It has always been my long-time frustration to visit Japan during the Cherry Blossom Season, otherwise known as “Hanami“. Sakura is one of the prettiest flowers I have ever known. It is especially beautiful because its blossoming marks the start of Spring. There is nothing quite like seeing all the plants blossoming back to life after the dead of winter.
Here are some of my favorite snaps from our trip…
Drinking Sakura flavored Moët et Chandon Champagne along festive Meguro River… I added that flower myself before finding out I was not supposed to pick them from the trees!
At the Yayoi Kusama Exhibit at National Arts Center… not bad for abstract art, which is not usually my kind of thing.
Breakfast overlooking Shibuya Crossing at Excelsior Café
Enjoying fresh Kobe Beef, etc for Dinner at Han no Daidokoro, in the Dogenzaka area of Shibuya, where our Airbnb apartment is located
Tried out some Tsukiji Market giant crabs
I almost forgot to mention that I booked a Sumo Practice Viewing via Viator. It would’ve been a really cool and great experience had it not been for the guy at the door who seemed very hesitant to let me in.
Despite being made to feel awkward by the guy at the door of the sumo stable, it was still an interesting experience watching the Sumo practice, although, I would not recommend it to Asian women who would want to watch it by themselves.
Sampling some Japanese Craft Beer at a bar/restaurant at Daikanyama
It’s feels like walking into a forest of clouds at Ueno Park. Lying down like a bum in the park is the best way to enjoy the blossoms!
Tokyo was actually the last leg of our trip. We were so happy to get there just when the weather started to turn a lot sunnier and warmer. The most wonderful experience in Tokyo was the cherry blossoms in full bloom everywhere. It’s like walking into a forest of pink cloud heaven! It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen in my life. I just couldn’t help but feel cheerful looking at all those delicate pink trees! My favorite area for the Cherry Blossoms is Meguro River. It looks more like a canal to me than a river actually. But it’s an infinite stretch of a canal, lined with gorgeous Sakura trees!
Our Airbnb apartment at Dogenzaka was an unbelievably perfect quiet corner, a few meters off Shibuya’s crowded crossing and metro stations. Our street itself was lined with a variety of cozy, friendly restaurants. We had lobster on the first night, Kobe beef barbecue on another, and some Japanese pizza on our last evening. All of them were superb!
I almost forgot to mention that I booked a Sumo Practice Viewing via Viator. I’m not linking the site because I do not recommend it. I was really looking forward to the experience, but it was dampened by the attitude of the guy who was letting the people at the door of the stable. When I was queuing to get in, he asked all the white people in the queue about their booking and was ignoring me. When I tried to get his attention and pointed my name in the guest list, he told me that there was a mistake in my booking and that I was supposed to be in another stable. I told the stable guy that this was the exact address in my booking and showed him the email. He finally let me in.
After that, I thought the awkwardness was over, but when we got inside and the guy distributing the pillows to sit on put my seat in front, the same weird guy who let me in put my seat at the back of everybody else. Of course, I moved to the front after he went away. There were so many empty seats when we were let in coz we were early!
I had the feeling that the Sumo people (or maybe just this guy) are not used to having a woman (and Asian at that, which could easily be mistaken for a native) watching Sumo by herself. I actually tried to Google “women and sumo wrestling”, and found this informative piece on Wikipedia:
Professional sumo is notable for its exclusion of women from competition and ceremonies. Women are not allowed to enter or touch the sumo wrestling ring (dohyō), as this is traditionally seen to be a violation of the purity of the dohyō. The female Governor of Osaka from 2000–2008, Fusae Ohta, when called upon to present the Governor’s Prize to the champion of the annual Osaka tournament, was required to do so on the walkway beside the ring or send a male representative in her place. She repeatedly challenged the Sumo Association’s policy by requesting to be allowed to fulfill her traditional role as Governor. Her requests were repeatedly rejected until she stepped down from office.
The view of those who criticize this continuing “men-only” policy is that it is discriminatory and oppressive. In general, women in the sumo world are only expected to be supportive wives of the wrestlers, and, in the case that their husband has become a stablemaster, a surrogate mother for all of his disciples. The view of the Sumo Association is that this is a tradition that has been firmly maintained through the centuries, so it would be a dishonor to all of their ancestors to change it.
This was not always the case. Starting as early as the 18th century a form of female sumo or onnazumo was performed in some areas of Japan. In the cities it was more of a spectacle often associated with brothels. However, in some areas of Japan female sumo had a serious role in certain Shinto rituals. In later years, there were limited tours of female sumo that lasted for a time. However, female sumo is not considered to be authentic by most Japanese and is now prohibited from taking place beyond amateur settings.
This somehow proves and explains that Japan is still a country that does not really think of women as having equal rights as men… I’m not really shocked! And just because I was “by myself and Asian”, I was singled out of the crowd of watchers where there were “white women”, although they came with a group, or with a male companion.
I didn’t really let this experience dampen my enthusiasm for the country and the rest of the trip. There were still a lot of really nice native people I have come across with during this trip and the previous one. 😉
Walking along Lake Kawaguchiko for spectacular view of Mt. Fuji… we were really lucky to have two days of clear, cloudless skies to have this view!
