Sakura Hanami 2019

Come every March, Japan begins to thrum with the excitement of Sakura Season. It’s a beautiful time of year that has mild temperatures but most importantly brings the blooming of the Sakura or Cherry blossoms. Tree canopies of flowers ranging in hue from white and palest blush to vibrant fuchsia or even yellow.

Actually, the season usually starts in late February down south in Okinawa and slowly makes it way north to Hokkaido around May so depending on where you live or are planning to visit you can get an eye full from February to May. For us here in Yokosuka, we started seeing the blooms in late March.

Shortly after the first blooms, lanterns and lights begin to appear strung among the trees preparing for dusk and evening hanami. Hanami simply put, is blossom viewing. People pack up picnic style and head out to local parks everywhere and sit and enjoy the simple fleeting beauty of the blossoms with friends and family. Hanami is an anytime, all day kind of thing and consists of walking around or just sitting and relaxing. I’m a fan of hanami.

The tradition of hanami has been around for centuries and hanami parties date back to the 700s. Yes, seven, zero, zero. No “1” in front. For y’all over in the states, white folk wouldn’t be coming from Europe to the shores of the US for over double that time. Take a moment to let that concept sink in. Anyway, way back in the day sometime between 710 and 790, hanami included parties under plum blossoms and wisteria as well as sakura. Today some of the older generations still gather under plum blossoms rather than cherry as they tend to be a little less crowded and partyesque than the younger occasionally more boisterous crowds that the sakura draw.

Historically the sakura has had great significance to the Japanese culture. Their appearance signified the start of the rice planing season and some used them to foretell the years harvests. It’s short but wondrously beautiful life span was treated as a metaphor for life and was the central theme for countless poems throughout the eras. While the tradition of hanami gatherings started in the imperial court originally, it didn’t take long to funnel down through the various classes to the merchants and farmers. Today everyone can and does partake in some form of hanami.

With the Sakura season also comes copious offerings of specialty Sakura themed treats, drinks and memorabilia. If you ever wanted a cherry blossom tee shirt or parasol, now is your time for the most choices. If y you’d like to partake in a variety of sakura flavored candies and baked goods, there is no better time. Many stop in the local Starbucks and order up a seasonal Sakura flavored drink. I must warn you though, it’s an acquired taste; obviously floral, much like lavender or rose but, also reminiscent of… soap. Partake so you can say you did but, know you have a 50/50 shot of loving it or forcing your self to finish so it’s not money wasted.

About three weeks ago, the Sailor and I headed out to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo to have our own little hanami. We had originally planned to journey to Arakurayama Sengen Park for some epic pictures that would have included Mt. Fuji and the Chureito Pagoda. If you have ever seen a post card or poster with a 5 story red pagoda and a large snow capped mountain in the back surrounded by cherry trees in full pink bloom, than you’ve seen what I’m talking about. Alas, Arakurayama Sengen Park is a 3 hour train ride one way and when the morning dawned neither none of us were up for that kind of journey. I had a either an epic case of allergies or a wicked cold (I’m guessing a little of both) and the Sailor was prepping for surgery on his schnoz in less than 48 hours. So we opted for the quicker hour long train and subway jaunt to Tokyo.

The park was literally a 5 minute walk from the subway station. We were met with a long queue of people waiting to pay their 500¥ each for entrance to the Park. As usual, the line was organized and directed with flawless precision that the Japanese are known for and moved along at a nice constant and orderly fashion leaving the wait to be a tolerable 15 minutes or so. It was worth it. We were greeted by sprawling lawns surrounded by paved paths that meander around the grounds; under trees, around, ponds and passed pagodas. It was crowded and still lovely. Amidst the urban sprawl of Tokyo, Shinjuku Gyoen is a bit of green and pink beauty and a nice respite from the concrete and brick city.  Hundreds of people lazily walked along the paths, groups of people of all ages and backgrounds lounged on blankets on the lawn; chatting, playing games, reading, napping and in one very specific case, dressed in victorianesque clothing while posing dolls in similar attire and taking pictures of them. No joke. We saw couples of every age holding hands or leaning into each other while sitting on benches quietly taking in the view. We even witnessed a proposal under the blooms with everyone that walked by stopping to offer sincere congratulations in more than one language. Even feeling high on cold medication yet still somehow mildly congested and achey, I couldn’t help but completely enjoy every moment with a silly smile constantly plastered on my face. I’d say we had a successful first Hanami in Japan.

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Roppongi Hills Lights and the Imperial Palace

I had heard that Tokyo could put on a heck of a light show for the holidays. A quick internet search brought me directly to the knowledge of the Winter Illumination around Tokyo. So, the Sailor and I hopped on a train (then a subway) and popped over to Roppongi Hills to see what the deal was for that location. We climbed our way from the subterranean level of the subway to find a squeaky clean she-she mall full if Louis Vuitton, Rolex and Cartier.

