Monday, August 10, 2015

The Meiji Shrine

While Julie was here, we were able to visit the Meiji Shrine! It was an amazing experience & I look forward to taking my family to visit in the fall when the weather is cooler. (Thankfully we had fans... Tokyo summer is no joke!)

The Meiji Shrine is tucked away in Yoyoji Park, located just outside the Harajuku train station. The best way I can describe Yoyoji Park is that it's basically a forest with a giant rock path carved through it. Although the summer heat was in full force, we enjoyed a peaceful stroll through the park on our way to the shrine.

For any history lovers:
The Meiji Shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. It's construction was completed in 1921, but it was later destroyed during the Tokyo Air Raids of WWII. The rebuilding of the shrine was completed in 1958. The surrounding grounds are expansive at 170 acres, with 120,000 trees of 365 species having been donated from all over Japan.
(source: Wikipedia)

My bestie & I... i love her!!
yes, we had a selfie stick..
no... we have no regrets

The first Torii gate on our walk to the Meiji Shrine.

Custom dictates that out of respect, you should pass through the gate either to the left or the right, never through the middle. The middle is know as "Sei-chu" and is the path of God.

The wall of sake barrels... it was even more gorgeous in person! Every year, brewers from all over Japan donate a sake barrel as tribute to the enshrined deities.

(I actually did some research afterwards, and discovered that the majority of the barrels are donated empty. The Shrine only asks for the sake it needs, but the intention behind the gifting of barrels is what's important more so than the gifting of the sake itself. No sense in accepting more gifts than one can use. So generally the shrine will accept small bottles to accumulate what they will need for ceremonies & the large decorative empty barrels are displayed outside the shrine.)

Prior to entering the Shrine, it is respectful to participate in the cleansing ritual.
Using your right hand, scoop water & pour over your left. 
Switch hands to pour over right. 
Switch again to pour water into left hand to cleanse mouth. 
Then tilt scoop back toward yourself & allow remaining water to cleanse the handle.

Once inside, there was such a spirit of respect. If anyone was speaking, it was in quiet tones so as not to disturb those who came to pray. The interior courtyard area was spacious and lovely. There were a few areas for prayer; a large tree with an offering box, the temple/shrine area, and then a prayer wall. For a small donation, visitors to the shrine can purchase "ema", wooden plaques, on which they can write their prayers or wishes. They are then hung on the expansive wall. As I wandered, I discovered quite a few written in English and it was so moving to see the hearts desires of people. A stunning reminder that there are still selfless people in a world that seems so topsy-turvy.

I'm so glad we made time to visit the Meiji Shrine. I love getting a glimpse of parts of the culture we are experiencing while living in Japan. 
If you ever make it to Tokyo, you should put this place on your list!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Guest Blogging!

My bestie, Julie, is doing some traveling this summer and asked me to guest blog!

Hop on over to The Redolent Mermaid for a great post on why I love to travel!

Even more exciting!?!?!




*kermit flail*

We're busy hopping trains, exploring Tokyo, enjoying delicious food, & searching for Godzilla!!!

Stay tuned for a recap of our shenanigans!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Tokyo DisneySea

We have been Disney fans for a long time! While living in Florida, we made a few trips a year to go experience the crazy magic that is Disney. So it was a no brainer that we would be visiting Disney upon arrival in Japan! There are 2 parks here: Tokyo Disney & Tokyo DisneySea. When we asked our little which park he would want to visit, he immediately yelled "DisneySea!" So for Spring Break this year, we surprised him with some Disney magic!

Unlike Magic Kingdom, DisneySea is more of an Epcot type park. It hosts more visual attractions than actual rides, but also has a slew of Disney movie characters. It is also home to Duffy the Bear!!

The entire park seems made to photograph! In all honesty, the longest lines we encountered were not for characters, but for photo spot areas such as flower planters, statues, and seasonal displays. Those areas were actually the only times I saw professional park photographers.

