Shibazakura Viewing at Hitsujiyama park, Chichibu – The Colorful Carpet of Flowers!

Golden week had quickly come and gone. In Japan, there are a few long holidays; one of those is Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク). Golden week starts around the end of April till the start of May. This year, April 29th and May 3rd – 6th are holidays; hence, the holidays are divided to 2 parts of 3 days and 4 days with 3 working days in between. Some people may be lucky and get 10 consecutive days of holidays from April 27th to May 6th! My work schedule was a little different. I got holidays on May 1st-6th so I used this time to visit Tokyo again. 🙂

On May 2nd, I visited the famous shiba-zakura (芝桜) park in Chichibu city(秩父市), Saitama prefecture(埼玉県).

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Shiba-Zakura (芝桜) season comes around mid April till mid June, a bit after the sakura season. Shiba-zakura is called moss phlox in English. It is a plant that is similar to shrub-type plants which grows to a height of about 10 centimeters with long leaves and small vividly pinkish flowers. Due to its appearance that is similar to cherry blossom, it has been called ‘shiba-zakura’. I have never seen shiba-zakura before but I have heard wonderful things about it, so I decided to visit the nearest park to Tokyo in Golden Week.

20130507-102602.jpgChichibu city (秩父市) is located in the Northeast of Saitama prefecture(埼玉県), a neighbor prefecture of Tokyo. It is famous for shrines and nature especially for outdoor activities such as flower viewing, picnic, barbecue and strawberry picking. There are also many festivals such as Chichibu night festival in which decorated floats are lighted up at night in a shrine. There was a festival on the day I went as well but time was limited so I couldn’t stay long enough to see. The easiest way to get to Chichibu is by train from Ikebukuro station. I took Seibu-ikebukuro line (西武池袋線)from Ikebukuro station (池袋駅) to Seibu-chichibu station (西武秩父駅). The trip took about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Apparently, there are express trains as well but the tickets were all sold out for the day due to the amount of people visiting during holidays. So, make sure you get the tickets beforehand if you plan to go on holidays.

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When we arrived at seibu-chichibu station, it was around 11 AM. The weather was extremely hot! We followed the crowd and walked up the hills to Hitsujiyama park (羊山公園). Occasionally, we would stop and buy some cold drinks to keep our body cool. We paid a small fee for the entrance and entered. This park is one of the renowned spring destinations with amazingly colorful shiba-zakura that are not only planted in different rows for each color, but also in different shapes making the whole field appears to be an incredible carpet of vividly attractive small flowers. Sometimes, this place is also called ‘Moss Hill‘. I found it very picturesque and just spectacular, similar to a scene from a lively musical movie! There are flower rows in pink, light purple, purple, light blue, white and some are planted in circular or heart shapes. I had to fight the urge to jump into the flowers! At that time, it felt like a thing to do…

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One of the things I love most about Japan is that Japan has a way to make nature very attractive and Japanese people sure know how to appreciate it. They create an event out of what is around and make everything exciting. All year round, there are always new events, things to see and places to explore. It is obvious that this shiba-zakura flower field was well designed and surely has become a great tourist spot out of the wonderful nature. It is just very impressive. In Japan, people definitely have a great sense of beauty.

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There are some other places to view Shiba-zakura as well. One is on the foot of Mount Fuji. Just only imagine a colorful flower field with amazing Fuji view on the background, I could tell it is worth it. Also, there are some other similar places in Hokkaido. (Click here to see other shiba-zakura destinations.)

Shiba-zakura festival near Mount Fuji -> http://www.shibazakura.jp/ (Japanese), News in English -> click here!

Other than Hitsujiyama Park, there are also other places in Chichibu city. I got to visit another park called Chichibu Muse park (秩父ミューズパーク)which is famous for poppies. I took a free shuttle bus from Hitsujiyama park to Muse park and a free shuttle bus to Chichibu station before heading back to Tokyo. However, this time the poppies were not in full bloom yet, so we got 50% discount for our tickets. Despite not being to view the poppies, the park was beautiful. I could see different kinds of flowers which I don’t know what they are but it really didn’t matter since everything was beautiful. I also found a small two-storied stadium on top of the mountain where we can see scenic mountain views. The scenery was breathtaking.

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If you plan to visit these places, don’t forget to bring a hat or a UV umbrella. The weather was so hot that it got me a very bad cold. *boo* So yes, prepare well and enjoy spring! 🙂

Hitsujiyama park official site -> http://navi.city.chichibu.lg.jp/flower/shibazakura/ (Japanese)

Nearest station: Seibu-chichibu station

Muse park official site -> http://www.muse-park.com/ (Japanese)

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CUP NOODLES MUSEUM – Make your own Cup Ramen!

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This museum is the coolest museum ever! Everyone who visits here would definitely enjoy the experience at this cup noodle museum. This museum was established by Nissin, a company that produces many of our favorite instant noodles such as Chicken Ramen, Cup Noodles, UFO, and even the space ramen for astronauts!!

