Wabi-Sabi Sole

Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Category: Japan (Page 1 of 42)

Cindy’s in Japan

We are thrilled to have Dave’s sister, Cindy, here visiting us in Japan!

I wasn’t the only one eagerly awaiting her arrival at Haneda Airport. The paparazzi was poised and ready! Seriously though, we never did see who they were waiting to capture.

Plus, they didn’t roll out the red carpet quite as well as we did!

We planned a rough outline of things to do and have been working on the details this afternoon. Wednesday and Thursday we will tackle Tokyo. We have quite an extensive list and comfortable shoes! I can’t wait to share Japan with her! It should be an amazing week.

Winter Warmers

Every Friday, on my way to English class in Kamakura, I stop at the same vending machine in Zushi station and grab a tea for our snack time. I usually try to mix it up and try different teas. In the winter I select a warm tea and in the summer a cold tea.

Each Friday, while selecting my tea de jour, I stare questioningly at the items on the middle row. These items, served warm, are only available during the winter months. Corn chowder, clam chowder, pumpkin soup, and a sweet potato drink. I decided to try three of the four because curiosity got the best of me! (Rule number 8)

One guess as to which of the four I was not willing (ever) to try. If you said corn chowder, I owe you a kit kat!

I brought them home and reheated each container in hot water. I thought they would taste best warm. The first one I tasted was the clam chowder. Much to my surprise, the the chowder was only broth with a very strong salty clam flavor. A bit of false advertisement with the picture. One sip was all I needed. I’m not sure when this would be desirable. Maybe before or during and ultra marathon when you need a massive amount of salt for your body to continue functioning. Or starving. Or without tastebuds. Or maybe, it is intended to be used as a soup base and diluted. I’ll have to ask Miki.

Next up was the sweet potato drink. It tasted like a very sweet roasted sweet potato. It was drinkable. I did manage to drink most of it. Did I mention it was sweet?

The final taste test was the pumpkin chowder. I enjoy eating kabocha, Japanese winter squash, and I thought this had potential. It was the most delicious of the three. At only 45 calories, it could be a nice little pick-me-up if you needed a warm afternoon snack.

Needless to say, I chased the three of them down with a chu hi. Peach was my flavor de jour. Glad I did the peach taste test a couple weeks ago. Back to rule number 10, just taste it. Happy Friday! Kanpie!

Valentine’s Day in Japan

St. Valentine’s Day is celebrated a little differently in Japan than in the United States. The biggest difference is women give chocolates to men. The chocolates are given with two different meanings depending on the relationship between the man and woman.

“Honmei Choco” is used to describe the chocolate given to men when a woman wants to declare her love to her boyfriend or husband. Japanese women often make a Honmei Choco or chocolate treat for their loved one because nothing shows devoted love like making something special.

“Giri Choco” is used to describe chocolate given to men to convey gratitude and friendship to her boss, male friends, or coworkers. Typically, women buy chocolates from the store to give as Giri Choco presents.

A group of ladies at Dave’s work organized a potluck lunch to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It was a delicious spread of pancit, carne asada, chicken adobo, and fresh salad. I made a tray of Reese’s Peanut Butter Brownies (my Honmei Choco for Dave) for the event.

I forgot to take a picture of the delicious food and my tray of brownies, but I got a picture with my valentine.

I know what you’re thinking… “what about the women?” On March 14th, Japan celebrates “White Day.” This is an opportunity for men to return gifts to the women who gifted them chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Typically, those gifts are white in color because of the name of the day. (Flowers, candy and chocolate. Better yet, diamonds and pearls!)

Even though we live in Japan, we haven’t completely lost our tendency towards American traditions. Dave brought me flowers yesterday as he has every year since the beginning of us.

