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Hanami and Cherry Blossom in Gunma Prefecture

There is nothing more beautiful than your Japan life fulfilled with hanami and cherry blossom. Overly exciting and emotional spring days are near us. Picnics are held in kouen (parks) with friends and families. The season for indoor activity is passing and enriching outdoor activities during warm spring days are persuasively encouraging us to have fun. Fully bloomed cherry trees remind us of the fresh, warm, and calm spring seasonal change. Cherry trees in full bloom almost feel like trees covered with snow. Also, it feels like they resemble white snowflakes, but they have warm, beautiful, calm, elegant pink and white petals and with the green natural colors of branches. People are happier outside and children are busy playing in the parks. Children graduate from kindergartens, elementary, and high schools in March. They begin the new school year in April with the new bloom of cherry blossom. (The photo was taken in Maebashi city in Gumma prefecture. Different varieties of cherry trees are carefully planted and grow in the city park.)Often, there are parks within the neighborhood, so that people can enjoy hanami without going too far out the cities. Laid out cherry trees in recreational parks and to have mend all year around. Locals of the city follow officially set calendars for a few days to celebrate and view hanami. There are photographers, lots of people, and food courts which have chocolate covered bananas with sprinkles, okonomiyaki, yakisoba, and snacks, etc.(Takasaki Family Park)There are lanterns that are hung out for hanami festivals on the top of the trees. Families with their kids visit the city park and they enjoy viewing hanami. Time to prepare your picnic equipment to get ready to go outside. Thus, children are happier and healthier when they play on the soil with other kids. You will need a picnic basket to carry picnic dishes, forks and spoons, bentos, picnic mats (Cando sells those), sun shades (hats), and oshibori (towels). (Exposure of natural light and the blue sky make for the perfect photo) You may have heard about 'Old Tales of a Cherry Blossom'. "Once upon a time, there lived an old man and his wife with their dog. One time the dog barked with excitement and pushed the old man to dig a hole. The man stared at the ground and started digging. There he hit a hard substance wondering what it might be; the old man saw gold in the ground. The old man and his wife was so surprised and happy that they became rich. But the tale did not continue as it goes; the old man and his wife had greedy neighbors who saw and wanted to get the dog for a few days. The greedy old man and his wife could not find the gold so, they kicked and tortured the dog till death. The gentle old man and his wife heard what had happened and buried their dog. There grew a very beautiful cherry tree and it bloomed so magnificently." The story goes on ..., please read about the story in English from "Tales of old Japan" by A. B. Mitford. (Prunus mume - ume. Maebashi Kouen link in English)Maebashi Koen website includes guidance about surrounding hotels and sightseeing spots Shikishima park, Maebashi park, Gunma flower park, Ogo flower park, Omuro park, Mt. Akagi, Takisawa. ("Make a Way for Ducks",) Maebashi city park offers water fountain viewing, and relaxing spaces, around the park there is stadium and lake park. Also a few minutes (4min) walk from Lake Park, there is a park called Lunar Park if your kids love cars and trains. Lunar Park link -> http://www.lunapark-maebashi.comThe map is here. Extraordinary, Japan saved parks and play areas for kids with beautiful cherry trees.Lit up lanterns in Numata park in Gunma prefecture. Some of the parks in town exhibit doves, peacocks, pigeons, chickens and rabbits. Hanami viewing in Portland Oregon USA. Fortunately, there is also Japanese garden in Portland Oregon. You can view cherry blossom worldwide. Go out and explore your area around the town, there may be a lot of things they offer. Sip a cup of coffee you purchased from cafes or convenience stores and view beautiful and magnificent trees that are blooming in spring. Have fun and enjoy Japan. 

O or X?: The Gamer Culture Shock

I love video games, both western and Japanese games. I play everything!At home, I got myself a Japanese PS4, and with the console being region-free, I play games of both languages.There is one cultural gap that really annoys the heck out of me, however...In western games, X is for "confirm/yes" because it is the closest to our right thumb, and O, being the other closest is used for "reject/no".In Japanese games or Japanese versions of the games, however, O is for "confirm/yes" as this symbol is used in the country, and X means "reject/no"!This may not be much for those who don't game, but for someone like me who games every day, the confusion that occurs when I switch games is annoying."Do you want to purchase this item?"*X*Ah curses, this is a Japanese game and I just canceled it!This problem especially in the way when I'm switching between the game and the system's menu. Those who don't game or who don't play games from two languages probably won't encounter this issue, but this is the smallest cultural-gap issue that I encounter every single day.

