My 2017 Favourites

It’s become customary for many bloggers, myself included, to look back on the year’s highlights with a review post. This was my 5th year writing on Celia in Tokyo, can you believe! And this is my 4th yearly wrap up post. Continue reading “My 2017 Favourites”

Journey to the Soul of Japan

Two thousand years ago, the emperor of Japan sent his daughter on a mission.

She was to find a new home for a sacred mirror, one of three items that had been passed down from their ancestor, Amaterasu, the sun goddess and the creator of ancient Japan. The mirror was worshipped as though it was the goddess herself, and its new resting place would become the centre of Shinto festivals, ceremonies and rituals. Continue reading “Journey to the Soul of Japan”

Sakura Hunting in Kansai (Part 1)

In a country famous for its spring scenes filled with pink and white cherry blossoms, it’s hard to decide just where to go to enjoy these short-lived flowers. Your most memorable sakura experience could be anywhere from a residential street to a major tourist spot to a remote mountain side. The only thing to do is just get out there and explore!

For the sakura season, I had originally planned to stick around Tokyo like last year, mainly so that I could save money. But the closer I got to the spring holidays, the more I felt the itch to leave the city and make the most of my time off. With a week to go, I bit the bullet and booked my tickets, found accommodation and jotted down a rough plan. My destination: Kansai.

Kansai is a region of Japan that’s home to ancient cities, national treasures and the country’s oldest structures. It’s almost the polar opposite of Tokyo. After living in the modern, fast-paced capital for 3 years now, I immediately noticed the difference especially at my first stop, Kyoto. Even the most touristy of places have somehow managed to keep that traditional, ‘old Japan’ charm.

The last time I was in Kyoto was in 2012 during one of their best ever autumn foliage seasons. The streets were splashed with brilliant reds and yellows and oranges. After seeing the city at its fiery best, I knew I had to see it during the sakura season, too.

Night 1:

Higashiyama & Gion

Day 2:

Heian Jingu & Nanzen-ji

Imperial Palace

Rokkaku-do & Philosopher’s Path

Kyoto was breathtakingly beautiful, even though the sakura were not in full bloom. I loved strolling, or rather, crowd surfing, in Higayashima. I made it to Kiyomizu-dera just before dark and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains. Walking around the streets at night felt like I was on a movie set with so many girls wearing kimono. I think Kyoto is the only city where it’s completely normal for everyone to wear a kimono! The following day I rented a bicycle which was such a good idea. You don’t have to worry about bus timetables, or getting tired from walking, or limiting yourself to just one area. Highly recommended if you visit Kyoto :) As for the sakura, the Imperial Palace was by far the best spot to see them while I was there. I love the feeling of being rained on by petals when you stand under a weeping cherry tree. And the Imperial Palace was full of them! I was also lucky to get sunshine on and off all day. As we all know, pink blossoms against a blue sky is always a winner.

After a busy day of sakura hunting I bid farewell to Kyoto, and continued onto my next stop. I headed south to a place famous for their deer that freely roam the streets. Part 2 coming soon.

Spring Afternoon at Yasukuni Shrine

Exciting times in Tokyo… Spring has officially sprung!

At Yasukuni Shrine near the Imperial Palace, there is one tree in particular which is carefully observed by the Japanese BOM. It’s a somei-yoshino, also the most common variety of cherry blossom found across Japan. A camera is set up in front of the tree so that the meteorologists can keep an eye on it 24/7. The footage can be seen by the public on the shrine’s homepage, and I’m not going to lie – I had been checking it all weekend in anticipation!

Then, on Monday morning, it happened. The first buds broke open and delicate white petals emerged. The media was onto it straight away, and opening of the sakura season was officially announced in front of hundreds of photographers and reporters.

At the moment, there are just a few somei-yoshino flowers dotted here and there. But this time next week, they should be close to full bloom. Yay, I can feel the excitement in the air!

