Wabi-Sabi Sole

Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Category: Plum Blossoms

Early Spring Blooms

We enjoyed a relaxing weekend. Saturday, I visited the farmer’s market being held on base. I came away with several treasures, none of them were food! I purchased two antique pieces. One is a chest and the other a tea tansu. I love them and have already incorporated them into our decor.

We also had the opportunity to visit our favorite lunch spot in Kamakura. Barchie’s remains one of our favorites restaurants. We stopped in for lunch on Sunday.

Check out this ingenious idea. I ordered a bbq rib burrito. It was served wrapped in wax paper and sliced in half. As I ate it, I peeled away the wax paper. All the juices dripped out the bottom of the burrito and were collected by the wax paper! Brilliant!

After lunch, we walked around Kamakura. A couple of the white Sakura trees are starting to bloom. Everyone was taking pictures!! We couldn’t resist either!

As you’re reading this, Jennifer, please don’t be alarmed. I took a picture of the pink grove across the pond. This is also where the peony garden is located. The pink Sakura are not blooming yet. They still have about 7-10 days. Plus, there is a lot rain in the forecast this week. The rain will slow down the blooms. I think timing will be perfect for your visit!

In the meantime, please enjoy the early spring blooms. The white Sakura, plum blossoms, and daffodils.

Do You Know Why You’re Here?

Dave and I leave for Hokkaido tomorrow. We will be flying to and staying in Sapporo so we can enjoy the Sapporo Snow Festival. On today’s to-do list was to locate our Chicago winter gear and start packing, mail a few packages at the post office, and charge my train card. Locating our winter gear was pretty easy. With the exception of my hot pink snow pants, everything else has been neatly folded in a large plastic bin in the spare closet. I dug out gloves, hats, and neck gaiters for each of us. My things and our plethora of hand, foot, and body warmers are in the suitcase. I set Dave’s cold weather gear aside so he can sort through them when he gets home.

Once the post office was open, I walked down the hill to mail the packages and then to the train station to charge my train card. It was such a beautiful day and my chores were complete, I had time to goof off!

I decided to hop the train and scout out the status of the plum blossoms at Taura Plum Grove. Last year, I went to see the Taura Plum Grove in early March and the blooms were mostly gone. On the train the other day, I noticed a group of pink plum trees and I wanted to see how far they were from blooming this year.

I climbed the six long flights of stairs giving me a nice burn in my quads!

The Plum trees definitely are not in bloom right now. However, their buds are set nicely and hopefully, the weather will allow them to explode with blossoms in the next couple of weeks.

There were a few trees that had blossoms that were already starting to open.

The close up pictures were fun to take.

There were a few daffodils blooming as well. They will always be my favorite. New beginnings just like Spring.

These were the group I could see from the train. Unfortunately, they are on private property and not part of the park.

As I was walking around at the top of the hill, I noticed a small information hut. As I passed, I greeted the worker with a spirited “Konnichiwa.” He replied the same and then asked me a question in Japanese. Confused, I shook my head and said “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Japanese.” He then asked me, “do you know why you are here?” At his question I was completely laughing on the inside. I know he was trying to ask me, “do you know where you are?” I couldn’t help but think he was about to lead me on some super existential journey. I imagined we would spend the afternoon discussing the meaning of life and before the sunset I would be further along on my path to enlightenment. As my thoughts ran quickly through my mind, I replied, “Hai, I know where I am.” He responded with a smile and nod and said “please take a map to help you find your way.” A map! For my existential journey along the path to enlightenment!?! No, sorry. A map of the park. Please enjoy. Arigatōgozaimas!

Perhaps in two weeks, when our first spring visitor arrives, the blooms will be perfect for a walk through the Plum Grove. I’ll keep my fingers crossed! In the meantime, I’ll be sharing our experiences from our long weekend spent exploring the Sapporo Snow Festival! As always, thanks for reading!

Salty, Sweet and Sour

I had a full house at my English lesson today with my Japanese grandmothers. One of them went to Hakone last weekend and brought us back plum candies. Not to be overshadowed by the Sakura, Ume (Plum Blossoms) are beautiful in the spring. The candies are made from the fruit. From my understanding, the plums are pitted and then pickled with a mixture of salt, sugar, and vinegar. The result, is a gummy, salty, sweet, and sour (tangy) piece of candy. Here is the package. According to Google Translate, it says “Han Hwa” – clearly, no help. 


The plum candy is pictured below. Notice it has a slightly moist texture. To understand the texture, imagine a moist, dried apricot. 

A picture for perspective. They were small, approximately an inch in circumference. They tasted very differently from candy I prefer to purchase (not chocolate). However, in a strange way, they reminded me of natural sour patch kids. 