Please enjoy a Valentine’s Day filled with love and happiness. Sending you hugs and smiles across the many miles! XOXO

Koajiro Forest

Trip Advisor helped Katie discover a hidden gem on the Miura Peninsula known as the Koajiro Forest. It was so obscure, I had trouble locating it at first on Google Maps. We knew we needed to take the Keikyu Line train to Misakiguchi, the last station on the Miura Peninsula. From there, the route was a bit unknown.

As we rode the train, we passed the Miurakaigan Station. This area has a Sakura Festival that I went to last year around this time. I was hoping the blooms were a little delayed this year so I could take my sister-in-law next week during her visit. Luck is on our side! The blooms are not full yet. I think next week they should be in peak bloom!

To find the Koajiro Forest, Katie and I boarded bus number 26. We knew we needed to travel about 5 minutes or 3 stops. However, buses are tricky. If no one pushes the button to stop and no one is at the actual bus stop, the bus will keep going. Fortunately, we were paying close attention to the blue marker on Google Maps and to the marquee at the front of the bus. I pushed the button alerting the driver to stop. We exited at the correct stop which was actually only the second stop. So far, so good.

We started our walk and followed the blue dotted line. We made sure to pay attention especially when the road forked. At one point we were walking down a road through a bunch of farm fields. But, it seemed ok because it was obviously a road.

We kept following and eventually ended up in the middle of a farm. At this point we were feeling a bit lost. The road ended and all we had was a trail around a cabbage field with a steep ravine on the far side.

We commented how thankful we were that the Japanese don’t own guns because we felt like trespassers. We turned around to attempt to locate where we made a wrong turn. (And simultaneously cursing Google Maps). As we turned a farmer yelled to us (not at us). I approached him with my phone and showed him this picture.

He did a cute little hop to see my phone and then with a happy smile gestured for us to follow him down another little trail along a different cabbage patch. We followed him for about a minute before reaching the top of the trail head leading down to the entrance to the forest.

Wow! Arigatōgozaimas!! We said with much enthusiasm about 5 times and bowed just as many. We again commented about how kind and helpful the Japanese are as a whole. And also laughed at how in Japan it’s no big deal to follow a man you don’t know into a forest. As we approached the entrance, we saw a map of the park and a picture of crabs. The Science teacher in me became very excited.

We continued our walk and came across the flatlands. It felt good to get into the sun. It was very windy along the water.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see any crabs. Too cold. We considered this a good scouting mission! We came across this sign of the tidal wetlands and I got a little Science dorky again. Katie and I both agreed this area reminded us of Sea Shore State Park in Virginia Beach.

The wetlands were so beautiful and we imagined they would be even more beautiful in the spring. We look forward to returning in a couple months.

We continued along the raised walkway. The forest was fantastic.

Here’s something that made us giggle. This was the map we saw down by the tidal area. We were getting ready to follow the yellow path from the “you are here” spot to the right.

I took this picture a little further up the path. Notice the water is now on the right and we are walking to the left! Fortunately, both signs were in English and the path was along a raised wooden walkway. We really couldn’t get lost.

Today was a beautiful sunny day and although a little chilly, it was a great day to explore. I honestly can’t believe how many beautiful areas of Japan there are hidden in plain sight. We truly are fortunate to live here and have time to explore!

Sapporo Festival Highlights

Besides the amazing snow sculptures, another highlight of the Snow Festival was watching skiers and snowboarders at the Air Park. The Air Park has two areas, one for jumping and one for moguls.

Friday night we enjoyed watching the mogul competition. It was impressive to watch considering the size of the arena.

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I took a couple of short clips of the different riders. The tandem jumpers were really cool to watch.

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Three riders are impressive. But, how about six!

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We returned on Saturday to catch some of the jumping during the daytime. The riders were practicing their jumps and despite their falls, I remained impressed.

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How about backwards!

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Or on a snowboard!

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It was fun to watch the athletes. They seemed to be having a great time.

Another fun attraction was visiting the Sapporo TV tower.