There are hundreds of varieties of cherry blossom, that differ in shape, colour and blooming times. There were a few deep pink coloured trees at their peak. Such a gorgeous colour. And behind the shrine is a cute little pond and tea house garden. The afternoon light was sublime! Wandering around here was the perfect way to spend a warm spring afternoon.

A Shrine of Pink

I’ve been living in Setagaya ward for 3 years, but only found out about this little gem down the road this week. Seriously – it baffles me how much of my area, let alone the whole of Tokyo, I’m still yet to discover. This is one of the reasons I love living in Tokyo – you could never get bored!

Sakura Jingu is a small Shinto shrine that was built in 1882. Every shrine has a different purpose, and this one’s originally was to protect people against sicknesses. Because the shrine escaped damage from the Great Kanto Earthquake and WWII when the rest of the city was flattened, it came to be known as a protector against fire and natural disasters, too.

During spring, the shrine grounds are painted pink as the kawazu-zakura and then somei-yoshino bloom. These beautiful trees gave the shrine its name: sakura jingu (cherry blossom shrine). Usually, visitors write their wishes on plaques called Ema and hang them up in hopes the gods listen. But at Sakura Jingu, they do things a little differently. People write their wishes on pink ribbons and tie them to the sakura trees! They were so well camouflaged I only realised they were there after standing right in front of the tree. Cuteness overload!

Right now, the kawazu-zakura have just passed their peak and green leaves are shooting out in all directions. In a few weeks the somei-yoshino will be in full bloom so we’ll have another chance to see this gorgeous sight!

Turning 3 in Japan

Maybe it’s their chubby faces or the way their mothers dress them in panda outfits and Totoro costumes. Whatever the reason, I’ve always thought that Japanese children are the most adorable, precious little beings.

There are many festivals in Japan to celebrate children and pray for their happiness and wellbeing as they grow up. One of the first traditional celebrations a Japanese person will experience takes place when they are just 3 years old. ‘Shichi-go-san’ is a festival where 7 year old girls, 5 year old boys and 3 year old girls and boys dress up in kimonos – making them even cuter than they already are – and visit a shrine.

At the end of November, I had the privilege of joining a friend’s 3-year-old niece, Amane, and her family as they celebrated the 753 Festival at a local shrine in Tokyo.

We were ushered into the offering hall by the priest at the appointed time, and sat down in front of the altar. In the front row, was Amane, her mother, father, grandmother and baby brother. In the back row, was me, her older brother and aunt. It was an intimate affair! The ceremony began with the priest welcoming us and waving a white paper streamer to cleanse the offerings and bless us. We bowed a few times and clapped our hands, the priest did some chanting, and Amane and her dad placed branches wrapped in white paper on the altar. The priest gave Omiki (ceremonial sake) to the parents, then we all stood and each received a small dish of sake. The ceremony concluded with Amane being given her Chitose-ame, a long envelope that contains candy. It was fairly short – probably long enough for children that young – and was quite formal. It was fascinating for me since it was the first time I’d actually entered a shrine hall and witnessed a 753 ceremony. And of course it was particularly special since I know the family.

We had a lot of fun taking photos after the ceremony. Amane has such a playful, cheerful nature and was constantly running around! Her big brother is the best brother and I loved watching them interact. Such a beautiful, close-knit family.

The kimono Amane was wearing had been passed down through the generations. My friend had also worn it at her 753 ceremony, and we compared the two photos side by side – even though she is my friend’s niece, the resemblance was uncanny!

At the top of the kimono’s sleeve is the family’s crest, while at the bottom of the sleeves and kimono are pictures of temari, colourful, embroidered balls that symbolize friendship and loyalty, and are given to children by their parents for good luck. In Amane’s hair were two hair pieces made from kimono fabric in Kyoto. The strawberries match the hifu vest and the slippers. For many 3-year-olds, this is the very first time they wear a kimono and have to walk in these slippery sandals. Amane did a good job of walking in them, but I have seen a few kids tripping and falling over in the past!

Omedetō gozaimashita, Amane-chan. I wish you a bright and happy future ♡