The Night Hanami in Tokyo Midtown

I was passing through Roppongi for work and was pulled towards the lights.
The sakura trees along the Midtown Garden are lit up every year. Yozakura itself is lovely but when they are lit up like this, it really draws a crowd. But surprisingly, at this time of night it wasn’t too crowded and I was able to take a leisurely stroll along the park.
Here are some photos: 

TOKYO MIDTOWN GARDEN (東京ミッドタウンガーデン)
9-7-1 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo JAPAN
東京都港区赤坂9-7-1
TEL: 03 3475 3100
HOURS: 5:00pm-11:00pm
SEASON: Mid-March to mid-April (depends on the year)

The Morning Hanami in Shinjuku

 

I know hanami season is over but I just couldn’t go on without sharing just a little.

It may just be my imagination but are there more sakura trees in Tokyo than never before? With a slightly hectic spring schedule, I had accepted that there wouldn’t be a proper hanami season for me this year. It may just be that the hanami gods felt bad for me but it seemed like every corner I turned, there was a burst of sakura waiting for me!

Like this massive tree that was trimmed to a T it almost looked like a pink square marshmallow from the front.

They say it’s bad luck to have a sakura tree in your yard, something to do with it feeding off human decay or attracting the dead. But others, like this house, say to hell with that and have gorgeous cherry blossoms above their roofs. Do you think it’s true? As much as I love sakura, and even though I’m not really all that superstitious…just in case, I would love to be the next door neighbor 😉

The Sakura, Dog and Cat at Kuramae Shrine

Look at how pink the cherry blossoms are!

My friend and I were walking around Kuramae and stumbled upon this shrine. Kuramae Shrine (藏前神社) is surrounded by high rise buildings and isn’t a large shrine at all. But the grounds are beautifully kept and in the spring these blooms take it up a notch. So lucky to have passed by when they were in full bloom!

Locals in this neighborhood call the soft pink cherry blossoms “Kuramae-zakura (蔵前桜).” I’m pretty sure it’s just a certain type of yamazakura but I like to think that it is so beloved in the community that people just gave it a name. I mean, why else would they do that, right?

We were actually not the only ones blown away by the gorgeous burst of pink. There was a dog standing just under the bright pink cherry blossoms, pretty much the very best hanami spot ever. He just happens to be a bronze statue so he won’t be sharing that spot anytime soon. Ha.

Apparently there is a popular Rakugo story called Moto-inu (translated “former dog”) about a dog that wished to become a human so fervently that one day, he did! If you’ve seen The Little Mermaid, you’ll know it’s not that easy to suddenly become a human. I read the Japanese transcript and can tell you the story had me chuckling. You can learn all about the dog and Kuramae Shrine here on Ru’s blog. She is my go-to gal for all things temples and shrines!

Anyways, the dog is only a statue but when you step onto the Kuramae shrine grounds, a very friendly cat is there to welcome you. Well, more like welcome you to scratch his tummy…but still a welcome. I’ve never seen such a straigh-forward friendly cat like this one before. He came at us like he was thinking, “well it’s about time!” He acted more like a dog than a cat.

Makes you wonder if the Moto-inu decided to pray to become a cat, too? 😉

KURAMAE SHRINE (藏前神社)
3-14-11 Kuramae, Taito-ku, Tokyo JAPAN
東京都台東区蔵前3-14-11
TEL: 03 3851 0617
BLOOMS: Early March

The Shibazakura Hill in Chichibu

I feel like every other blog post lately is of flowers.
Then again, it is spring! The season where everything starts to bloom. That’s a good reason, right? You’ll just have to bare with me for a bit longer! (Yes, I do have a few more in store…)
Right before Golden Week, I got itchy feet and hopped on a train headed to Chichibu (秩父), a corner of Saitama Prefecture surrounded by mountains. It’s a really great spot to explore and hike, about 1.5 hours from Shinjuku by train. As much as I love living in the city (and I really do), sometimes the inner inaka in me craves nature. Thankfully, it’s not too difficult to get away from the city in Tokyo (although it doesn’t necessarily mean that you get away from the crowds).
It was Shibazakura season at Hitsuji-yama Park (羊山公園).

Shibazakura, phlox subulata or moss phlox in English, is originally from North America. The flowers look like small cherry blossoms and cover the ground like grass, thus the name Shibazakura in Japanese (shiba=grass, sakura=cherry blossoms).

There were nine different types of Shibazakura that cover the 17,600 sqm (4.3 acres) hillside in various colors. The design is based on the traditional clothes the float riders wear participating in the Chichibu Yomatsuri, a very large festival in this area.

Although the flowers itself are very small and simple, seeing it cover the hill is quite impressive. I noticed a very sweet scent in the air from the Shibazakura, too. I may have gotten slightly high from that at one point. Did I also mention you get a fabulous view of the massive mountain, Bukosan (武甲山)? It was beautiful. And they also served sakura flavored soft serve!

