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Japan by the Water: The Inokashira Pond

There are a lot of things to do and see at Inokashira park. They have the Benzaiten shrine, animals, free street shows, the famous shaved ice (which I am yet to try because my students had a lot of good stuff to say about that) which is also perfect this summer and of course, the pond! I’ve read that Inokashira Pond’s name meant either “source of the water supply” or “well that supplies the most delicious water.” The first time I visited the park was during spring. I think it was the best time of the year because the park had endless instagram-worthy spots!  The park is home to about 460 cherry trees and is really a popular spot for cherry blossom sight-seeing. I thought seeing cherry blossoms there would just be like seeing cherry blossoms during my usual train ride but it was way beyond I expected because the view became even more stunning at the pond. We went there to have our first Hanami experience and the place was packed with people! I personally wanted to try the swan boats, feed the ducks and get the full cherry blossom experience by floating peacefully in my own little swan boat while cherry petals are blown off by the wind and would slowly make its way swirling onto the lake. But I guess my dreams were nearly impossible. If you want to try their famous boat rides during spring, be sure to come early because the queue seems to get endless and the place just gets too crowded with tourists even during the night. Nevertheless, the breathtaking cherry blossoms, the calming lake and good company will make it all worth it! Ofcourse, just like most of my adventures, the day had to end with ICE CREAM! I tell you, I think we’ve already tried most of the ice cream found in convenience stores and I can’t believe how many gems we've found in there. I might just write a blog about it soon especially now that its summer! Anywaaaay, going back to Inokashira park, I had one of my fave flavors- Choco Mint! (although they were also serving sakura flavored ice cream, I still felt I needed to be loyal with my favorites.) It was still actually cold at that time, a smooth transition from winter, but we still enjoyed our cold treat! Inokashira Park is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and I think it’s packed with a lot of activities. If you want to know more about it, you can visit the site here: http://www.kensetsu.metro.tokyo.jp/seibuk/inokashira/index.html( External link ) . The park is free of admission so you can visit it anytime! If you want to just enjoy the scenery and the relaxing pond, here's how to get there:From Shinjuku station, take the JR Chuo line to Kichijoji station which costs about ¥220 yen for about 15mins train ride. If you’re up for some exercise, the park is just about 10mins or less walking distance from Kichijoji station. If you want to save the walking inside the park then you could take buses no. 01-06, 12 or 13 just across the JR exit and get off at the Koen-iriguchi/Bunkaen-mae bus stop. It’s only a 6minute ride that would cost around ¥220. Have fun and let me know how the shaved ice tastes like!:) (seriously)-RedhairedAlice

A new take on the familiar

Back home, Doritos are relatively common - you see them at just about every supermarket and convenience store. The flavors are pretty typical, and I would say the most popular is the good old nacho cheese variety.Japan though seems to take their Doritos to the next level - I saw these at my local 7-11. Garlic Shrimp variety?! Now, I didn't  buy them (mainly because that combination sounded all kinds of "no thanks!" to me) but I'm curious to know whether any of you fellow City-Costers have tried them.Another question I'm curious about is the weirdest flavored potato chips or corn chips you've come across since living here. I've heard that some pretty unusual varieties exist, so I would love to hear about your experiences with those!

Hello, countryside life!

We officially got the keys to our countryside house after 4 years in Tokyo. And with views like this, I'm excited. A slower pace of life (hopefully!) in a more relaxed setting is just what the doctor ordered. Also, our house is dog approved and he settled in right away. I'm so glad some of the rooms are tatami mats - I feel like they're very kid friendly compared to harder flooring!Are you a country or a city dweller? If you had the choice, which would you rather? Before moving to Japan I lived in a town of about 100,000 people (I guess you could call that a small-ish city) and it was a good size. I would say it had enough to keep you occupied, but still had a nice quiet pace of life when you needed it. Plus, I only had about a 10 minute drive to work there daily - can't beat that!

