Sake is such an integral part of Japanese culture. There are so many different types of sake, different brands, different ways to drink it, different occasions to drink it on. Having gone out with my Japanese colleagues (surprise, surprise, teachers love to drink!) on many occasions, I feel like I’ve learnt a little about this complex alcoholic liquid. Continue reading “Sake: Japan’s Liquid of Choice”
I’ve been to Shinjuku Gyoen so many times in the 5 years I’ve been living in Tokyo that it almost feels like I’m arriving home when I walk through the park entrance gates. It’s become a very familiar place. From the cherry blossom season and hot summer days, to the vibrant red autumn leaves and snow-filled lawns, I’ve experienced it all at this park. It’s a great place to go whether you’re on your own, with friends, babysitting kids or even on a date! Continue reading “8 Reasons to Love Shinjuku Gyoen”
It’s mid-February, and it feels like spring is just around the corner. As winter begins to draw to an end, the warmer weather brings out one of my favourite flowers: the plum blossoms! Continue reading “Sweet Plum Blossoms”
There are loads of well-known tourist places in Tokyo… Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo Tower, Shibuya Crossing, to name a few. Whenever friends from home or other international visitors come to Japan, I often get asked for recommendations on things to do and see in Tokyo. In particular, a lot of people want to know what are the tourist traps, or things not worth the hype. Continue reading “Touristing at Sensoji”
I feel like I’ve seen more of Mt Fuji this year than I have in any other year, and we’re only in April! I used to think that the Fuji Five Lakes region was very far away from Tokyo, and for the longest time I didn’t even know how to get there. It wasn’t until last May that I finally made it to one of the five lakes. After you make the trip once, you realize it’s not too bad and can even be done as a day trip from the city – although staying overnight would allow you to enjoy Fuji and its surrounds early in the morning, an advantage that the majority miss out on.
After the first visit, the mountain keeps calling you back, again and again, with its enchanting powers. Each season shows the mountain in a different light. Every town shows the mountain from a different angle. You can see Fuji in combination with one of the lakes, with the sea, with cherry blossoms, with Japanese maples, with snow, or through the mountain ranges from one of the nearby peaks. Once is never enough.
This month, I went to a few places on the northern foothills of Fuji and was blessed with amazing weather…
Koyodai near Lake Saiko is an easy hiking trail up a mountain that gives you an awesome view of Mt Fuji. You get a nice view of Lake Saiko as you walk up, and from the top you look out over a vast forest called Aokigahara. Some people may know this as the ‘suicide forest’, where many Japanese go to take their own lives. The forest is enormous and it was a bit eerie looking down from the viewing platform knowing there are bodies lying below the canopy.
Not far from Koyodai is Narusawa Road Station, and from there the views of Mt Fuji are insane. I’ve never seen snow-capped Fuji so close and it was captivating watching the clouds circle around the summit casting shadows over the white slopes. At sunset, the peak turned a beautiful shade of red. Like a curtain closing across a stage, the sunlight made its way up the mountain until it reached the very top, then suddenly, the show was over.
The view of Mt Fuji from Chureito Pagoda near Lake Kawaguchiko is widely used in tourism brochures and commercials, so it’s come to be one of the most famous landscapes of Japan. It’s about 400 steps from the road up to the 5-storied pagoda. Since Fuji is behind you, you’re constantly stopping to look back, which is also a good excuse to catch your breath! From the top, the view is stunning. I’ve been here once before last year, and unfortunately the clouds didn’t budge. This time, it was cloudy again when I arrived. But, determined, I waited it out and an hour later the clouds magically disappeared and we were left with a perfectly clear view of Fuji! Combined with the cherry blossoms, it was an unforgettable sight.
To end with, a few Fuji fun facts:
- On average, from the foothills, Fuji can be seen for roughly 1/3 of the year. From Tokyo, it’s even less – around 90 days a year. And it’s common for the whole mountain to be hidden behind clouds and the thick humid air during the entire summer season.
- For most people, the shape of Fuji is a symmetrical cone with a flat top. But actually, there are ridges and gullies that are only noticeable from certain angles. So, for the people who live around the mountain, depending on where they live, if asked to draw Fuji, they’d all draw different shapes.
- Fuji is on the border of two prefectures, Shizuoka and Yamanashi, but the summit of the mountain belongs to neither. The top is privately owned by the Sengen Shrine, and is considered as belonging to “Japan”.
Standing atop Matsuda-yama, it felt like I was in a dream.
I was on a hillside covered in thousands upon thousands of pink petals, looking down over the urban area below. The late afternoon sun was shining intensely and everyone around seemed so happy to be there experiencing this fleeting moment.
The sakura had just reached full bloom, and within a couple of weeks, they would have all sadly vanished. Soon, new green leaves would be covering the trees, hiding any evidence of the flowers’ existence. The short life of the sakura is bittersweet.
When the weather is good, Nishihara Park in Matsuda, Kanagawa, is one of the best places to see kawazu-zakura combined with the magnificent, snow-capped Mt Fuji. To the south-east, you also get a glimpse of the ocean on the horizon! The park has over 350 sakura trees which bloom around mid-February. It’s a beautiful location and a nice little trip out of Tokyo.