Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sakura: The Real Deal

Alls I heard about for the entire winter was how nice spring was going to be and how beautiful the sakura (cherry blossom) trees are when they're in bloom. To say it's anticipated is an understatement. I wasn't sure if Japanese really loved sakura that much, or they would just say anything to get their minds off the disgusting winter and into the warm spring. It became almost mythical to hear about, and people's eyes would glitter as if they were reminiscing about Christmas morning as a child.

In short, it was indeed all it was cracked up to be. The sight of sakura in bloom was gorgeous. It just completely transforms the brown horizons I`d stared at the entire winter and completely changes the atmosphere. I think the change in scenery, the tradition and nostalgia of it, and the fact that they`re so short lived is all part of the appeal and majestic-ness. Sakura only last for 1-2 weeks and weatherman give like an hourly update on when and where they`ll be in bloom.

"Hanami" is the Japanese word for "cherry blossom viewing", but it generally means you rally the troops and have a picnic and make a day/night of it. I think it`s sweet that one word is dedicated to the picnic you can have for like 2 days out of an entire year. Anyway, the pictures below are our version of hanami. It was in a park a 10 minute bike ride from my house (and if you spotted that red and white bike in the background that looks out of place in a nation full of mama cherry bikes - keen eye! And it`s mine, all mine).

Some people brought food, some brought beverages; I brought both AND catch phrase - I WIN!

The following pictures are all "borrowed" from It's an awesome site about culture in Japan that some Spanish guy updates daily. And he, like Alex, takes far superior pictures than me, thus doing far better justice to capturing sakura via photography than I have this year.

In Tokyo...
as seen by the blending of massive buildings and beautiful parks.

Yozakura (night sakura) in Tokyo.
It`s tradition to hang paper lanters throughout the parks for the purpose of yoakura.
As the sakura begin to die, the wind blows them off the trees and it gives the impression of snow falling. It`s a scene used in many romantic scenes of Japanese film and novels and I can now understand why. I mean, not from experience or anything, but the imagination works wonders!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ume: A Tease For Sakura

Sakura generally begin blooming around Kyoto and Tokyo at the end of March or early April. More about this to come in the post on sakura, but for now you should now that Ume (plum blossom) trees blossom BEFORE sakura. A city north of Maebashi (Annaka) is well known for a large ume park which was predicted to be in bloom, so my friend Kamara had a big 'ol Girls Night Out planned for us on March 8, complete with ume blossoms viewing. They weren't really in bloom yet - BUT, we did get a few glimpses of some early bloomers. Check it out!

We are SOOOO excited for UME!
Still no ume - but check out Mt. Myogi!

I loved these two - looked like a reflection.

They really were beautiful, but I couldn't help but think "if this is what all the Japanese are so hyped up about in sakura, they are seriously understimulated." Little did I know...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Take Me Out to the Ballgame!

March 22, 2008: a day marked on many a gaijin's calendars. This day was the MLB season opener, conveniently located in Tokyo, Japan. I'm not a die-hard baseball fan by any means. I love going to Brewer games, but mostly for the tailgating beforehand and the Weiner races. I do like Boston though (home of Aerosmith) and any group event involving eating, drinking, and yelling. So off we were:
This is the entrance to Tokyo Dome City (complete with the actual Tokyo Dome, some restaurants, some amusement park rides, a mall of course, and a hotel).
The Tokyo Dome is home to the Tokyo Giants.

And there's the infamous "Big O" centerless Ferris wheel.

It didn't look like Gotham City anymore during the day, but it was still cool.

I didn't actually want to see the Hall of Fame Museum, but the mural outside was kinda cool. All the true fans gotta get themselves a noise maker!

And we're inside! Massive dome - but unretractable and thus far inferior to Miller Stadium. Especially when it was sooooo nice outside. It was the Boston Red Sox vs. The Hanshin Tigers (a team from Osaka, Japan). They played the US and Japan National Anthems (on the big speakers on trucks). It seemed to be about a 50/50 crowd of foreigners/Japanese.

Sure, there was a game being played, but there were more important issues to be pondered... such as, will they serve beer at the Tokyo Dome? The answer: not only did they serve beer, they served it ON TAP! Oh Japan, how I loveth thee. Terry and Adil were more excited about the cute girl serving than the actual beer, I think.

There were no wiener races, but there was a "guess which Tokyo Tower the ball is under game" which was pretty cool.
And second to beer, the other question of the day was what kind of food they'd have. I of course took the risk of carrying in, successfully! But to those less prepared, chicken nuggets, foot longs, Ritz, and Oreo's were for sale.
Swing and a hit!
Click below for a feel of the Dome's atmosphere.
Final score of 6-5, Red Sox.
But more importantly, we look good!
Oh yeah, we should probably get the field in the background, huh?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Nagano Snow Monkeys

My sister's coming in less than a week now (YAY!!!), and I'll have a plethora of posts regarding her visit I'm sure, so it's catch up time now. I'm gonna be short on the anecdotes for this post, which I'm sure MANY of you are thoroughly excited about.

A whiles back now (over a month ago) my buddy/organizer extravagant, Brooke, got a crew of us together to go see onsen monkey in Nagano (a prefecture north of good 'ol Gunma). It has a higher altitude and is more mountainous, thus ideal for monkeys to come out and play in the winter. It's relatively close to us, but we did have/get to shinkansen (bullet train) there and back.

Thanks again to Alex for the use of your far superior pictures from the trip!
It was like we were moving at warp speed!
Yay! All us foreigners finally made it... to the entrance... which means a hike in snow before actually getting to the onsen. PERFECT!

That's a geyser in back of me... I think it was man-made.

Play nice!