Friday, February 13, 2015

Tsukuihama Tourist Farm ~ Strawberry picking

Last week the kids and I met our friend, Junko-san, and a few of her friends for a strawberry picking adventure!  Junko-san teaches English classes throughout the week, and on Fridays she teaches a group of 3 year olds.  They have been talking about fruits lately and asked if we would tag along on a trip to pick and eat strawberries.  Yay! 

Not exactly a strawberry, but the road from Tsukuihama Station to the strawberry farm is lined with fields and gardens, some of them private, some of them shared gardens.  The kids thought the water drops on this cabbage was "Soooo coooooollll".

 A little background info on these strawberry farms...they are grown in greenhouses, which is why we get amazing strawberries around here from December through about April.  When you go to the farm, you find the main office, pay, and then are assigned a greenhouse number.  You go to your specific greenhouse and then you are given a little plastic plate with a round indent full of yummy condensed cream, and a square indent for the strawberry tops.  You have a set time (in this case, thirty minutes) to eat as many strawberries as you like.  The price for strawberry picking goes up or down depending on the time you go picking.  I think January is the most expensive month, with the prices dropping slightly for each month after that.

In March of last year, Kris, the kids and I all hiked out here to pick and eat strawberries.  We had fun that day (even though we got lost), and filled ourselves with strawberries.  We left thinking, cool trip but the strawberries certainly weren't worth the $60 we paid for them.

What I didn't realize is how much the taste of the berries vary between just a couple weeks!

Fast forward to this year...and my first thought when I saw the price at the main office was:  there is NO WAY these two little kids and I will eat $45 worth in ichigo (strawberry).  But, we bought our tickets and made our way to greenhouse #8 with the rest of our group.  When we got to the house, some parents decided to take their kids to the restroom before heading in (once you go in, you can't come out and then go back in).  I saw the port-a-potty and said, "No thanks, we'll wait".

Once everyone was ready, we walked on in and started chowing down.  OH MY GOODNESS!!!!!  I can't even tell you how amazing these strawberries were!  I will say, when we left this year I didn't at all feel like we paid enough for the berries we ate!  They were AMAAAAZING!!!!  Every single ichigo we picked was huge!  And sweet!  And juicy!  And just gosh darn DE-LICIOUS!!!!

See the tall green weed-looking things behind Mackenzie?  We couldn't figure out what they were.  After having a yard full of green onions in Mississippi, that's what I immediately thought they were.  Turns out, they are actually garlic plants. The garlic helps keep the bugs away from the houses.

Look at that big ole, juicy, akai (red) ichigo!!  Oishii! (delicious!)  

A bee-box, to help with the growing

We actually didn't even make it to the 30 minute mark before we weren't able to eat any more.  We definitely got our vitamin C for the day, shoot, maybe even the week!

After strawberry picking, we headed over to a little park.  It was just down the Ichigo-Mikan road (a little path with strawberries and tangerines painted on the fence).  The park was a little open area with a stream that ran along the edge.  All the kids ran around for a bit, getting some of the sugar out of their system, hopefully!

It's hard to see in this picture, but we were able to walk to one side of the greenhouse and check out the strawberry plants' roots.  A science lesson on a strawberry adventure!

From here, we walked back to Junko's house.  On the way the moms started to make another port-a-potty trip and I thought, well, maybe we should do this now before we walk 20 minutes to Junko's.  So, off we went.  Okay, I must say, this was the nicest port-a-potty I have ever seen!  It was definitely MUCH nicer than many restrooms I've been in States-side!  It was clean.  It didn't smell.  It had actual toilet paper.  WOW!
Once we were at Junko's we settled in for a yummy lunch!  Junko planned on teaching the two American moms how to make norimaki.  I tried to get my kids to help, but they decided to be very shy.  Garytt agreed to at least sit by me and watch.  What happened was:  Junko showed us all the steps, then Boy instructed me on what to do.  My first try was a success...well, with a little help in the final roll from Junko.  I think my problem was too much rice.  But, it rolled and it stayed.  :)  Garytt tasted it, and said he liked it.  Mackenzie wouldn't even consider tasting it...she was too busy reading books to the little ones.  What a filling lunch!  Norimaki, miso, fried chicken, yaki-imo (roasted sweet potato), cookies, candies, YUM-O!  