We were able to go to the observation deck. From the observation deck, we had a fantastic view of the festival and the city of Sapporo.

We rode the elevator to the top and took the stairs down. The signs cracked us up!

We posed for a couple of tourist photos… because that’s what we are! The first one is of me and the Sapporo TV Tower mascot.

One last video from the weekend. We had lunch on Saturday at a sushi restaurant in Sapporo. While we ate, we had a great view of the fish monger preparing the fish. I could have watched him all day. He truly was a professional.

We made it home on Sunday without issue. The Snow Festival was better and the trip was more fun than I ever expected. The experience was fantastic. Thanks for reading about our adventures!

Snow Festival Saturday

We spent Saturday walking around the Snow Festival and enjoying the sculptures. The size was still impressive.

With less crowds and daylight, we could take our time walking around the festival and sculptures. I found this information about the construction of the final Fantasy XIV snow sculpture. Even though the explanation is in Japanese, if you look at the pictures, you can get a better understanding of how they are constructed

Daytime events seemed to be catered more towards kids and families. At the building, they had kids on stage shooting baskets. I loved how the building looked blue in the daylight.

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At the Pacific Music Festival sculpture, kids were performing traditional dance.

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Speaking of kids, I couldn’t get over all the little cuties in their snowsuits. Adorable.

We quickly figured out the favorite sculpture for kids. The Cup Noodle. It was actually an ice slide!

My favorite was still the Temple. It is a replication of the Great Lecture Hall at the Yakushi-ji Temple in Nara. The building was created using ice blocks. A team of 3,800 people completed the structure in 28 days!

At the other large building structure, a lady was singing. Notice she is holding a clear umbrella to keep her dry as the snow fell. So, cute!

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It was fun to walk around the snow sculptures during the day and learn more about how they were constructed and see the kids enjoying them. Dave and I both agreed they seemed “cooler” at night with the lights.

Otaru

A friend of Dave’s suggested we take a side trip to Otaru during our visit to Sapporo. He highly recommended Otaru for amazing sushi. We didn’t need to be told twice! Otaru is a coastal town about a 40 minute train ride from Sapporo Station.

We arrived in time for lunch. We walked down to the canal street known as sushi row.

We were told to sit at the sushi counter and ask for “omakase” or chef’s choice. As a result, this magnificent plate of sushi arrived.

I ate everything. Even the sea urchin. I cheated a little bit and picked off the sea urchin and swallowed them whole so I didn’t taste them. Then I ate the rice. The rest was delicious. The tuna was of course my favorite and maybe the best piece of tuna sashimi I’ve ever eaten. I would rank this sushi plate in my top three.

After lunch, we walked around the town and many shops. There was so much snow. I couldn’t get over all of the snow. There were piles everywhere.

Look at all the snow fences on the hills to prevent avalanches.

And icicles!

In true Japanese fashion, many shop owners and residents made kawaii snow sculptures. They were an adorable addition to the winter wonderland.

Plus, a few snowmen.

How great is Dave’s new face mask!?!

We headed back to Sapporo in the middle of the afternoon. I’m glad we took the suggestion to visit Otaru for the sushi. Plus, we had a chance to see a little bit more of the area.

Nighttime Sapporo Snow Festival

After getting checked into our hotel and changing into our warm clothes, we headed out to the actual Sapporo Snow Festival to see the snow sculptures. Some of the sculptures were HUGE! I took one picture without people and a second one with people to give you a perspective of their massive size.

A selfie for good measure.

I took a couple pictures of the back. Again, for perspective. These sculptures are incredible and massive. The second one I took looking across the street. It shows cars, people, and the back of the sculpture.

This sculpture was sponsored by the Pacific Music Festival.

Our timing was perfect as we approached this sculpture of a building. We had a chance to watch the a live performance.

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Again, I could not get over the size of the sculptures. They were massive. I loved watching the lights change colors.

The ice shrine sculpture was my favorite.