My grandmothers asked me to describe the taste to them in English. I said, “sweet, salty, and tangy”. They didn’t understand tangy. Tangy to me means my geographic tongue will hurt. That obviously would be lost in translation without me sticking out my tongue. And that would be so weird. Could you imagine? So, to save us all the pain of translating, I went with sour. 

As you can see, I have five remaining. Who would like a sample!?! Tempting, I know! 

Taura Plum Grove

I have been hearing a lot about the Taura Plum Grove over the past couple of weeks. Several people have told me how beautiful the trees were last year when they were in full bloom. Others who have been this year, reported the trees weren’t in full bloom yet. Simultaneously, someone else who went last week was told by the locals that most of the blooms were damaged from the cold weather or maybe they were told the trees had a disease. As always, a little bit is lost in translation. Regardless, I wanted to get out and about on the sunny early spring day. So, off I went. The route was a bit round about because the closet station to the Taura Plum Grove is Taura station. Taura station is a JR train line. The closest train station to our house is Jimmuji Station, on the Keikyu line. To get to the Grove, I went from Jimmuji station to the Kanazawa-Hakkei station, switched trains and went down to the Anjinzuka station. From the Anjinzuka station I had about a 30 minute walk to the grove. Coming home, I walked to the Taura station (20 minutes from the park) and took the JR line to Zushi and switched to the Keikyu line and came back to Jimmuji.

The walk to the park was pretty easy. There were flags marking the route as well as signs.

The park is on a hill. Which means there were a lot of stairs to climb. There were six long flights of stairs all similar to the two pictured here.

The view from the top was lovely. And as I had been warned, the Plum trees were not spectacular. As I walked further to the top, some of the trees offered more blooms.

You can imagine how beautiful this would be during the full bloom season.

I was able to take a few close up pictures.

There were several daffodils still blooming as well.

From the very top, the view was magnificent.

Interestingly, this sign is one we see when we take the toll road home from Main Base. I had some what of an “I know where I am moment” when I recognized the sign!

I took a different route down the hill to get out of the park. Still just as many stairs!!

Despite the lack of blooms on the trees, I enjoyed the afternoon exploring an area right in our backyard, so to speak. Imagine if all the trees looked like this one!

Japanese Hotel

Thursday evening, Dave spontaneously suggested we take time to sightsee in Tokyo for the long weekend. The New Sanno was booked, of course, so I made us reservations for a room at the APA Hotel in Asakusa. Asakusa is on the east side of Tokyo. We have not really explored this area yet. We are the blue dot in the photo. 


I used several of the local Facebook pages to select the hotel. It came with good recommendations and the suggestion to bring your own pillows. Haha. Seriously, I wish we would have listened! They are flat! We were provided robes set with crane origami. 


The room is tiny and a great deal. About $85 a night! Besides a bed, window and full bath, it has two pairs of slippers for each of us, a fridge, a place to hang stuff, steam pot, humidifier and a TV. 

Check out all 118 square feet. 

Perfect fit!?! 


The only place for our carry on sized suitcase was in front of the door. Putting the suitcase in front of the door is a bit of a hazard. We therefore had a serious conversation about egress. Dave promised to get us both out in the event of an emergency. Safety is paramount. 

A place to hang stuff. 

Bed. Window. TV. 


The bathroom is adorable. The sink and shower faucet are controlled by the same spot! 


The toiletries were fully stocked. 


Ironically, the only oversized item is the soap, conditioner and shampoo! 


Honestly, it’s part of the Japanese experience. And it’s only for two nights. Tomorrow, I plan on taking Dave to at least seven temples (another Seven Lucky Gods pilgrimage) and possibly another two to see Ume Blossoms. In the afternoon, perhaps we can make it to the Tokyo Skytree. My tourist list is long as always! 

Ume or Sakura

This time of year is very special in Japan. It is the beginning of Ume and Sakura season. Ume is the Japanese word for Plum Blossoms. Sakura is the Japanese word for Cherry Blossoms. 

As to be expected, there are Ume and Sakura forecast for the different regions in Japan. The Ume trees bloom a little earlier than the Sakura. Right now, the Sakura is expected to be in full bloom in the Tokyo area towards the end of March. Perfect time to plan a visit!! 

My struggle was identifying the difference. Yesterday when we were at the Seto Shrine with Miki, I asked her to help me identify the differences between the Ume and the Sakura. First rule, do not judge by color! 

Here is an Ume blossom. The first thing to notice is the petals are rounded. Also, the flowers occur individually. 