The inventor of instant noodles is Ando Momofuku, one of the Japanese heroes! He was well-known all over the world as Mr.Noodles. His story is inspriring. I really enjoyed learning about how he created this invention very much. I have heard of him many times before since he was a PhD graduate from Ritsumeikan University, a mother university of my university and Nissin gives scholarship called Ando Momofuku scholarship to our students. But I’ve never really knew who he was and it was very interesting to hear about his stories!

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I live very close to this museum which is located in Minato-mirai, Yokohama but I’ve never really got a chance to visit since it is always full and I couldn’t make my own cup noodles every time I went there. This time, we went early in the morning around 10.30 and there was not many people so we got in a paid 500 yen for the tickets. Then we went upstairs to reserve a session for making our very own CUP NOODLES! We decided to go for the cup noodles and not chicken ramen since Chiken ramen takes a lot of time making it from the scratch. And cup noodles are fun!

So, let’s talk about how to make your own cup noodles!

First, after getting our 整理券 (sei-ri-ken), we waited a while and went up there when it was our time (11:30). We got in line and paid 300 yen for a blank cup, wash our hands and then we were led to our seats where we can decorate our cup noodles.

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It didn’t take very long to finish drawing and painting our cups. It was very fun! Here is the front part of my cup noodles.

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When we finished, we took our cups and lined up to get the cups filled. First, we put the noodles into the cup! This one is another one of Ando Momofuku’s big innovations.  He thought of how to put the ramen in the cup in a good shape and he came up with the idea of putting the cup over the ramen, then roll it over so that the ramen goes in nicely. We got to experience this as in the pictures!

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After putting in the noodles, it was time to choose flavor and toppings! There are many choices of stuff to put in but we can only choose 4 toppings with 1 flavor (normal cup noodles, spicy tamato, curry, seafood!). I chose the original flavor with shrimp, eggs and others. 🙂

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After filling in the flavor and the toppings, it’s time to put the cover and the package! The first put on the cover and then a plastic bag that became flat and stick to the cup after heating it up.

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And then…Tadaaa! We put our cup noodles inside a plastic bag and pumped some air inside and then it’s done. 🙂

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After making our own cup noodles, we went to look around the museum for exhibitions. It was very cool to see the development of instant noodles from decades ago. I found many that I absolutely love including instant ramen in other countries as well!

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The room next to the instant noodles showroom is Momofuku Theatre. There, we watched the origin of Momofuku’s life and how he invented this instant noodle in a cartoon version. It was pretty impressive! After failing everything with only his house left for him and his family, he still able to find ideas right out of the kitchen when he saw his wife making tempura which sparked the idea of frying the ramen and then put in water again.

We got to see the model of his house where all the ideas happened too. 😉

20130306-104114.jpgAfter that, we saw many stories on the wall in chronological order. Apparently, Ando Momofuku san lived a very long and happy life after all his hard work and died when he was 96!! We got much information about instant noodles industry…It’s unbelivable how so people people in the world are consuming cup noodles these days.

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Having seen all the exhibitions, we went up to get some lunch. There is a cup noodles park right beside the restaurant.

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The restaurant was quite fun as well. I never imagine a restaurant in a museum would be like this. In front of the restaurant, there is a Tuk Tuk (three-wheel car), the famous vehicle from my homeland-Thailand. Inside the restaurant, everything is decorated as if it was Thailand or somewhere in South East Asia. I have to admit that it really felt like home. We had a few cups of noodles-Tom Yum noodles, Mi goreng, etc. *happy*

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We can go out to the balcony and see the view as well!

Don’t forget to visit this cup noodles museum in Yokohama if you have a chance. You won’t regret it! 🙂

More information on the Website –> Click here

For interesting discounted day tour of Yokohama from Klook, click here! (Also, get free credits from their app download & input L2AI9 to get bonus credits)

A relaxing day in Minato-mirai, Yokohama

I have been living in Yokohama since the mid of 2012. Before that, I used to come around here on weekends and spent time sightseeing around the harbor or eat some delicious Chinese in China town. Then, I found some amazing restaurants and cafes and loved coming here ever since.

Now that I live around here, I get to explore a lot more. I often find a cozy cafe and just sit…and read or just relax with a nice warm coffee..or PIES at BUBBY’S! 😀  Today (Jan 19th), just like any other day here, I met up with friends at Queensquare where Minato-mirai station is located in. We went there around lunch time so we had to look for restaurants. I visit Queensquare a lot and I have so many favorite places in there but today, we went up to the 3rd floor and found a nice cafe called “24/7”.

The place is very nice with unique designs and great atmosphere. They also have free drinks corner as well.

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My favorite spot at this cafe is a long seat where you can lie down and eat as in this picture. How comfortable. 🙂

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After lunch, we decided to go to a spa. We took a short walk there. It was really a lovely day- not too cold and it was very sunny. The sky was clear. I love walking around this area. It’s just very relaxing.

