March - January, 2011



My aunt went to the Kyoto Imperial Palace to see the weeping cherry blossoms on Monday. They are not in full bloom yet, but they are very pretty, huh? According to my aunt, there were quite a few locals and tourists from overseas around the cherry tree. Itfs finally getting warmer here in Kyoto, so the cherry trees will start to bloom here and there soon! (Risa)



One of my co-workers is in Shizuoka Prefecture on his business trip today and sent the above pictures to me. Very beautiful, arenft they? The castle you can see is Kakegawa Castle. Asahina Yasuhiro first built it in Bunmei Era (1469-1487) and then Yamauchi Kazutoyo completely rebuilt it per the latest contemporary designs, and the current layout and much of the stone walls and moats in 1590-ish. The keep built by the Yamauchi was destroyed in an earthquake in 1604, and reconstructed in 1621. The castle was kept in repair throughout the Bakumatsu period, however it suffered from extensive damage in 1854, due to another earthquake. Many structures were rebuilt by 1861, and were is use after the Meiji Restoration as local government offices. The castle remained in ruins through the Showa perid, with the exception of Ninomaru Goten (daimyofs mansion), built by Ota Sukekatsu after the earthquake, and registered with the government in 1980 as an Important Cultural Property. In 1994, sections of the innermost bailey were reconstructed using the original methods. The cost of 1 billion yen (US$125,000,00) for the reconstruction was raised largely through public donation. The castle was chosen as one of 100 Fine Castles of Japan in 2006, so donft miss it if you have a chance to visit Shizuoka! (Risa)



Itfs hard to know what it is, but itfs SAKURAJIMA. It is a former island (now connected to the mainland) of the same name in Kagoshima and an active composite volcano. The lava flows of the 1914 eruption caused the former island to be connected with the Osumi Peninsula. The eruption was the most powerful, but the activity became more prominent in 1955 and the volcano has been erupting almost constantly ever since. In light of the danger it presents to nearly populations, Sakurajima was designated a Decade Volcano in 1991, identifying it as worthy of particular study as part of the United Nationsf International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. After the earthquake happened on March 11th, I often think of natural disasters. They occur when we arenft thinking about them, so we have to predict and prevent them and are responsible for preparations for them. (Risa)



How was your weekend? My brother is in Kagoshima now and sent me a few pictures during the weekend. We have had wintry weather these days in Kyoto, but the cherry blossoms are already blooming there. According to the report, the cherry blossoms in Kyoto start to bloom on March 30th, so I canft wait to see them in full bloom! (Risa)



All the lines of the Kyushu Sinkansen [Mizuho], [Sakura], and [Tsubame] began full operation on March 12th. It has reduced travel time between Hakata Station (Fukuoka Prefecture) and Kagoshima Chuo Station (Kagoshima Prefecture) by up to 80 minutes. [Mizuho] and [Sakura] are a direct train from Shin-Osaka to Kagoshima Chuo, and if you take [Mizuho], it only takes 3 hours and 45 minutes. Not bad, isnft it? If you like hot springs, Kyushu is the perfect place to visit. Also, there are many sightseeing spots there, so how about adding Kyushu to your itinerary? (Risa)


We had a public holiday on Monday, so my friends and I went to a hot spring resort, [Yonohana Onsen] in Kameoka, which is only about 1 hour away from Kyoto City. There are quite a few ryokans in the area and they are open for day-trippers, too. We chose a ryokan named [KEIZANKAKU] and spent a few hours there. We talked until we felt dizzy, soaking in an open-air bath. I always wanted to go to an onsen (hot spring) while I was in Alaska, so my dream came true! (Risa)


My friend and I went to Ishikiri Tsurugi Shrine in Osaka last Saturday. The shrine is famous for the god of tumor, so lots of people visit there in search of a cure of cancer. My friendfs aunt has developed breast cancer and been suffering from severe painc. There is little that we can do, but we can pray for a miracle to happen, so we went to the shrine for her. If you also want to visit there, here is the URL (only in Japanese); (Risa)


Fukinoto Tsukushi

How was your weekend? My family and I went to Maizuru City, which is located in the northern part of Kyoto Prefecture, to visit the family grave. My brother and I walked to the grave up on the hill and found SPRING on our way. Itfs hard to find wild vegetables in the city, but there were plenty of them in the countryside. We still have cold days, but spring is definitely here! (Risa)