One of the things everyone talked about was the popcorn! Throughout the park, there are different flavored popcorn carts and a variety of popcorn buckets. Our first popcorn bucket purchase was Mr Potato Head & he was filled with a delicious White Chocolate Popcorn! (Little man was gracious enough to let us sample... and then he promptly hoarded the entire bucket to himself!) Purchasing a popcorn bucket is a must, as it enables you to get refills of any flavor for a discounted price! We purchased a second bucket & spent the day snacking on the different flavors. Our popcorn flavors for the day were: Milk Tea, White Chocolate, Cappuccino, Jalapeno & Cheddar, & Curry. Popcorn is a favorite snack in our house, so we really enjoyed the continuous snack options. 

While the rides may have been sparse, they were certainly packed with detail and the amazingness that you expect from Disney. One of our favorites was Indiana Jones! There was a slew of things to look at as you waited in line and the staff was super polite! I'm used to the theme park experience of trying to pack every available seat on a ride. The 3 of us were lucky enough to score a front row seat & the staff politely asked if we would mind if a single rider joined our row. This was a re-occurring theme throughout our day... while it was a Disney park, the staff were very mindful of the experience & making sure that all the guests were happy.

One of the biggest differences between our experience stateside & our experience in Japan was the character meet & greets! In the states, you stand in long lines & then have a photographer take your photo. However, DisneySea had characters roaming around & no lines in sight! I think the largest group we saw near a character was 6 people! Again, I found this to be partly because of the polite society and partly because of the handler's expertise. Little man was feeling rather shy, so we waited patiently for a turn each time.. and sure enough, every time he wanted to meet a character, the handler would notice him & make sure that he wasn't overlooked. 

Another cool thing from our visit was Disney's Easter Celebration! This year was actually the first year that DisneySea was decked out! In years past, only Tokyo Disney hosted the Easter festivities. There was lots of decor throughout the park, but my absolute favorite was the Easter egg display! Each egg represents a different section of the park!

Where would a good Disney post be without more food?!
These delicious morsels were Alien mochi dumplings from the Toy Story section! We received a trio of flavors: chocolate, strawberry, & lemon. The line was ridiculously long, and I can absolutely see why! They were one of the tastiest things I ate all day!

This next set of photos is probably my favorite moment of the whole day!
As we were wandering through some of the quieter sections of the park, we came across Honest John & Geppetto. As luck would have it, only 2 people nearby! So of course we stopped to watch what they were up to & snap a few photos.

...and this is why you should never antagonize a villain....

This interaction was just another amazing experience that I can only summerize as "Japan".
Not only did the characters (& their handlers) interact with my son, but the characters themselves took the time to make sure my son was posed as well! 

So the next photo has an accompanying story:
As we were finishing up our time with Honest John & Geppetto, we heard ear piercing shrieks of "Kawaii!" (so cute!) & tons of giggling! As we turn, these 2 japanese girls came racing up to us completely in awe of our son. (I'm telling ya, this kid has mad skillz with the ladies...) After about 5 minutes of giggling & "kawaii! kawaii!", we finally managed enough charades to get the idea that they wanted a photo with him. We, of course, obliged... however, it seems Honest John was a little put out that he was not the center of attention. So he promptly photobombed & it is one of my favorite pictures from the day!

My view the whole day... i seriously love this little boy! 
I hope he never outgrows his love of Disney magic!

 I hope we don't lose sight of one thing - that it was all started by a mouse. ~ Walt Disney

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

An Evening Stroll amongst the Sakura

Hanami - the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers, most commonly used in association with those of the sakura.

Knowing that the sakura season was going to pass by quickly, I was itching to get out at least once more to experience the beauty of the blooms. This time, however, I wanted to experience it off base and with the locals. When you take the time to experience something 'the local way', I feel that the experience is vastly more rewarding.

There was a local cherry blossom festival occurring, and while we didn't make it out in time for the festival.. we still managed to enjoy an evening stroll and 'Hanami'. The weather was a bit chilly, but there were lots of locals still out and about who greeted us with smiles as they strolled by with their families. We had already experienced a daytime viewing, so we opted for an evening viewing which would allow us the added ambiance of the glowing lanterns swaying gently in the boughs of the blossoming trees. Even though the song birds had gone to nest for the night, the gentle stillness was relaxing and a most enjoyable experience.

