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Tulipfields around Sakura City

Every year at the beginning of march the tulip season starts in japan. In Sakura City (Chiba prefecture) you can find a huge field full of different tulips from around the world. In the middle of the field is a beautiful windmill from the Netherlands which has a small museum inside. If you going at the end of march to the fields, you might be lucky to see most of the tulips fully bloomed. But every tulip is different and has different blooming time.  I love to walk around the fields and see the big variety of flowers. Also for around 500 Yen you can collect 10 tulips from the fields and bring them back to home. The good thing about tulips is that they come back every year again. For your entertainment you can listen to a school choir or dress up in a typical Netherlands dress with wood shoes. Also you can have lunch at the nearby restaurant and food stands.I visit that place every year because I like the nice atmosphere of the fields in the countryside and it gives me a little feeling of being back to Europe.

Hunting for oranges

 My family LOVES mikan. They love fruit of any kind really. But for a family of 5 living in Japan, fruit can sometimes be a hard thing to come by. Sometimes fruit just does not fit into the family budget. With apples costing the equivalent of a dollar or more when they are in season, or strawberries close to 5 dollars for a small pack, this mother always has to scope out the ugly fruit section where the almost ready to mold produce is discounted down from the Japanese high market prices to more frugal , and just reasonable prices. Even then, the sweet stuff just cannot make it into the shopping basket, because our paycheck has to be spent on more important things like protein, carbs and another box of erasers for the school supplies. I swear my kids are eating the erasers, too. Fruit is certainly a delicacy for a poor family in Japan. Not out of reach , but hard to get hold of and with 5 of us, hard to hold on to. Sometimes when I am cutting into a pineapple I have bought with the yellow price down ticket still stuck to its tag, I get flashes from the animation Only Yesterday, where the family shares the not yet sweetened slice of pineapple.  . Nowadays fruit is easier to get, but still very prized in Japan. This is why I think the Japanese word for fruit-picking , Gari or hunting, is so appropriate. You get to hunt and pick out exactly the fruit that you want. The juiciest tastiest, most delicious looking piece of fruit you can find in the field. And this is why, every year, our family has begun to make it a tradition to go hunting. Hunting for mikan. Japan has a plethora of places to pick fruit, from strawberries to Japanese pears, to blueberries. Depending on where you live, and what time of year it is, you can find someplace that will let you hunt for your own fruit. The best part, depending on the place and fruit, you can eat your fill while there. Some places even allow you to take some fruit home with you. During my study abroad year, a close friend's family took me on my first ever ichigo-gari or strawberry hunt. As a birthday gift, they paid my way into a 90 minute all you can pig out on raid of a strawberry farm. The owners of the farm even provide you with sweetened condensed milk for a real dessert feel. It was a beautifully sweet experience that I really wanted to share with my family of fruit lovers. However, at 20 bucks a head, or 2000 yen should I say, a family hunt for strawberries looked very far off in the family budget. With gas and everything else needing to be figured in, the five of us would never be able to do it. But it didn't have to be strawberries. Any fruit would do, so I did a little search into Google. I just looked for fruit picking in my prefecture and this popped up, Fruit Picking . I started searching all the farms in an hours drive radius for pricing and deals to pick fruit. I even asked facebook groups I am part of for reccomendations and that lead me to This, it's in japanese but basically , it is all you can eat oranges for 500 en plus you get a bag to take home more. It was the luckiest find! At the time I was searching, it was exactly mikan season, and our family made plans to go the next open weekend we could find. Our only open weekend, however, happened to be the last weekend of mikan season. But luck would have it that because it was the end of the season, and the owners are super fantastically lovely wonderful amazing people, they gave each of our family members two bags to fill and take home, and did not even charge for our children. Needless to say, we stuffed our faces and had fun.  That first year was the best planned trip our family has had.  The following year was not. Thinking we would have the same luck as the previous year, everyone piled into the car, ready to gorge on citrus, sweet sticky fruit. After an hour's drive out, we approached the hillside in the little valley where the mikan orchard was and expected to see a line of cars like the past year, everyone stopping at the booth to pay their fee and receive their bags before driving up the hill, but here were no cars. the booth was covered in a blue tarp and not one person was outside. Had we come on a holiday? Is the season already over? There were oh so few fruits hanging on the trees. Trying our luck, we drove to the top of the hill and spotted a family with the clear plastic bags to fill with mikan. Hopeful, we asked if the mikan -gari was still ok to do. The family apparently knew the owners and despite the season being over, were allowed to come in and scavenge for what few oranges were left on the trees. Our family hunt for mikan then turned into a hunt for the orchard owners. Determined for our fill of fruit, something we rarely could afford in the first place, we search the neighborhood, knocking on doors for the owners of the orchard. After 45 minutes and no luck, we tried once more to phone the owners. Yatta!! Again, they were fantastic sweet and wonderful! we had full range of the orchard, for only 1000 en, and no time limit. The owner was merely sorry the fruit would not be sweet. But his kindness for letting us hunt for our fruit was sweet enough to mask any tartness in the fruit we ate that day. And the next and next and next because we also got to take home so many more.So if you are craving fruit, but do not want to pay the high prices, then just wait for November to early December and make a trip to Sakurayama. Hunt for some mikan. You will not regret it. Our family has not.