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The spa is called Manyo club. It has great onsen and offers lots of relaxation plan such as massage services, relaxation plan, meal plan and others. It is a bit expensive but I think we really needed it after a long week. 🙂

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  From the onsen pool, we could see the sky and the sea..it was so refreshing. We were there for 2 hours. I had a great time.

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Then we had dinner at the red brick house or Akarenka-soko. It was lovely evening.

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(This is an old picture)

I really recommend exploring Yokohama. It’s a beautiful place. I wish you all a great relaxing day like this!

Fall travel: Nikko 日光, Toshigi

During this 3 days holidays (November 23rd-25th), I took a day trip to Nikko city which is located in Toshigi prefecture (日光市、栃木県). Apparently, it is in the northern part of Kanto region. I always thought it is quite far from Tokyo but in fact, it took only about an hour and a half from Tokyo by express train.

Nikko is famous for the mausoleum of Shogun Tokugawa Leyasu or the Toshogu shrine and another shrine called Futarasan which is a mausoleum of the Shogun’s grandson. I’m not sure about the history of these shrines but although they are ancient, they have been preserved very well  and praised for its historical values that these sites were stated as ”the World Heritage’ sites’. Nikko is famous for its beauty, historical sites, amazing natural and breathtaking sites and also onsen, especially the famous Kinugawa onsen. More info about Nikko-click here.

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My friend and I decided to visit Nikko since it is autumn and Nikko is supposedly one of the most beautiful places for the season in Japan. The leaves should turn red and yellow meaning the whole mountains would be scenic. We were right about that, it was spectacular, except that traveling there during holidays was not such a good idea.

We started off our trip from Shinjuku station. We had breakfast there and took Spacia express train from Shinjuku station’s new zone, ‘shin-minami’ entrance. Apparently, this train connects Nikko to Tokyo-all the way to TokyoSky Tree. You can get on from Shinjuku, Asakusa, and other stations. We arrived at Tobu-Nikko station around noon. 🙂 It was such a pleasant ride.

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Then, ramen for lunch and strawberry milk gelato! Sounds like a strange combination but it was a really good meal. The weather was quite cold so ramen was perfect..gelato-not so much.. 😉

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After lunch, we took a bus to Toshogu shrine which is the most famous place in Nikko. The bus was super packed… Something we couldn’t avoid on holidays. The normally takes only 10 minutes, but it took almost half an hour for us.  We got off at a stop called Shinkyo, which has a beautiful bridge by the river at the entrance of the world heritage sites.  It is a gateway to the shrines and temples of Nikko. The view there was scenic with all the leaves turning red and yellow!

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The world heritage sites in Nikko consists of many shrines all linked together. The most famous ones are Toshogu shrine, Futarasan shrine, and Yutenji shrine. We went straight to the famous Toshogu shrine. It was crowded with people but I can see why it is UNESCO’s world heritage site and so renowned. The architecture is wonderful with lots of decorative ancient art works. The shrine is very old. It looks sacred with its natural settings. I enjoyed this shrine very much and had to search more about its history when I came home that day.

UNESCO’s description of the shrines and temples of Nikko

At the entrance of Toshogu shrine, there is a pagoda in which I also saw a campaign comparing this pagoda with Tokyo Sky Tree.

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We took a few photos and proceeded to the trails in the shrine.

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A boy crying..not wanting to take a ride on that vehicle.

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There are so many masterpieces in the shrine. Each piece has its own meaning and history. One of the most famous ones is the sleeping cat which is an artwork on top of the ceiling at the middle gate. (picture on the right)

We also found a tree that is said to be sacred. All of the things inside this temple are preserved very well. Not exactly in a pristine condition since the shrine is very old but with the all the artworks condition and long history, they are so worthy to see. I need to read more about its history. The shrine has its own charm, very interesting!

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Look at the crowd of people. We had to line up all the way on the trails inside the shrine. It was like lining up for a ride at Disney Land. Still, it is a beautiful place and I loved it!

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Beware that the shrines close early, probably the same as shrines in Kyoto. I remember we came out of the Toshogu shrine around 4 pm but all other shrines were closing so we could only see Futarasan shrine a bit.

The picture on the right–> This circle is said to be a circle of good luck. This LUCK has two meanings of luck as being lucky with things and with people as well. In Japanese, they call it “UN” and “EN”, meaning luck and luck related to relationships. We had to walk inside the cirlce as the instructions say. 1. Go in and out from the right. 2. Go in and out from the left. 3. Lastly, go in and out from the middle of the circle. Not sure if I did it right but I hope I get lucky!

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After visitng the shrines, we decided to walk back to the station since the bus would probably be packed. We ate some Karaage on the way and went into many souvenirs shops. I got the blue cup, my friend got the red! Apparently, another important artwork in Nikko shrine is the three monkeys- the monkeys that cannot see, talk, or speak. We must have missed it in the shrine. Will need to be back for sure during…weekday probably. 😉

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I had a great time! Really recommend Nikko for anyone visiting Japan!

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Random: An old telephone booth