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Posts tagged ‘Yukata’

Fireworks in Odaiba

Last night, a friend of mine invited me over to Odaiba to watch Tokyo bay fireworks from the roof of her apartment building. Fireworks are held every week in mid-summer as part of long lasting tradition along with joining Matsuri (local festival) and wearing yukata (summer kimono). There are several major areas in Tokyo that produce beautiful fireworks shows but Tokyo bay is the most famous one because it is held against the breathtaking backdrop of Tokyo skyline with Rainbow bridge and Tokyo tower.

In Japan, every time you gather to view something, whether it is cherry blossoms, full moon, red leaves or fireworks, you throw a big party with food and drinks and then quickly forget the main reason for gathering after your second chu-hai (Japanese fruity alcohol drink). ^-^ Me and the girls decided to postpone the drinks till after the fireworks and focus on getting beautiful for the occasion.

I wanted to rent yukata in Shibuya’s famous “Aki” shop but apparently so did many others so the dresser was completely out of any by the time I called them. Fortunately, Hitomi found yukata for each of us and I got the prettiest one with yellow obi. ^-^ Gow took lessons in “kitsuke” – kimono dressing and has a license to perform it on other people (yeah, it is not that easy to dress someone in kimono, a lot of skill is required). She quickly wrapped all of us in yukata and arranged our “obi” – sashes in pretty bows.

Last year, the biggest fireworks event in Tokyo was canceled due to Fukushima crisis in efforts to save energy. This year, they went ballistic with 90 minutes non-stop procession of one blast after another. It was absolutely amazing. Each time the volley exploded in the air, the whole city turned either purple red or ghostly green. Unfortunately, I couldn’t capture the best moments with my camera, but here are some.

We were watching fireworks from the 33rd floor of tower building. It was guarded with fences and there were people in front of us who got their spots in the morning so I couldn’t get close enough to exclude the fence from my pictures but it didn’t bother us to watch fireworks. Some volleys went so high in the sky, they were half covered by the clouds. ^-^ The effect was amazing, like an alien ship appearing suddenly out of nowhere.

Our friend Lille got engaged last week so we were celebrating her engagement as well. The proposal was so romantic, there were a lot of Awwwwwws in the air. ^-^

It took place at Marina Bay hotel’s poolside in Singapore, that’s why our bubbly was blue. ^-^ Congratulations Lille for getting engaged to a really cool guy at the most trendiest spot in South-East Asia. ^-^

 

Journeys in Japan – Atami

On the last days of Golden week, my friends and I went to Atami – a small hot springs town in Shizuoka prefecture, roughly in between Hakone and Izu. I always pass it on my way to a more exciting destination never realizing that Atami has also a lot to offer. I was indeed pleasantly surprised that this once glamorous (back in the bubble days) resort is still quite fun even though it doesn’t look this way at a glance – old hotels, outdated theme parks and closed pools may look sad to anyone but it still has a beautiful Sun beach, gorgeous Japanese and English gardens, nice hot springs and seafood to die for. ^-^

It is only 1 and a half hours away from Tokyo. We took Tokaido line train from Shinagawa and got out at Odawara first to see the famous Odawara castle.

With a typical Japanese castle, as much as it is gorgeous from outside, there is pretty much nothing to see inside – usually a small permanent exhibit of ancient swords, scrolls and kimono and an observation tower with a view to the city. Odawara castle was no exception – it fit right into that pattern all the way to the Hello kitty souvenir doll dressed as a samurai.. ^-^ But I liked it anyway because the exhibit was well put with a lot of explanations and historical maps.

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Journeys in Japan – Izu, Shuzenji

The climax of my birthday week was a trip to Izu peninsula. I have been planning to go there for a long time but because it is really far and because there is only one road that is always so crowded, it is rather difficult to make the trip in one day. You either have to stay overnight or go there for just a few hours, much more you would spend in a traffic jam on the way back to Tokyo. I chose the first option. ^-^

There was a very famous mountain road called “Izu skyline” with gorgeous viewing points every few kilometers. I really enjoyed driving it while listening to the Thievery corporation – such an adrenaline! But it was the meanest most unforgiving road I have ever seen. At some places, it was so narrow I had to stop to let cars from the opposite direction go through. Plus there was a never-ending cliff on the other side – one small steering mistake and you are flying high in the sky. Just the “Nanadaru” loop bridge alone scared the hell out of me – two 360 degree loops above the deep valley!

Our first stop was Shirahama – the closest white sand beach to Tokyo. Most of the beaches around Tokyo are not sandy or at least don’t have this microscopic white sand that you can find in Odessa or Italy. Last time I remember seeing a flawless white sand was in 1998 on Golden bay beach in Malta. Ever since then, I have been on many gorgeous beaches but none of them were quite as white and clean. I can’t say Shirahama is just as great but I believe it’s the best beach I have seen near here so far. Even in Okinawa, our hotel’s beach was nowhere near as nice. It was also a delight to see the beach completely deserted, few surfers didn’t count.. I keep repeating myself but really, if you want to enjoy spending time on the beach in Japan, go off season.

