Tag Archives: Travel

World Domination Summit 2016

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What do you get when you gather a group of convention-defying, quirky, passionate, intriguing people? A humble gathering that goes by the name of World Domination Summit.

As I remarked when I attended last year, I originally thought that this conference would be full of Dr. Evil wannabes with their Mini-Mes and hairless cats, but I couldn’t have been further from the truth. The WDS crew is full of gentle, kind-hearted people who want to make a positive impact on the world. Oh, and maybe fill it with light-up balloons and dancing T-rexes as well.

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Here are a few moments that stood out to me about WDS 2016.

The Hero’s Journey

On Friday morning, I opted to participate in an event called “The Hero’s Journey.” The first order of business was to choose a name for ourselves—as we went around and introduced ourselves, I shared a little anecdote about a friend who had attended WDS last year and dubbed the attendees “happy nerds.” Everyone liked that, so we became Team Happy Nerds!

Our quest took us all around Portland and presented us with several challenges, including holding doors open for strangers, trying (and failing) to start a spontaneous conga line, and arranging ourselves into a human pyramid.

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While it’s fun to run around a city trying to do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do, it was also HARD! Communication was a real challenge in our group of nine, and as the appointed social media documenter, I didn’t always know where we were going or which challenge we were going to attempt to complete next.  And constantly taking photos, uploading them, and captioning them without missing any of the action (or getting run over by a car) is a lot harder than it looks!

Kindness challenge

Kindness was a definite theme of WDS this year, both in the types of challenges we were asked to complete during the Hero’s Journey, in the main stage presentations, and in some of the other activities as well.

Beginning at the opening night party, there was a large display filled with brightly colored envelopes and a large sign that read”Challenge Center” on top.

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People were encouraged to stop by the Challenge Center in pairs (though you could also visit as a singleton if you wanted). We were all given these beautiful coins as part of our welcome box. One side of the coin had the words ” Be Kind” while the other had a picture of  a globe. If you’d gone as a pair, you would flip the coin to determine who could pick out the envelope you’d be using.

I played twice and my challenge buddy won the coin toss both times! What are the odds?? (Kidding! I may not be the best at math, but I do understand the odds of a coin flip.)

The coin toss winner then got to tear open the envelope to reveal the challenges inside. We saw things like “Find someone who’s attending the conference for the first time this year and tell them you’re happy they’re here” or “Leave a positive review for something on Yelp or in the App Store.”

It was such a great reminder that there are so many kind gestures that we can easily build into our everyday life.

The goal was to achieve at least 1,000 kind deeds by the time WDS was over, and I’m pretty sure on the last day I saw that we’d achieved beyond that number.

During her talk, Amy Jo Martin shared how kindness can deliver serotonin not just to the person who performs the kind act, but to anyone who observes it as well. She suggested that we run a little experiment on Facebook to see if we could promote positive feelings among our connections.

Here’s how it works…

On your own Facebook page, create a post covering the main concept of Amy Jo’s on-stage discussion, and add the following action items so that your friends and family can join in on the fun:

1. Like this post (to make the Facebook algorithm happy)
2. Share something you could use help with in the comment section
3. Scan comments to see who can help.

Together we can have a positive impact on social media through empowering others and ourselves. Why not start now?

I just posted my message on Facebook last night and had a few people ask for help. I told Teresa I’d spread the word about her blog and Danielle that if I met any coffee roasters I’d send them her way. I also received a comment from Karen saying how much she liked this idea and she shared the post with her connections. Looking forward to seeing what else comes of this!

Inspiration

There’s no shortage of inspiring people at WDS—whether it’s overcoming adversity, challenging conventions, or being outrageously creative, this crowd does it all.

Jonathan Fields talked about the importance of mindfulness and clarity. If we don’t have those things, we won’t be able to live our fullest lives.

And, of course, there was the quote pictured below: “Before you can be unapologetically joyful, you’ve gotta be unapologetically you.” It sounds simple, but how often do we compromise who we are because we’re afraid of standing out?

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Michelle Poler shared how she decided to tackle a pretty intense 100 day project—100 days of trying to overcome her fears. And she had A LOT.

