Wabi-Sabi Sole

Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Category: Tokyo (Page 1 of 5)

Exploring Shinjuku

Katie and I have been waiting for a nice day to take a trip up to Tokyo to explore the area around Shinjuku station. We considered this a reconnaissance mission of sorts. We thought maybe this area would be good to take upcoming visitors and Katie’s kids. Shinjuku is about an hour and fifteen minute train ride from where we live. I marked several spots in blue on Google Map to guide our exploring.

Our first stop was to visit the lion statue near the Shinjuku East exit. The lion was built and maintained by the Tokyo Shinjuku Lions Club. The hole in his mouth is for donations. The Shinjuku lion is also a common meeting spot when meeting up with friends.

After our stop at the Shinjuku lion, we walked over to see the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower on the west side of Shinjuku station. The building is home to a very popular and highly prestigious Fashion School in Tokyo.

We worked our way back to the east side of the station and walked towards the Shinjuku TOHO building to see Godzilla.

The lighting is a little strange and makes the sky look very blue. The head is next to a hotel and you could visit the terrace. So, we did!

This sign made us curious.

Listen as Katie touches the black hole.

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After visiting Godzilla, we walked around the Kabukicho district. More commonly known as the red light district. Yes, even in Tokyo.

Kabukicho was pretty tame during lunchtime on a Tuesday. We were good with that. We took a few pictures outside the Robot Restaurant, Samurai Museum and of King Kong.

We decided to make our way out of Kabukicho and find some lunch. Katie used her amazing Google Maps skills and located us a conveyor belt sushi restaurant while I was shopping for lotion at The Body Shop. The color of the sushi plate identified the price.

I stacked our plates for a colorful effect. It was then I realized the delicious tuna I was grabbing was on silver plates! ¥520! No wonder it tasted so good!

After lunch we started working our way towards Shinjuku Gyoen (garden). However, we were sidetracked quickly when we saw the Tokyu Hands store. We decided to go shopping instead and save the garden for a warmer spring day when we have a better chance to see flowers blooming.

So, back to the main mission, reconnaissance. We did learn a good bit about the area. There are some good spots for tourist photos and shopping. I will definitely return this spring to visit the gardens. Or at night to see the view of the city from the Park Hyatt Tokyo (the hotel from the movie Lost in Translation). I’ll just be sure if we have kids with us to come during the day time and/or avoid Kabukicho!!

Hyakudan Hina Doll Festival

My English student, Manami, invited Dave and me to join her for lunch and to visit the Hyakudan Hina Doll Festival. The festival was being held in Tokyo at the Hotel Gajoen.

The hotel was stunning. In the courtyard garden was a koi pond and a waterfall!

We were able to walk around a short path that led behind the waterfall!

The hotel is very popular for weddings and events. Besides the garden courtyard, there were beautiful wall murals, water features inside the hotel, flowers, and miniature Shrines.

Lunch was delicious. We had 90 minutes to enjoy a buffet. It was a fusion of western and eastern cuisine. After lunch, we went to visit the Hyakudan Hina Doll Festival. The Hina Doll Festival or Hina Matsuri is celebrated on March 3rd. The celebration marks the change of the season and aligns with Girls’ Festival. During the celebration, families, display their Hina Doll collection, eat a variety of lucky foods, and pray for the health and growth of girls. The shape and style of Hina Dolls vary throughout the different regions of Japan. This year, the Hyakudan Hina Matsuri highlighted the Omi, Mino, and Hida regions (central Japan).

Only a few rooms allowed photographs of the dolls. This display at the entrance is from a shop in Tokyo. The bride and groom sit on the top shelf. Their servants, musicians, and attendants sit on the lower rows.

This group of pictures features ceramic Hina Dolls.

The old part of the hotel housed the exhibit. We climbed 100 stairs and visited 7 rooms with different displays. Please be careful and watch you step and head!

Here is another collection of Dolls.

Plus a bonus of Manami and me!

After our visit to the festival, we stopped by the Daienji Temple on our way to the train station. The seven Lucky Gods statues were so cute! And the gold leaf Buddha was beautiful.

Dave and I enjoyed the time we spent with Manami. She was an excellent tour guide throughout the day. She flawlessly navigated us around the city trains and the exhibit. It was such a special day and we all enjoyed it very much.

