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Kamakura at night

1 Dec

Yesterday we drove to 鎌倉 (Kamakura, Japan). We have been there many times but it had been awhile since we went there by car.

I drove there because we wanted to see the autumn illumination (light-up) at the famous, beautiful 長谷寺 (Hase-dera Temple).
At certain times of the year, the temple is lit up and it looks even more spectacular than usual.

During our drive there and back, we could see Tokyo Tower, a beautiful sunset over Tokyo Bay and a clear view of Mt. Fuji.

So many beautiful scenes! Here are some of our photos:

Imperial Palace inner grounds

10 Dec

If you have ever visited the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, you most likely have only seen the outer grounds.
That is the area that is normally open to the public. There are only a few days each year that the general public are permitted to enter the inner grounds (and on those days, you must line up and go through a baggage search and pass a metal detector).

Last weekend was one of the rare occasions that the Imperial Palace inner grounds were open to the public.
People were allowed in to view (and photograph) the beautiful autumn colors in the royal gardens.

Last Sunday, my wife and I went there. Here are some of the photographs I took of the inner grounds:

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The staff quarters.

 

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This foundation is the remnants of the original castle from centuries ago. The roof of the famous Nippon-Budokan can be seen in the distance.

 

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The Imperial music hall.

 

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One of the original guards’ quarters

 

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From there, we walked to the 100 year old Tokyo Station for dinner.

 

Autumn leaves in Tokyo

29 Nov

Today my wife and I went to Iidabashi Station in Tokyo.

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From there we walked to Yasukuni Shrine to see the 銀杏 (Ginkgo trees) autumn foliage.

The Budokan can be seen from the entrance to Yasukuni Shrine entrance.

It says 「靖国神社」 (“Yasukuni Shrine”).

“TV Tokyo” was there filming.

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And then we walked to the Budokan:

The world-famous 武道館 (Budokan) in Tokyo.

A beer vending machine at the Budokan.

 

Autumn Sky Tree

5 Nov

Last weekend we went to the Tokyo Sky Tree.

(We didn’t go inside the tower. I have done that before).

The Sky Tree is illuminated at night in various colors every evening.
When we went it was lit up orange for the start of autumn.

We did go in the adjacent 「空町」 (“Sola-machi“) (lit. “Sky City“) shopping center.

Drinks in a traditional Japanese candy store.

Retro Japanese toys.

Japan’s “Hello Kitty” meets American rock band “KISS”.

From there, we walked to the nearby neighborhood of Asakusa.

「みくじ 百円」 (“Fortunes, ¥100”)

Autumn is coming

9 Sep

The weather is still hot and humid in Tokyo now, but some signs of Autumn (秋 (Aki) in Japanese) can be seen now that it’s September.

The leaves haven’t begun to change color yet. That’s called 紅葉 (Kouyou) in Japanese and it does happen in late October or so and it’s very beautiful…especially to someone like me who came to Japan from Florida where the leaves on trees are green all year round.

The signs of Autumn that can be see every year in Japan at this time of year are some foods and drinks that can be purchased now.

All of the major domestic beer brewers in Japan offer special seasonal brews at the turn of each of the seasons. Right now, they’re all offering their various Autumn beers.
I currently have in my house a case of Suntory 「秋楽」 (“Aki-raku“) beer.

Suntory "Aki-raku" autumn brew with 6% alcohol!

This beer’s name translates to “Comfortable Autumn”.
Kirin Beer offers a beer in a similar can called 「秋味」 (“Aki-aji“), which means “The Flavor of Autumn”.

Another sign that autumn is near is when McDonalds in Japan offers their special, popular 「月見バーガー」 (“Tsukimi Burger“).
This burger is only available for a limited-time each year in autumn.  And it’s currently on the menu again.

The "Tsukimi Burger" is currently available at McDonalds Japan

The Tsukimi Burger has an egg on it because the egg looks like a full-moon in the sky.
You may wonder what an egg resembling the moon has to do with anything…

But you’d need to understand that for centuries, 月見 (tsukimi)…which means “moon watching”…has been a popular autumn past time in Japan.
月見, autumn moon-gazing parties, are popular and McDonalds capitalized on that and offered a temporary burger for the occasion every year.