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She documented everything from singing karaoke to holding a snake to dressing up as an old woman. And she reminded us that at some stage, we all have a big decision to make: We can either step forward into discomfort or backward into familiarity.

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A few fun memories

Here’s just a little assortment of moments I loved throughout the event.

When we came back to the theater in the afternoon, we’d generally slowly fill the seats, and darkness would descend on the room. Then, out of nowhere, a giant plastic bouncy ball would materialize, and then another, and then another.

Suddenly, the room was full of multi-colored bouncy balls soaring through the air, colliding with each other, and causing a lot of laughter and smiling.

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I was fortunate to meet a friendly crew of fellow attendees and we had a lot of laughs and good times together. One evening we had dinner together and went around to share what we could offer and what we were hoping to get out of this experience. It’s such a simple thing, but a really useful reminder that articulating your needs is often the first step towards realizing them.

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Marli Williams, one of our awesome group members, created these cards that she calls “Stoke Quotes.” These small cards were printed with inspirational quotes, like “Believe in yourself” and “Choose your mood.” Marli had so many creative ways to use the quotes to start conversations and make people feel, well, stoked!

At the opening party and near the theater entrance, she created an interactive installation with a sign that said “Take what you need.” She’d sometimes walk around with a bag full of cards and invite people to pick one. And she’d always leave one for the waiter or waitress who’d been taking care of us during a meal.

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Here’s a photo I found of myself in the WDS Flickr stream. It was totally candid—I had no idea it was even being taken. But it pretty perfectly sums up how I felt during the event and how I continue to feel when I reflect on my time there.

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I hope that during the next year, I’ll be able to look back on some of the ideas and excitement I discovered during WDS and make some positive changes in my life as a result.

I’m already so excited for WDS 2017!

Photos courtesy of Armosa Studios.

¡Cuba! Part 1

In late June/early July 2016, I joined the Sol-Axé dance retreat on the trip of a lifetime: We chartered a plane from Miami to Havana and spent a week dancing through Cuba.

In a nutshell, our trip lasted a week, with four days in the beach town of Varadero and three days in Havana. We took dance classes, saw timba, rumba, and cabaret dance performances, visited an amazing arts center called La Fábrica de Arte Cubano (also known as La FAC), and otherwise had the chance to observe this amazing country at a unique moment in time.

In March 2016, President Obama announced that the US would be lifting some of the strict travel and financial restrictions it had been imposing on Cuba. Just a few months later, when we made the trip in June, we could see that Cuba was on the precipice of change, but not quite there yet.

A tale of two airports

The act of flying to Cuba is a great example. No US airlines were offering direct flights, so we went through a charter company to secure the flight from Miami to Havana. The ratio of complication and waiting to actual time flying was pretty astounding. For a 43-minute flight, we were instructed to arrive at the airport a staggering 4 hours early. When I approached the ticket counter at American Airlines (as my charter voucher instructed me to do), the disgruntled woman behind the counter snorted, “ABC? Never heard of ’em! What are you, going to Cuba or something?” “Yes,” I replied, “That’s what I’m doing.” She gestured to the far end of the airport, “Try over there.”

When I found the counter, there was a single man working there, but he instructed me to come back at 8. (This was around 7:40 or so.) I went and grabbed a seat. As I waited and watched, people began to trickle in, and somehow two lines began to form. One line seemed to have people with their luggage and the other did not, but it was all a little unclear.

I should also point out that there was a little kiosk set up off to the side—not an official part of the airline’s area, but nearby—that was offering to shrink wrap your luggage for $15. It caught my eye and seemed unusual, but I forgot about it until later on in the day, when it became significant.

It turned out that you had to wait in both lines, but it was important to do them in a specific order. In the first line, you handed over your passport and received a piece of paper (that was not your actual boarding pass). In the second line, you checked in your luggage and got your actual boarding pass.

Then you went through security and proceeded to your gate in the terminal as usual. The monitor clearly displayed “Havana, Cuba” would be greeting us with a sunny, 84 degree day.