Furusato Matsuri Tokyo

Furusato Matsuri Tokyo is a 10 day festival held at Tokyo Dome. The event includes local food dishes and short demonstrations of local performances. Katie and I took the train up to Tokyo Tuesday morning. After a 30 minute detour caused by me getting us on the correct train line at the correct time, but going in the wrong direction… we finally found our way to Tokyo Dome. We followed the crowd to the ticket line. For ¥1400 we had all day access.

Despite the 30 minute delay, our timing was perfect! We arrived just as the Tatemon Festival was beginning their performance.

The Tatemon Festival is held on the first Friday and Saturday in August at the Suwa Shrine in the town of Suwa, Uozu. I took a picture of Google Maps to help identify where the festivals are located.

During the festival, offerings and dedications are presented at shrines to pray for a good haul of fish and safety at sea. The lanterns on the large structure have lobsters on them.

I took a short video of each group to help you appreciate the experience.

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After this performance, Katie and I walked down to the floor area where the numerous food vendors were located. So many people and so many food choices!

It was easy to become overwhelmed walking around. We both rejoiced with glee when we saw the Baird Beer stand. A Wabi-Sabi IPA makes everything better. Kanpie!

We continued taking in the sights and found a giant Daruma doll. Who doesn’t need a little extra luck in the new year!?

By the time the next show started, we were directly in front of the performers. And no one was telling us to leave. We felt like we were breaking rules. But, no one seemed to care!

The second show was a folk story reenactment. From Kanazawa City, the Kagajishi is a story about a lion being chased out of the city.

The performers included the warriors who were fighting each other and the lion. Eventually, the lion was driven from the city.

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After the performance, we walked around some more and selected a delicious fried snack. I realize now I didn’t take any pictures of my Festival food. We shared dumplings, croquettes, and a fried dough cheese stick. All were delicious. Although I did need a couple Tums by the time I got home!

Anyways, back to the festival. The third show was my favorite. This presentation was called the Goshogawara Tachineputa Festival and comes from Goshogawara City, Aomori Prefecture. Located in the very northern area of the main island, Honshu.

During the performance, the group moved the 23 meter tall statue weighing over 19 tons across the floor.

We had fantastic seats to watch as the giant Tachineputa floated its way through the performance arena. During the actual parade, more than a dozen of the Tachineputa are pulled through town!

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By the time the fourth performance started, Katie and I were losing steam. The event was becoming more and more crowded. This made it difficult to find a seat and walk around without bumping into people. Katie and I agreed we started to feel like we were in a human pinball machine.

We decided to stay for one more performance. The last one we watched was the Tottori Shan-Shan Matsuri Festival. Tottori Prefecture is on southern end of Honshu.

The performance is conducted using “Shan-Shan gasa” or rice paper umbrellas.

In 2014, the Tottori Shan-Shan Festival celebrated the 50th anniversary. With over 4,000 participants, set a Guinness Book of World Record for the largest umbrella dance.

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We only experienced a small portion of what the 10-day festival had to offer. It was great to be able to see festival demonstrations from areas further away where we might not have the opportunity to visit. I hope you enjoyed the videos!

Winter Illuminations

The head Sensei of the English school where I teach on Fridays organized a school trip to Tokyo to see the winter illuminations. We met at Yokohama station at 11:00 am. Here we were able to meet up as a group – teachers and students. Our bus for the day was number 1 – Mango Poodle.

We boarded the bus and set off for our first stop. Yokohama Christmas Market in the Red Brick Area. Dave and I haven’t had a chance to visit the Yokohama Christmas Market this year, so I was happy it was included in this tour. We enjoyed about 30-40 of free time at each location to walk around. It was a sunny and cool day.

After our stop at the Red Brick Warehouse Area, we rode the bus to Tokyo. Our first stop in Tokyo was at the Washington Hotel for a buffet lunch. It was a large buffet with a mixture of eastern and western cuisine. A friend took this picture of me with my two students, Junko on the left and Haruko on the right.

After lunch, we went to Yebisu Garden Place. Some of the pictures might look a little familiar. Dave and I visited Yebisu Garden Place a couple Saturdays ago. Do you remember seeing a picture of the large chandelier, huge Christmas tree, and cute “Make it Happy” sign?