Our group picture:

We had so much fun hanging out with our Japanese hosts!  Garytt asked all kinds of questions about language:  how to say red in Japanese, how to say Sunday, how to say strawberry, etc.  I'm afraid he talked all the ladies' ears off!  :)  I didn't get a picture of it, but there was a toy at Junko's that one little boy was trying to play with, it's a musical instrument drum-type thing.  Without a word said between them, Garytt showed him how to play the instrument through several well choreographed hand motions.  Proud Mama moment!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Setsubun at Suwa Jinja!

Shrine decorations
Last week Mackenzie's gymnastics sensei gave her a cute little origami box with two chocolate filled marshmallows inside, a mask to cut out, and a paper explaining that Setsubun is coming up.  So, I hit the interwebs to sort out this Japanese tradition.
Setsubun is a bean throwing ceremony held on 3 February every year to celebrate the first day of Spring, according the lunar calendar.  Setsubun literally means "division between two seasons", but is now only celebrated for the winter/spring division.    

I searched and searched the internet to find where Setsubun would be celebrated in Yokosuka and found a few places.  We chose to go to Suwa Jinja because it was the only one that held the ceremony at a time that wouldn't interfere with karate lessons.  

At about 1320, we left the house and made it to Suwa Jinja just a few minutes before the 1400 ceremony.  When we arrived, this small shrine was already packed with people.  The man on the right was talking into that bullhorn, I'm assuming he was saying something along the lines of, "There are a lot of people.  Pack in this tiny space like sardines if you expect to catch your luck!  Pack it in people, pack it in!"

See the red dragon mask on the floor?
Okay, so I read that this is what happens at the shrine:  at some point people will walk out onto the stage with wooden boxes full of beans.  Then, those people will throw beans into the crowd.  If you are lucky enough to catch a bean then you will have good luck for the year.

Pack it in people!  Pack it in!  (side note:  look at that blonde lady on the right, remember her for later in the story)
A little after two about 15 people walked out onto the stage with wooden boxes.  The bullhorn guy introduced all the throwers.  Once he was done, it was game on for those old Japanese ladies!


I had to grab my kids a couple times and save them from the ladies that pushed them out of the way trying to get to the front.  I made a mistake and didn't have my feet in a more stable, wider stance, and when they started pushing I lost my footing and almost fell on Garytt!

The first several throws didn't come close to us.  But, with the crowd pushing us forward the next round of throws made it into our area.  I jumped up and actually tipped a bag of beans.  Then, I turned around to see where it went.  It was right at my feet.  So, I bent down to get the bag just as the entire crowd shifted.  I was pushed towards the stage, as I was bent over, not a very graceful movement, I'm sure.  Then, the crowd shifted again.  And, when it did, that blonde lady above, dumped two cups worth of some warm liquid all over my head.  I have no idea what that was.  It was warm, it was white, it smelled maybe like wheat or something like it, and it had to be full of sugar because it immediately stiffened in my hair!  I heard her say, "Oh no, oh no, oh no."  But, I just turned, grabbed both my kids by the collars of their jackets and pulled them out of the crowd.

At this point, I was trying to shake some of the liquid out of my hair.  it didn't work.  Immediately, it turned solid in my hair.  Mackenzie said, in her very concerned squeaky voice, "Um, Mommy, you have white stuff in your hair."  She was right.  Whatever was in that liquid turned into white chunks in my black hair.  Geez.  All I could think about on the way back to the base was that scene in There's Something About Mary.  Guess we will be walking back home so I can wash my hair before karate.

Here is Mackenzie's oni ~ ogre mask.  The little bag is what I got at Suwa Jinja.

The contents of the bag:  5 Yen and a handful of fuku mame (fortune beans; roasted soy beans)

Well, what are the beans for?  A person in the family (usually the man in the household who was born in the current animal year, this is the year of the sheep) dons the oni mask.  Then, the family members throw beans at that person, this action is called mamemaki, literally, bean scattering.  In Japan the oni is considered bad, so throwing the beans at the oni is supposed to purify the family.  When you throw the beans you say, "Oni wa soto!  Fuku wa uchi!"  ~  Demons out, luck in.

When I told the kids we were going to do this when Daddy got home Garytt was so excited!  I mean, he had permission to throw food.  In the house.  At his daddy!  Um, what kid would pass that opportunity up?  Mackenzie would.  Daddy's little girl.  Well, when Daddy got home he was more than tired, so I offered to be the oni if he would take pictures.