Boarding began on time and went fairly smoothly, but it had begun to rain heavily in Miami, so we ended up having to wait out the storm before we were allowed to take off, which meant about an extra hour on the plane before we even took off.

The flight, operated by American Airlines (despite the disgruntled agent’s lack of knowledge at Miami airport), was quick and uneventful, but the second our wheels touched the ground in Havana many of the passengers burst into applause.

Going through immigration was pretty quick—the agent reviewed my passport and visa, took my photo, and handed everything back.

I stepped through the door and into the baggage claim area.

I was in Cuba!

Except… there was the small issue of luggage. First, there was a security screening for everything we’d brought as carry-on. We had to put it through a scanner, and then proceed to the conveyor belts to pick up our checked bags.

The baggage claim area was full of people milling around, and the few chairs along the wall were occupied by seemingly off-duty immigration officials and other airport personnel. They lounged and chatted with each other, and the passengers from our flight filtered into the room after clearing immigration.

After about half an hour, it became clear that the bags would not be coming out any time soon. There was a muffled announcement that said something about the rain delaying the bag retrieval process.

Someone from our group later explained that it was actually because they go through every bag individually to ensure you’re not bringing any contraband into the country. This actually made a lot of sense because all the zippers on my bag were slightly open when it finally arrived, and the shrink-wrapped bags were the first ones to come out on the conveyor belt. Now I understood the significance of the kiosk at Miami airport!

All told, it took a little over two hours for our bags to arrive. Our flight, which was scheduled to leave Miami at noon but didn’t leave until after 1, arrived in Havana around 2, and we were getting our bags around 4:30.

And we then had about a 3-hour bus journey to Varadero, so our day of travel was not yet complete!

But I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining—although waiting 2+ hours in an airport (and actually 6+ if you include the time in Miami airport that morning) is not my ideal way to spend a day, it seemed like it was an integral part of the experience, especially at this point in time.

Perhaps in the next few months, it will become more commonplace for there to be direct flights between the US and Cuba, and something will change on the administrative side in Cuba as well. It may end up like any other destination in the world, but for now that is certainly not the case.

Welcome to Cuba! Have a piña colada!

Once our whole group was assembled, we hit the road. Our chariot was not a classic American car but a Chinese-made Yutong bus. However, it was air-conditioned and had seats for everyone, which was great because the drive from Havana to Varadero was about three hours.

Traffic doesn’t seem to be a huge problem—cars are so expensive that few people can afford them, so the roads are relatively clear. There were a lot of people waiting at bus stops and walking along the highway, and throughout the countryside you’ll see large painted murals featuring Che Guevara and different slogans and messages.

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About halfway through the journey, we stopped in a lookout point in Matanzas to observe the tallest bridge in Cuba (shown above) and partake of piña coladas (pictured below). The bartenders blended up the beverages and poured them into the pineapple shells and supplied the rum, but you had to pour it yourself.  This reminded me a little of the “all you can drink” establishments in Japan. It seems like you’d have people who take advantage of the system and drink way more than they’re paying for, but somehow it seems to work.

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As we enjoyed the fresh air and the lush scenery, a few stray but clearly socialized cats wandered up to see if they could score any snacks.

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Geography lesson

The best way I can come up with describing the aesthetic of our accommodation, the Barcelo Solymar in Varadero, is ’80s Soviet-inspired beach resort. These two photos from TripAdvisor help to illustrate what I’m talking about.

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But one of my favorite aspects of the Solymar was the reception desk. This display is such a good reminder that we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore, and the principal cities of the world can really vary depending on where you are. And when you’re in Cuba, they’re not what you think they are.

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¡La playa!

The beach in Varadero was quite simply one of the most pleasant I’ve ever seen. White, powdery sand, clear, calm waters, and not overly crowded.

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The water was also so warm that it was possible to go in the evening and watch the sun set from the water. Photo proof below.

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Stay tuned for Part 2, where I’ll talk about some of the dance lessons and performances and share some scenes from Havana!

