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The Potato Chips Crisis!

I walked into the supermarket today, with plans to refill my stocks of unhealthy delicious snacks.What awaited for me was a scene of horror.....The shelves normally filled with colours bags of chips of different flavours were mostly empty! And it wasn't because of a sudden rise in popularity with these thin oily crisps, because there was a sign posted."Due to a lack of ingredients, only ONE bag per customer for the following potato chips"Apparently, we are having a potato crisis, and it is affected the chips industry hard! This reminds me of the butter crisis last year, so if you're like me, you better stock up on the chips because who knows when they will come back for good! As you may know, I have an addiction for chips and snacks: only have about 12 bags at home right now.... hope these will be enough to last me a while.

Temples in Kyoto Japan

Kiyomizu Dera TempleKiyomizu-dera temple is one of the famous attractions in the capital city which is located in the south east of Kyoto city. There is a track in case you need to go out of a less noisy area for a moment.    Fushimi Inari Must see site for travelers and visitors in Kyoto. Kinkaku, The Golden Temple Kyoto, JapanMuromachi period architecture resembled Chinese style and warrior aristocracy and it became a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1994.  The Imperial Palace in Kyoto, Japan Last year in December, my family visited Kyoto where once upon a time the Emperors of Japan were crowned and lived. The Imperial Palace seemed enormous for me, maybe because I had never been to kings' or emperors' palaces before. The Kyoto Imperial Palace and Kyoto Gyoen National Garden consists of the main palace building, the Kyoto State Guest House, and the Omiya Palace which cover approximately 27acres (110,000 sq.m).  Garden of Imperial Palace main buildingThe Palace is kid-friendly so, kids can play in designated area.

Flower Fever : Chichibu’s Shibazakura vs. Ashikaga’s Wisteria Story

What to do? Where to go? These were the questions that plagued my mind for a couple of weeks before GOLDEN WEEK. My original plan was to travel outside Japan, but since I was waiting for my visa approval, I needed to change my agenda and stay local. Train stations are one of the best sources to get infos about must-see spots or festivals around Japan. Hence, the eye-catching flowery posters of Chichibu’s Shibazakura and the Wisteria Garden of Ashikaga finalized my Golden Week escapade. SHIBAZAKURA in CHICHIBU (Saitama) It was a spontaneous trip, so I wasn’t able to book any special train rides or trips. It was around an hour and 30 minutes train ride from Shin-Tokorozawa (where I live) to Seibu-Chichibu. It wasn’t too crowded in the train so my journey was quite comfy. From Seibu- Chichibu to the park, the walk was about 10-14 minutes. My GPS and the direction signs to the park gave me GREAT confidence that I’ll find my destination! I’ve got to admit, I’m good at getting lost. Despite arriving at 2pm, there were still a good number people enjoying the pink scenery of the park. It didn’t feel too crowded though. A sunny and relaxing day.Aside from the garden, there’s a place where you could buy savoury festival treats and a resting area. I even saw people with tents. It was a relaxing day, but the train going back home wasn’t. A lot of people called it a day the same time I decided to head home. Standing was my only option but I didn’t mind because I took a lot of beautiful pictures. The Shibazakura in Chichibu is a pleasant getaway; especially, if you live around Saitama or near Chichibu and if you are on a tight budget. The entrance fee is only 300 yen and you also get a free postcard!   For more info, visit their Website: WISTERIA STORY in Ashikaga (Tochigi) Compared to Chichibu’s Shibazakura, Ashikaga is more well-known. According to CNN, it’s one of the top 10 international dream destinations. Indeed, it was popular. The trains were packed! The train from Oyama to Tomita only comes once every 1 hour. If you want a more comfortable journey, plan ahead! It was a spontaneous travel for me, that’s why I was prepared for a tiring journey. Just like Chichibu, there are signs that will lead you to the park. Plus, the flock of eager tourists is there to guarantee you won’t lose your way.  It was a bit difficult to go around the park and take pictures because there were a lot of visitors. Finding a relaxing spot was also a challenge. Make sure to bring an umbrella, hat, shades, or even a mat so you could just find a place to lie down. You don't need to worry about food or beverages, since they have a store there. They even offer wisteria flavored noodles! If you are a big fan of flowers or you just want to see something colourful, you’ll definitely love it! But, if you are looking for something peaceful and less jam-packed, you’ll find it a bit frustrating.But hey, it’s GOLDEN WEEK! Expect the crowd, be patient, and just enjoy your vacation!Isn't it beautiful? For more info, visit their Website:

Japan, A Therapy For Those With OCD

Ok I admit, I have an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).  Not the serious form that needs hand washing every other minute but I do like to keep my things very clean and organized.  Having a mess or seeing loose items lying around makes me antsy and organizing things calms my nerves better than a bath or a nice cup of tea.  I was always considered an odd ball.  My husband used to amuse at how I need everything in the house kept in their specific places and I am always sorting things into groups and storing them in boxes, bags or holders.   The ultimate satisfaction it seems is to have no stray item in the house.  Actually it's not just at home.  As I pass by messy shelves in supermarkets, I cringe and would sometimes help tidy it up a little.  The same goes when I am attending parent teacher conferences, seated next to some misplaced color pencils or stack of paper wth crazy corners.It really wasn't easy, all until I started living here.  Suddenly, I discovered how much I am at ease with the immaculate zen gardens, the white lace taxi seat covers, people vacuuming public spaces and the very organized streets.  I fell so in love with the magnitude of places selling items for organizing your home and your belongings down to the finest details.  The ease of having everything always labeled and in the right place worked perfectly for me.  Even the garbage corner in my apartment building is always cleaner than some homes I have seen.   With that, I quickly concluded that Japan is the perfect place for people with OCD; and the truth is, I wasn't quite wrong.Japan is very well recognized for that distinctive clean and orderliness I had mentioned.  It extends from the general environment to the way people were dressing and behaving.  It is by no coincidence that Japan turned out this way and I may have two cents of thoughts on this.The Aim for PerfectionThis is one thing Japan is very famous for, achieving perfection in the things that they do. Japanese artists and craftsmen have earned their reputation throughout history for their time and effort spent on making sure their output is immaculate.   Public transportation is almost always on time.  Service personnels can always never be faulted.  Administrative personnels are very good at crossing the "t"s and dotting the "i"s.  Even bento boxes, no matter who had prepared them would always look pristine and enlightening.  It does feel like the whole country is putting forth all their effort to make sure no one makes any mistakes.Bring that perfection down to a personal level and it would be manifested by achieving perfection in your own personal arena.  As far as getting social approval is concerned, it is to have your home and personal spaces nicely sorted out and making sure you look clean and organized at all times.   Aiming for perfection can be about doing the best job we can, cooking the best meal for the family, submitting the best homework or simply keeping our home in an immaculate state as an OCD would do.The Respect for Individual Quirks Perhaps this immense need for cleanliness and orderliness isn't that big of a deal but we can't deny that does have some psychological effect on people.  On the other hand, this may also be the behavior exhibited by those who are experiencing immense stress or are mentally avoiding something.In the recent years, Japan has developed a crisis concerning mental illness.  It is often a taboo to bring up these issue and hence the Japanese does condone irrational behaviors from disturbed minds and normalizes them.  Most people try to find an outlet for their pent up frustrations or else they hide from the public so they won't be considered social nuisances.  That creates a win-win situation for the society as a whole.Otaku and hikikomori are just two of the very Japanese examples of socially accepted mental illness in Japan.  Both these groups are socially withdrawn and exhibit traits of obsessions but are largely tolerated by the society.  It is almost commonly believed that as long as one is not bothering or inconveniencing others, then he is doing no harm to society.  Perhaps being an OCD isn't that big of a deal compared to the other more damaging forms of mental illnesses; it is still a form of unhealthy obsession, something that is not only accepted by people here but has also become a distinctive part of the society.I am not here to criticize or defend these obessesive behaviors but it is part and parcel of our lives in Japan.  We may be inconvenienced by it or we have have benefited by the results and it will be here to stay. Actually I am not sure if my OCD got more pronounced after my life here or I have simply just found the safe haven.  Either way, I am quite happy to be immersed in this perfectly organized world  and not be considered crazy to just want everything proper and tidy all the time!