The wind was terrible though. It blew the sand into everything I had on me but of course it couldn’t force me to abandon one of my favorite traditions – reading on the beach. Plus, I had my brand new kindle with me so I had to try it out. Even with the direct sunlight, I could see the kindle screen perfectly like a page in a book. I have never been this happy about any of my toys before! Kindle rocks! ^-^

After the beach, we drove to the famous Perry road, named after Commodore Mathew C. Perry who arrived to Japan in 1853 with a request to open Shimoda port for the US trading ships. His visit resulted in a peace treaty that ended the era of Japan’s isolation from the rest of the world.

The street is very old and remained the same as it was, only now, instead of brothels and tea houses, there are small cafes, antique stores and old hippie music shops that sell Janice Joplin early edition LPs and play reggae nonstop.

This was one of the small antique cafes that I really fell in love with. It used to be a brothel and you can still see the beautiful kimono of the courtesans that lived there. The shop was selling bunch of stuff – furniture, pottery, dry flowers, paintings as well as old marine memorabilia like fishing boat flags. You could look around or sit down for a cup of coffee or tea – they didn’t serve anything else. Beside me and my husband, there were two other men chatting about the old times – I sensed they were regulars.

I discovered stacks of old magazines from the 70s and 80s – celebrities with wicked hair, crazy fashion and young Hollywood stars that are now old and forgotten like my childhood’s favorite actress Goldie Hawn. I wish there were places like that in Tokyo, where the time stops and every inch has a story to tell. Or maybe they are just waiting to be discovered.. ^-^

At last, we have arrived to our stay, ryokan called “Kikuya” – an old resort with Japanese and European traditional styles intertwined with each other which I find quite typical for this area (Izu, Hakone, Karuizawa, Yamanashi, etc) . These places used to be and still are the summer residences of Japanese Upperclassers who a century ago were the first ones to be influenced by and then to introduce foreign culture into their every day lifestyle. So naturally, even now, many resorts are filled with antiques and other artifacts of once glamorous summerings.

The hotel is built right above the small but very busy river – you can constantly hear the sound of water multiplied by hundreds of tiny waterfalls that run through the stones. Our room had a small patio and a cottage like appeal – very relaxing.

We have arrived in the evening so our check-in was almost immediately followed by a gorgeous Japanese style feast with tiny dishes coming one after another, served by a gracious old lady in kimono who spoke perfect English (just in case!). The dinner was delicious and featured a lot of seasonal offerings like Ginkgo tree berries and kaki pickles and fresh catch.

Traditional Japanese dinners always consist of fresh sashimi, fried fish, tempura, nabe and soba or udon with extras like meat and variety of vegetables all dishes served in their own uniquely design plates and bowls.

After dinner, we went to the onsen and I got lucky again – not a single annoying old lady trying to speak to me while we both are shamelessly exposed. ^-^ I was completely alone and could enjoy 1 hour of solitude inside the steaming rotemburo bath.

The hotel provided the full yukata attire for the best onsen experience – not only yukata itself but also a cute little bag with towels and other necessary accessories – different depending on the sex of customer – so thoughtful! ^-^ The top and the skirt were actually separated – it was so easy to use!

This is me in our little patio early in the morning. I just came from the onsen and decided to do a little fashion show for my husband. ^-^

The next day, after breakfast we went for a walk around Shuzenji. We walked along the river and found a cute little shrine and a Russian orthodox church almost next to each other.

In old places like this, you are likely to find an old-fashioned Japanese lemonade called Ramune which is widely known for the distinctive design of its bottle that is sealed with a marble instead of a plastic cap. To open such bottle, you need a special device that would push the marble inside. It then rattles in the bottle while you drink the lemonade – perfect attraction for the children. Ramune was originally created in Kobe but by a foreigner. Now, it is one of the symbols of summer in Japan along with a  yo-yo balloon and a goldfish.

After Shuzenji, we took a drive to Cycloland – a typical bubble-time theme park where you can enjoy all sorts of bicycle rides and bicycle related attractions. As lame as it sounds, it offers a really picturesque 5 km mountain course ride with your own choice of bicycle from an extensive collection of famous and even rare cycling brands from all over the world.

I chose my bicycle by color which was a big mistake – I could barely move on the uphill, sweating like crazy. I seriously have no idea how my husband does 100 km each weekend.

I then changed to his De Rosa bike which was worth 7 grand – 10 times more than mine and it really made all the difference. I could climb and at last finish the course. I was really proud of myself.

We didn’t stay for the rest of attractions but went straight to Hakone to my favorite susuki spot called “Sengokuhara”.

It’s a huge field of only pampas grass and nothing else. A couple of years ago, I had a photoshoot there and ever since, I am in love with the scenery. Susuki grass is a symbol of autumn in Japan. You can often see it as a decoration for the Tsukimi (Autumn moon viewing) setting.

That’s the susuki picture from 2004 or so..back when I could afford to wear almost no makeup…^-^

Our trip back to Tokyo was as promised quite painful – it was the longest I have ever been behind the wheel. But now I almost feel like an experienced driver. Where should I go next?