I came in the front door and Boy wouldn't even let me get past him!  He immediately started pelting me.  And, I don't mean tossing those beans at me.  I'm talking, full-on, major-league-baseball-wind-up, step-into-it, launching beans at me!

Meanwhile, Mackenzie hid in terror behind Daddy's chair.  After the bean pelting, the kids gathered up the bad beans and tossed them out the door. 

We had a fun day!  This isn't exactly anything that follows our beliefs, but it was fun to participate in a Japanese tradition that has happened for centuries.  I hope my kids weren't too traumatized by the intense crowd at Suwa Jinja, the hot-steaming liquid pouring blonde, the scary oni mask-wearing Mamma, or the terrifyingly intense bean-throwing Boy.

Now, I'm curious how this luck thing works.  Does the luck start when I have it under my control?  Because it sure wasn't lucky of me to have that hot, steaming drink dumped all over my head.  But, that happened before I grabbed the bag.  Hmmm....something to think about....

Exploring Asakusa (a partial Shichifukujin)

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a friend about heading to Tokyo for one of the Shichifukujin tours in January.  She said it sounded like a fun day of exploring and mentioned that she needed to head to Tokyo to get a package from the New Sanno, an awesome BIG tanuki!  So, we decided to combine our two trips into one and make a girls' day out of it!

I met Nina downstairs around 0800 and we headed out to my car.  Now...a little side story...when we talked about the trip a few days before this, Nina said their car had sold and we would either have to train up, rent a car, or take my car.  I said, "It'll probably be best to take my car.  Only thing is I will need you to drive it because I've only driven a mile down route 16, twice."  She said if I was okay with it, she would be okay with it.

So, back to Sunday  morning...we walk outside and I heard this voice that sounded a lot like mine and it said, "If you're brave enough to ride along, I'd like to drive to Tokyo today."  Then, I heard a voice in my head scream: "WHAT?" Being the most encouraging friend that she is, Nina said, "Sure!  You'll be fine!  I know you can do it!"  And, guess what?  I did it!    That thing I thought was the most terrifying thing I could possibly do while living here...that thing that the guys in AOB tell us over and over and over is horrible and dangerous...well, I did it with no problem!  I felt like a one-year-old that just learned to walk.  I had all the skills I just had to get over the fear.  :D

Nakamise Dori decorations
Anywho...we loaded into the car and took off for the New Sanno.  Traffic was pretty calm at 8 in the morning, so that was nice!  We made it to the New Sanno, parked, and then headed to Hiro-o Station.

Nakamise Dori decorations
With our cameras ready, and newly purchased snacks in our bags, we made our way toward Sensoji.  I always forget how crowded this place can be!  When we came with Dave in October it was crowded, and it was a cloudy, rainy, miserable day.  Today was super sunny and hardly a cloud in the sky!  So, lots.of.people!

Our ultimate goal was to have a nice, relaxing day in the city.  But, we also wanted to try and see the 9 shrines that make up the Asakusa Shichifukujin....7 Lucky Gods.  So, after a leisurely trip down Nakamise Dori, we walked up the stairs and into Sensoji.

It's the year of the sheep, so there were cute little sheep statues and paintings and drawings everywhere!

Look At All Those P E O P L E ....

( you can see I, once again, had one of my settings messed up.  Nina even said, "Do you have it set right this time?"  I looked at the screen and saw that ISO was right and a few of the other settings I've messed up over time were all right.  However, I had it set to fluorescent light instead of a beautiful sunshiny day.  /sigh/  So, most of my pictures have a blue tint to them.  One day I'll figure out this camera.)

Just to the left of the main Kannon-do Hall is Yogodo, where Daikokuten is worshipped.  Daikokuten is the god of wealth.  The line at this hall was a bit longer than I wanted, or had the patience to stand in and wait for a stamp, so we took a look around inside and wandered back on out.  

I must have been having a good ole time talking and walking and looking because I didn't take many pictures in this area. 

After weaving through the crowd in front of Sensoji, we made it safely to the other side and then up the path to Asakusa Jinja.  A friend told me I could get a scroll to have stamped at all the stops on this pilgrimage, but I didn't see it and after seeing the insane crowd around Sensoji I really didn't want to stand around in lines all day long.  I just wanted to get to the shrines and temples and look around.  So, we walked around and took some pictures then headed out of Nitenmon - the eastern gate of Sensoji's grounds.  