Journey Without a Plan - Aimless Wanders on Gogoshima.

                  I'm a strong believer that one of the best ways to travel is to do so without much of a plan, and with as little familiarity with a place as possible; that way you're not tied to the pressure of any schedule and you have complete freedom to discover and feel the atmosphere and charm of a place in real time without any concrete expectations.My recent trip to Gogoshima  happened without a map and with no plan in mind. There was of course a map at the ferry port laying out various points of interest around the island when I arrived, but I opted to ignore it, and aimlessly just turned right.  I wanted my experience of the island to be as raw and as real as possible.As I edged away from the port area  I was greeted with a hearty "KONICHIWA" by an elderly lady as she made her exit from a small, independent convenience store (the kind that is decorated with rusting old Coca Cola signs). After greeting me the old lady disappeared into the old residential streets behind the store while singing to herself; something about the encounter told me that my visit to the island was going to be something special.Gogoshima's proudest and most imposing sight is a mountain named Iyo Kofuji ( 'Little Fuji') by island locals. I couldn't offer the two hours needed to climb it, but I did want to create some time to appreciate it, so I set off on a path surrounded by greenery in the direction of its' base. The path took me through orange groves and various spots of abandoned farm land, before eventually placing me at the start of the forest covered pathway that led to the mountain's summit. The temptation to follow that path almost won me over, but knowing that I'd  gain a better experience of the island with wanders around its streets and along its beaches, I resisted.Back on the island's main road I passed by a couple of boys who were probably of Junior High School age carrying fishing rods. They too greeted me with a hearty " Konichiwa" in the same way that the old lady outside the convenience store had done earlier. Five minutes later, I came to a deserted beach. Deciding to make it my lunch spot, I entered it via its small five step rocky stair case and laid down my bag and camera by a rock near the top of the beach. The temperature was about 25 degrees celsius with the sun beaming down hard. With it still being the first week of May the sea temperature wasn't yet warm enough for swimming, but it was perfect for some obligatory toe dipping.I strolled back and forth along the shore line a few times before returning  to the rock where I'd laid down my stuff a short time earlier, and after making a makeshift mat from a plastic bag  leaned back, switched on some music and ate lunch. A little bit later I pulled out my book;  after reading through just one chapter,  I decided to close it in favor of just lying back on the soft and appreciating the sound of the ocean and the feeling of the sun on my face. It wasn't long before I drifted off into a short power nap. I could  easily have stayed that way for the remainder of the afternoon, but I still wanted to explore more things on the island, so I switched on some music again and headed back on to the main road and back towards port. En route I came across an old stone built stair case. I knew from the little bit of pre-trip research that I'd done that the island was home to a number of view points with amazing views of the Seto inland sea; thinking it might be one of them I climbed the staircase, and soon realised that it led to the entrance of a small bamboo forest. Although heavily overgrown, a sloped, rocky path was still visible; I followed it as far as I could before the over grow made it impossible to carry on any further.My final track of exploration took me through one of the islands winding, small villages lined with a combination of random patches of farm land, old wooden houses and aging, abandoned buildings. With every turn I could feel how the villages tiny streets  and alleyways embraced the spirit and the atmosphere of the island. The simple, but majestic signs of everyday island life were everywhere: from the sounds of people's TV's, laughter and chatter beaming out through house windows to fishing and farming equipment tidily placed and stacked up outside people's homes; I felt like I was really being given a glimpse into everyday life on Gogoshima, and that together with everything else I'd experienced and discovered on the island that day made my aimless approach to my visit  better than worthwhile.Getting there:  Gogoshima is served by two ports, Tomari and Yura -  both of which can be accessed by ferry from Takahama port, which is located 20 minutes outside of Matsuyama city on the Iyotestu  train  line. Fares prices:Adults: ¥260 (one way)  Children: ¥160 (one way)Note: tickets for Gogoshima are sold on ship; the ticket office at Takahama port is for tickets to Nakajima and other nearby islands.