Another recent sign that autumn is approaching in Japan is the increasing number of stores that put up Halloween decorations.
When I came to Japan in 1990, Halloween was unheard of here…but, recently, it’s become much more well-known. But it’s still not really celebrated. Going “Trick ‘R Treating” around the neighborhood isn’t done here, and private homes aren’t decorated. But many stores capitalize on the western holiday and put up Halloween decorations in an attempt to draw customers.

Are there unique customs in your country in the transition between seasons?

紅葉地図

11 Oct

I grew up in Florida. There is no autumn or winter there to speak of. The temperature drops a bit…but the leaves on the trees don’t change colors and it doesn’t snow in Florida.

That’s another thing I like about living in Tokyo…four seasons. Each season is vastly different from the others and each one lasts an even quarter of the year.

Soon in the Tokyo area it will be the time of 「紅葉」 (“Fall colors”) when the leaves on the trees changes an assortment of yellow, orange, and red.

When I first moved to Japan and saw the colorful autumn trees for the first time, I really liked it. And I still enjoy looking at them.

Last spring, I wrote a post about a “Cherry Blossom Map” that showed where the Sakura trees are in bloom during the Spring 「花見」 (Cherry Blossom Viewing) season.

The same company that made the “Cherry Blossom Map” also has a 「紅葉地図」 (“Fall Foliage Map”) that shows were you can enjoy 「紅葉狩り」 (“Fall Colors Hunting”).

Click here to see the 「紅葉地図」 (“Fall Foliage Map”).

紅葉 (Autumn leaves) in Tokyo

You can balance an egg today

23 Sep

Last Monday was a holiday in Japan, called 「敬老の日」 (“Respect For The Elderly Day“). On this day, people often give gifts to their elderly parents or grandparents. Many kindergartens invite grandparents to have lunch at the school with their grandchildren.

Shoulder massages are common "gifts" to grandparents on this day.

Today is another holiday in Japan…「秋分の日」 (“Autumn Equinox“).  On this day in Japan, and on the 「春分の日」 (“Spring Equinox“) in March, it is common for people to visit their family graves to pay respects.  This custom is called 「彼岸の中日」 (“Higan-no-chuu-nichi“).

The actual date of 「春分の日」 (Spring Equinox) and 「秋分の日」 (Autumn Equinox) varies slightly. Spring Equinox is around March 20 or 21 and Autumn Equinox is usually September 22 or 23. I read online that in 1931, the Autumn Equinox occurred on September 24 and the next time it will occur on that date will be in the year 2303.

But in Japan, 「春分の日」 (Spring Equinox) is always celebrated on March 20th and 「秋分の日」 (Autumn Equinox) is always on September 23rd. The only time the dates change is when one of those dates fall on a Sunday…then the holiday is observed the next day.

「敬老の日」 (“Respect For The Elderly Day“) is celebrated on the third Monday of September. Last year that holiday and 「秋分の日」 (Autumn Equinox) were only one day apart, so the Japanese government made the day between them a one-time temporary holiday so that most people in Japan could have a five-day holiday period that was called “Silver Week“.
(I wrote a post about last year’s “Silver Week” here.)

Yesterday someone asked me if the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes were holidays in America like they are in Japan, and how they’re observed in America.

I know that Spring and Autumn Equinox, as well as Summer and Winter Solstice in June and December, aren’t legal holidays in America. But they’re considered the date that the seasons change. Americans say that the first day of Winter is around December 21, the first day of Spring is around March 20, the first day of Summer is around June 21 and the first day of Autumn is around September 23.
So, in America, today is the first day of Autumn.

In Japan, the first day of every three months is considered to be the beginning of the next season.
Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn each start on December 1st, March 1st, June 1st and September 1st, respectively.

But maybe the American dates are more accurate. Because yesterday was a very hot and sunny day in Tokyo. It was about 33°C.
But today is a bit cold and rainy. The temperature dropped down to 23°C! And tomorrow is forecast to be even colder…20°C.

Another thing that is said about the equinoxes in America is that they are the only days of the year that you can balance on egg upright.

I don’t know where that came from. But it’s an American urban legend that eggs can be easily balanced on the day of an equinox.

How is Autumn Equinox (and Spring Equinox) celebrated in your country?

(Also, if you want to know more about Japanese holidays, read my F.A.Q.).