Hello Kitty Saryo (Tea House) in Kyoto

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In the winding narrow shopping streets leading to Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, you can find all sorts of traditional Japanese delights. Step into a shop and the vendor will offer you a tray full of samples of yatsuhashi, a typical Kyoto confectionery—thin layers of mochi wrapped around sweet bean paste. Start with the lightly cinnamon-dusted original before sampling all the other flavors—green tea, roasted sweet potato, strawberry, chocolate, and black sesame (to name just a few). Next, wander into a kanzashi (hair ornament) shop, or pay a visit to Yojiya, the famed Japanese cosmetics shop.

Or, if you’d prefer, the streets of Sannenzaka offer another type of traditional Japanese experience. Hello Kitty Saryo (Tea House) is like a lot of typical tea houses in Kyoto… except for the small fact that everything somehow features Kitty-chan (as she’s known in Japanese).

As a lifelong fan of Kitty-chan, I had to investigate Hello Kitty Saryo for myself. And what I found was actually a little surprising.

I think I was expecting something along the lines of a typical Sanrio store: bright colors, lots of pink. But what I found instead was a sophisticated Japanese tea salon… with just a hint of Hello Kitty in every detail.

Here’s the entrance. Note the muted color palette, minimalist design, and traditional noren curtain (featuring Kitty-chan’s signature bow).

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I arrived soon after the shop opened for the day, so only one other table was occupied and I had my choice of seats.

The host let me know I could sit wherever I wanted, so I opted to sit at one of the tables closest to the window so I could admire the garden view.

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Large plush Kitty-chan dolls sat at a few of the tables. There was one directly across from me, but soon after I sat down, my waitress brought it to sit next to me. She took a Polaroid photo and asked me to write a message that they would later share on their bulletin board. I also asked her to snap a shot of me and my dining companion.

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The menu at Hello Kitty Saryo includes Kyoto-style obanzai lunch plates, ochazuke (rice and pickles served with tea), Western-style pasta, and a range of tea and coffee.

There’s an English menu available and there are handy icons to help you identify which dishes contain common allergens.

I opted for matcha (powered green tea) and a traditional Japanese confectionery made from purple sweet potato and shiroan (white bean paste).

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And, of course, I had to check out the bathroom. LOVE the sink basin and the wallpaper!!

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Once you’re done eating, you can head next door to the shop and stock up on souvenirs. They have everything—wallets, coin purses, yukata (light cotton kimono), ceramics, jewelry… the list goes on and on.

Shop info

Hello Kitty Saryo, 363-22-2 Masuyacho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0826

Tel: 075.541.1210

Restaurant open: 10:30am–6pm (last order for food at 4:30pm, last order for sweets at 5:30pm)

Shop open: 10:30am–6:30pm

The Joys of Japanese English (AKA Engrish)

you know…

the door of your heart silently closed…

I, looking at you without a breezing sound…

you know…

my endless wait desiring the door of your heart

would open…

Have I decided to start publishing my poetry on this blog? Nope, not quite. I just thought I’d write a post in honor of Japanese English, or Engrish.

The poem above, which I actually really, really love, came from the front of a photo album I purchased in Japan.

English takes on a life of its own in Japan (and of course this phenomenon is not limited to Japan, but this is where the majority of my experience lies, so I’m sticking to Japanese English for this post). If you’ve never seen it, I’d highly recommend checking out the Engrish.com website for a comprehensive guide to worldwide Engrish.

Before writing too much more, I want to say that my appreciation of Japanese English is not meant to be derogatory or mean-spirited—I genuinely appreciate some of the unexpected humor and beauty that arises when people write in a language that is not their own.

I wanted to share a few examples of Japanese English that I’ve collected throughout the years.

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The text on the packaging reads: “Try our ‘Naive Lady’ toilet tissue soft and of good quality. Choosing recycled paper is the first step to keep the earth full of greens for your own children.”

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“Please defend following when you make the dog stroll in Yoyogi-koen.

  1. Dog owners – for the consideration of others, please ensure that your dog is on a lead while inside the park grounds.
  2. It bears it in mind sanitary in the park ..use… Moreover, please take home to home without throwing it away to the rest room and the garbage box in the park and dispose of Fn.
  3. The park is a public domain place that everyone can use. Let’s bear it in mind so that the use manners are defended, and the trouble should not hang to the other.
  4. Please follow the instruction of the park ranger etc. in the park.”