Kawaguchiko Bus and Train Station
Our hotel room facing the lake and with the full view of Mt. Fuji
I have been to Japan before, both in Tokyo and Kyoto, but I had never seen Mt. Fuji before this trip. We took the Shinkansen bullet train from Kyoto bound for Tokyo. We took the Hikari one, which stops at Mishima. From Mishima, we took a bus going to Lake Kawaguchiko. Our hotel is situated right in front of the lake, with the full, unobstructed view of the magnificent mountain from our bedroom! Although, you have to be lucky during this time of the year to see the mountain with clear, cloudless skies… and we definitely were!
I have seen Mt. Mayon (in the Philippines) eleven years ago. I could not help but compare it to Mt Fuji as they are both known for having that beautiful cone shape. I’m sorry to say this but Mt. Fuji bags the crown for aesthetics. Aside from that, Mt. Fuji towers over Mt Mayon by more than a thousand meters. In fact, it is the tallest mountain in Japan. The only thing where Mt. Mayon is better at is its volcanic activity. Mt. Mayon is always active while Mt. Fuji last erupted in the 18th century.
The first time I have seen the magnificent mountain from the bus, it was love-at-first sight! It was tall and imposing, majestic and awe-inspiring! No wonder, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a favorite subject of old and modern art works.
Our Ryokan in Kyoto provided us fresh Yukata to wear every day, and weird socks where the big toe is separated from the rest of the other toes. You need these socks to walk on the tatami flooring, and also to walk outside using their traditional slippers. 😀
Beautiful Cherry Blossoms along the way to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Sushi Dinner at our Ryokan — they serve us sumptuous dinner inside our room every night
It was a bit of a challenge to find a ryokan room with private open air hot tub during peak season… but I have such good research and booking skills! 😉
Point the camera upwards to avoid shooting the crazy crowd at Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Part of our Kaiseki Dinner, which was really too much food for my small stomach… love the attention to detail.
Enjoying beautiful spring weather with tea in our Ryokan balcony… it would’ve been even nicer if the surrounding Sakura trees were in full bloom!
Breakfast Feast at the Ryokan breakfast room… beautiful presentation and delicious as well!
A bird perched on one of the Sakura trees in the Garden of Ryoanji
Lunching at a fast food close to Togetsukyo Bridge
Paper hotpot for dinner at the Ryokan
Second time at the Rock and Sand Garden at Ryoanji — this is where the Japanese Garden in Toulouse, France was patterned after
One of the cozy cafés along the streets close to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
We passed by Yazaka Shrine on the way to Gion
I was so happy to be back at Yojiya Café along Philosophers Path. I was surprised to find how famous it has become. We had to queue for 45 minutes to get in, while there was practically nobody there the first time I visited the place in 2009. Or maybe it was not the peak season.
Nazen-ji is my favorite temple in all of Kyoto
Some strange, quirky art works along the walk to Kiyomizu-dera
It was disappointing to realize that these people walking around in kimonos are not really Japanese but silly tourists in costume!
Nishiki Market finds
Even though the Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto were not yet in full bloom when we arrived, I still prefer it over Tokyo. Tokyo is just too busy and crowded for me. But for those who enjoy shopping, the buzz of city life, and resting at cute cafés, then Tokyo it is for you.
What made staying in Kyoto even more special for me this time around is the fact that we spent a few days in a cozy Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn that originated in the Edo Period). It was a very special experience. Especially having to enjoy a private open air bath that looks out into the forest and the river, every afternoon just before having our special dinner in the room.
Staying in the Ryokan made me think how crazy the place is. How was it possible to survive winter back in the days when people didn’t have heating systems? Also, it is so much prone to fire, being made of wood and thin paper! How impractical… but beautiful! 🙂
In central Kyoto, we stayed at Sakura Terrace Hotel, close to the center but in a surprisingly quiet location. We did not like the service of this hotel very much but it was clean and reasonably priced. There were some small Yakitori restaurants/bars close to the hotel with no English signs and menu. We went to one of them and it was very nice and cozy. Cheap food and good service, despite not being able to speak English.
There was also this lovely café of a hostel just across our hotel, where the staff were super nice, especially to my daughter. They even got us a cab to Ryoanji after having breakfast there. It’s a good thing we did not book the breakfast at our hotel.
Seeing again the beautiful sites in Kyoto, most especially the walk along Philosopher’s Path was just lovely.
The first time I went to Japan in 2009, it was a lot less tourist-friendly. The buses and trains, especially in Kyoto did not have English translations. I was very lucky to have travelled with my friend, who is a native of Japan. This time around, it seems to be more tourist-friendly. In fact, the buses even have Korean and Chinese translations. I was very much surprised.
We were blessed with warm weather in all the places we visited. Everyone I know seems to be going to Japan during this time of the year… now I know why.
Recommended places of interest:
Our beautiful Ryokan in Kyoto: Momijiya Bekkan Kawa No Iori
Cafés in Kyoto: Lower East Nine Hostel’s Café and Bar, Yojiya Café at Ginkakuji
Restaurants/bars in Tokyo: Han no Daidokoro Dogenzaka, The Spring Valley Brewery at Daikanyama, Excelsior Café for a view of the Shibuya Crossing, a Lobster Place in Dogenzaka Hill right next to our AirBNB apartment with friendly staff and very good food but I don’t know what the name is actually. It just says “Rock Lobster” on their sign board.
Souvenir Shops in Tokyo: Tokyu Hands, Loft at Shibuya