GW 2017: Chichibu

It’s the first week of May, and once again there are several public holidays in a row to form what is known as Golden Week, the time where almost everyone except the poor souls in sales jobs can have five days off in a row, or take a couple of days paid leave to extend their time off to a whopping 9 consecutive days.

This year, I decided to take a trip an hour and a half north of Tokyo to take a look at the shibazakura, or as they’re apparently called in English moss phlox. A 10 minute walk from Chichibu station in Saitama prefecture is Hitsujiyama Park, home to more than 400,000 moss phlox plants of nine different colours (but mainly pink).

An easy day trip from Tokyo, you can reach Chichibu by limited express train from Ikebukuro in 70 minutes, or as I found out when arriving at the station to find all the express tickets sold out (bloody Golden Week!) about 110 minutes by local train. 

In the park, there were plenty of stalls for food and drink, selling traditional festival fayre like yakisoba (fried noodles), takoyaki (octopus balls), and udon (noodles).  However, as you can see in the park shade was a little scarce, and although there was a small shaded area to eat there wasn’t much out the back either, so be careful with the sun!

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Tokyo Olympic Stadium – 4 years to go

Last week, as I was already in the general vicinity, I went to check out what will become the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Stadium. With only four years to go I thought construction might have got under way, or at the very least expected a little activity, but nope. I guess the Japanese can build a stadium faster than the Brazilians!

Mito and Kairaku-en

One of the most famous times of year in Japan is the cherry blossom season, which starts around the end of March and the beginning of April each year. Signalling the start of spring, cherry trees all over the country fleetingly bloom in beautiful pink blossom; the blossom tends to only last for a week or two before the wind or rain drives it away, so it’s important to take advantage and go and have a look while you have the opportunity.

Less well-known is the plum blossom, which blooms a week or two earlier in mid-March. A famous place to look at the plum blossom is Kairaku-en park in the town of Mito, Ibaraki, about an hour northwest of Toyko. Kairaku-en is considered one of the three Great Gardens of Japan (along with Kenroku-en in Kanazawa, which we visited last May, and Koraku-en in Okayama, which he haven’t been to), and hosts a plum blossom festival throughout March.

Due to the ephemeral nature of nature, it’s always difficult to judge exactly  when the best time to visit might be. We went to Mito towards the end of March, hoping to catch either the end of the plum blossom or the beginning of the cherry blossom. Unfortunately, we ended up missing them both!

In the end, we still had a wander around the garden but couldn’t help noticing how bare all the trees were; with a little imagination we could imagine how it must have looked either the week before or a week after, but alas we couldn’t appreciate what it had to offer.

It must look great with blossom on all the trees!

The locals taking pictures of the one tree with any blossom on it

Back in Ueno Park in Tokyo, we actually saw some cherry blossom the week after!

The Owl Cafe

Hidden a little way from Akihabara station, the Owl no Mori cafe offers slightly more owl than cafe – a room full of owls, and a vending machine selling drinks.The primary purpose is of course to look at owls, but if you ask one of the assistants you can also hold one and stroke it.


  Although most of the owls were pretty cute and perfectly strokeable, there were several ‘dangerous’ owls which you were not allowed to touch.  Generally,apart from the few owls you could hold, they were all tied to a harness so they didn’t fly around the room willy-nilly.
  
  
  

Sumidagawa Fireworks

Rather than the welcome to winter that fireworks are back in the UK, in Japan they are a summer affair. The hat, scarf and baked potatoes are shunned in favour of shorts, beer and intensive sweating in the stifling summer humidity. In Tokyo, there are three big firework festivals on consecutive Saturdays at the end of July/beginning of August, and this year we cycled to the one 10 minutes from our house along the Sumida River.

People come into the streets to try and get any possible vantage point they can, and usually bring out picnic blankets and chairs to sit at by the side of the road. Like when the cherry blossom comes out in spring, it’s a very social occasion with friends and family meeting up, drinking beer and generally having a jovial evening.

The Sky Tree all lit up

The Sky Tree all lit up

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People sat by the side of the roads looking for a good vantage point

People sat by the side of the roads looking for a good vantage point

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Through the trees of Sumida Park

Through the trees of Sumida Park

All entranced

All entranced

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Prime position under the motorway

Prime position under the motorway

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Buying large shoes in Tokyo

For many a foreigner living in Tokyo, shoes and shoe shopping can be a stressful nightmare of a time. The first problem people will likely encounter is the size scale; all the shoe sizes are in centimetres. Admittedly not the biggest hinderance, as there are easy conversion guides online to help you find the size you need, but it can be baffling when first browsing for your new pair and having to consider that you’ve never actually measured your feet before.

The biggest difficulty though is likely to be that few shops stock larger size shoes. Finding any shops that have shoes bigger than a 27 (UK size 9) is a challenge. Often there will be a rogue 28 floating about, but of a design and quality that will seriously make you question whether any shoe will do. Anything larger than that is next to impossible to find, even in larger stores in Shinjuku or Shibuya. Although it is of course possible in many cases to order larger pairs in (taking anything from a few days up to a week), I’ve always been hesitant ordering shoes I haven’t tried on, which is why I’d also ruled out buying from the internet.

Enter Ten in Shinjuku. A shop specifically designed for the larger footed customer, it offers predominantly a reasonable selection of business shoes, and a slightly smaller range of casual trainers and boots. I discovered it from posts by other exasperated people online and being similarly frustrated at the lack of choices gave it a visit. Mens’ shoes ranged from size 27 to 30, plus a few bigger than that but not many (UK size 9-12) and women’s from size 25 up (I didnt check to see how large they went).

Shoe problem: solved.    

 

   

  

 

The i-link in Ichikawa

Yesterday we were out in Chiba, and happened upon the i-link tower above Ichikawa station. With a free observation deck on the 45th floor, it gave commanding views of the city (in the distance!) and out to Tokyo Bay. Although the only really discernible features were Tokyo Sky Tree and the Edogawa River, the photos from the deck claimed that on a clear day you can see as far as Yokohama, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Mount Fuji! Not really sure I could see that far yesterday, but then I didn’t have my glasses on.

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