January 31, 2010

Time Flies

Can you believe January is almost over?

It went by way too fast. I was walking to work the other day and noticed this Ume (pronounced Oo-meh) tree. Some of the small buds had already started to bloom! I love these plum blossoms, especially the dark pink ones.

Before you know it, it'll be cherry blossom season again!

January 29, 2010

I Heart Pink Skies

"What a nice night for an evening."
- Steven Wright

It's rare to see pink skies in Tokorozawa, but we do have them. There's nothing more relaxing than watching the sky change color.

Happy weekend, everyone!

January 28, 2010

Asahi Bridge

Asahi Bridge is a Registered Tangible Cultural Property as of June 19, 2009. It's a girder bridge that was built in 1930 to accommodate the expansion of the Tokorozawa Airfield, which was the first airfield in Japan. It was used to cross over Azuma River.

I like the way they used the white tiles for the arches.

January 27, 2010

Cafe Pumila

Cafe Pumila is a local cafe that serves great coffee and also has a lunch and desert menu. They use the walls and shelves around the counter as a gallery so there's always a creative something to look at.

I had Japanese curry and toast. My first time eating curry with toast but it was good!

January 26, 2010

Fancy Flower Fragrance

Another few shots of Winter Sweet, called Robai here, in the evening.

Did I tell you they smell wonderful? I probably did. But I have to say it again...their aroma is amazing! Sweet, sweet, sweet!

January 25, 2010

Sing, Sing a Song!

Karaoke. People either love it or hate it.

Karaoke comes from the two words 'Kara (empty)' and 'Orchestra,' and was originally used when artists would sing without the actual orchestra and instead use a tape or when band members would practice without the vocalist. Then in the 70's, the first karaoke machine was introduced and from then on it's become popular worldwide.

Tokorozawa's Prope Dori, the shopping arcade near the station, has a lot of places to karaoke. Karaoke Kan, in the photo above, is one of the biggest karaoke chains in Japan.

Inside karaoke boxes we use this machine as a remote control to find songs by artist, title, etc. There are over 130 thousand songs to choose from, including songs in English, Chinese, Korean, and Filipino.

People here go karaoke with friends, family, and co-workers. Some even go alone to practice. I have to admit, once you get the hang of it, it really is fun to belt out a couple of tunes!

What's your favorite song to sing?

January 24, 2010

Next Stop

What are the buses like in your city?

There are a lot of buses running throughout Tokorozawa. I was riding this Seibu bus the other day. Most of the buses here don't have any steps and the button you press when you want to get off at the next bus-stop is just about everywhere.

I'm always afraid I'll lean on it and press it by mistake. And am I the only one who gets nervous about pressing that button? I'm always relieved when someone gets off at the same stop, so I won't have to press it :)

January 23, 2010

Waltz Love Heart

Christmas and New Year's is just over, and already there are hearts everywhere. Which can only mean one thing...Valentine's Day!

I know, I thought it was way to early, but apparently Tokorozawa doesn't think so!

This is a photo of the heart monument standing near the Seibu department store on the west side of Tokorozawa station. It's here for a limited time only, so now is the time to snap photos of it!

January 22, 2010

It's a Bird, It's a Plane...

Nope, it's a Kite!

And a very well made one, too. I'm not sure if they are some kind of group, but in the afternoon on the weekends, there are a number of people flying handmade kites at the Koku Koen.

They told me that they make it from thin wood and 'Washi,' a type of Japanese paper. They also paint the kites, too.

A lot of people sitting around on the grass watch as the kites fly over head. This little girl in the photo below was the most curious, closing in on the old man as he manned his kite.

Happy weekend everyone!

January 21, 2010

What Do You Wish?

Another trip down to Tokorozawa Shrine. This is called an 'Ema (絵馬),' which translates to something like 'Picture of Horse.' It's a wooden plate you can get at a shrine to write your wish or prayer.

People tell me this tradition started in the olden days when the Shinto believers would offer a horse to their god. But as horses were hard to come by, and also expensive to raise, the offerings gradually changed to horse sculptures made of clay and other horse related offerings, and somtime during the Heian Era they became what we use now, a wooden plate with a drawing of a horse on it.

As you can see, the drawing on the wooden plates have changed, too. Some are of foxes or birds, depending on the shrine. This particular one in the photo is of an arrow hitting the target. Can you guess what this person is wishing for?

January 20, 2010

No Driver

I guess it was too cold for anyone to want to play with the mini cars.

If I were a kid, my choice would have been the firetruck!

January 19, 2010

Winter Sweet

This flower, Robai(蝋梅), is also called Winter Sweet. Originally from China, Robai blooms in the winter time. It's a lovely yellow flower with an amazingly sweet aroma. Thus the name Winter Rose (I'm just guessing here...).

Every year we can find this delicate flower at the Robai Garden in Koku Koen, one of the biggest parks in Tokorozawa. The sweet aroma always draws a crowd. You just have to follow you're nose to find the garden!