Azabu Jyuban matsuri

Azabu Juban Noryo festival is the climax of  Tokyo’s summer festive season. It rounds up all major fireworks and street events. The main purpose of such festival is to keep the traditions alive by performing various arts, wearing yukata, playing old Showa games and eating local specialties.

It is a lot of fun, only more often it is really hard to enjoy due to unbelievable amount of people invading the place. Narrow Tokyo streets are filled with so many people, you can hardly move, let alone buy something. I had to stand in line for almost everything. It also took us two hours to walk from the beginning of the street to its end.

I’ve been visiting the festival every year since 2004 when Laura took me there for the first time. We were still doing Sma-station live show every Saturday at TV Asahi which is right next to the festival’s location. I was wearing my beautiful cornflowers yukata and pink geta. Since then, me and Sma-girls were going to the festival every year right before the show.

Besides, watching various performances or participating in the official ceremony of carrying an “Omikoshi” to the local shrine (this year I came too late to enjoy either one of them), what you can do at the festival is basically this:

1. You can play “Catch a goldfish” or “Catch a turtle” game using a paper spoon. If you happen to carry the fish out of the tank using your paper spoon, you can keep it. Unfortunately half of the fish dies before you can reach your home and put it in a proper environment. However, my friend Hiro caught 5 little “kingyo” last year and now they are so big and beautiful. 500 yen that he spent on catching a fish turned into a very expensive hobby (a tank, seaweed, fish food etc.) ^-^

2. You can dress up. During Showa period, I guess masks were something of an attribute to the whole summer festival costume, maybe close to a masquerade in Europe. Now, the tradition is lost, at least in Tokyo but they still sell masks for children. Only instead of traditional Kitsune mask, now you get to wear Thomas the train! ^-^

And of course yukata is the “must” item for any matsuri in Japan. Girls go distance to look their best. The proper full yukata attire can easily cost 20000 yen and even more if your yukata carries a brand name. They also make a matching pattern on their nails and create elaborate hairstyles carefully chosen out of “Yukata hair 2010” catalogs.  Japanese girls are very particular and although it often is very annoying, you can’t deny the fact that their effort pays off. Here is one of the AD pictures I could find on the web.

3. You can also play “Catch a yo-yo” game using a hook and a paper holder. The trick is to catch a yo-yo’s string without making your paper wet, otherwise it tears off. Our friend Jun did his best to get me one! Yay! ^-^ There are many other games like shooting for the prize, fortune telling, lottery etc. If you happen to visit a festival that is not as crowded as this one, you should definitely try everything. Even if you loose, you get to keep something. ^-^

4. The rest of the activity is eating and drinking. Street food in Japan is delicious and some of it you can only try at such festivals. Big matsuri often offers not only local specialties but also delicious treats from other prefectures like “Hiroshima yaki”.

Here, we are eating respectively – caramelized apple, pickled cucumber and caramelized strawberry. ^-^

And of course Corona beer, only at a triple price. ^-^

Lots and lots of seafood

and meat! You can actually buy your meat by telling which part of the cow or pork you prefer. ^-^

These two ladies are making yakisoba – fried noodle with vegetables and soy sauce. This is the popular stand that ran out of the food before the festival was over. ^-^

Octopus on skewers had a huge line of people so I didn’t try one.

Takoyaki balls fried with vegetables and dough. Usually you only get a small piece of octopus in every ball but this one had the whole thing – a baby taco in it.

My favorite “tomorokoshi” – fried corn with salt and butter.

Ayu fish fried with salt.

In the evening, me, Gow and Jun also met Lille and Ben who couldn’t move any farther than La Boheme square. ^-^

Overall, I really enjoyed the matsuri – I just wish it wasn’t either so hot or so crowded. ^-^

Summer heat

Yukata

A week ago me and Gow took a stroll in a Tatemonoen open air museum. It was a very hot day with cicadas screaming bloody hell and ice tea going hot in a matter of seconds. My friend Hiro took our pictures so here we are. ^-^ Japanese summer is beautiful but very very humid so unless your hair is absolutely straight you’re gonna suffer from Diana Ross syndrom throughout October every year..

Yukata

Pancrase & Hanabi party@Odaiba

Pancrase supporters 

1. Dalrae invited us to see professional Pancrase fight in Korakuen. It was my second fight after WWE so I still feel uncomfortable watching people hurt each other but having beer on an empty stomach did its job so by the end of the fight session I was screaming alongside Gow to cheer the fighters especially the one that was trained in Russia.

Pancrase fight

2. The actual hanabi was in Kawasaki but we were all invited by Hitomi to come and watch it from the Daiba Towers apartment building. At the top of the complex there is a patio garden where we had party. From there the view was breathtaking. Even though we couldn’t see much of hanabi because of evening fog, the party was great! Because of our hectic schedules we have very few rare opportunities to gather all together and meet up for a party so I really enjoyed that evening! ^-^

Hanabi gang