Now doesn’t that make you want to go see this Shibazakura hill next year? x

6267 Omiya, Chichibu-shi, Saitama JAPAN
埼玉県秩父市 大宮6267
TEL: 0494 21 2277
ENTRANCE FEE: 300 yen

The Afternoon in Kagurazaka

I have always liked the Kagurazaka neighborhood.
A couple weekends ago, my friend F and I went exploring! We wanted to check out the new bookstore, Kamome Books, which opened at the end of last year. It’s not just a bookstore with a great selection of books and magazines. It also has a cafe (with an open terrace in warmer weather!) and an art gallery in the back
This spot was previously also a bookstore, that suddenly closed in the spring of 2014. The owner of a manuscript proofreading company walked passed and realized the bookstore was closing. He decided then and there to do something about it so he opened Kamome Books for people to enjoy “off-line” time in this age where everyone seems to always be online. 
F and I browsed the whole bookstore before settling down for a latte. It was a really warm day and a great place to sit down and chat. With La Kagu right across the street, it’s also a really great place to people watch!

After coffee time, we walked down the street to Akagi Shrine.
It’s a very modern shrine designed by the ever famous architect, Kengo Kuma. I really like it, despite the huge condo right next to it on the property. I’m sure the beautiful shrine is what sold those condos because if it were an old run down shrine with a graveyard behind it, I don’t think I would buy a condo next to that. I mean, I don’t really believe in ghosts. But I am definitely scared of them (if they’re real…you never know!)
You can read more about the shrine here.
We also bumped into a crowd of people wearing kimonos at the shrine. Kagurazaka is one of those places where it’s not unusual to see people wearing them. Kimonos are not the most easiest thing to wear but I love wearing it. It makes the day special, in my opinion. This crowd seemed excited to be walking around Kagurazaka wearing kimonos, too.

We also passed by Mugimaru2, the quirkiest manju cafe.
I knew they had cats inside the cafe. I did not know they had fish outside. Am I the only one worried about this combination? Hopefully the cats are well fed.
My favorite here is the Yomogi Cheese manju (140 yen!).
F and I were too full for a manju…but you can never be too full for gelato! We stopped by Gelateria Theobroma, a tiny gelato shop that F discovered while we were exploring the backstreets of Kagurazaka. Her gelato radar is spot on!

One of the best things about Kagurazaka is that there are various shops located in areas that you would think is a residential area. So it’s a great place to just randomly roam because you never know what you will discover.
Like this pretty park with gorgeous wisteria!
It was in full bloom and you could smell the fragrance of the flowers instantly as you step into the park grounds. It’s a local park, nothing special. But a fun discovery just the same.

You can’t come to Kagurazaka without stopping by Le Bretagne to try their delicious galette, a traditional Bretagne crepe made from buckwheat flour.
They have many restaurants in Tokyo but this was the first one to open. They have both indoor and outdoor seating, which I think will be great once it gets warm. From the cobblestone path that leads to the restaurant, the lovely interior and friendly staff welcoming you in French…it takes you away from Japan, if only during your meal.
I had a great time catching up with F over dinner! It was delicious and we definitely left Kagurazaka full and happy 😀

Have you been to Kagurazaka? Do you have any recommendations?

KAMOME BOOKS (かもめブックス)
Daiichi Yarai Bldg, 123 Yarai-cho, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo JAPAN
東京都新宿区矢来町123 第一矢来ビル1階
TEL: 03 5228 5490
HOURS: Mon-Sat 10:00am-10:00pm, Sun 11:00am-8:00pm

AKAGI SHRINE (赤城神社)
1-10 Akagi-motomachi, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo JAPAN
東京都新宿区赤城元町1-10
TEL: 03 3260 5071

MUGIMARU2
5-20 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo JAPAN
東京都新宿区神楽坂5-20
TEL: 03 5228 6393
HOURS: 12:00pm-9:00pm (closed Wednesdays)

GELATORIA THEOBROMA
Borgo Oojime, 6-8 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo JAPAN
東京都新宿区神楽坂6-8 Borgo Oojime
TEL: 03 5206 5195
HOURS: 10:30am-7:30pm

NAKAMACHI PARK (中町公園)
5 Naka-cho, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo JAPAN
東京都新宿区中町5

LE BRETAGNE
4-2 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo JAPAN
東京都新宿区神楽坂4-2
TEL: 03 3235 3001
HOURS: Tue-Sat 11:30am-10:30pm, Sun 11:30am-10:00pm (closed Mondays)

The Yaezakura and Rooftops

And here I am again, back with more blossoms!
But don’t worry, these aren’t just any old sakura…they are yaezakura, the blossoms with many petals. You might remember some photos from last year from later in the season. 
This year, I happened to pass by this red entrance and see the burst of pink yaezakura blooms…and I ended up walking into the most beautiful yaezakura paradise ever!
I didn’t know there were so many different kinds of yaezakura, but this temple had several varieties of them, ranging from white-ish to pink/green-ish blossoms. (I know, such technical terms!)
They were absolutely gorgeous. As much as I love regular cherry blossoms, I may be leaning more towards these full blossoms now. What about you? x
Here are some photos: 