Itfs Friday and we have a three-day weekend this week. Lots of tourists are coming to Kyoto and most ryokans and hotels are booked out on Saturday and Sunday. I have a few plans to go out with friends, so I think I can write something Japanese or happier at least on Tuesday next week. (Risa)


I want to write something happy, but I canft think of anyc But, I would like to say thank you to all the people who sent us a cordial message here again. The cherry blossom buds began to swell here in Kyoto, so I think they will be in full bloom in two weeks or so and cheer us up! (Risa)


I am back in Japan now. One of the biggest earthquakes hit Japan when I was still on the plane back from Alaska, and I heard the news from my co-worker at the airport. I didnft expect it was such a terrible disaster when I was talking with her on the phone, but it wasc We have a normal life here in Kyoto, so I still canft believe more than 2000 people are dead and 3500 people are missingcWe guess the numbers are still increasingc. Therefs only so much we can do, but we should do what we can do now. (Risa)


I am going to Anchorage for meetings for a night tomorrow. I am used to the coldest weather in Fairbanks now, so I will find it very warm down there. And, then I am going to a much warmer place, Japan! (Risa)


My neck and left shoulder hurt a lot and I want to cut them awayc I stretch the muscles and try to ease tension, but it doesnft work at all. The first thing I want to do after I arrive back in Japan is a shiatsu (deep tissue) massage!!! Hope you have a nice weekend. (Risa)


Hina Matsuri

I can finally write something Japanese today. March 3rd is Doll Festival Day in Japan (I know itfs already March 4th in Japanc), and the festival is held to wish girls health and growth. Families of girls display a set of dolls representing the emperor, empress, their servants, miniature furniture, and so on. Here is the picture of the dolls my uncle and aunt took on their trip in Kyushu. (Risa)


I got a mail from my co-worker in Japan and she said this morning was overcoat weather again. The temperature goes up and down every day, so people tend to get sick during the period. If you are coming to Japan in March/April, please donft forget to bring warm clothes, too. (Risa)


Stomach cold is going around in Alaska. You might not believe, but itfs still very cold here and the low for yesterday was -32F (-35C)! According to my family and friends, itfs getting warmer and warmer in Japan, so I think I will be surprised at how warm it is when I arrive back in Japan. (Risa)


Ifve been Alaska for 12 days, and I donft know what to write about Japanc According to my aunt and friends, hay fever season has arrived and they have been suffering from itchy eyes and sneezes, etc. I feel I am lucky to be in Alaska! (Risa)


Imperial Palace Imperial Palace Imperial Palace Imperial Palace

My aunt went to the Kyoto Imperial Palace and took the pictures of Japanese plum blossoms and sent them to me, so I would like to share them with you. According to my mother, itfs been quite warm these days in Kyoto and spring flowers started to bloom there. Itfs still very wintry here in Alaska, but spring is on the way! (Risa)

Todays date

Our dog passed away two days ago and she was cremated yesterday. She was tiny (only 3kg), but she lived for over 15 years. I am in Alaska now, but my family are overwhelmed with sorrow in Japan. I try to think she enjoyed her life with us and is happy in heave now. (Risa)


I am in Alaska and went to the supermarket the other day. I usually donft eat cup noodles, but I bought some just in case. According to my co-worker, NISSHIN cup noodle is the best one. It was released in 1971, and NISSHIN cup noodle is very popular all over the world now. (Risa)


Ifve been e-mailing with family and friends almost every day even though I am in Alaska. We couldnft imagine the day would come 15-20 years ago, so I wonder what kind of life we lead in 20 yearfs timec (Risa)


Itfs Saturday in Japan but itfs still Friday in Fairbanks, Alaska. Itfs been 5 days since I arrived here and I am getting used to the coldest weather little by little. I checked the weekly weather forecast of Kyoto and it looks itfs quite warm over there. The cherry blossoms will start to bloom in 1.5 months or less, and I am very looking forward to it! (Risa)


After I wrote the article yesterday, I read a good news. During the 2011 Egyptian protests, the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities was broken into, and two mummies were destroyed and several artifacts were damaged and stolen, but two of them, cultural properties were returned to the museum yesterday. It will take a while until Egypt returns to the original state, but I hope it wonft take too long. (Risa)