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While window shopping for $10,000 watches and hand bags does have it’s moments, the allure can wear off when you quickly realize that you can’t afford a keychain. Since we had a few hours until sundown we decided to take a nice long stroll over to the Imperial Palace. If our calculations were right, we’d get there just as the sun was setting for a few photo ops, have time to check out the downtown shopping on that side of town then head back to see the lights and catch the same subway back towards home.

fullsizeoutput_257It took roughly an hour to walk from Roppongi to where the Imperial Palace is. I couldn’t even recount how many super cars and ultra Luxury vehicles we saw tooling around the streets.

As we drew near to the Palace entrance you first notice the moat surrounding the grounds as well as the high stone wall. We got our first glimpse of the historic site against the modern city line background. It’s such a dramatic 360 view; The historic residence of the Imperial family on one side and the opposite, modern Tokyo.

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The residence is on the site of a former Edo Castle. The Castle used to be the seat of the Tokugawa shogun who ruled Japan from the early 17th to late 19th centuries. In 1868 the shogunate was overthrown and the capital and Imperial Residence were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo.  In 1888 construction of a new Imperial Palace was completed. That palace was destroyed during World War Two but, rebuilt in the same style after.

The large open plaza in front of the palace is the Kokyo Gaien. It is from here that we could see the Meganebashi, orEyeglass Bridge, with the Palace behind it. The interior grounds are only open to the public twice a year; on January 2nd for New Year’s Greetings and December 23rd from the Emperor’s Birthday. Apparently there are guided tours during the day that we may have to go back at some point and check out.

Having entertained ourselves with the Palace, we decided to take a short walk around some of the other downtown shopping areas as we meandered back towards Roppongi Hills to take in the lights now that darkness was falling. Billboards and Digital signs were on every street. There was an art gallery with a super car installation that you could go in and walk around (the Sailor was content to take pictures through the window) to see the cars up close. We found the Omega Boutique and got to experience riding the Omega glass elevator up to the boutique and back down again. It was summons by the footman at the entrance to the fancy watch area to take it up and when we rode it back down, the sales associate bowed to us until we were completely below the floor line. Talk about feeling like a a fancy AF lady…

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We even happened upon a Patek Philippe store. It’s a watch brand that I had never heard of but, the Sailor was clearly impressed and took pictures. Then I saw the “cheapest” watch in the window (¥8,683,200 which is roughly $76,548) and slowly backed away, afraid of breathing on the window wrong.

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After we had our fill of window shopping yet again, we hit up GPS to take us back to Midtown Roppongi. The directions took us through a park that happened to have some sort of food festival going on. We saw A LOT of fish and shellfish. I wish we would have stopped to take a better look and maybe attempt to find something that wouldn’t kill me and that the Sailor wouldn’t mind trying. Alas, we laughed our way through the very crowded tents to emerge to holiday lights being turned on along the sidewalks and paths.

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As we made our way around the mall to the back area where the light show was set up, of course there was another supercar exhibit with the lights in the background, because, Tokyo. The Sailor was thrilled.

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But, the main attraction; the reason we came. It did not disappoint. Thousands of LED lights and globes set to music. Smoke machines that not only coated the ground at times but also blew smoke filled bubbles that drifted through the display at times and out over the crowd.  A pathway led you around the entire set up allowing you to see it from every angle. We slowly walked the entire circumference sneaking a stop here and there to take photos and videos. When we finally had our fill we started the walk back to the subway through even more lighted pathways.

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Considering this was just one of several light displays in Tokyo that run through February, I might have to talk the sailor into going back a time or two more to check them out. I mean, who doesn’t love Christmas lights?!

Annie Proffitt is Catatonic… In Japan

Moving is always stressful. It just is. There is no way around it. Moving across the country from Washington to Virginia was pretty epic but, we had a house already rented and I had a job already lined up to start shortly after our arrival. That just left the coordinating of getting us, the cats and our shit from the upper left to the upper southeast the frustrating and stressful part. Small potatoes in the bigger scheme of things.

Moving to another country on the opposite side of the world without knowing where exactly we would be living, flying 2 cats and getting them through quarantine, no clue on how long it would continue to take to get a job, living out of 2 suitcases for 2+ months, not know exactly when all of our stuff would arrive as well as the normal “holy crap, I need to learn a new language ASAP” anxiety. Basically, this last move to Japan got me feeling like…

Yeah, I’ve pretty much lost my damn mind. I’m pretty sure my “mild anxiety” that a doctor once mentioned “might play a role in your occasional insomnia” has skyrocketed right up to the spotlight playing the role of Fantine miserably singing, “I Dreamed a Dream” while quietly killing me as swiftly as TB took the character out in Les Miserables. Ok, maybe I’m being a little dramatic but, only just a little.