Frozen Fantasy at Tokyo Disneyland

As many things are seasonal changing in Japan, also Tokyo Disney Resort has changing events all over the year. At the moment the special event “Anna and Elsa’s Frozen Fantasy” is hold at Tokyo Disneyland. I visited there on February 11th and want to give you a small impression what is so special right now.  According to the name “Anna and Elsa’s Frozen Fantasy” this event is themed to the famous Disney movie Frozen and you can find a unique parade, decorations, food and more of it. Notice, the event is only held from January 13 to March 17 this year. 1) Frozen Forever – the highlight of this year’s event. At nighttime a projection lights up Cinderella Castle with famous scenes out of the movie telling a story about Anna and Elsa. Music is played and snow will fall down while even fireworks are shown in the air. 2) Frozen Fantasy Parade – Disneyland is well known for its parades and certainly there is a special parade while this event. See Anna, Elsa and their friends driving through the park on big floats and enjoy the atmosphere. 3) Anna and Elsa’s Winter Greeting – a show for only children. The villagers of Arendelle will teach them a dance and later Anna, Elsa and Olaf join them to perform the famous song “Let it go” together. 4) Food and merchandise – Japan is famous for themed-food and for sure there have to be some themed food at this event. A special buffet is offered for ¥ 3,090 which is quite expensive. But don’t worry there are some other cheaper food sets and snack available inside the different restaurants all over Disneyland. And don’t forget to take a look into the merchandise shops – many new goods of Frozen characters have been released for this event. 5) Decoration – all over the park you can find decoration referring to Frozen. Find Olaf smelling on flowers or little snowmen playing around. Keep your eyes open! If you are a fan of Frozen you should definitely try to go there and be a child for one day (^_~) Ready for a photo spam? Here we go!