Here is a broader picture. Notice the blossoms are attached to the tree. 


Comparatively, let’s look at the Sakura blossoms. The Sakura petals are not quite as rounded and the blossoms occur in clusters. 


Also, the blossoms are attached to the tree by a short stem. 


The trunk of the tree is also a good indicator. A Sakura tree will have “cracks” in the trunk. 


Armed with this knowledge, you should be able to identify whether the blossoms pictured are Ume or Sakura. Test yourself. The answers are at the end of the post. 

A.

B.

C.

D.

E.


F.


G.

H.


Hopefully, the variety of these blossoms help you to understand why color can’t be used as a determining factor. Here are the answers. 

A. Ume

B. Ume

C. Sakura

D. Ume 

E. Ume

F. Sakura 

G. Sakura

H. Ume

Taya Cavern

“Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I received a very nice compliment today. I took Dina to a temple she had yet to visit and to one she had never even heard about after living here for almost two years. She applauded my efforts for setting out and blazing a trail. She gave me the Emerson quote and I have never felt more honored. However, I can’t take too much credit. Because…

Google Maps is pretty amazing. I have become a very confident explorer now that I have learned many of “hidden” (obvious) features. Like the blue arrow that points in the direction you are headed, or the way you can drop a pin on a location and find directions, hours and reviews. This is how I found the Taya Cavern. Seriously. I was just goofing around with Google Maps looking for stuff to do and I found the Taya Cavern which is part of the Josenji-Temple. The pilgrimage to Taya Caverns/Josenji-Temple required a train ride to Ofuna and then a 30-minute urban hike. It was another beautiful day with clear blue skies. Dina still needed to visit The White Lady of Ofuna and it was pretty much on the way. We decided to do both… after lunch!

Lunch! A salad pizza. I might add this to my favorite “pizza” in Japan. I have learned to set expectations low with respect to familiar foods because they just don’t taste the same. This pizza was different and delicious!

A few pictures of one of my favorite temples. You can read more about The White Lady of Ofuna here.

While we were walking around, we discussed how spectacular these Cherry Blossoms will be in a couple months.

After visiting the White Lady, we were off for a 30-minute urban hike to Josenji-Temple. It was tucked away off the side of the road. However, Google Maps led me straight to the entrance without fail!

A pleasant surprise, Ume Blossoms (plum blossoms) were just beginning to bloom.

At the temple, there was a shrine dedicated hundreds of Jizo statues. I needed to research the Jizo a little more. While visiting the shrine, we were left with the impression it was dedicated to children who had passed away. My research informed me the Jizo is a bodhisattva revered among Japanese Buddhists, and the protector of travelers, expectant mothers, and children. This explains the additions to many of the statues within the shrine.

Next, we walked across a small path to the entrance of the caverns. According to the information provided by the Temple, the caverns date back to 1192 and took 500 years to reach the capacity they are today. The caverns were originally 1000m in length however, only 300m are available to visitors. The caverns were hand carved by Buddhist monks seeking enlightenment. “To attain enlightenment, disciples entered the cave. They performed 21-day fasts, sitting in religious meditation, and digging the caves by hand.”

Understanding the caverns were hand carved, we can look past how height challenged Dina and I felt throughout our walk.

Upon entering, we lit our candle and used it to guide us through our passage. No worries, there are also several LED lights along the way!

We were also provided a holder for our candle. It was an amazing experience to walk throughout the tunnels with our candle. I will be honest. We relied on each other several time to relight because candles do not like to move quickly!

One of the MANY carvings. A fish, no a bird, no a dragon!

This is a picture of the ceiling at one of the 17 circle areas designed for worship.

One of many alters throughout the caverns.

Fortunately, the only bat we saw in the cave!

And of course, a Cock!

Several Buddhist sitting upon a lotus flower

At one point while we were walking through the caverns, it became really warm and moist. It was definitely not what one would expect when walking through caves in the winter. I attempted to take a picture of the walls. They were covered in moisture. I told Dina I felt as though I was walking through someone’s mouth it was that humid and damp. It was a little gross.

More carvings…

A couple more pictures to give to an idea of how much we had to duck! And our cool candle holders!

Perhaps my favorite picture. A Buddha carving appearing to hold my candle.

More carvings and a shrine.

At one point, we heard what seemed like a massive amount of flowing water. It was the small drainage pipe hidden behind the faux pine bough. According to my research, splashing water from this “noiseless stream” on a part of your body that causes pain, will heal it. Too bad I didn’t read this before we went for our visit!

It was a very special day. I was excited to take my Japan-savvy friend somewhere she had yet to go and together experience something off the beaten path.

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