Reflecting on Sakura

25 03 2013

This time last year I was madly packing and preparing for our holiday in Japan. I was anxiously following Japan Guide’s Sakura reports,  hoping we timed our stay in Japan to coincide with the ethereal blooms. We did.

It was magical. Every where we went, even bustling Tokyo streets (as seen above), we were surrounded by the beauty of Sakura. We incorporated Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) into our plans in each city, but one of my favorites was sitting under then cherry trees on a sunny afternoon, eating green tea ice cream, on the Moore Overlook at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Hiroshima. This overlook has a collection of Henry Moore sculptures leading up to the overlook itself, and gives you a great view of the entire river basin the city sits in.

Another of my favorite Hanami spots was the weeping cherry in Nakanoshima Park, Kyoto (as seen below). We went back at least 4 times to see this spectacular tree in different lights! The Japanese are ingenious: they’ve built a cone of wires to keep birds from landing on the tree and disrupting Sakura.

This year, I’m following Japan Guide’s Sakura reports out of a sense of nostalgia. This year much to the surprise of forecasters, the peak bloom has hit Tokyo 12 days early. Had we planned our trip with the same timing we would have completely missed Sakura this year. It’s an important reminder in the ethereal nature of Sakura, travel, and life. Enjoy every moment knowing that it will never be just as it is now!

Ps- The Washington Journal asked readers to Instagram photos of Sakura with #wsjsakura. You can see the images here!
#wishingIwasthere





15 Tips for Traveling in Japan

15 02 2013

I was fortunate to travel to Japan in 2012. My husband and I opted to explore Japan the first two weeks of April, during hanami. I learned a few things and thought someone out there might benefit from them.

15 Tips for Traveling in Japan - Overtly Optimistic

  1. Traveling to Japan during hanami is definitely worth it! The whole country revels in the fleeting beauty of the sakura (cherry blossoms). You come across families and groups of friends sitting under the blossoming trees at all hours of the day and night. Take a good camera, and take a cue from the Japanese – slow down and enjoy the beauty around you.
  2. It is still a bit chilly at this time of year, especially if you decide to travel to higher elevations like Koyasan or Nagano so be sure to pack a couple sweaters and a wind breaker. And you’ll be happy to have gloves too.
  3. You will feel under-dressed. I did. As a traveler I like to travel light, so I didn’t think about outfits so much as ease of packing when I selected what clothing to take. That’s not to say that I look like a slob when I travel: I am anti-sweatpants, anti-sweatshirts, anti sneakers, and generally look pretty good for living out of a suitcase. However, the Japanese people like to look great, and they do. All the time. Within a couple of days I felt compelled to stop in at the H&M in Osaka to pick up a suit coat to throw over my outfits. I felt better after that.
  4. You will need an umbrella. Do not pack one. Pick up a super tiny umbrella once you get to Japan – they are the most well designed and effective umbrellas I’ve ever seen.
  5. Eat street food. All kinds. Japan has this thing about restaurants having plastic displays of the food they serve so you’ll always know what you’re ordering, and many restaurants have English menus posted outside the entrance. I didn’t have a bad meal the entire time we were there. Try ramen in each city, it varies by region!
  6. Explore the big cities. Get a little lost wandering the side streets. You’ll discover delightful little shops, eateries, cafes, etc. Yes, you’ll read about ‘sketchy’ areas of Tokyo – avoid them if you want but they’re still safer than most US cities. I never felt unsafe in any of the cities. I can’t say the same about most other country’s major cities.
  7. Get out of the big cities. Seriously. We made a day trip to Iga (my husband insisted we see the Ninja Museum there) and it’s a completely different experience. People may not speak English, the pace of life is slower (the trains run once an hour), and the countryside is amazingly beautiful. We saw the most incredible sunset on the train from Iga to Nagoya, it was brilliant red setting over fields of rice. I will never forget it – and I would never have seen it in the city.
  8. Stay at a variety of types of accommodations. We stayed at a businessman’s hotel in Osaka, a historic ryokan outside of Osaka, another traditional ryokan in Nagano, and we rented an apartment one block from Takashita Dori (the main street in the Harajuku area) in Tokyo. We had equally great but very different experiences at each. If nothing else, spend at least one night at a traditional ryokan. You’ll be glad you did.
  9. Take a shinkansen. Go south, go north, go west, just do it. In fact, you should probably get a JR pass – but be careful to plan to use it most effectively. The Trip-Advisor Japan forum is a great resource to help you with planning you rail travel.
  10. Go to onsen! Go to as many as you can. It’s a deeply rich part of Japanese culture, partake! And don’t be ashamed, nudity is not a big deal. That said, you may find small children staring at you but it’s just because you look different than they do.
  11. You will get “temple fatigue” at some point. Your eyes will cross, you’ll get light-headed, and your feet will feel like they weigh a ton of bricks. Don’t give up on all the other historic sites on your list, just take a break from temples, shrines, and castles for an afternoon. Try a pachinko parlor, an arcade, or a shopping district as an escape from all of the temples.
  12. Look down. Every Japanese city we visited had different designs for their manhole covers. It’s so cool! Also, Japanese streets are the cleanest you will ever see. No joke.
  13. Speaking of clean: Japanese bathrooms are unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. I would never consider using a public bathroom on a train platform in any other country, but Japanese public bathrooms are immaculate. Ladies, you will encounter traditional Japanese toilets in many public restrooms: they require you to squat. Don’t be afraid,  it’s not as weird as you think it is. You should try it at least once. You should also try some of options on the high-tech toilets you’ll encounter; the heated seats and sound effects will amaze you! Most bathrooms do not have paper towels to dry your hands. You can use the blowers or you can buy a hand towel to carry with you like the Japanese do. I did, and I still carry it in my purse – it comes in handy all the time!
  14. Make peace with the reality that you CANNOT see everything, and enjoy what you CAN see during your time there.
  15. Try to immerse yourself in the culture – you’ll take more away from your travels if you can immerse yourself rather than viewing the culture as an outsider. Pay attention to where the locals eat, and eat there. Shop where the locals shop. Ask the locals for tips, you’ll be glad you did.15 Tips for Traveling in Japan - Overtly Optimistic