Eating out with fun – Character Cafés in Japan

Japan is a country with many crazy things. And Japanese people often turn totally crazy when it comes up to different characters. Thinking of companies as San-X and Sanrio which are making tonnes of money with their characters like Hello Kitty, Rilakkuma and Co. Many people collect merchandise and want to have everything of their favorite characters. But also another idea in the money industry came up: why don’t we make special food with characters? For sure, character cafés also became a big hit, especially when they are only opened for a limited time. I am a big fan of themed cafés and love to visit them. Unfortunately they are often kind of expensive. However, sometimes the bigger problem, especially with time-limited character cafés, is to get inside. At some cafés you have to line up for hours, get time-tickets on the same day for a later time, or have to make a reservation already some weeks before going there. Today I will introduce you to some of the cafés that already finished, cafés that are running right now and cafés that will come in the future. The past character cafés In the past I visited a lot character cafés. One of my favorites was the Pikachu to Pokemon Ongakutai Cafe (ピカチュウとポケモンおんがくたいカフェ) which was opened for a short time in summer 2015 in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. We visited it on a Saturday and the actual waiting time was 4 hours – and yes, I expected it! But don’t worry, we didn’t needed to line up for 4 hours. We got a time ticket and could go shopping or do anything else until our time was coming. They offered three main dishes, three desserts, two small dishes and four drinks – all designed in Pokemon style. Prices ranged between ¥ 500 and ¥ 1,580. We had a Melon Soda, a Pikachu Parfait, a Pokeball Pizza and a Banana Cake Omelette. Everything was really delicious and the staff members also entertained us by dancing to a Pokemon song.  Another character café I recently visited was the Korilakkuma Café(コリラックマカフェ)in Harajuku, which was opened from December 2016 to the middle of February 2017. For this café you needed to make an online reservation which already made you pay a fee of ¥ 648 for each person. However, we got a small gift while our visit then. So, I book seats for January, in the middle of November. Especially at such limited-cafés weekends and holidays are booked out very quickly. The café was designed beautifully and filled with plush toys. We had two character drinks, two main dishes and one sweet dessert. Everything was very delicious and I enjoyed my stay there very much. The current character cafés Some cafés are opened for a long time. One of these is the Hello Kitty Café I visited at Himeji. A café with super cute design and a few different dishes. Definitely worth a stop by while visiting the famous Himeji Castle. There is another Café de Miki with Hello Kitty in Tokyo, too. You can find it at Odaiba. A more traditional one is the Hello Kitty Tea House (はろうきてぃ茶寮) in Kyoto. Here you can find maccha drinks, different main dishes and traditional sweets. Also the atmosphere is very special for a café within Kyoto’s famous tourist areas.  A time-limited character café which just opened this month is the Gudetama Café (カフェ ぐでたま×デザート王国) in Yokohama. In combination with a sweets buffet restaurant you can choose one of size Gudetama dishes, one Gudetama drink and furthermore have an all-you-can-drink-and-eat possibility with pasta, potatoes, salad and sweets. It costs ¥ 1990 for adults for one hour. However, the collaboration will only last until May 7th. One more long-time character café is the PomPomPurin Café in Harajuku, which is situated at Takeshita Street and was opened in 2014. You can also take a look inside the café auréole d’ange in Osaka which is cooperating with Rilakkuma since September 2016 which has changing seasonal dishes. The upcoming cafés For sure, there is no end to character cafés. Especially if they are time-limited there is always space for a new one in the future. So not much time will pass until a new Pokemon, Rilakkuma, Hello Kitty café will be opened.   One I am looking forward to go is the Detective Conan Café which will be in Harajuku from March 30th to May 31th 2017, because I couldn't visit it in 2016. This time it is situated at the same place as the Korilakkuma Café and has the same reservation system. Already now all weekends and Golden Week holidays are completely booked out. There will be even more Detective Conan Cafés all over Japan. That’s it! I hope you enjoyed my article. How about you – have you ever visited  ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------If you are interested, here are the links to all the cafés:- Café de Miki with Hello Kitty // Hello Kitty Tea House Kyoto- Korilakkuma Cafe // auréole d'ange in Osaka- Gudetama Café (Osaka and limited time cafe information)- PomPomPurin Café- Detective Conan Café

Is Romance Dead In This City?