While we were visiting, I had a picture taken with my students. They are so very kind and sweet. I truly enjoy talking with them and spending time together. During trips like this one, I have the opportunity to learn more about their families and interests.

Once again, we boarded the bus and were driven across town to Odaiba Seaside Park. We arrived as the sunset and waited to boarded our water taxi. The first picture is of Tokyo Tower. Followed by the Tokyo skyline and sunset. The last picture is of Rainbow Bridge.

Once we were safely across the harbor and the sun had officially set, it was time for the illumination viewing portion of our tour. The next stop was Shiodome. The illuminations were blue and the animations were every 15 minutes. The lights were in rhythm with a variety of Disney songs.

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The other highlight at Shiodome was the artistic Christmas trees. They were so kawaii!!! My favorite was the universe tree. Junko’s favorite was the frog tree. I had a good laugh at the Japanese snack tree. The name of the tree was “Japanese Happy”, of course.

Once again, we were back on the bus. We went across town to Tokyo Station. Here we were able to view the GIANT white Christmas Tree and light show. The tree was sprayed white and then spotlights were used to change the color of the tree. There were also singers performing. Haruko, Junko, and I didn’t hang out here too long. We used our 30 minutes to grab an onigiri. Junko treated me to a salmon and fish roe onigiri. When she asked me if I liked it, I said yes, I like both salmon and fish roe. Hmm? Was her response. Roe? And then she said “fish children”? I burst out laughing. I couldn’t help myself. Fish eggs, I said. Fish eggs. Bahahaha! We enjoyed a good laugh together.

Our next stop was at Tokyo Midtown Christmas. This was probably my favorite. I will make sure to take Dave next year. The light show was spectacular. It was sponsored by Toshiba. Interesting fact I learned, Toshiba also sponsors the lights at the Louvre Museum. Anyways, the show was about 5 minutes and absolutely fantastic.

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Can you believe we still had another stop!! Two actually!! Two more stops. I must admit, by this point in our tour, even I started to lose the excitement. It was as though we saw too many spectacular lights and nothing was seeming spectacular any more. Plus, the last two I had already seen with Dave. The next stop was Roppongi Hills. We visited there two weeks ago.

The finally stop before returning to Yokohama station was the blue lights near Shibuya. Dave and I visited these illuminations last year. They were again very beautiful. I took a couple pictures of the same location. Strategically positioning my phone to cut out the people. Can you believe how many people were out on a Wednesday night at 10:00pm?!?

Overall, it was truly an amazing day. I enjoyed spending time with my students. They are so kind and attentive to my wellbeing. It is definitely a different type of teaching than I am accustomed to doing. Maybe I’m not changing the world, but I’m nurturing friendships and my soul. And selfishly, that is good for me in a place so far from home. By the end of the day, Haruko, Junko, and I all agreed “we are good tired and our hearts are full.”

MariCAR Christmas

I’ve been talking about wanting to see the numerous holiday illuminations in Tokyo relentlessly. Dave had a great idea. Let’s do a MariCar ride around Tokyo and check out the Christmas lights. Brilliant! The wardroom is SRF set the date for Friday, 12/15 at 7:00 pm. Perfect for seeing lots of people and holiday lights. There were 8 of us plus the two guides. Keeping with the Mario Cart theme, Dave and I picked Mario and Luigi costumes.

Friday was pretty chilly. Fortunately, our costumes allowed for plenty of layering. I stuffed my inside and outside pockets with hand warmers and put warmers in my boots. I stayed toasty the whole way.

The ride took us around the middle of Tokyo. The sights included Ueno, Ginza, Tokyo Station, Asakusa, and Tokyo Skytree. So much fun for only ¥7000 – $70.00. This was a different course than I rode last year with Dina. Plus, before we rode the course during the day. Nighttime would be a new experience!

Here are a few shots from along the route.

Seeing Tokyo Skytree was really cool. We saw it as we approached and then stopped for a group photo.

Here are a couple pictures of the trees around the Emperor’s Palace.

From Asakusa- Kappabashi- Kitchen town.

Ueno Station.

The highlight was waving as we were stopped at lights. It was easy to make people smile.