37 days and counting!

8 02 2012

I can’t help it, I’ve officially started a countdown for my trip to Japan. Today’s inspiration provided by Japan-guide.com’s Cherry Blossom Forecast 2012:

Cherry Blossom Forecast 2012
As of February 22, 2012

According to the current forecasts, the cherry blossoms are expected to open according to their average schedule or slightly delayed in 2012. The blossoms are forecast to start opening across wide areas of Kyushu, Shikoku and Honshu in late March and reach full bloom in early April.

Location Opening Estimated Best Viewing  
Tokyo March 30 April 5 to 14
Kyoto March 30 April 6 to 15
Kagoshima March 28 April 5 to 14
Kumamoto March 26 April 3 to 12
Fukuoka March 28 April 5 to 14
Hiroshima March 30 April 6 to 14
Osaka March 31 April 7 to 15
Nara April 1 April 7 to 15
Nagoya March 30 April 7 to 14
Yokohama March 31 April 6 to 13
Kanazawa April 7 April 12 to 19
Nagano April 13 April 18 to 25

If all goes well, we’ll be hitting peak viewing in most of the cities we’re visiting. I can hardly wait to get on that plane in 37 days!





I’ve got the travel bug…

31 01 2012

..and I’ve got it bad.

Fortunately, it’s about time Roman and I took another international trip. In the past we’ve spent nearly three weeks in central and eastern Europe, a week in Paris, a week in the Mayan Riviera, and a week on Grand Cayman. Where to then?

This time we’re heading to JAPAN, for 16 days! I can hardly contain my excitement. We’ll be arriving in Osaka, traveling to cities like Iga, Hiroshima, Koyasan, Kyoto, Nara, Nagoya, Nagano, and leaving after 5 whole days in Tokyo.

There’s so much history and culture to see, we could spend a month and not see it all! However, I think we’ll have a pretty incredible trip with the time we have. And, we’ll be there during hanami (Cherry blossom viewing season)!

Every spare moment of my time is going towards planning this trip (hotels, ryokan, vacation rentals; oh, my!). Which is aiding in my overwhelming excitement. If anyone out there has any suggestions of what to see, where to eat, etc., please pass it my way!








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