen.
When we ordered, he cut open the baked potato and proceeded to mix the inside until it was more like a mashed potato. Then he asked us about toppings, most of which we said yes to. At one point he asked us if we wanted “American salad,” which ended up being potato salad! I though the potato on potato concept was hilarious but it ended up being delicious. Really, you’d be surprised.
Here are some photos of the Blue Mosque and the crazy baked potato:

Sultanahmet Cami, 34122 Sultanahmet, Fatih, İstanbul, TURKEY
TEL: +90 212 518 1319
HOURS: Open to visitors outside of prayer hours

The Istanbul Diaries: Hagia Sophia

Where do I even start?
There were just so many interesting places to see in Istanbul. It’s mind boggling, especially when it’s your first time there. R and I decided we wanted to cover a mix of famous landmarks (because they’re famous for a reason, right?) and a little random exploring.
Our first destination was the ever famous Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya in Tukish.
This beautiful landmark has been a museum since 1935, but it has quite the colorful history. It was a Christian cathedral for 916 years, then later renovated and used as a mosque for 482 years. You can read about the long history here but I can tell you, this landmark has seen a whole lot of change.
The original church was completed in 360 during the reign of Constantius II, although it was his father, Constantine the Great, who ordered it to be built. I learned that this original church burned down during the riots of 404. A second church was built during the reign of Theodosius the Great, which later also burned down during another riot in 532. So it’s actually the structure of the third church, built under Emperor Justinian I in 537, which still stands today.
After reading a little into the history of Constantinople, I am amazed Hagia Sophia actually withstood all the riots and occasional earthquakes that came thereafter. But thank goodness it did because Hagia Sophia is a beauty. The exterior is light and shades of pastel pink and blue, whereas the interior is very dark and gold. To me, it felt very masculine inside.
It’s said that when Justinian I saw the completed Hagia Sophia, he exclaimed, “Solomon, I have outdone thee!” Despite the restoration and conservation work still underway inside Hagia Sophia (you can’t really see it in the photos but the left side of the ground floor was full of scaffolding), I have to agree, it is fabulously grand.
R and I borrowed an audio guide at the entrance and slowly walked around the grounds, breathing in the rich history of Hagia Sophia.
Here are a few photos of what we saw:

Hagia Sophia Square, Sultanahmet Fatih, Istanbul, TURKEY
TEL: +90 (212) 522 17 50
HOURS: Summer 9:00am-7:00pm (final entry 6pm)
             Winter 9:00am-5:00pm (final entry 4pm)
FEE: 30 Turkish Lira

The 5 Things That Surprised Me About Istanbul

I am finally braving the piles and piles of photos that are virtually in my SD card to share with you my amazing trip to Istanbul.

I know, it’s about time.

Well, there is much to tell. But I thought I’d start with some things I did not know about Istanbul. This trip was originally supposed to be to London, where I would meet up with my travel buddy R. But somehow we ended up changing destinations to Turkey, which was fate because I’ve always been curious about this country.

On the other hand, because it was last minute we didn’t have much time to research. R and I actually first started discussing potential places to go…the day we left for Istanbul. But just jumping into this historic city head first was thrilling and gave us a chance to learn certain things first hand.

So before I get into all that we experienced and saw, here are some things that surprised me about Istanbul during our five glorious days there:

1. MOSQUES EVERYWHERE – This may be one of those “duh!” statements. I knew there were many famous mosques, I just didn’t realize how many other regular mosques there were.

If I had done my research before my trip, I would have known that there are over 3,000 mosques in Istanbul. It was beautiful seeing five mosques from my hotel window, especially at night when the minarets were lit up. Stumbling across so many mosques was also a god-send when you needed to use the bathroom. Or a quiet place to calm yourself in the midst of the beautiful chaos that is Istanbul.

2. THE HEAT – Or should I say, the lack thereof? Summer in Tokyo is a million times more stifling than in Istanbul, or so the Iranian man sitting next to me on the flight to Istanbul told me. I thought he was kidding.

But lo and behold, he wasn’t. I always imagined Turkey to be so much more hot than Tokyo, and temperature-wise some places might be, but the lack of humidity made Istanbul feel quite cool. July is apparently their hottest month, and during the day it really was hot, but I was wearing sweatshirts at night because of the cool wind!