 A perk of venturing out later in the day... we had the walkway to ourselves for quite a bit.

We found ourselves in an open park area down by the Tama River filled with flower gardens beginning to bloom, a trickling stream, and a fabulous view of a train coming across the bridge.

Our very first family photo under the sakura!

Now that warmer weather is here, we hope to get out more & enjoy the sights!
Stay tuned for more adventures!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Sassenach amongst the Sakura

Springtime in Japan brings one of the most gorgeous events I have ever witnessed... the blooming of the cherry blossoms.. or Sakura, as they are called here. 

Sakura season can begin anywhere from the end of March to early May across Japan, depending on where you live. We are on the outskirts of the Tokyo area, so our predicted bloom week was the 1st weekend in April. However, some unseasonably warm weather caused the blooms to open about a week early. So my little & I grabbed the camera after school one day & took a walk around the base to admire the blooms in all their glory!

The first stop on our walk, were the trees right outside our apartment!
How lucky are we?!
The beauty of the sakura is far more amazing than my words could convey.. so I'll let the pictures do the talking!

These little fingers were itching to hold a delicate cherry blossom!
I adore this photo... it captures the delicate beauty of the blossom, but also my little boy who is forever getting his hands dirty on our nature walks.

We also ventured across the base to a housing area with a larger section of sakura lined streets.
Here we walked amongst the rays of sunshine, softly falling petals, and singing birds.

Sadly the beauty of Sakura season is very short lived. 
These glorious, but delicate, flowers only last two weeks at best.
We are so lucky to be able to look forward to experiencing this again during our time here.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Lush Life: Spring

It's been a bit since my last visit to Lush, so my sweet husband treated me on his day off! 
(true love, folks!)
It's been a while since I've visited a Lush in the states, so I'm not sure what they are giving out these days. Here in Japan, I have gotten an adorable poster calendar with my purchases! Featured for spring is none other than Bubblegrub! (He was promptly claimed by my little).

Alright, on to the goods!!

First up: products for my husband! It makes me happy that Lush offers products that my entire family enjoys, especially since we deal with sensitive skin issues.

This trip, my husband scooped up 2 toners & a shaving cream. Buying completely new items was a slight challenge, as we faced a language barrier... but the girls at the shop were adorable and patient as we each tried to understand the other.

Funny shopping story.. the adorable little clerk was trying to explain "Breath of Fresh Air" to us. (There was lots of smiles & giggles & nodding... the Japanese are amazingly polite!) She kept saying "sea water". So i asked "salt water"? The answer was "no, sea water" & found a picture with waves on it. So I felt silly & said "oh! sea water!".. She replied "yes! sea water.... salt".. LOL

Breath of Fresh Air -- Fresh seawater glently cleanses, while carrageen (seaweed) extract softens and provides essential vitamins and minerals. And all the while, rose absolute and aloe vera are soothing dry areas.

My husband loves this! I haven't used it yet, but I think it smells like bubbles. Totally bizarre, I know, since it's supposed to be sea water.. but it smells like bubbles... I like bubbles, but not sure if I want to smell like them.

Tea Tree Water -- Cleansing tea tree, juniper berry and grapefruit waters keep skin looking fresh and balance skin tone. Light and refreshing Tea Tree Water reduces redness and clears excess oil without drying so you can put your best face forward.

Have not tried this one yet, but I am a lover of tea tree oil! It works wonders with my skin when I have break outs. Another great thing about both of these toners is that they are alcohol free. Alcohol can be very drying and damaging, so I am excited to see that Lush has taken that into account.

Dirty Shaving Cream -- Lavender and Sandalwood shaving cream for sharp looking chins.

Husband has already used this product & loves it! I have the stick perfume of this scent, so I am a fan as well. The shaving cream contains Oat milk, shea butter & honey, so it softens and soothes as you shave. It's also advertised for girls, so I'm sure I'll be giving it a whirl soon!

Ok, so this little guy is the whole reason for this Lush trip!

Bubblegrub -- Inspired by the very hungry caterpillar. Sweet vanilla, tonka and sandalwood with vanilla pod antennae.