Forget the trains, buses are the better way to go in Tokyo

Tokyo being the big cosmopolitan city definitely has that advanced subway system to mobilize the millions of people that need to go about their daily lives.  The subway plays such an important role that the key criteria for selecting a home here is the immediate proximity to the trains.Unfortunately for me, the ignorant gaijin, who failed to understand the subway factor and happily signed for an apartment about 20 minutes walk away from the nearest subway station.  Well, 20 minutes ain't that far I suppose but think about the ridiculously hot summers or the brutal winter windchill or the kids and groceries you have to drag along to make that 20 minutes trip.   Dreadful may be the word to describe my daily commute.... until I discovered the city buses!Comprehensive bus routes Everywhere the subway doesn't cover, the city had planned for buses to make up for it.  On top of that, there are also buses that run alongside the trains to be that perfect substitute for when the trains are down or the late night journeys after the trains end.   Feeling lazy and not wanting to walk that short distance home?  Just jump onto the bus and you can be sent almost to your door steps.If you are staying in that part of town where roads are too tiny or commuters are scarce, chances are there will be those mini buses that cover that route.Comfortable journeyNot only are buses easily accessible, they are really comfortable too.  Put it this way, you will never find a bus more crowded than subways, especially during peak hours.  Not only that, because people treat buses as short distance solutions, turnover for the seats is rapid and hence easy to have a chance to rest your legs.  Traveling with small children couldn't be safer and more relaxing on a bus.  Bus drivers here are especially careful and patient with kids, making sure they are seated before they start the journey and waiting for them to safely alight before zooming off.  Can't imagine a subway doing the same, ever!Picture taken at 8.30am in the morning, peak hour apparently!Travel at a flat rate Unlike the trains, bus fares are at a flat rate  so regardless of the number of stops, you only pay a single price.  The price, however differs based on the type of bus.  For a regular city bus, the going rate is 220 yen.  Mini buses goes for 150 yen.  If you are paying with Suica or Passmo, you get a 4 yen discount per trip on a regular bus.  During summer holidays, paying school kids can purchase a summer bus pass that enables them to travel unlimited trips on city buses for only 500 yen.  What an awesome deal!Also, you would never have to worry about having the right change or enough money in your card to pay for your ride.  You can always get change or charge up your card on the bus itself!  Just let the driver know what you need.Almost always on scheduleYou can always find the bus timetable at the bus stop that indicates when you can expect your bus, weekdays, Saturdays or Sundays and public holidays.   The best part is, you can really rely on this timetable!  The worse I have encountered is the bus being a few minutes late, else, there really isn't much of a surprise. If the bus happen to rock in earlier, the driver will make it a point to wait until it's scheduled departure time to close its doors.  As long as you manage your own schedule, you can safely rely on the buses to bring you to your appointments on time!The last time I decided to move again, I wasn't much concerned about proximity to the trains anymore!  With a couple of bus stops around me, I was more than happy paying a lower rent and living in a bigger space!

Top 5 healthy, cheap and easy foods and meals for terrible cooks in Japan

If you're a terrible cook like me, you'll know that sinking feeling of walking into a Japanese supermarket and realising you have no idea what anything is, let alone how to fashion it into something edible. You will also realise that most of your tried-and-tested recipes from home either contain things impossible to find in Japan, or require an oven. And who has an oven in Japan?So you think "Okay. I'll try and find Japanese recipes in English..." and they include stuff like "You will need miso"! You will need MISO! Have you seen a miso aisle, recipe writer?! You're gonna have to be a bit more specific than that! Here are the top 5 things you have to look out for in any Japanese supermarket, that may just save you from starving.5) Key ingredient: Mixed vegetable bagsThese things are a lifesaver. Go to the supermarket and buy some, you won't regret it! Cheap (at around 100 yen), healthy, and go with any of the things I am about to show you. More importantly, all the preparation required is 1: open bag 2: put in pan 3: turn on hob 4: wait. (Washing the veg and adding a little bit of oil to the pan also help!)They contain ingredients like carrots, cabbage, Japanese mushrooms and moyashi (bean sprouts), but vary depending on brand and season. I like the brand above as they don't contain many mushrooms, but you can find ones that are mixed more to your taste. If you're really on a budget, you can buy bags of just moyashi, that will set you back about 30 yen. If you're using the veg as a main part of the meal, one bag is enough for two meals.Pair these veg with many types of noodle such as chinese-style (中華) and some pepper to get a vegetarian friendly, super quick meal. Add them to the top of ramen to fill it out a bit. Add mirin, sake and soy sauce when cooking these for a typically Japanese umami flavour. The possibilities are endless!4) Ready made nabe (hot pot)You will see these in the fridge section, in aluminium containers. Buy one and take the ingredients out from their separate packages, put them in the aluminium tin, put the tin on the hob and heat up. You have yourself a meal! No other ingredients required, but you can add extras like the veg in 5) if you wish. Beware! If you have an electric/IH stove, you may not be able to use the original tin, even if the packet says "IH 対応" or "IH compatible". ("IH incompatible" is "IH非対応") In this case just transfer to your own saucepan or frying pan.3) ChamponAnother really easy, healthy meal comes in packages that look like this. Search for ちゃんぽん written on the packet. This is a Nagasaki speciality which in its full-fledged, authentic version contains octopus, prawns, fish paste and all sorts, but works well with just veg too.Grab a bag of vegetables as in 5) and heat in a pan. (If you want to add meat or other ingredients, heat these up too) Add the noodles, broth powder and water, heat up and you're done! Quick and easy meal with the bare minimum of prep and washing up required, what's more to love?!2) Key ingredient: thinly sliced porkThinly sliced pork goes with anything! Chinese food, Japanese food, western food... anything is possible with this stuff. Pair it with the wondrous vegetables in 5) and you have a perfect noodle accompaniment. I guess it works with rice too. It may sound like "thinly sliced pork" is a needlessly long term for bacon, but the Japanese version isn't as salty or flavourful, is thinner, and has more streaky fat- than British bacon, anyway.  The more subtle flavour (okay, boring flavour) means it doesn't overpower the rest of the meal (okay, it doesn't really taste of much but gives you a more balanced meal). (I miss decent bacon) (Sigh)1) Sara udonThis is the ultimate in cheap, easy, and healthy meals. The picture above has those magical words 具いり (gu iri), meaning that the packet contains the main toppings. Add the vegetables in 5) and the pork in 2) to make it even better. Even the non-gu iri stuff just needs 5) and 2) to be ready- just add the included sauce, and maybe water if required. The great thing about Sara Udon is that the noodles are ready to eat- just stick them on a plate and bob's your uncle! The noodles are not like usual udon as they are thin, crunchy and almost snack-like, which also means that these things have a shelf life to compete with any emergency biscuits that may be hiding in your cupboard.Stock up on a few of these, and you will never go hungry in Japan!Do you have any super easy, Japan friendly food hints? What do you cook at home in Japan? Leave a comment!