I believe that Japanese English falls into a few distinct categories, and this is a great example of text that was probably just put into Google translate (or something similar). I love the redundancies “please take home to home” and unusual turns of phrase such as “trouble should not hang to the other.”

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Is it just me, or is there something really funny about an automatic toilet flushing system named “BT-Crab”?

IMG_4066I remember speaking with a fellow English teacher during my first year in Japan and he was wondering if there had been one Japanese/English dictionary that had some bad translations in it, which had then doomed the entire population to make the same mistakes.

One example is the widespread use of the term “woody” where “woodsy” would be more appropriate.

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“Emargency Exit

If anything should occur, 

please destroy the cover doornob and open the door.”

That seems like an awfully severe reaction to anything that should occur! I also wonder how you can open the door after you’ve destroyed the doorknob.

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Hmm… for some reason I don’t think I want to pay someone to perform any service provided by a company called “Coopoo”…

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First, I have to say that I love the fact that there’s a car called a “Rasheen.”

I’ll end this post with the smaller text on Rasheen’s tire cover:

Listen to the murmuring of a stream.

Run after wild birds. Rest in the bosom of the woods.

Indeed.

 

 

Planning Your Visit to Tokyo by Season

One big factor to consider when planning a trip to Tokyo is the time of year when you’ll be visiting.

It’s not just the weather that changes—there are specific activities and even particular types of food that you can only find in different seasons.

Here is just a very brief overview of Tokyo by season.

Tokyo is at its best in spring (March–May) and autumn (late September–early November).

Summer can be oppressively hot and humid, and winter can be bitterly cold and unpleasant to spend much time outside.

Rainy season (known as tsuyu in Japanese) falls between June and July, and is wet and humid. I would recommend avoiding a visit during this time if you can help it. Why do I say this? Well, there are times where the humidity hangs in the air and you think you can’t bear it anymore, and then, finally, it rains, which is a momentary relief. Unfortunately, it’s a hot rain, which means that it’s very difficult to wear a raincoat without sweating profusely underneath it. And it’s not the hot, tropical rain of a place like Hawaii. This rain leaves everything damp and primed to grow mold—in other words, not too pleasant.

I’m staying true to the Japanese calendar and starting  my little tour with the spring. (Quick cultural note: Even though the Japanese follow the Western calendar and celebrate the New Year on December 31st/January 1st, springtime is often considered the true beginning of the year. The new school year begins in spring and office employees start their new jobs at this time of year as well.) If you’re visiting during the spring (March to April), you’ll definitely want to check out cherry blossoms.

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A few of my favorite cherry blossom spots in Tokyo include:

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  • Shinjuku-gyoen (this is especially good for the double cherry blossoms that bloom a little later)
  • Aoyama-bochi (it feels a little strange to get all tipsy and merry in a graveyard, but because cherry blossoms have such a short lifespan, there’s already something very bittersweet about them anyway)

If your visit is during the summer (July–September), you may be able to catch one of the incredible hanabi taikai (fireworks displays). I have wonderful memories of both the Sumidagawa festival and the Edogawa festival.

Going to see fireworks in Japan is a whole event—women dress up in yukata (light summer kimono), often in vibrant colors and summery patterns. Men often wear hakama, or “man kimono” as I like to call them. There’s a Japanese word, shibui, which can be translated as “sober” or “refined,” and I think this perfectly encapsulates the essence of a man wearing a hakama. 

Vendors set up stalls selling yakitori, corn on the cob, cold beer and chu-hi, and other street fare.

If you’re going to one of the big fireworks displays, prepare to get swept up into a crowd of thousands of people. It can be seriously insane and impossible to find your friends since phone networks are often spotty with so many people concentrated in one area. But it’s all worth it once you find a place to perch and watch the elaborate production.

I’ve never done this, but I remember reading that you could see fireflies in the garden at Chinzanso Hotel.

If you’re visiting Tokyo in the autumn, you may need to head a little out of town in order to enjoy koyo or autumn foliage. You can take a day trip to Kamakura, Hakone, or Nikko to visit the temples and shrines and get a little closer to nature.

