Ume Hana Matsuri & Tea

I learned a new Japanese word recently.  Baika.  The two kanji characters for Ume (plum) and Hana (flower) together read as baika (bye-kah).  It means plum blossom, just like sakura means cherry blossom.  I asked my friend about this and she said Japanese people still say “ume” for plum blossoms, but when you see the two characters together it is read as “baika.”  You always hear the word sakura tossed around.  Sakura flavored food, sakura themed souvenirs, pink sakura leaves on Starbucks cups, sakura season is very famous.  I’ve rarely heard anyone talk about baika.  But plum blossoms are beautiful too. Plum blossoms are the first sign of winter’s end and the beginning of spring time weather.  They appear about…

Making Vegan Ramen

Living in a country that loves its Kobe Beef, lives and dies by seafood, loves pork dripping with fat and cracks a raw egg on everything that goes in a bowl, vegan cuisine is hard to come by.  Luckily I’m vegetarian/pescatarian, not so much vegan, but I do enjoy this kind of food category. It happened one day that I saw on Airbnb an offering of a cooking class, in Osaka, for making vegan ramen and I knew I had to try it.  When I read the awesome description of the class, and the fact that it was near the train station AND the chef instructor listed UC Irvine as a place he had studied, I double knew I had…

Okinawa stories and photos

My prior post detailing my trip to Okinawa started to get a bit long and wordy so I had to cut it off.  Here are more sights and stories from Japan’s famous island to the south. I landed at Naha Airport in the early evening.  By the time I traveled from the airport to my Airbnb apartment and got settled in, it was dark.  On the main street, Kokusai-dori, brightly lit stores were crowded with high school students, marathon runners and foreign tourists.  It was raining lightly so everyone was trying to duck out of the drizzle.  Locals were everywhere, luring visitors to their stores, hawking t-shirts, keychains, Okinawa treats, restaurants menus, drinks and even two Owl Cafes along the…

Kumano Sanzan

The purpose of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage is to visit each of the three Grand Shrines which make up the Kumano Sanzan.  There are several routes to accomplish this.  Back in ancient times the Japanese imperial family traveled from west to east on the popular Nakahechi Route.  Some pilgrims came from north to south, down the coastal Iseji Route, after worshipping at the famous Ise Grand Shrine.  Others took the mountainous inland road from the Buddhist temple called Koyasan along the Kohechi route which is also north to south.  I was thrilled that we made it to all three of the Kumano Grand Taisha, but we didn’t hike all of it. I realized our limitations, six kids between ages 10…

Omoya – Kumano Kodo

For at least 20 years now, one of the top items on my bucket list is to travel on El Camino de Santiago, to Santiago de Compostela, in the very northwest corner of Spain.  This is a pilgrimage with a thousand year history and such a pilgrimage still exists today.  I have books about it and I’ve studied it.  In the early 90s I met two people who were from Santiago de Compostela and it’s probably where this dream was born. Some history from www.americanpilgrims.org/history: “El Camino de Santiago, in English “The Way of Saint James,” is the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, where legend has it that the remains of Jesus’s apostle Saint…

Kokedera, the Moss Temple

Our scheduled time is Saturday, November 11 at 1pm.  My confirmation postcard says, “Please never fail to bring this card on Nov. 11th at 1:00 pm when you are going to visit this temple.”  My Japanese friend and I had a good a laugh over this wording. I found out about Kokedera while surfing the internet.  The real name of this temple is Saiho-ji but it is also known as Kokedera which translates koke = moss and dera = temple, so it’s the moss temple.  It is located in Western Kyoto, not far from the popular town Arashiyama.  This temple is a bit off the beaten path, not because it is not known, but because it takes some effort to…

Nagashima Spa Land

Saturday and Sunday, November 4 & 5 is birthday weekend.  It’s Halyard’s 16th birthday (and Avalon’s 11th and my 40-something).  To celebrate Halyard’s 16th we decided to go on a little weekend getaway.  Nagashima Spa Land is an amusement park that he had asked to go many months ago.  It’s actually just one part of the larger Nagashima Resort which encompasses the amusement park and a water park, a hot springs onsen, an outlet shopping mall and a large flower garden called Nabana no Sato.  Nagashima Spa Land reminded me of a mini Six Flags from the US. It’s about 2 hours away near the city of Nagoya so we rented a car the night before.  We rented a large…

Typhoon Lan Arrives

We arrived in Japan from sunny, coastal Southern California, where the weather is almost always perfect and the sun shines without humidity and the sky is blue and the air smells like the ocean.  We looked forward to experiencing four seasons in Japan.  My kids had never lived anywhere with real changing seasons and my husband who is from Chicago missed them. In the past year we’ve seen sights that we’ve never seen at our house in California.  Fire red autumn leaves on the trees, snow falling outside our front door, cherry blossoms bursting on branches like popcorn, and a whole lot of torrential rain and gusty wind.  I’ve never needed an umbrella so often in my life.  And that…

Toilets in Japan

I’m finally writing my toilet post.  We’ve been here a year now so I’ve been thinking about it that long. Gomen nasai (sorry), but I’ve got a year’s worth of thoughts to write about.  There’s just too much to say about toilets/sinks/bathrooms in Japan.  There are two kinds of toilets in the ladies room here:  Japanese toilets and Western toilets.  Maybe Asian toilets are not a surprise to some people.  But they were a surprise to me when we vacationed in Japan in 2013. A lot of people told me beforehand that I should always carry a pack of tissues with me just in case I needed them in the public bathrooms.  That advice was drilled into me as a…

Return to Shirahama

We rented a car on Saturday, September 9 and made the 2.5 hour drive south to Shirahama Beach to meet up with our friends.  We were able to make our reservation in advance by phone in English.  But we’ve never rented a car before so we had to ask the rental agent a lot of questions.  He set up the GPS for us.  When we went to pick up the car, check out what was stuck on the back trunk by the license plate!  Hilarious.  It’s a big magnet so it peels right off.  This is the same beach that we went to last year, the one with the beautiful soft white sand that was brought over from Australia.  This…