3. MEN LOVE CHILDREN – Living in Tokyo, it seems like we all tend to keep to ourselves when out in public. Especially in very public places, you just don’t go around tickling the feet of a stranger’s baby (unless it’s a dog, maybe).

Well, in Istanbul you can because everyone loves babies, it seems. Especially the men! It was interesting riding on trains and ferries, seeing teenage guys acting all fly until a baby starts fussing next to them, and they all hurry to entertain. Or a grumpy old grandpa would eyebrow tricks to make a child smile.

And it goes both ways, the parents don’t seem suspicious of strangers when it comes to their children. They will just say, “Oh she likes you!” and sometimes even ask for a picture (yes, I entertained my share of babies on ferries and in mosques). I have to say I love how everyone appreciates children in Istanbul. We were there during the Ramazan Bayrami holiday, when many families are out and about, but I didn’t see one child have a tantrum. Did I miss all the tantrum throwing kids in Istanbul, or is Istanbul possibly the village raising a child?

4. STRAY CATS AND DOGS – Although we have our fair share of cats roaming my neighborhood, the number of stray cats in Istanbul was still surprising. In the city, the islands, pretty much everywhere!

What I wasn’t used to were the stray dogs, which I’ve never seen in my neighborhood, or anywhere in Japan, really. Not only were they stray dogs, they were BIG stray dogs. Big beautiful labradors and huskies. I didn’t see a single chihuahua or toy poodle. It’s quite the surprise when you glance over and see a huge dog staring at you. I almost screamed a couple of times at first but you get used to it after awhile, especially since they are all tame and friendly.


5. NOT VERY MANY PEOPLE SPEAK ENGLISH – I know, I know. Japan shouldn’t be talking. And no, I don’t expect every place I go to be full of English speakers. I admit that I absolutely failed at learning Turkish. Shame on me. I did try. But I will do better next time, promise.

But what I wanted to say here is that despite not very many people being able to communicate in English, they were enthusiastic about helping us out using slowly pronounced Turkish words and huge hand gestures. Everyone was fantastic. We were rescued by local people countless times.

They say that it’s the people you meet that make a place special, and it was exactly that for us. We were truly blessed.

Have you ever been to Istanbul? Were you surprised by anything?
We had an amazing time! There will be more Istanbul photos on the way! xx

The Afternoon in Chichibu

Chichibu may be famous for their matsuri and Shibazakura, but there is much more to this region.

Even if just around the train station.

On my way back from Hitsuji-yama Park, I had a little time to wander. I discovered a city surrounded by mountains, filled with interesting temples and local shops. The streets were quiet but full of charm.

The temple I stumbled upon was Nosaka-ji (野坂寺), which is the twelfth temple in the Chichibu 34 sacred temple pilgrimage. This temple may be one of my all time favorites because it was so quirky.

Right at the entrance, you come face to face with a lovely Azukari Kannon (預かり観音), a Kannon that will gather your worries, anger, sickness, and whatever else may be burdening you. There is also a gorgeous wood carving of the Mountain God. I won’t mention everything but there was just a lot of interesting things to see, you’ll have to go discover for yourself.

A piece of advice. If you ever discover a temple with a cemetery on the side of a mountain, climb to the highest grave. You won’t regret it. I loved seeing the view from above. My ancestors on both my parents sides have a great view from the family grave, which we took full advantage of this new years. I’m sure they won’t mind sharing a view with you for a while, especially if they haven’t had visitors in a while.

I passed by a beautiful shelf of white wisteria (which I didn’t even know existed), a large elementary school with a great view of Mount Buko, and retro shops that were so cute that I had to stop and snap photos of.

Then I discovered an amazing local bakery, where I ended up buying much more than I could eat. The bakery prides itself in using natural yeast, domestic flour and other organic produce. If you, unlike me, have self restraint and only get one thing, I would suggest the Aosa Bagel. I didn’t even know this existed but it was delicious!

I’m already looking forward to my next time in Chichibu. x

Have you been to Chichibu? Isn’t it charming?
NOSAKA TEMPLE (野坂寺)
2-12-25 Nosaka-machi Chichibu-shi, Saitama JAPAN
埼玉県秩父市野坂町2-12-25
1-18-12 Nosaka-machi Chichibu-shi, Saitama JAPAN
埼玉県秩父市野坂町1-18-12
TEL: 0494 25 7373
HOURS: 10:00am-6:30pm (Closed Tuesdays/Fridays)