As soon as I saw Julie's Lush Haul that included this little guy, I had my heart set on owning him!
Bubble bars are a big hit with my little & they last us quite a while. I'm guessing I can get 6 baths out of him. I'm also pretty sure his eyes are made of chocolate.

(update: for the sake of science, i had to know if his eyes were chocolate... so I did what anyone would do when they're looking for answers... I licked him. haha.. i tasted only soap.. but a followup read of the Lush site says yes, they are indeed chocolate.)

These next two are my favorites from this trip!

Sakura bath bomb -- When the blossoms burst forth in spring, its a tradition to take a picnic and bottle of sake and enjoy the beauty. Noriko, one of our product inventors, hails from Japan and this beautiful bath bomb represents what its like to be in a park while hte breeze blows through the blossoms in the trees. Instead of heading to the park, lay back in serene waters while the gorgeous scents of mimosa and jasmine envelop you to give you the joyful feeling of springtime. Sakura: simple, elegant, and enduringly beautiful bathing.

I am really excited about this one! Sakura season is a HUGE deal here in Japan & I hope that this bomb will deliver the strong floral notes that I smell already. 

*Limited edition - Japan only*
"Hanami' scrub -- salt scrub with lavender, damask rose, ylang-ylang, and fresh sweet orange. Bits of dried cherry blossom enhance the experience.

The above description is the best I can do with using google translate, as this item is only sold in Japan Lush stores. The clerks at the store washed my hand with this product and I immediately fell in love! It's creamy and a lovely scent. They kept asking me if I knew "Noriko", but alas I didnt... however a quick google search let me know that "Noriko" is a Japan only Lush soap (created by the product inventor, Noriko) that is extremely popular! It wasn't currently in store, but I will be on the lookout for it. This scrub shares the same scent & it is marvelous. The ylang-ylang seems to help ground the other florals, so it does not come across as super light floral. I found it to lean toward a light musk.

These two are staples in our house... 
Big Blue -- a sea salt & seaweed bath bomb for the husband &
Ickle Baby Bot -- a lavender bath bomb for the little to help settle at the end of the day.

My final two picks were all about glitter!! 
Anyone who knows me, knows that I absolultely LOVE glitter!! 

Dragon's Egg -- Unleash fire and bathe in a whirlpool of magnificently vibrant, sizzling color and a spectacular explosion of sights, sounds, and scents. Inhale the refreshing sherbet-y citrus scent of lemon and bergamot; you'll feel like you're up and away on the back of your own dragon.

I have been wanting this particular bath bomb for a while. Sadly, this will not be a repeat. First, let me say that this was a spectacular bath bomb! Upon being dropped in the water it immediately began to spin & emit waves of orange & white which turned my bath water a glittery orange. The silica glitter is gorgeous! It is in a constant state of motion that mimics fire & it easily washes off. The downside.. there are these neat little colored polka dots that pop out as it fizzes. They promptly become gelatinous little floating dots... kinda like little jelly fish... or boogers. I could honestly get past that, but my biggest issue was the scent. In the store, it was not a heavy scent.. but once activated, I felt like I had bathed in lemon pledge. The lemon was entirely overwhelming & even a followup shower did not rid me of my lemony scent. If Lush ever recreates this design with a different scent, I'd be willing to give it another go.

Golden Egg -- This spectacular invention has combined a bath bomb and a luxury bath melt to create...the bath bomb melt! Its creamy, moisturizing cocoa butter exterior encases a fizzy bath bomb center, and the whole egg is dusted in a delicate golden luster. It has the classic honey toffee fragrance of Honey I Washed The Kids.

This was another Lush product I heard about through Julie. I would like to point out that Lush may not know the exact meaning of "delicate"... as this is some pretty intense glitter. I picked up the sample in the store & my hand was immediately covered in thick glitter. The clerk told me that you are supposed to rub this all over to use the cocoa butter at the beginning of your bath before you reach the fizzy part. She also followed that statement with "messy" & proceeded to giggle...haha. I love glitter.. but I find myself a little hesitant to use this.. what if I end up permanently glittered?! On second thought... permanent glitter sounds kinda fun.... 

Have you tried any of the products I've featured? What Lush products are staples in your home?