Asakusa Shrine was reconstructed by Tokugawa Iemitsu in December 1649.

Once through the gate we walked down the street a couple blocks and were greeted with a "Good Afternoon!" from SkyTree.

Next up:  Matsuchiyama Shoden.  Or, as Nina and I dubbed it, the Daikon Temple.  You'll see....

We made a slight left off the main road and walked up a few stairs to find several statues.  Not sure of the significance, but they were pretty, resting in the cool shadows of the tree branches.

Small note here:  the crowds we saw at Sensoji were nonexistent here.  The shrines were relatively empty once we left the Sensoji area.

From here we followed the daikons (why are there so many daikons?  I wonder what the daikons mean?) and money bags.  (A daikon, by the way, is a huge white radish.  A few weeks ago I had ozoni - soup - with daikon in it...yummy!)

As we walked around snapping (bluish) pictures and checking out all the daikons, a priest very graciously invited us inside.  I'm not sure why we didn't...maybe we were distracted or we decided to move on to the next temple on the list.  After reading a few other blogs and websites, I'm definitely going back to this jewel for better pictures (ahem, ALL camera settings right) and a better look around.  What we saw was pretty amazing, though!  One of my two favorites of the day.

Main hall is in the back.  There are boxes of daikons on the left side of the picture.  

The water was coooolllllldddddddd.

Intertwined daikon.  I thought it looked like they were hands folded together.

Money bags on the peaks

Money bags at the end of a rain chain 

Money bags on the roof

As we walked around the corner we noticed someone standing next to a little door and looking down.  So, we checked it out.  Turns out there is a tiny little monorail thingie to take you down the hill.  Ha!  Maybe this is what distracted us from venturing inside!  So, we did eenie meenie miney mo and picked a button to push.  Eventually, the car came back up this huge (not huge) hill, we got in and slowly traveled down.  I'm pretty sure we could have walked to the stairs and then down them faster than this thing moved.  But, who just walks past  a tiny monorail??

Next up:  Imado Jinja.  This was tops on my list for the day.  I mean, who couldn't love a shrine peppered with....

...can you tell???  The poster below is a representation of where the seven lucky gods shrines are located.  Do you notice a common addition with each god?

Each of those lucky gods is paired with a cute cat!  See the close-up below of Benzaiten with a cat biwa.

Entrance to Imado.  This shrine is full of lucky cats.  As the story goes, a long long long time ago, an old lady needed money.  It came down to her selling her beloved cat to pay the bills.  Then, in a dream, her cat came to her and told her to sell cat statues, which she did, and which lifted her out of poverty.

The lucky god at this shrine is Fukurokuju, the god of happiness and long life.  Imado is also the place to go and pray for love.  There were so many ema tied to poles around trees here.  I don't think I've seen this many ema in one place!  All of them had the fortune cats on them, sitting as husband and wife.  You can see one of the rounds in the picture above, bottom center of the torii.

Well, hello there cats!

There were cats E.V.E.R.Y.W.H.E.R.E.

In the main hall
Male on left.  Female on right.

On square stones

On the moon on a trellis

In the bushes.  In the flower pots.  Behind the flower pots.  In front of the flower pots.
Just, everywhere!

We walked to the gift shop and bought a couple fortunes.  I'm not totally sure, but I think mine said little luck.  dun dun duuuunnnnn.  So... I left that little paper behind!  I kept the cute little golden fortune cat though!

We sat down for a minute or two on these cute Disney benches.

At this point we were getting a bit hungry.  We were also eager to find a warm place to relax for a few minutes.  So, we started down the street looking for somewhere to eat.  After stopping at an intersection, trying to decide which way to go, we smelled something wonderful.  Then, turning around we found an inconspicuous little door that led to a room with only a handful of tables in it and a family of three in the small kitchen cooking up some yummy deliciousness!  No English menu.  Nina could read some of the hiragana on the menu and ordered tonkatsu.  I pointed to the man across the aisle from me and said, "That".

Hamburger steak with egg on top, rice, miso soup, a small salad.
Sooooo much food I couldn't finish it all!
After we were sufficiently filled as well as warm and toasty, we bundled back up and headed back out on our trail.  
The next stop on our tour:  Hashiba Fudoson, where Hotei is worshipped, the god of contentment and happiness, aka:  the fat buddha or the happy buddha, or maybe even the fat, happy buddha.