The Arrival of Spring and JFK

We’ve had a whole bunch of amazing spring weather lately!
Like I said before, everything is starting to grow, and I love it! A couple of weekends ago, I decided to enjoy the weather and did very spring things.
  1. Walked around the neighborhood in my new spring shoes, which I absolutely love. (Not one bit sexy but I don’t care, they are so comfortable!)
  2. Planted my herb garden. This year will be basil, mint, and if I can find it, french parsley. And if I can’t stop myself, rosemary and thyme, too.
  3. After going to see the “JFK: His Life and Legacy” exhibit at the National Archives of Japan (it was really interesting!), my friend M and I walked through the Imperial Palace East Garden. It was my first time there but it was so peaceful and quiet. The perfect place to stroll through before heading back to the chaos that is Tokyo. 

What are you up to on this fine spring day? x

3-2 Kita-no-maru Koen, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo JAPAN
東京都千代田区北の丸公園3-2
TEL: 03 3214 0621
HOURS: 9:15am-5:00pm (Closed Sat, Sun & Holidays, unless otherwise stated)
1-1 Chiyoda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo JAPAN
東京都千代田区千代田1-1
TEL: 03 3213 1111
HOURS: 9:00am-4:00pm/5:00pm (Closed Mondays, Fridays, etc.)

The Best Kept Sakura Secret in Yoyogi

Did you think I was done with this years sakura season?
Not so fast! I couldn’t move on without posting about the weekend I discovered rows and rows of cherry blossoms in Yoyogi. And the best part? There were absolutely no crowds. This place may be the best kept secret in Yoyogi…or even Tokyo!
My friend F and I decided to go hunt for cherry blossoms in Yoyogi so we first stopped by Yoyogi Village to get fuel for the afternoon. Then, with coffee in one hand and a bagel in the other, we were off!
Strolling along the road, we discovered a row of cherry blossoms. It was in a restricted area and while we were trying to figure out how to sneak in…we saw that the facility had even more cherry blossoms than we realized.
The National Olympic Memorial Youth Center was bursting with blooms. I don’t know about F but I am still patting myself on the back for inadvertently stopping by this facility. There were a few people walking around admiring the sakura like we were, but mostly the streets inside the grounds were deserted. 
We found a bench under the row of trees and relaxed for a bit. It wasn’t the most sunniest of days but it didn’t seem to matter. Everything was beautiful and I had a great time chatting away with F on that bench.
And our timing was perfect. Once we were on our way to another coffee shop, it actually started to rain. So glad we were able to enjoy the gorgeous blooms while we could! x
Here are some photos:

The Cherry Blossom Walk to Work

My walk to work is the best!
Especially when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. I walk along Kanda River (神田川), which is for the most part aligned with cherry trees. The view is incredible.
It’s a popular spot to enjoy the cherry blossoms but in the morning hours, when everyone is fast walking towards the train station, I get to have these trees to myself (with the occasional dog walker or runner passing by).
Nothing beats cherry blossoms under a blue sky. But my favorite view is actually under the rows of branches leaning toward the river. It feels like a tunnel of cherry blossoms and despite seeing this view every year, it still manages to take my breath away. So beautiful.
It’s no surprise then, that I had to make a mad dash for the office every time. So hard to not take a photo every three steps I take. (Although nothing new.) Oh the joys of walking to work! 😀
Here are some photos:

The Hanami Under the Camellia Tree

No cherry blossom season in Japan is complete without hanami.
Hanami is pretty much a picnic under the cherry blossoms. So you would think that it’s as easy as a picnic blanket in one hand and a six-pack of beer in the other. Well, it’s a little bit more complicated than that.
For one, it’s hard to pinpoint when the cherry blossoms will be in full bloom, even with the announcement of the cherry blossom forecast as early as a month before. Especially if you only have weekends (like me).
For another, spring weather is extremely unstable and that means it rains quite often. So not only do you hope the blossoms are blooming but you also have to hang a teru-teru-bozu and pray it doesn’t rain on your hanami day.
And finally, this hanami season is also the end of the fiscal year for most companies and spring break for many students. Which can mean full schedules for everyone and is quite difficult to find a day when everyone is able to come. I actually have a coworker who sets a date for hanami with friends a year ahead.
Well, my baby sister was flying in to stay with me for a few days before heading back to school at the end of March so we decided on this day to get together. It was a gorgeous afternoon with the sun shining through the trees, perfect for hanami.
Except none of the cherry trees had blossoms!
Ha! Ah well, I knew the unusually warm weather was too good to be true. Although it didn’t stop us one bit from having a good time. We spotted a camellia tree in full bloom and decided that one blossom was good as the other! x
Did you have the perfect hanami day this season?
We got burgers from my favorite burger shop! Yum!
Did you try the easter kitkats? (It was way too sweet for me…but cute, right?)
My sister flew in this morning and brought homemade ohagi that my mom made for us.