Happy Hearts Day

 Love is in the air every time but it rises even more in the month of February which is known as Love Month. One of the best feeling in this life is to give love and be loved. Loving is not just between man and a woman, but for everybody. In some countries it is a practice that the man was the one giving presents to the woman like flowers and chocolates. Way back when I was in school, valentines was one of the most awaited celebration especially if you had a partner. To those single ladies it was kind of exciting whether there will be someone to give you presents or not. It ‘s my first Valentines here in Japan and second time to celebrate with my husband for five years of being a couple. I was kind of excited if what will be his gift to me as he used to do before but to my surprised he asked me back if what would be my gift for him. I felt like “You serious? Your asking me for a gift?” followed by so many dramas of mine and locked up myself in our room. Being confused on his statements I do a research regarding the celebration of valentines here and only to find out that its really us girls are the one who gonna give gifts to them. It was said that it’s the time for woman to express their feelings like appreciation, adoration or love towards man. On valentine the most in demand for a gift was chocolates and flowers. Chocolates is one of girls favorites especially on treating our sweet tooth and who wouldn’t be proud if someone will give you a bunch of flowers right, the reason why we’re excited on this. But because it will be my first experience to make a first move I want it to be different from usual gift. I remembered in my art subject before, our teacher would let us make a card for our parents. As I handed it to them, I felt being appreciated when I saw happiness in their eyes. The same feeling covers me when I was able to received the same act of giving from my nephews and nieces. It’s overwhelming knowing that they exerted an extra time and effort to show their love to us. I guess it will be a perfect present to my husband too(mind you I’m really on budget) Aside from not being to costly, you can put up a design which your heart desires together with a sweet note. Giving a gift doesn’t mean that it should be expensive (but for those who can afford, go for it) because what our love ones appreciates most was the thought behind it.   Celebrating a hearts days should not end there, because LOVE is a continuous process. It should grow everyday and spread to everyone. But anyways, I’m still waiting for your sweet revenge this coming March 14,(White Day). Spread Love not Hate!!Happy Valentines Japan!! 

