On a cold December morning in 2014, my then-fiance and I crawled out of a cozy ryokan 旅館 bed and drove a block down to the shores of Lake Kawaguchiko 河口湖 to watch the sunrise. We were visiting Yamanashi Prefecture 山梨県, my Japanese hometown, and in the quiet hours of the morning we were the only ones stirring out of doors.
I took this panorama shot with my iPhone, and whenever I look at this (and the other hundred-odd photos I took that morning), the memories of the beauty of the sun rising over Mt. Fuji, the quiet of the morning giving way to the new day, and the return to a delicious Japanese-style breakfast waiting at the traditional Japanese inn or ryokan, come flooding back to me. This might well be my favorite Morning ever…
What is your favorite morning? Share your favorite morning in the comments!
It was creeping into the wee hours of Saturday morning, and the party that had begun Friday night was starting to wind down. I looked around at my friends crowded into the tiny Japanese apartment, then at Yuki, who lived in my direction, and asked her そろそろ行く？ (“Shall we leave soon?”). She checked the time on her phone and shook her head. まだだよ。(“Not yet.”). I was puzzled because she looked as sleepy as I felt, but when I pressed her, she just said that it wasn’t a safe time to walk home.
I looked around the room and realized that no one else was leaving, either. Among the mix of Japanese and American exchange students, at least two were softly snoring with their backs leaning against the wall. Everyone else was just talking quietly amongst the remains of a few chuuhai cans and an empty potato chip bag. In this quiet rural town in Yamanashi prefecture, dotted by rice paddies and grape and peach farms, I couldn’t imagine it ever being anything other than safe. But once the dark began to melt into early dawn and the sky began to lighten, Yuki’s eyes met mine, we said our goodbyes to the others and headed home.
When you visit Japan, it’s hard to believe that it’s anything but safe. But while living in Japan as a student, I heard a few more times that the wee hours (between 3 am and dawn usually) were not a safe time to walk home, even in Yamanashi.
–So, you might ask, as many have asked me before, is Japan safe?Continue reading
S is for Sakura for this installment of the A to Z Challenge. Sakura 桜 is the Japanese word for cherry blossom, the light pink flower that blooms for only a few weeks a year in the spring before falling to the ground in a flurry of blossoms. Cherry blossoms have fallen for the most part in mainland Japan, although Hokkaido is still due to be in full bloom next week. So I thought I would post about these beautiful flowers.
Sakura (cherry blossoms) in Yamanashi Prefecture – photo by kei
Japan has a whole flower-viewing culture 花見 based around cherry blossoms. When spring hits, sakura themed food, drink, and cute characters bloom like the flowers they represent. School ends during cherry blossom season, and many graduation songs reference cherry blossoms. School rejection letters have even been known to contain a metaphor that goes something like “the cherry blossoms are falling.”Continue reading
F is for Fuji Q Highland in today’s A to Z Challenge! Fuji Q Highland is an amusement park located in the city of Fujiyoshida 富士吉田市 in Yamanashi Prefecture 山梨県, Japan. There are several high-speed roller coasters and the (in?)famous Haunted Hospital.
View of Mt. Fuji from the line at the Fujiyama roller coaster, at Fuji Q Highland – photo by kei
Earlier in December, I met up with my friends from university from when I studied abroad in Yamanashi Prefecture 山梨県. Most of my university friends now live in or around Tokyo, although a few of them came from a little farther away. I later spent time with my friend and her baby and now I was meeting up with another university friend who was coming into Tokyo from Yamanashi Prefecture just to hang out.
That morning, my fiance’s brother and his wife left, and so we greeted them in the morning as they went to the airport. They live in Hokkaido 北海道, the northernmost main island of Japan, and so it was faster to fly than to take the bullet train or shinkansen 新幹線. After seeing them off at his parent’s house, my fiance’s father dropped me off at the train station so I could go meet my friend.
We spent the day in Shibuya 渋谷, which is a great shopping destination. Shibuya was on my list of top Tokyo sightseeing spots, so I was excited to visit it before I left Japan. I spent a lot of time in Shibuya and Shinjuku when I was studying abroad and it’s a fun place to hang out.
Hachiko at Shibuya – photo by kei
We met at the statue of Hachiko ハチ公 at Shibuya Station 渋谷駅. Hachiko is a famous faithful dog who waited at the train station for his owner everyday until the owner’s death, and then continued to wait everyday until his own death. This statue commemorates his loyalty, and is a popular meeting place for friends or dates.
The Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine 北口本宮冨士浅間神社, known as the Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine for short, is located in Fuji-kawaguchiko 富士河口湖町, near the base of Mt. Fuji 富士山. This was the traditional starting point for pilgrimages up the mountain from the north side. Today, however, most people take a bus to the Fuji 5th Station, further up the mountain, to start their climb. Directly across the mountain on the other slope is the Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha 富士山本宮浅間大社 in Fujinomiya 富士宮市 in Shizuoka Prefecture 静岡県.