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I took several more pictures to show the details.

The Cup Noodle sculpture deserved an honorable mention.

After the professional massive super snow sculptures, there were a plethora of sculptures from other countries.

The next group of sculptures appeared to be created by local groups. There were so many. I couldn’t possibly share them all with you. So, I’ll share a few of our favorites.

I knew this would be an impressive event. For my VB friends who are familiar with the Neptune Festival, I was expecting to see sculptures similar to the sand sculptures. The ones created by local artists were similar in size to the sand sculptures. The ones created by the professionals were beyond anything I could have imagined. They are larger than life size! We spent the evening walking around and the viewing the sculptures. We were bundled up and had strategically placed heat pads in our pockets and boots. I found the hot sake also helped to beat the cold!

We had fun people watching and snacking on festival food. Just when you think you have seen it all with respect to how the Japanese spoil their puppies, you see a dog on a sled!

Thanks for reading! I’ll have daytime Snow Festival pictures for you tomorrow.

Susukino Ice World

As we were on the train heading to Sapporo it started to snow. Instead of taking the local train to our hotel, we decided to grab a taxi and avoid dragging luggage through the snow. I was absolutely giddy to see the snow as we drove through the city.

We arrived at our hotel before the 1500 check in. So, we dropped off our luggage and set out in search of lunch. We found a cozy ramen restaurant just a few blocks away. Several friends told us to try Hokkaido ramen. It exceeded their recommendations and our expectations. It was as delicious!

Once we finished our lunch, we started to return to our hotel and then realized the Susukino Ice World was only a block away.

So, we walked through to check out the ice sculptures. There were so many!! Easily 30 plus. I took a picture of most of them. The titles would crack us up!

Check out the guy cleaning off the snow on the Hawaii 808. Proof that it was snowing like crazy when we first arrived.

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There were so many ice sculptures! They were all amazing!! I had a couple favorites. The cat and dog, of course.

And the “Supple Woman.”

Let’s not forgot- this is Sapporo!

We walked the sculptures during the day and then returned after we changed into our snow gear. They sculptures were cool at night as well.

Plus, the ice bar was open and serving champagne. Yes, please!

I’ll wrap up this post here for now. So far, it’s snowed all day, the ramen was delicious, I’m wearing my hot pink snow pants (all weekend), the ice sculptures were too cool, and I enjoyed champagne at the ice bar. Sapporo Snow Festival is exceeding expectations even before we visited the actual Snow Festival!!

Sapporo or Bust!

This is a first for Team Dwyer. A winter vacation! Normally, we want to escape the cold. We typically plan a trip where packing involves bikinis and board shorts. This is the first time we have ever packed snow pants and parkas. When I mentioned this to Dave he said this will probably be the last time as well!

We are flying out of Haneda Airport. We took the train from the station by our house. I planned our trip so we didn’t have to switch trains. A very nice convenience when pulling luggage. Here was our train route.

The flight to Sapporo takes about 1.5 hours from Haneda. Sapporo is located on the northern island of Hokkaido. It is due north of our location on the main island. Here are a couple pictures to help you identify where we are and where we are going. We are the blue dot near Tokyo.

Once we arrive in Sapporo, we will have about an hour train ride to our hotel from the airport.

Our hotel is about a 5-minute walk to the Sapporo Snow Festival.

According to my research, the first Sapporo Snow Festival was in 1950. In the town center, teenagers created six large snow sculptures. Over the next few years, more entertainment and food vendors began to organize and create a festival atmosphere. The size and complexity of the snow structures also improved. The Sapporo Snow Festival soon became a world renowned event. To date, the festival attracts more than 2 million visitors every year coming from all over the world and Japan.

We put the Sapporo Snow Festival on our Japan bucket list shortly after we arrived our first summer. We’ve been planning this trip since April! Needless to say, we are excited! I’ll be back soon with more pictures of the festival.

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