Dave and I had so much fun. It was a little scary at first and when you go really fast or hit bumps. But, it’s super cool and fun. We talked about who in our family would love this the most. We agreed his brother Bob, niece, and nephew – Jade and Jordan would absolutely love the experience. I hope we can go during your visit. Here is what you need to do in order to participate in MariCart when you visit. I took a screen shot of the website. Basically, you need an International Driver’s License. You obtain that and I will make our reservations.

Keep in mind, you’re allowed to wear your own costume. Dave suggested next Christmas season we dress as Santa and his elves!

SRF Holiday Party

Saturday evening the SRF-JRMC holiday party was held at the New Sanno Hotel. The holiday decorations at the New Sanno Hotel are spectacular.

The Christmas Trees and fireplace make the perfect setting for holiday pictures.

The party had everything any good holiday party should have:

Decorations, delicious food, prizes, and dancing. We danced so much, I eventually had to lose my heels! My friend, Saori, sent me this picture – she drew the heart doodle. Dave was singing his own karaoke to “Faithfully” by Journey. It was obviously later in the evening because my shoes are no where in sight. The best part, Dave’s the sober one. (Still no alcohol for military in Japan.) I’m still laughing almost two days later. It was such a fun night.

One more funny story to wrap up the weekend. Before Dina moved, she gave me a gift certificate for the New Sanno Hotel. The gift certificate had been given to her by visiting friends. She and the kids left Japan before Brent returned from deployment and was never able to use the gift certificate. Knowing we had plenty of opportunities to use the gift certificate, she gave it to me. I put it in a safe place and was thrilled when I remembered to bring it with us this weekend. I gave it to Dave to use towards the room when he checked us into the hotel. I was surprised when I met Dave in the lobby and learned the front desk said it couldn’t be used towards the room. Hmmm. Where can I use it? In the shops. Oh, ok. Saturday afternoon, I went to the small Navy Exchange and attempted to buy Dina a cute purse with the certificate. “Sorry, ma’am, you can not use this certificate here.” Try the downstairs gift shop. I go downstairs and was going to buy Dina a beautiful silk Obi she could use as a table runner. When I presented the gift certificate, I was again greeted with, “sorry ma’am, you can not use this certificate here.” Hmmm. I returned to the front desk and asked them where I could use the gift certificate. They said at the restaurants or bar. Considering we were having dinner at the party later, I was left with only one option. The bar! Kanpie! A couple cocktails, a bottle of wine for me and O’douls for Dave and eventually we spent the gift certificate!

Cheers, to you Dina! I wish you were still here to not only share a drink in person, but to also experience the “sorry, ma’am” with me at each location! You would have been laughing hysterically!

Make it Happy

Saturday afternoon Dave and I walked around the area of Tokyo near the New Sanno Hotel. The New Sanno Hotel is on the southwest side of Tokyo. It is located near Ebisu and Roppongi Hills. Both areas have Christmas Markets I wanted to visit.

We went to Ebisu first and ate lunch at the Sapporo Beer Station.

Both the beer and my sandwich were delicious.

After lunch, we walked around the Christmas Market in the plaza. It was pretty small, but cute!

I loved the “Make it Happy” theme!

The tree and chandelier in the plaza were impressive!!

The chandelier is the feature of the Baccarat Eternal Light illumination. I can only imagine how beautiful it would look at night. The chandelier has 8,472 pieces of crystal!

After visiting Ebisu Garden Place, we hopped on the train and went two stops to Roppongi Hills. On the upper level was the German themed Christmas Market. It was a little bigger than the Ebisu Market and much more crowded! There were lines just to enter the stores!

On the lower level was a British Invasion Festival. Talk about a cultural afternoon! Germany and Britain while walking around Japan!

My favorite was the IPA craft beer option. Even if it was a Japanese sized pour!

We walked around the garden to enjoy the last of the fall foliage.

Potato chip trees!

The highlight of our day was seeing different pet owners posing their puppies and rabbits for photos. Kawaii!! They brought us happy thoughts of Hannah B.

It was such a nice afternoon, we decided to walk back to the New Sanno and get ready for the holiday party.

Tiger Gyoza

Dave and I are spending the weekend in Tokyo at the New Sanno Hotel. The SRF Holiday Party is on Saturday night. I was hoping to spend Friday night enjoying illuminations in Tokyo. Unfortunately, the rain spoiled our plans. Instead, we decided to grab dinner near the hotel. We went to Tiger Gyoza.