This shrine is a Japanese power spot (well, all of Mt. Fuji is technically a power spot), and so as you can imagine you can sense the energy here. I’m not one for hocus-pocus type of beliefs, but if you visit this shrine it is hard to deny that there is something there in the dense forested sanctuary. A power spot is a place that has spiritual energy (usually associated with Shintoism), and where you can receive an energy recharge that heals or refreshes. These are places where you just feel good when you enter.Continue reading
The second and last day of my trip with my fiance to Yamanashi Prefecture 山梨県, and my Japanese hometown, was on Christmas Eve. After our late arrival in Fuji-kawaguchiko the day before, it was time to explore the area before heading back to Tokyo.
One thing you should know about me is that I am quite a fan of Mt. Fuji. Yamanashi Prefecture is my adopted Japanese hometown because I studied abroad here during my undergraduate university studies. Being this close to such an amazing natural wonder quite naturally makes one a fan of its beauty. Thus, my second and last day at Fuji-kawaguchiko was spent trying to enjoy as much of Mt. Fuji as I could before we had to go back to Tokyo.
We awoke at 6 in the morning on Christmas Eve at our ryokan, or Japanese inn, near the shores of Lake Kawaguchiko 河口湖 in the town of Fuji-kawaguchiko 富士河口湖町. I wanted to get photos of the sunrise over the lake and Mt. Fuji 富士山, so we dressed in our winter coats, hats, and gloves, warmed up the car enough to defrost the ice from the windows, and drove over to a lakeside spot I had picked out during our drive the day before.
On the shores of Lake Kawaguchiko we watched the sunrise, and as those first rays of light began to hit the peak of Mt. Fuji, it was absolutely breathtaking.
Sunrise over Mt. Fuji, Lake Kawaguchiko – photo by kei
With my month-long trip to Japan in December of 2014 more than halfway over, it was time for more traveling! After a fun movie date and yakiniku the day before, my fiance and I were off on another adventure to Yamanashi Prefecture 山梨県, and my Japanese hometown.
I studied abroad while I was an undergraduate at university in Yamanashi Prefecture. I consider it to be my Japanese “hometown” or furusato ふるさと even though I was born and have lived most of my life in America. A few weeks before the trip, I’d met up with my university friends in Tokyo for a reunion. Most of them work in and around Tokyo, with a few living a bit farther away. I only have one friend who stayed in Yamanashi Prefecture because that was her hometown originally. I let her know I would be in Yamanashi, but she had plans already and it was a Tuesday on a work week so we planned to meet up later.
My fiance and I drove from Tokyo to the town of Fuji-kawaguchiko 富士河口湖町, on the shores of Lake Kawaguchiko 河口湖. It’s only about 3 hours away from Tokyo, and so we left in the late morning. We arrived at the Kawaguchiko Park Hotel 河口湖パークホテル in the early afternoon, which is just a block away from the shores of Lake Kawaguchiko.
Tanabata matsuri (七夕祭り), or the Star Festival, is a Japanese festival celebrated on July 7th, where people write their wishes on colorful strips of tanzaku paper and hang them on bamboo branches. These bamboo branches, with other colorful paper decorations, are hung outside homes or along streets in large festival displays.
Tanabata decorations on a windy day at Lake Kawaguchi 河口湖 – photo by kei
I studied abroad in Yamanashi prefecture when I was an undergraduate, and honestly it was the best part about my university life. I always recommend study abroad to students I meet because I think it was a very important experience in my own life. Whether you study abroad in Japan or in any other country, I really can’t say enough about the benefits of studying abroad.
My university in Yamanashi prefecture – photo by kei
My university friends are from around Japan, but many of them ended up in or near Tokyo. Since I was visiting Tokyo, this made it the best place to meet up on Saturday. I really love the national train system, which makes getting around the country easy and convenient. Not everyone could attend, but I was happy that so many of us could hang out again, and some of my friends came from so far. It ended up being mostly the Japanese alumni and only one other American alumnus besides me (he lives in Japan).
We ended up meeting in Shinjuku at a restaurant called Hiryu’s, just outside of the west entrance to the Shinjuku station. It’s a nabe (鍋) restaurant, which is a hot pot, where you get to cook everything in a pan at your table. There are rooms available for reservation, so we reserved one for our large party. During December university clubs and work groups host bounenkai 忘年会, or end-of-year parties. A bounenkai is an all-you-can-eat type of banquet where you celebrate the ending of the year. The room next to ours was a bounenkai, and so we heard lots of toasts and boisterous stories coming from next door. Our gathering is a dousoukai 同窓会 or reunion party.Continue reading