Basically, I no longer feel like I have any control over my life. I’m just a mote of dust floating around in the Tokyo Bay breeze and that breeze is at typhoon levels right now. I’m pretty sure I have developed a tiny bit of OCD (truthfully, that shit started when I moved into a 410 square foot garage studio in Seattle but, I digress…) making the unpacking and organizing of a new house more agonizing that it need be. Basically, EVERYTHING NEEDS TO HAVE A FUCKING PLACE TO GO IMMEDIATELY AND ALL THE ROOMS MUST LOOK LIKE THEY ARE ACTUAL ROOMS NOT STORAGE UNITS FORTHWITH.

Have you met my husband? He has bins of stuff; memorabilia, knick knacks, discontinued uniforms from decades in the Navy, photos, newspaper clippings, belt buckles, hats, mugs, an ET sheet from his twin bed when he was in grade school… I mean, a full on 12′ x 12′ room worth of stuff… and he’s “organizing it” in the guest room…

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I literally can’t even… I will say though, his new project spurred me into finishing unpacking and organizing the other guest room that will be an office/craft space with a pull out bed for visitors. That said, this temporary chaos across the hall from our bedroom glares at me. It literally makes me feel itchy. I want to go in there and divide everything up either to display or into individual small bins, put small silica packets in with the items (hello Japan humidity), label them with meticulous hand lettering then, stack them neatly with all their matching labels facing the same way. Preferably in a closet or, better yet, in our storage unit we have with our apartment. EVERYTHING NEEDS TO HAVE IT’S OWN PLACE. IT’S OWN HOME. But, I can’t just do that. The Sailor has his own ideas on how he wants his beloved things categorized and stored. So I continue to twitch every time I walk by but, I leave him to his project.

This utter loss of control over everything in my life at the moment that has led to this anxiety and obsessive compulsiveness to organize which has led me to create lists. Lists that give me the illusion of “having it under control”. Lists that give me a comforting visual of what needs to be done and a tangible, visual way to show the list getting shorter by checking off completed items. Copious amounts of lists. SO MANY LISTS.  Long term projects like painting my old hutch. Daily to do lists like vacuum and scrub the bathtub. Weekly meal lists, grocery lists, stuff I’d eventually like to get for our new huge apartment, different exercises grouped by what muscle they work, flavor combinations to try in my baking… and they are all in a $0.99 spiral notebook with titles scrawled in fancy fonts that I doodled while I mentally compiled first before I started writing the precise bulleted list, each entry with little page markers for ease of finding it to add or to carefully color in the bullet when a task is complete. Basically that notebook is my $0.99 therapy. And I’ve become obsessed.

I started looking up bullet journals based on a suggestion I found when looking for journals with grids or dot grids instead of lines… Lord have mercy, the beauty that I beheld. It’s like artistic LISTS and CALENDARS. Instantly, I wanted to do that but, spending time to flourish and compile the beauty that is the bullet journal seemed to call for something more substantial or special than a $0.99 spiral special from the school supply section. Really, I wanted to harken my youth and did a search for an old school Traperkeeper. Sadly, unless I want to spend $100 on eBay for the vintage gloriousness of Lisa Frank or a fantasy world rearing unicorn/pegasus combo, that’s not an option. I knew I wanted something that I could refill with pages and remove old pages that were no longer relevant or necessary but, I didn’t want some boring binder. If I was going to embrace my OCD and flourish it with colorful fonts and flowers, I wanted the cover to be cute to reflect the fun madness inside. After copious amounts of searching and pondering, I found this little gem

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and have vowed to buy it off my amazon wish list as soon as I have a job. Yes, one of my financial goals to to have a paycheck to by myself a cute personal organizer. Go ahead and judge me.

Ironically, just a week or two ago my friend Mandy, whom is living in Sicily with her own Sailor, sent me a link to a facebook group that popped up in her “you might be interested in” section called “Yokosuka Planner Addicts” asking me if I knew what that even meant. I had no idea and it was a private group so, you couldn’t snoop and see anything. Much to her amusement I requested to join. I even had to answer 3 questions before they would let me request permission, basically proving that I was in the area and not a troll. They must recognize their own because even though I had no idea what the group was about, they accepted me. Let me tell you… these woman literally take creating personal planners to another level. I’m talking using Cricut Makers to create their own journals, vinyl stickers, and adornments. Collections of spools of Washi Tape and specific journaling decals that I couldn’t even imagine existed. Don’t get me started on their discussions of the different types, brands and models of planners on the market and what each of them prefer and why. THIS IS WHAT THESE GLORIOUS LADIES DISCUSS IN THEIR FACEBOOK FORUM. So now, I’m a creepy lurker in that group secretly reveling in the fact that I’m not the only one that needs to have everything written down and organized but, looks cute so I can claim it’s more fun than OCD.