I was reading the news on the Internet yesterday and got shocked by the sad news. Three of the Buddhist statues at Ninna-ji, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, were stolen, and a worshipper noticed they were not there. I donft understand why he/she stole themc Want to sell them? Want to keep them at home as he/she is a Buddha statue lover? I hope he/she regrets it and gives them back to the temple soon. (Risa)


I am in Fairbanks now and itfs freezing cold here. The temperature dropped down to – 42 degrees this morning! I went to see the northern lights after I arrived in Fairbanks last night although I was pretty tired due to the long flight and saw a good one. I had 2 choices; [Go to the hotel and sleep?] or [Go to see the aurora borealis?], but I am glad I made a right decision. (Risa)


According to my yoga instructor, the Japanese plum blossoms have finally started blooming in Kyoto Imperial Palace. It is about 2 weeks later than usual because we had cold weather around the New Year. In the Nara Period (710-784), viewing plum blossoms was already a popular custom and the famous poet and scholar, Sugawara no Michizane was well known for his love of plum trees. They are not as showy as cherry blossoms, but I like them and the scent is really lovely.

We have 3-day weekend from tomorrow and I am leaving for Alaska on Monday, so I will post the next news on Tuesday (I think) in Alaska! Have a nice weekend! (Risa)


My shoulders and neck are getting stiff againc I went to do yoga on Monday and Tuesday, but there isnft any improvement... I should get a good massage and fix the problem before I leave for Alaska on business trip. I will be away from Feb. 14th to Mar. 11th, but I will check e-mails every day, so donft worry! .If you are planning to come to Kyoto to see the cherry blossoms, please book now! The ryokans are already getting full! . (Risa)


My friend and I went to Amanohashidate after lunch on Sunday. It is one of Japanfs three scenic views and lots of people visit there from all over Japan. A thin strip of land connects two opposing sides of Miyazu Bay, and this sand bar is 3.3 km long and covered with about 7000 pine trees. It can be viewed from mountains on either side of the bay, so we went up and down on the lift. You can choose a monorail option, too, but I recommend the lift if the weather is ok. Here are the pictures from the top of the mountain and from the lift going down. (Risa)



How was your weekend? I had a busy weekend, but it was very enjoyable. My friend and I went for a drive to Miyazu City (northern part of Kyoto Prefecture) yesterday and visited a sake brewery, [HAKUREI SYUZO]. The brewery started their business back in 1832 and has a history of about 180 years. If you book in advance, you can see the storehouse and try various kinds of sake there (No reservation is required just for tasting). I was a driver, but my friend enjoyed the tasting and bought a few bottles of sake. There are quite a few sake brewers in Tango area, so it would be interesting to visit each brewery if you have time. (Risa)


yoshida shrine yoshida shrine yoshida shrine

My uncle and aunt went to Yoshida Shrine yesterday. The Setsubun Festival called [KAROSAI] is held from 11:00pm on Feb. 3rd every year and lots of people visit there. The worshippers bring old talismans and pile them up as you can see the above pictures, and then the shrine burns them to drive way evil spirits. It is said the fire brings good health and good luck for the new year.

yoshida shrine

You can buy a packet of roast beans with a lottery ticket called [FUKUMAME] at 200yen. If you are lucky, you can get a car, electric appliance, or travel coupons, etc. As I wrote in the news yesterday, I did bean throwing last night! (Risa)



Today is Setsubun and we do a special ritual called mamemaki (bean throwing) to drive away evil spirits for the year to come (Setsubun was thought of as New Yearfs Eve according to the lunar calendar) on the day. Also, it is customary now to eat uncut makizushi (rolled sushi) called Eho-Maki in silence while facing the yearly lucky compass direction, determined by the zodiac symbol of the year. This yearfs direction is south-southeast. My friends and I got together and ate makizushi last night although it was one day earlier. One of my friends is a cook, so he made them for us. As you can see, we didnft follow the rule and cut the makizushi because it was too big to bite into. They were delicious so we ate too much! I will do the bean throwing tonight! (Risa)


I went to Shiga and caught up with my friend on Sunday. I first met her about 7 years ago and worked together only for 1 week, but we are very good friends now. She worked as a news reporter at the horse racing newspaper company until 28 years old and then went to the US to study computer science and took the degree. Itfs been about 9 years since she came back to Japan and shefs looking for a job in the medical industry now. She was working in the industry until the end of December and she thought she wanted to learn more and develop her career there. She always makes l00% effort, so I hope she will find a good job soon. (Risa)