January 18, 2010

Fortunate Fortune

I went to Tokorozawa Shrine last week for the 'Hatsu-mode(初詣),' the first visit of the year.

Like many people who go to the shrine, I got an 'Omikuji(おみくじ).' It is a small piece of paper with a fortune written on it. You can find it in most temples and shrines, especially at the start of the year.

All the Omikuji are in a box like this, where you pay 100yen, and pick one out.

Inside the box, there are many (well, not so much in this one...) Omikuji.

When people open it, everyone always looks for the main fortune that tells you how lucky or unlucky you are. It has many levels ranging from 'Dai-kichi(大吉),' the best of luck, to 'Dai-kyo(大凶),' unbelievably bad luck.

I got Dai-kichi this year for the very first time! Yay! But the Omikuji not only tells you your fortune but gives you advise as well. Like mine said that my year would be full of wonderful experiences but that things could go downhill if I don't appreciate it. Good advice.

So what can you do when you get 'Kyo(凶),' a bad luck Omikuji? Well, you can tie your Omikuji as high as you can on branches of trees within the shrine. I'm not quite sure why, because there are so many different traditions regarding what to do with an Omikuji, but I think part of the reason is that some believe by tying it to a tree, you can leave the bad luck there with the tree.

Very interesting, this Omikuji business! I hear there are special Omikuji to tell your fortune in love or money.

I'm curious if there's something like this in other countries?

January 17, 2010

Japanese House

Tokorozawa has many old traditional houses like this one.

The upkeep must be very hard as this house also has a lovely garden. The elderly owners are always up early sweeping the entrance and watering the plants.

January 16, 2010

Left And Then Right

Waiting at the railroad crossing.

A train coming from the left...aaaaand another from the right.

January 15, 2010

Yummy Yakiimo

This is the yummy Yakiimo!

This baked sweet potato is made from a type of potato made specifically for Yakiimo. It has thin skin so you can eat it whole. We usually break the Yakiimo in half and eat from the middle. The Yakiimo truck comes around Tokorozawa Station everyday from 6pm-8pm. You can buy a couple of nice Yakiimo for about 500yen.

My favorite Yakiimo song Yakiimo by Simone White

January 14, 2010

The Evening

I love the evening. Probably because I usually don't notice the evening because I'm in the office all day. But the rare times that I do notice the sky getting darker and changing color, I fall in love with the evening all over again...

January 13, 2010

Child Yesterday, Adult Today

This monday was 'Coming of Age Day,' which is a national holiday in Japan. This is the day we celebrate everyone who turns 20 years old in the coming school year (April 2 of this year to April 1 of next year). Coming of Age Day officially started in 1948. Since then, many young people have celebrated the beginning of their adulthood on January 15, until the day changed to the second Monday of January in 2000.

In Japan, 20 is the age when you can legally vote, drink alcohol, and smoke. You're also required to start paying tax.

In Tokorozawa, 3,466 young people (1,765 male, 1,701 female) are scheduled to turn 20 this coming school year. I'm sure many attended the Coming of Age Ceremony the city holds for them.

It is traditional for girls to wear Furisode, a type of Kimono with long sleeves, and for boys to wear Hakama. Although some people prefer to wear just a suit because it takes so much time and energy to wear a traditional outfit.

I was walking to the supermarket and I saw a lot of girls wearing Furisode, heading to the nearest game center to take a Purikura, a photo sticker. I did the same thing when I was 20, too. I guess some things never change.

Congratulations to all the 20 year old's in Tokorozawa!

January 12, 2010

Nice and Warm

This is the fire burning under the special cauldron for Yakiimo, a baked sweet potato.

Have you ever tried Yakiimo?

It is soooooo good! Especially in the winter, the hot sweet potato is the perfect thing for your empty stomach. Also great to just hold while walking around to warm your hands.

January 10, 2010

Welcoming the New Year

Many houses and businesses decorate their front door with a Tama Kazari, which is a different type of Shime Kazari, during the New Year. Usually it's to keep the family safe or for good business.

Many people also decorate the entrance to their property with Kadomatsu. This is to welcome the gods into the house during the New Year, because in the old days it was believed that the gods reside in treetops. Decorating the entrance with a Kadomatsu is said to have started in the Heian Period. The Kadomatsu in the photo of this house is a simplified version that is popular these days.

January 8, 2010

Safe to Drive

This decoration hanging on the front bumper of this car is called 'Shime (she-meh) Kazari' and is a type of New Year decoration to wish for safety during the new year.

This one says 'Kotsu Anzen' which means 'Safety when driving.' Not very many cars these days decorate the car with a Shime Kazari. But there are still a lot of traditional families living in Tokorozawa.

Traditionally these Shime Kazari are put up around the house or car at the end of the year. Then on the 7th of January, which is called 'Matsu no Uchi' in Japan and considered the last day of 'Oshogatsu,' the new year's celebration, we eat 'Nanakusa Gayu' (a rice porridge made with seven different herbs) before taking all the Shime Kazari down.

I'm glad I caught this car with a fancy Shime Kazari on the morning of the 7th. Just in time!

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