A few things to clarify before I begin...1) This is not a men bashing article, but a article written by a foreign woman trying to find her way to live in this city2) I do not understand the other parts of Japan well enough to make general conclusions, so this piece is mostly about Tokyo, where I reside.So with those above two points in mind,  here's my story...My husband and I met outside of Japan and lived outside of Japan for quite a while.  One thing I had noticed while we were dating is that he would never hold my hand in public when we are out here in Japan.  When asked out the change in behavior, he would say, "Japanese people just don't hold hands."Ok, fast forward quite a few years and we moved to Tokyo... Granted now we have two kids in tow and no extra hands for holding, I also noticed that we seldom have dinners together, no dates, no cuddling and watching tv, few hugs and kisses and no "I love you"s. Our couplehood was slowly fading away. When confronted, my husband would just say, "Japanese people don't do all that! It's silly to have any PDAs". Ok, I suppose he meant "public" in PDA to include our kids!Of course there are other things such as consistent late nights at work, endless drinking sessions with colleagues and some other work related obligations. Quite soon, I was feeling like that old maid whose job was to raise our pretty little children and made sure that our home was always clean and orderly and our fridge was constantly stocked.It is quite frustrating to notice that my life has been turned upside down, not only by motherhood or the big move or trying to find myself a place in this new city but more seriously, losing a romantic relationship with my husband!I mean I have heard other mums talk about their family lives and I have also seen Japanese dramas depicting the exact scenario as I am experiencing. But I wonder if this is really a Japanese thing? Is my experience really normal? Then how do the women cope? Ultimately, the question that bothered me the most is: IS ROMANCE REALLY DEAD IN THIS CITY? So Google's definition of romance is: "a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love." To me, it's the sparks that keep two people in love with each other. Such sparks often require quality time and effort spent communicating and building the relationship. Both parties needs to feel that their hearts are still being pursued and cherished and the passion is alive.So what is considered romance here? How did it get this way?My hypothesis:Men are quite lucky to have it relatively easy in the mating game here in Tokyo. Therefore, they don't need to try too hard to be romantic.My observations:Gender roles are very specificAt the end of the day, Japan is still a very traditional society.  Gender roles are very specific.  The men go out to work to feed the family and the women make sure that the home (and kids) is in perfect order for the men to come back to.  There is nothing questionable and you are obligated to do your best.  The rewards are also very specific.  Men, good job that earns well to provide for the family.  Women, a functioning household and surviving members.  Hence, no emotional frills nor perks seem to be required.  But it is quite alright for the men to be wooed Despite everything traditional and strict gender roles in this country, it is actually surprising ok for a woman to be professing her feelings and making the first move for a relationship!  This is very evident in how Valentine's Day in Japan is all about the women buying chocolate for the men and expressing their interests.   Meanwhile, the guys can happily enjoy the chocolate and if they decide to, reciprocate the feelings a month later.   The women should over compensate where the men lacksAfter a relationship is established between a man and a woman, the firm gender roles fall back into place.  The man now focuses on working hard to bring home the bacon and the rest of the responsibility falls onto the woman.  SInce this is the man she chose, it is now her job to maintain this relationship.The success of the men is determined by the strength of his woman.It is said that a strong woman doesn't need the frilly, lovey-dovey things in her life.  She has much bigger responsibilities like making sure the man doesn't need to worry about her.  If married, her job is then to manage her household to perfection. As they always like to say, a man's greatest success is to have a capable wife who supports his career!We should let the man be the MANJust like it is not cool to be seen as head over heels in love with your woman.   We shouldn't expect the man to do small things to fulfilll our romantic fantasy.My conclusion:If you were to sum up the above points, it seem that the men's role is pretty functional.  He is judged by how well he performs at his job and so it is quite easy for him to take the family for granted.  After a while, the motivation to keep a relationship going becomes less and less emotional.  The warm fuzzy feelings to get when you initially get together fades and  that is accepted as the natural course of a relationship.  The world is no longer about two people in love, but the responsibility to maintain a family becomes the key focus.So maybe romance as defined above isn't appropriate.  Romance may be the notion of husband and wife working hand in hand to keep the family going.  The warm fuzzy passion is then put to the back burner and hopefully not forgotten in time to come.  Didn't they say you do as the romans do, maybe I should shift my expectations? Else, should I take the bull by it's horns and take charge of my emotional well being? For now, I really don't know...