I went to my friendfs wedding on Saturday. It was held in a banquet room at Kyoto Hotel Okura from 13:00 and more than 100 people attended the ceremony. Among them there were some of my old colleagues and I met them for the first time in 8 years or so. Nobody works at the company where we met any longer, and one of them has her own business in Korea now. I guess it was very tough to start business in a country she didnft know well, but the business is doing well and she tries to expand it. It was very nice to catch up with old friends there. (Risa)


How was your weekend? My parents left for Okinawa on Saturday and they are coming back this evening. I texted my mother and asked if they got ok and how the weather was around the time when they got therecand, I got her reply about one hour later, but it was kinda shockingc My father left his driverfs license at home, so they couldnft rent a car! They had to change their plans and go to their hotel by shuttlec They must have been really shocked and disappointed, but I believe it will be a memory of the trip. (Risa)


There are 2 heaters in the office, but one of them broke down all of a sudden yesterdayc We called the real-estate company and an engineer came to our office soon after, but it wonft be replaced until next week. The other is on and we set at a higher temperature, but we are freezing and especially my toes are very coldcand, itfs snowing outsidec Hope you have a nice weekend! (Risa)


When I went to a convenience store to buy lunch today, I found a flyer about Japan Restaurant Week from Feb. 1st to 28th. It is a gourmet festival that gives a great many visitors the opportunity to experience the delights of the traditional food culture of Japan. During the festival, you will able to try the special menu offered by participating top-class restaurant at reasonable prices. Kyoto is a traditional city as you know and is famous as a place where gourmets converge, so please come and enjoy the event during the period! Here is their official site; (Risa)


TripAdvisor Japan announced the ranking of the worst (dirtiest) hotels in each area, Europe, America and Asia on their official website. They do the survey every year and itfs the 6th time this year, but any hotels/ryokans in Japan has never been included on the worst Top 10 list. Cleanliness is very important when I choose a hotel while travelling (probably itfs the most important to me), so I am pleased to know the Japanese hotels/ryokans gain international acclaim for their cleanliness. (Risa)


I was too busy and had to go out for a meeting in the late afternoon, so I am sorry I couldnft post the news yesterday. Ifve tried to post something even if itfs like my diary every day, so I am a little disappointedc Itfs sometimes difficult to find a topic to write about, but Ifll keep trying! (Risa)


Lots of people have sent school bags and stationeries to childrenfs orphanages under a fake name since the end of last year, and itfs been on the news these days. They usually use the name of cartoon hero, Naoto Date, but some people use different names, too. We often hear sad and gloomy news, but the news was very heartwarming and nice. I hope you have a lovely weekend. (Risa)



I went to a baking class on Sunday and made [Malakoff Torte]. The name came from Duke Malakoff, but the details are unknown. The process was very easy and I think I can make it easily at home, too. My teacher said we had to wait for 24 hours at least until we ate the cake, so I followed her direction. My friend I shared with also liked the cake, so I will definitely make it again for my family and friends. My mother couldnft take the lesson on Sunday, so she took the other class on Tuesday instead and made a chocolate cake. According to her, it was super difficult but tasted nice. (Risa)


TOKYO SKY TREE, formerly known as NEW TOKYO TOWER is a broadcasting, restaurant and observation tower under construction in Sumida, Tokyo, and it is the tallest artificial structure in Japan since 2010. When completed, it will be the tallest tower in the world. Itfs now 559 meters and the second tallest tower, following Canton Tower in China. There is no doubt that itfll be a must-see landmark after its grand opening in spring next year. There are only low buildings in Kyoto, so I will be surprised to see the tower when I go to Tokyo! (Risa)



It started to snow on Sunday night and Kyoto city was lightly dusted with snow on Monday morning. The temperature dropped below to below freezing, so the streets to work were very icy, too. It snows a lot this winter, so you have quite a few chances to see the temples, shrines, and castles covered with snow. My aunt lives next to Nijo Castle, and she took the above pictures yesterday morning. Beautiful, arenft they? (Risa)