By the gift shop at Hashiba Fudoson, I dropped a couple hundred yen in a box and pulled out what I can only assume is my lucky god...maybe for the year?  I don't know.  I think it's Bishamonten, the god of treasure, wealth and warriors, Protector of Buddhism, Guardian of the North (as in: "Winter is Coming?"), dispenser of riches, Defender of the Nation, Scourge of Evil Doers, Healer of Illness, Commander of Shitenno (all that, from  He is tiny.  He is cute.  And, now he sits on a shelf.  Sounds like I'm pretty much protected from anything bad!

 Just a few blocks away we came to Ishihama Jinja.  At this point, the wind was starting to pick up and the clouds were starting to roll in.  So, that blue tint I have on all of my pictures are even worse for the rest of the trip.

Ishihama Jinja is a fairly new shrine.  

It reminds me of those samurai origami things Mackenzie likes to make

It was just weird seeing the shrine buildings with the industrial bubbles behind them.  Not a common backdrop to many shrines I've seen thus far.

Here is a better view of the samurai-like roof.  With this being a modern shrine the roof didn't seem as impressive to me as others I've visited.  It was pretty, but not hundred-picture inspiring.

Inari shrines in a little side pocket of the grounds.  That little guy poking up behind the right torii is a mini Mount Fuji.

So, I can't find too much information about this little Fuji.  I'm going to guess that it's here for those who can't actually climb Fujisan.  Mt. Fuji is regarded as a sacred mountain; with the Shinto followers believing it is the embodiment of the spirit of nature and the Buddhist followers believing it is a gateway to another world.  In the Edo Period pilgrimages up Fujisan became very popular.  For those who couldn't make the trip up the mountain, Fujiko (pilgrimage groups) would bring back plants, rocks and dirt from Mt Fuji and put them at the top of a hill constructed in the city, called Fujizuka.  This way some of the spiritual power of the mountain was reachable to those who couldn't get to it in reality.  I can't find it now, but I read somewhere that women were not allowed to climb the mountain before the Meiji Period, so this may have been a way for the ladies to worship Fujisan.

Maybe it is, maybe it isn't.  I'm going to pretend that it is, because that makes it a pretty cool place.  And, with another interesting tidbit learned about this mountain, I've added something to my list of places to see:  Hatomori Shrine in Sendagaya, one of the oldest Fujizuka in Tokyo!

Okay, so after walking around this shrine for a bit we decided we would make our way back to the New Sanno where Nina was going to retrieve her brand new 3 ft tall tanuki.  But, first we wanted to find a coffee shop to relax in for a few more 2-moms-in-Tokyo-without-our-kids minutes.  :)  So, we arrived back around Sensoji and wandered the streets in search of a coffee shop.  It was actually harder to find than we thought.  We were just about to give up, really, we saw a sign for the subway and were heading toward it when we noticed, out of the corner of our eyes, a cafe!  Woop woop!

The little creamer cup made us both say, "Awww".
A cafe with cat pictures everywhere.  And, the infamous cafe cat made a brief appearance just after we sat down.  We picked the table by the window and ordered our coffee and each of us had a sweet cake.

After our rejuvenating coffee break we hopped on the train and retrieved Mr. Tanuki.  Then, we slid that huge box into the middle seat of the car (certainly glad we chose to take a car to Tokyo instead of trying to wrestle him all the way home on the train.).  The trip home was pretty uneventful...and I did it without one incident or panic attack; take that AOB guys!!  :D

I had an amazing final trip with my dear friend, Nina.  The day was beautiful!  The crowds weren't bad once we were away from Sensoji.  We might not have made it to all of the Shichifukujin destinations, but the few we saw were pretty darn amazing!  We found some yummy rice crispy treat like snacks to eat and enjoyed a delicious lunch.  It was such a perfect day!  I'm so thankful to have shared such a great day with such a great friend!

And, to top it all off...I drove in the big bad city of Tokyo!  I even backed that big ole van into an itty bitty parking spot without hitting the walls or the car beside me!  Okay, so I may have come close, but Nina saved me by reminding me to pull my mirrors in.  I call that success!

I bought a 7 Lucky Gods ema at Hashiba Fudoson.  There were no trees to tie it to, that I could find, so I brought it home.  It sits on the shelf with the cute little Bishamonten.  I guess if he's a warrior and protector I should describe him as fierce.