Independent Living

Living together with our parents even we have our own family is such a convenience. Everything seems to be easy and cheaper like we don’t need to worry what to cook, what the stuff needed and we even paid half of bills. Sometimes we even got something for free especially when they were pampering their grandchildren. I grew up in which moving out on our parents wings is considered as an act of bravery (especially when you got married on a young age) because you were able to stand on our own and became independent to them. This separation was even harder knowing that you going to leave them in times when they were getting older. When me and my son got here in Japan 4 months ago to follow my husband who works here, we lived together with my father in law. Family life was so easy then even everything was new to me because my in laws was there to back us up in every single thing I did in the absence of my husband. Few months later, my husband decided to have our own place for us to know how to spread our wings and lead our family life by ourselves. It was pretty hard because we need to invest in the households stuff, payments for the rent, installations and a lot more. Moving out is not that easy. All the convenience which I had while we’re in my in laws was change into a hardships. I had to go on supermarkets by my self, trying hard to prepare food, take a walk my son to a plaza, pay bills and a lot more which a wife should do. But those experiences changes my perspective in life. Raising a family comes with a great responsibility for a husband and wife on how to deal on it. There are lot of questions in every thing’s that we want, its either when, how and even what if, but in the end it is still our decisions and we need to work for it. I felt proud every time we make things happened even without the supervision of our parents and when it turned out okay. I can say that I literally got out of my comfort zone not just because of being independent from them  but for everything I am living right now. Language, cultures and traditions, timetable, weather, people surrounds me and even way of living. It’s a kind of win-win situation for me, I know in my self that whatever life my brings I’m ready for it but I don’t know how my fate will agreed on it. Take one step at a time, as long as your determined and confident to stand on your decisions you can handle life with flying colors. Im looking forward what life awaits for us here in Japan but as of now I can literally say again im enjoying it!!

Hit by a car, Part 1

There are a few things in my life that I regret happening. Some of them were my fault and completely preventable. But others, nothing could have been done because they were totally out of my control. Two years ago was one of those things. I was pregnant at the time with my son.   The clinic where I eventually gave birth had asked me to come in so they could test me for gestational diabetes. I’m going to pretend that it is something everyone has to do,not that I was being singled out for being overweight or anything *coughcough*. I mean, I had no symptoms and it wasn’t part of the standard testing that comes with pregnancy, but let's just leave it as concern for my health and the baby’s. In order to test for diabetes though, the doctor needs to know how much my body processes sugar in a set amount of time, and to get a good reading, I would need to be on an empty stomach. So the night before, I had an early dinner and then no breakfast the following morning as I checked into my 9 am doctor’s appointment. They took my blood and everything was ready to go. I downed a bottle of sugar water, then sat in their overly crowded waiting area for an hour until my second blood check and another bottle of sugar water. Then another hour long wait until the final blood check and I would be deemed ready to go home. Now seeing as I was rather pregnant at the time, and all I had had for the past 17 hours was two bottles of sugar water, I was rather famished. I ended up fainting during the third and final blood draw.  Another wait in the sitting area to be sure I was ok to go home, then finally after almost 2 and a half hours I was free to go! And eat! It was about a ten minute walk to the train station and along the way there was a 7 eleven. Thank you Japan for convenience stores everywhere. All I could think about was an onigiri and then getting myself somewhere for a good lunch.  I never made it to the Seven-eleven. Just as I was crossing the street, a guy hit me with his car. My bum broke his right headlight, and my upper torso slammed onto the hood of his car. I slumped to the ground. After doing a mental assessment of whether or not I was ok, I turned my attention to the driver. I was flabbergasted. The guy had been stopped at the intersection before I began to cross at the pedestrian crossing. It was mid-day and I am an oversized pregnant foreigner. I stand out. There is no way he did not see me unless he was looking exactly the opposite direction of the way he was driving. Angry, I just started lecturing him in English about looking where the f* he was going….yadda yadda yadda. After figuring out I was pregnant, he helped me to the sidewalk where I yet again go faint for a few seconds. Was it shock, or hunger, I will never know. But the driver, in complete shock and dumbfounded as what to do, did the right thing and asked me what he could do. What was the one thing on my pregnant mind. I asked for him to buy me an onigiri from the corner store. After getting him to call me an ambulance, a passerby stopping to help out called the police, and I got me an onigiri! Well, two infact, and a bottle of water. But just then, the ambulance showed up and I was carted off, around the corner and back to the clinic i had just spent my entire morning. At some point I had texted my co-worker, getting her to contact my school and my husband. The clinic strapped me to the baby heart monitor and I got another ultra-sound, showing him flipped over and snug on the left side of my abdomen and sleeping. It was almost like he had run away from the impact inside my womb. And then I waited for my husband. To be continued...