DIY Nama Chocolate, Vegan Nama Chocolate, and Nama Tart

I'm a bit of a 'why buy it, when you can make it' kind of person. It's part of my upbringing, you see. When I was young I always thought everybody made their fancy dress costumes because my mum made costumes for all four of us kids. I was shocked when I found out that it was only my mum that did that. It was the same when I went to university. Everybody was so surprised that I could cook and bake. Mum and Nan taught us cooking and baking, Dad did on a regular basis as well. They always taught me that if you can make it, then you you don't need to buy it. It's cheaper and a safe survival mode. I do that with everything, and living here I have learned it's even more important. With Valentine's Day coming up, I've seen lots of shops saying to buy this chocolate and that chocolate. It's actually quite expensive. I found that it's cheaper to do it yourself. You can buy decent cooking chocolate here, and cream, and if you've already got the chocolate molds or a baking tin, then do you really need to buy it? After all, Nama chocolate is not really all that time consuming for the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. So I've already made my Nama chocolate for this year. It's ready to go into work tomorrow. I thought that I'd share the recipe with you. Oh, and I've thrown in a DIY Nama chocolate tart for dessert as well.Nama Chocolate This recipe takes 30 minutes to prepare and cook. It can make a lot of chocolate. It can be halved. Note that all items must be very dry, or the chocolate will seize. 400g (14oz) dark chocolate at 70% cacao or semi sweet chocolate 200ml heavy cream with 38% fatcocoa powder1) If you don't have a mold, then line a 8"x8" baking tray with baking paper.2) Finely chop chocolate. 3) Put cream into a small sauce pan. Almost bring it to the boil, and remove it from the heat just before. 4) Add the chocolate to the cream and stir until completely combined. Spoon into the chocolate molds, or pour into the baking tray and refrigerate for 4-5 hours, or until your ready to serve.5) Remove the chocolate and take out from the tray. Use a warm knife to cut the chocolate. Clean the knife In between each cut, or the chocolate will break.6) Sprinkle cocoa powder. I for some reason, never do this.You see! Super easy! Although, as you can see, I'm a bit of a show off. Some had almond fillings, some had double layers, some almond toppings, and some had a chocolate shell with Nama filling. I simply melted some chocolate before hand, and made the shells by adding a good dollop in the base of the mold and mixed around the edge with a plastic chopstick and added the crushed almonds and refrigerated it before adding the Nama chocolate. For the almond layered ones, I placed the almond in, added a layer of chocolate in and refrigerated before add the second layer.Now then, if you wanted to be a bit more fancy, then have you considered making Nama chocolate tart? If you have time to make some pastry a little earlier, then it shouldn't be a problem. Sweet PastryAgain, this can be halved. If you want vegan pastry, then most organic shops sell vegan butter.225g / 8oz plain flourpinch of salt100g / 4 oz of butter2 1/2 tablespoons cold water2 tablespoons of sugar1) Mix all the dry ingredients together.2) Add butter and bring it together to make breadcrumbs.3) Add water.4) Bring to dough. 5) Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes.6) Grease a round baking tin. Cut a sheet of baking paper for the bottom and place it inside.7) Remove dough and sprinkle flour on the table and on top of the dough to stop it sticking to the pin. Roll out the dough to the size of your time and place and press it into place. Cut to a little bit bigger than the edge size, because the dough will shrink a little. Prick holes in it with a fork to help baking. You will need to weigh it down with some baking beads. 8) Bake to tart case for 20-25 minutes at 180 degrees. Keep watch on it. You don't want it to burn. Just a light golden brown is good. 9) Remove from oven and allow to cool before adding your Nama chocolate mixture.10) Add the Nama chocolate and decorate. Then refrigerate for 4-5 hours. Now for dairy allergy sufferers like myself, it can be a little tricky to get hold of dairy free cream. So this is the alternative. Vegan Nama Chocolate Again this recipe can be halved. 300g / 10.6oz vegan chocolate 300g / 10.6oz silk tofu2 tablespoons maple syrup Some rice flour1) Drain the water from the tofu. Try to drain as much as you can. Mix until smooth. 2) Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Boil water in a small pan, and place two thirds of the chocolate into a metal bowl (this will help tempering) and melt over the heat. Remove from the heat and add the remaining chocolate. Mix until smooth.3) Mix chocolate, tofu, and maple syrup together. Add rice flour if the mixture is too runny. 4) Line a baking tray with baking paper. Pour the mix into the baking tray. Allow to cool and then refrigerate for an hour.5) Take out and cut into pieces. Keep refrigerated.Note: You may not want to use all the tofu. It will make a slightly firmer fudge that still tastes great!So that's it! Check out the video that I also made for last years Nama Chocolate. And remember....

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