Seven Methods for Not Dying During Summer in Japan

Seven Methods for Not Dying During Summer in Japan, as loosely interpreted from Paloma free paper. *The actual title is more like 'Seven Ways to Protect Your Body When it's Hot Out.' I needed this reminder to take care of myself, as I'm not going a very good job lately. (The daily kakigori only helps so much.)The article is divided into two sections: Indoors and Outdoors. Outdoors 1. First, use a 'cool towel' or similar product to keep the back of your neck cool. There are a couple big blood vessels on the back of the neck that provide blood to the brain. Keeping those cool helps us feel cooler. A wet handkerchief or an ice pack (we can get them for free when buying cold foods sometimes, or at 100 yen stores) wrapped in a towel work great as well. 2. Avoid wearing clothing with dark tones, but cover your arms and legs with lightweight and loose-fitting clothing. When the sun hits our skin, it makes us feel hotter. It also sometimes results in sunburn. Lots of women in Japan wear 'bike sleeves' and cover up well. If you're going for a tan, be careful and don't forget the sunscreen when you have exposed skin. Another reason I prefer long sleeves and pants during summer is because when you step inside, it's easy to feel cold after a while if stores or trains are strongly air conditioned. 3. Wear a hat or use a parasol to avoid direct sunlight. Find hats with ventilation, like the woven straw 'basket hats' that are popular now, or partially mesh ball caps. Parasols are versatile during the wet season, but I've never seen men using them, and they're no fun when you need both your hands free. 4. Fourth, drink plenty of water, but also get enough salt. There's a balance of salt and water that the body likes to maintain, so if we don't have enough salt, in correlation, we don't keep enough water in our bodies. This is why some sports drinks contain salt and you can see salt lemon candy during summer. Indoors 5. Next, block sunlight coming through windows with an outdoor filter or curtain in a dark color. Some people use affordable sudare (rattan blinds) and tie them up so they can have a shady balcony and keep the house cooler. Others plant fast-growing vines like goya or morning glory under a net angled over their windows for a natural curtain. This helps to keep the indoors cooler by absorbing the heat before it gets inside. 6. Then, air-con and fans can be used moderately, to reduce the temperature inside when it's uncomfortable. A large difference in temperature between indoors and outdoors can shock our bodies, but when it gets up to body temperature (37 degrees Celsius) outside, we have a risk of heat stroke. I've found that using the air-con just to remove humidity helps a lot, without having a super low setting. In fact, the highest setting for our air conditioning is 30 degrees, and it feels really comfortable compared with around 35 degrees plus high humidity. 7. In the early morning, spread water on the ground outside outside the entrance to your home or on your balcony. I see people hosing down the streets sometimes and know this helps, but it also seems wasteful. Keeping it to the area just outside of openings makes a little more sense, so when there's a breeze, the water will act as a natural air conditioner. (I haven't tried this, although I do water my balcony plants in the morning, so could give it a try.)Did you learn anything new? Do you use any of these methods? Which ones work the best for you? 

Eating outdoors in Japan (Gunma)

I used to think Japan was a digitalized country and it had no outdoor spaces for humans. When Japanese people traveled in my home country, the first time I saw them I noticed they had giant cameras whether they were professional photographers or amateurs. But now I have a different view about some of the Japanese lifestyles. A small family living near the Tone River and mountains, we are very happy to explore even more. So, we tend to escape to the mountains. Culturally, Japanese people tend not to eat outdoors. That’s why you probably do not see mainstream streets that have established outdoor food trucks especially designed for eating outside. Anyway, I can inform you some places I know in Gunma ken so far that afford the chance to eat out in the open. Before going, first call and reserve camping and/or staying at a hotel and ask about how to commute, etc.KawabaIf we want to go out, we pay some money on the bus and easily access to our favorite village. My husband and I both agreed on and gave credit for Kawaba village Apple cider and beer in Denen Plaza. We can bring our leisure mat and have a picnic outside in the village.Access: Takasaki to Minakami train or a car or a bus, get off at Numata station then take a bus through Numata city to Kawaba village.Note: Read the warnings about bears roaming on the streets and snakes on the road and be careful while you are walking (or hiking). When you leave the city and head into the greenery, make sure you purchased a bell that is small and easy to carry to scare away these natural creatures.MinakamiThe onsen in Minakami are famous. Minakami station is where people change or transfer for a train to Niigata or a bus to Tanigawa and Yubiso. A coffee shop across from Minakami station serves European food, cake and coffee. Near this building there is an information center, staffed by people who are very helpful. They speak English.Tokyo to Takasaki station by Shinkansen -> via Takasaki LineTokyo to Jomo-Kogen station by Shinkansen -> via Joetsu Line,or local trainsThen Takasaki to Minakami to Yubiso by bus or by train.There are many opportunities to take photos of the steam engine that runs from Minakami to Taksaki for entertainment. Yubiso(There is a huge hotel across from this river.)When we go out we also go to the Yubiso, and this was the only place we saw people were cooking outside by the river. Some people brought their BBQ set ups which made me jealous!Access to this spot: Takasaki to Minakami, from Minakami take a train to Yubiso (1stop), or a bus or a taxi.From Yubiso station, turn left for north, walk through the village for about 15 min then you will see park and river access for BBQ.(Yubiso Gunma-ken Japan)Lastly, my favorite Tanigawa area is a great spot for a picnic. Please call ahead first to ask if they permit outdoor camping and ask again if it is safe and comfy. You love the nature so, please do not leave your litter behind.