March 11th quake : My story

    Everyone who was in Japan at the time of the March 11th earthquake has a story to tell. It was big and dramatic enough to sear all those tiny details into one’s memory for years. With 6 years having passed none of the details have seemed to fade yet. That earthquake was one of my firsts. During my study abroad years, I had the pleasure of seeing photos knocked off walls from a quake, but it was short lived and not at all dangerous. The family I was with was completely nonchalant and calm, like nothing happened. My naive Louisianian self didn't really comprehend the power of an earthquake. I just assumed the ground shook and when it was done everyone went back to their lives like normal. So the day of the quake, I really didn’t know what was going on. Graduation had just finished and all of the students had gone home except a few kids finishing up some projects or practice for their clubs. The teachers were relaxed, finally a break from the ficada of acting busy all day everyday. There was chatter and everyone was light spirited. I went to the kitchen area and poured myself a freshly brewed hot cup of coffee, ready to doze off at my desk until 4pm when I would go home. And that's when the school started to shake. I figured it would pass quickly and I could go back to my desk in a second or two...or three...or ten...then another teacher grabbed my arm and pulled me to go outside, everyone screaming “nigerou!!(Run Away!!)” Panicked but unwilling to spill hot coffee all over someone else’s desk, I scurried with the teachers, cup in hand, onto the veranda and downstairs to the open field behind the school. We all watched as the four story concrete building we worked and taught at swayed. Students were panicking and scream, the teachers scrambling around trying to headcount and corral everyone on the field. Then there was me, sipping my coffee like the awkward foreigner that I am. As the ground continued to quake for a few minutes more, I set my coffee down and went to help calm the students with some fun humor in a completely non-humourous situation. It seemed to work because the students settled down and when the earth also seemed to finally settle, the decision for the students and staff to go home and check on their families and homes was made. Us teachers tentatively entered the teachers room only to gather a few of our things, leaving the rest of the mess to be dealt with the following Monday. And it was a mess. Student's papers were all over the room, books and shelves down on the floor. It was then that the severity of the earthquake began to dawn on me. We watched on tv as information about the epicenter began being broadcast along with tsunami warnings all across the coast. Where I lived, we were safe. However I had friend's and their families that lived in many of the places in the biggest danger. I spent the next few hours in my apartment unconcerned about my own things, but desperately trying to contact those I knew to be sure they were safe.     Devastating isn't even a good enough word to describe the amount of destruction caused by that quake and the resulting tsunamis. Families, towns even, were torn apart. And I was safe inside my Gunma bubble. There was a lot to deal with later on, like rolling blackouts and food and gas shortages. But I was very lucky. I may not have had electricity everyday, but I still had it and a place to live. Bread and milk were no where, but I had food.      Life basically did go back to normal, but for those in the tsunami affected areas, they will never get back their lives. Appreciate what you have, because in a mere few minutes, the world around you can shift and change.

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