I have heard many great reviews of the restaurant. Factoring in the rain and the proximity of the restaurant to the hotel, it made perfect sense.

We ordered the coriander (cilantro) Gyoza and fried chicken.

The Gyoza was covered with delicious fresh cilantro and a cilantro pesto. Although it was delicious, it could have been better if it was pan seared after boiling. The Gyoza was only boiled and that made it a little too mushy. I’m not sure if that was normal or it might have just been the type we ordered.

As we walked back to the New Sanno, we walked past a lot of Ginkgo Trees.

On the drive up, Dave commented that the fallen Gingko leaves looked like potato chips. He’s so right!! I couldn’t stop laughing! (And yes, we actually drove the Hooptie to Tokyo!) The scariest part was fitting into the tiny parking spot in the basement of the hotel.

I was also thought about the last time I stayed at the hotel. It was when the Cummings were visiting and we also had a rainy day. Delaney was not happy! What is it with the New Sanno and rain? I’m hoping it clears tomorrow so I can drag Dave to a couple Christmas Markets!

Rikugien Garden

Thursday was another beautiful Autumn day that warranted getting out for a little leaf peeping. I caught a morning train to the Bunkyo area on the north side of Tokyo. Once again, I arrived with an onigiri and was able to eat lunch at the garden. Simultaneously, thanks to modern technology, I could chat on my phone untethered to wifi and for free with my friend Sara in the U.S. all while sitting on a bench in a Tokyo garden. It was great catching up with you, my friend!! 

Now, back to the beautiful garden. The Rikugien Garden is a traditional Japanese garden. The garden highlighted the natural landscape of the area and incorporated water elements. This small section of water was actually part of a very large pond. 


Bridges over the water are also important elements of a Japanese garden. 


Here is the pond from another angle. From this picture, you can see the large size of the pond. 


Another part of a traditional Japanese garden pond, is the presence of koi. Check out the giant orange koi and group of dark ones on the left side of this picture!


I spent about an hour and a half wandering through the many paths within the garden. One path took me up a small hill. The view from the top was beautiful. I was a little early to see the peak Autumn foliage. Instead I only had a peek. 


Another path took me along the back of the pond. It was so quiet and serene.  

The island is also an important part of the traditional Japanese garden. Typically, entry to the island is not permitted. The large island in Rikugien is made of weathered rocks with a single pine tree. This island represents Mount Horai, the legendary home of the Eight Immortals.


I took a close up picture of the bridge to access the island. The Obana (Japanese pompas grass) is one of my favorite signs of Autumn in Japan. 


Stone lanterns are also significant in a traditional Japanese garden. Originally, they were used to line the path to a shrine. Within the garden, they are decorations used to remind visitors of the passing of time. 


I truly enjoyed my afternoon. Please don’t get mad at me for saying this, I’m starting to get into the Christmas spirit! I know, it’s not Thanksgiving yet. However, the Japanese don’t observe Thanksgiving. Instead, it’s straight to Christmas and Christmas decorations. Christmas decorations are starting to appear everywhere and I just can’t help but get excited when I see this Christmas tree! 

Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens – Fall Edition

I went to visit the Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens in June. This garden made the list of five gardens to experience wabi-sabi in Japan. I recently read an article published on savvytokyo.com, identifying eight places to visit in and around Tokyo to see beautiful Autumn foliage. To my surprise and joy, Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens was listed in the article! I took that as a sign to go and visit the garden again! It was beautiful. I arrived around lunchtime and enjoyed a tuna onigiri with green tea while sitting on a bench in the shade enjoying this view. 


After my lunch, I took a stroll around the garden. So much fall color! 


Up close, the vermilion bridge stood out in the still very green tree undergrowth. 


From further away, the bridge was almost swallowed in the upper layer of slowly changing leaves. 


The view across the pond might have been my favorite. Just to be clear, those are Japanese maple leaves. 🍁🍁🍁


From the other side of the pond, the view was lovely as well. The pond was so still.  


Part of the reason I love this Garden is the serenity it provides in the middle of Tokyo. The other reason is the beautiful plants, ponds, and paths. It’s a perfect spot to enjoy a picnic lunch followed by an afternoon stroll. What do you think about my new exploring shoes? Kawaii! 


Perhaps, this will become the Garden I stalk and visit at some point each season! My attempt to capture its year round beauty. 

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