Supermarket fried-rice seasonings

One of the things from supermarket that I often purchase to prepare myself for easy meals at home at the fried-rice seasonings.With soooooooooooooooooooo many kinds to choose from, you can always try a different pack and explore some new flavours that would make your rice a whole lot more exciting.With only around 100yen per packages and you get 3 packs inside to make three meals, you can imagine the money you can save instead of going out for fried rice.I've tried a good amount of them, and my top 3 are the followings:1. Garlic fried rice2. Dry curry fried rice3. Black pepper garlic fried riceAll you have to do essentially is to add a pack of the seasonings into your rice as you fry them and other ingredients together in the fried pan. Super cheap, super simple, super delicious.

Shopping for Furniture and Household Items in Japan

Newcomers with families to Japan will have a bunch of baby steps to do to settle down. To start with, you will need to set up a house and find out where to shop to get the starting tools for it. Your Japanese friends and coworkers will get tired of your hundreds of questions, so figuring out on your own is a ‘must’. With a help of a friend, you can buy a phone or set up your computer with wifi and then have fun discovering stores in your area via Google maps. If you are going to live in northern Honshu, there are some stores that can be very helpful for furnishings when you are first settling down. In Kanto area, (Gunma/Gumma) these are: Cainz Home: This chain of retail stores is similar to American stores like as Bi-Mart, Wal-mart or Bed, Bath & Beyond, and carries items for kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and garden. They also have supplies for pets, bug repellents, small tools for maintenance and building. Foreign mothers of school-aged children may find no one can tell you where to get name tags to be attached to all your child’s belongings (though they will tell you these are required!). If this store is close to you it can be a useful source of name tags and stationary items for home and school. Sanki stores: Sanki is another retail store for home improvement, which also sells auto parts. All of the above products mentioned as sold at Cainz can be easily purchased here, and they have craft supplies for jewelry making and sewing and knitting. If your hobby is sewing and you are too far away from Dream or Nippori fabric town, Sanki has a selection of textiles. People who love DIY crafting with luxury yarns and jewelry beads can also find a privately owned store around Shibukawa station in Gunma prefecture for these items.  Recycle stores: Check out your local area recycle stores where you can buy used items such as sewing machines, furniture, heaters, and kitchen utensils to make life affordable in Japan.  Nippori Disrict: Once you and your family get settled and you want to think about occupying your free time, there are plenty of places in Tokyo’s Nippori District for crafters. Materials for new curtains or couch covers and leathers are available here. Nippori textile town is a paradise for fashion designers and businesses. Japan's enormous Fabric and Textile town is in Nippori District. Nippori station is only 2 minutes via subway from Tokyo station. If you are coming from Gunma or Niigata, the easiest way to reach Nippori from Gunma is by train: • to take train from Takasaki station to Tokyo station (about 3 hours)  • from Tokyo station to Nippori station. (2 min)
Here you can buy fabrics suitable for any specific purpose.Nishimatsuya: When you are expecting a child, this store is great for mother and baby necessities. You can purchase kids clothes and shoes that are affordable from Nishimatsuya for ages 0-12 years old. Kids bags and slippers are available here, too.Shimamura: Affordable formal and casual clothes, convenient life supplies such as slippers and towels, bed sheets, and cushions. In summer, if you are searching for where to buy Yukata this is the shop to navigate. has wide selection of products and online shopping here is easily set for you even the delivery time. Japan’s postal service is fast, reliable and flexible. Returning or changing your products may be tricky when you do not speak Japanese.  Rakuten: Rakuten is an e-commerce site with online stores selling almost everything. Setting up an account when you have limited Japanese may be hard.


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