Testing out Amazon Fresh in Tokyo

We have officially moved out of our old place and right now we are staying with my in laws in Tokyo until we head to Niigata in a couple of weeks. It was the perfect chance for us to test out Amazon Japan's relatively new offering, Amazon Fresh. Right now it is only available in certain wards of Tokyo - but they are looking at expanding that further. We ordered diapers and wipes for our little ones, fruit and veggies, some salmon, yakisoba noodles, as well as shampoo and conditioner.Here's a picture of one of the bags (the fruit and veggies already were packed away in their rightful places!)The presentation was really nice. It felt like an upscale supermarket that we were purchasing from, with everything in large Amazon Fresh bags with modern branding. The quality of all the fruit and veggies was excellent too, which was something I was initially a bit skeptical about.To use Amazon Fresh you will need to be an Amazon Prime member (3900 yen annually) and there is a 500 yen charge per month for having the Fresh service active on your Amazon account. They do have a free 30 day trial for both of those things if you want to give it a whirl. They also had a coupon code for 2000 yen off your first Fresh delivery - not a bad deal!Another thing to bear in mind is that any deliveries under 6000 yen will incur a delivery fee - we specifically ensured to go over that to avoid paying a fee!Would you use Amazon Fresh if it was available in your area?

Sado Island Ferry Cruise

Any connection with water anywhere is beautiful. Be it a walk on a beach, a swim in the sea or even fishing or a picnic by the riverside. One of my best experiences connecting with Japanese waters was a pleasant ferry trip to Sado Island. It was autumn and my parents were visiting us in Niigata, we decided taking them for a very different experience and chose a day trip to Sado Island. The best season to travel to Sado Island would definitely be summer as it requires a very fine bright day to enjoy the cruise.We were lucky enough that even in the month of October we were blessed with a sunny, radiant day so that we could enjoy the day to the fullest. We boarded our ferry from the Niigata port. It was a huge ferry that could accommodate people and cars in their hundreds. Sado Island has an interesting history as this island, in the early days, was used for hosting the exiled high profile political and religious people. Now Sado Island is more of a tourist destination. Out of many places to visit on Sado Island the number one priority is the Gold Mine. The Gold Mine exhibits and displays models that look like the real people working to extract gold from the mine. This is basically a demonstration of the working conditions of the people of that time. The working condition wasn’t pleasant and comparing them to those in industries today will definitely make you feel sorry. Well, there are also other places to visit on the island including Sakunage which is famous for its ship like buildings that were actually made out of ship building materials and forms a great attraction for tourists. Plus, sea food is very popular on Sado island because of its freshness and the undisturbed nature and waters surrounding the island. Also rice from Sado Island is believed to be the best because of minimal use of pesticides as the islanders are concerned about the protection of toki, “Japanese Ibis”. For me the best part of the trip, however, was the cruise itself. The huge ferry with all the facilities looked very appealing. You could enjoy good restaurants with varieties of food choices including ramen, soba and rice bowl, cafes, game centre and many more in the ferry itself. The ferry also had access to wifi but sometimes in the middle of the trip the transmission could be lost. The trip to the island is about two hours. On a fine day, sitting outside on the ferry gives you a beautiful experience. What I enjoyed the most was looking out and enjoying the huge water body and seeing the waves of the sea being cut by the ferry. It made me wonder how amazing has the human mind been to conquer over the nature. Everything became possible because of human intelligence. I also enjoyed feeding those beautiful white seagulls that would come closer to you with no fear at all. They would come and eat feed from your hands. I found them so friendly and hospitable. I took the opportunity to click some pictures while my husband was feeding them. While returning back from the island it was almost evening time so being outside on the ferry you could see Niigata city on the other side with lights that looked like twinkling stars, a very picturesque scene in overall.

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