How was your weekend? My friend and I visited the seven shrines of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune called [Shichifukujin] in Sennyu-ji Temple area on Saturday. Itfs been a popular New Yearfs tradition since olden days, and I always wanted to do that one day. The seven gods are; Hotei (the fat and happy god of abundance and good health), Jurojin (god of longevity), Fukurokuju (god of happiness, wealth, and longevity), Bishamonten (god of warriors), Benzaiten (goddess of knowledge, art (especially music) and beauty), Daikokuten (god of wealth, commerce, and trade), and Ebisu (god of fishes and merchants), and every god and goddess has different features and appearance. It took about 2.5 hours to visit all the shrines, but it was lots of fun. (Risa)


I finally feel I am recovering from the cold now. I started to feel unwell on Jan. 4th, so it took about 10 days! I canft believe thatc I guess it was the worst cold I caught in 15 years or so. Quite a few of my friends caught a cold this winter and they all said it took a few weeks to heal completely. According to the weather forecast, it will be freezing cold in Kansai area this weekendcso, keep warm and enjoy your sightseeing if you are already here in Kyoto. (Risa)


I know itfs not the right time to talk about autumn leavescbut, my aunt sent me a few pictures taken back in early December, so I would like to share them with you.


My aunt went to Honen-in Temple by herself in early December. Walking north from Nanzan-ji Temple on the Philosopherfs Path (please see the above), you will pass a small temple, Eikan-do, which is also very famous for autumn colors, and then the small, peaceful Honen-in Temple at the foot of Mt. Nyoigadake, with its freshly raked sand garden. It was established in 1680 to honor Honen, the founder of the Jodo sect, and it especially worth visiting in spring for its cherry blossoms and again in autumn for its magnificent maples. The hotels and ryokans are getting full in the cherry blossoms season, but itfs not too late now. Letfs start making a trip plan to Kyoto in spring now! (Risa)


We received an inquiry about a ryokan reservation in the cherry-blossom season, so I called some ryokans and found out they are already booked out on Saturdays from late March to early April. If you are planning to visit Kyoto to see the cherry blossoms, I strongly recommend you to book your accommodation immediately. If you need a help, please contact us at We are always more than happy to help you! (Risa)


Itfs Tuesday here, but how was your weekend? Yesterday was a public holiday called Coming-of-Age Day, so we had a three-day weekend. One of my close friends from university came to stay at my place on Sunday and we had a good talk. She takes a correspondence course in the Study of Education for the Developmentally Disabled while working. I vaguely think I want to learn something new, but I donft have a strong motivation to put it into action... I know you need lots of energy and courage to start something new, so I am very proud of her. (Risa)


We have a custom of eating seven-herb rice porridge called NANAKUSA GAYU on January 7th. The NANAKUSA are seven edible wild herbs of spring. Traditionally, they are SERI (Japanese parsley), NAZUNA (Shepherdfs purse), GOGYO (Jersey Cudweed), HAKOBERA (Common chickweed), HOTOKENOZA (Henbit), SUZUNA (Turnip), and DAIKON (Japanese radish). The seventh of the first month has been an important Japanese festival since ancient times. The custom of easing the porridge on this day, to bring longevity and health, developed in Japan from a similar ancient Chinese custom, intended to ward off evil. Since there is little green at that time of the year, the young green herbs bring color to the table and eating them suits the spirit of the New Year. My stomach needs a rest after too much food during the New Year, so I will eat the porridge for dinner tonight! (Risa)


According to my friend in the UK, there is a flu going around there, tooc I was still unwell this morning, so I went to a doctor and took a test for flu just in case. I have a fever, but itfs not very very high, so I believed the result was negative and it was. I am relieved to know itfs just a cold, but I have to take 8 different prescription medicinesc I have a few plans for this weekend, so I have to get over the cold very soon! (Risa)


I have caught a bad cold againc I was feeling a bit sick yesterday and woke up with a fever this morning. I came to the office as I had things to do, but I think I have a fever now. I will have an early night and I hope to recover by tomorrow. The new year, 2011 has just started, so be careful not to catch a cold! (Risa)


HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! Our office was closed from Dec. 30th to Jan. 3rd, so today is our first day at work in 2011. We were hit by a cold wave at the end of the last year and we had lots of snow even in Kyoto. The snow was falling thick and fast on Dec. 31st, but I had plans to go out with friends and went outc We are not used to the snow, so I nearly slipped on the ice many times (actually my mother fell on an icy sidewalk!). I was watching the news and saw the image of Kinkakuji-Temple covered with snow. It was really beautiful! (Risa)

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