Within the city, you can visit Ueno Park, Meiji Jingu and Senso-ji in Asakusa.

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I also love visiting Hamarikyu Detached Gardens in late summer/early autumn when the field of cosmos flowers is in bloom.

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Although I don’t care for the bitter cold of the winter, I LOVE the nighttime “light-ups,” where different parts of town like Omotesando, Roppongi Hills, and Tokyo Midtown are adorned with sparkly lights to help beat the winter blahs. These usually run from November to February-ish.

And there you have it—a quick guide to Tokyo by season. What time of year would you most like to visit?

One of My Favorite Tokyo Neighborhoods: Nakameguro

When you think of Tokyo, it’s easy to imagine the neon lights, the skyscrapers, and the insanely busy intersections of areas like Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Akihabara.

But like any massive metropolis, Tokyo is much more than its busy downtown-like districts. One of my favorite Tokyo neighborhoods is Nakameguro. It’s a hub of hip aesthetics with many architecture and design studios as well as boutiques and cafés that exude an aura of understated chic.

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The lazy stream of the Meguro canal sets the perfect pace for a stroll and provides an excellent landmark since it runs parallel to the main street.

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And you wouldn’t know it unless you timed your visit perfectly to coincide with the two weeks a year when sakura or cherry blossoms are in bloom, but the trees that line both sides of the canal transform the entire neighborhood into a party and bring droves of visitors from all over the city.

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I was lucky to work in this neighborhood for nearly two years, so I had time to observe it quietly, to stroll along the canal and briefly peek into the shops on my lunch break, as well as to visit when the cherry blossoms unfurled and spring fever hit in a big way.

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The streets on both sides of the canal transform into a carnival as businesses set up stalls selling cold beer, hot amazake, delightfully chewy sakura mochi, and other festival favorites. And it’s nearly impossible to walk since the streets and sidewalks are packed with thousands of revelers who have come to eat, drink, and admire the cherry blossoms.

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At nighttime, lanterns and lights illuminate the area, which means the revelry doesn’t have to stop when the sun goes down.

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I love this contrast of regular, everyday life, and the excitement and frenzy that come with the springtime and the cherry blossoms.

Getting to Nakameguro is easy! You can take the Hibiya line on the subway or the Tokyu line from Shibuya. You can also take the JR Yamanote line to Ebisu station and walk to Nakameguro in about 15 minutes.

A few cool places to check out: 

Have any stories you’d like to share or favorite spots in Nakameguro? Feel free to drop me a line in the comments section and let me know!

Nitobe Memorial Japanese Garden in Vancouver, BC

I LOVE Japanese gardens. Even before the time that I spent living in Kyoto and Tokyo, I admired the beauty and serenity of the Japanese gardens I visited in San Francisco, Portland, and wherever else I happened to find one.

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The last time I visited Nitobe Memorial Garden   in Vancouver was many moons ago, before I had lived in Japan. I remember thinking it was beautiful, but not really knowing much about what made a Japanese garden authentic or significant.

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On this visit, one thing that really stood out to me was that at eye level, everything looked very Japanese. The plants, flowers, and moss all seemed like things I had seen in Japan.

However, if I happened to look up, I realized that I was definitely not in Japan, since the large pine trees that were towering above us were unlike anything I’d seen in Japan. You can get a sense of that in the photo below.IMAG5966

As my friend and I wandered around, we encountered a Canadian woman, who we asked to take a photo of us. She mentioned that she had lived in Kyoto and always visited this garden when she wanted to be transported back.

I told her I completely understood how she felt because I had ALSO lived in Kyoto and ALSO love to visit the Japanese garden in San Francisco whenever I’m feeling homesick for Japan.

There’s a Japanese word, natsukashii, which basically translates to “nostalgia,” but it also evokes this feeling of intense longing, of wanting to revel in the bittersweet memories of the past. Walking around a Japanese garden with an old friend from Japan in Canada definitely made me feel natsukashii.

Next time I visit a Japanese garden, I wonder how many other visitors will be experiencing that longing along with me.