Deep Gomen!

I have been a very very bad blogger, being somewhat hung up on editing together footage of the Narita taiko festival, and also having a rather busy few months.

Jen and Chris enjoying our favorite local sushi shop

Jen and Chris enjoying our favorite local sushi shop

Fortunately Jen has been filling the gap a bit, but I do owe you all a deep gomen! I am temporarily abandoning the taiko video and will come back to it later.

Going-away party for Mike, one of our taiko players

Going-away party for Mike, one of our taiko players

The last two months have been super busy. The Laedlein brigades arrived in mid-April, and while Jen I’m sure will have more to say about that, we had a great time around Tokyo and then they all took off for Kyoto.

Careful scrutiny of the Tokyo Subway map

Careful scrutiny of the Tokyo Subway map

I finished up at my job at the embassy so that I will have more time to travel and help with pack-out. Leaving my office is a bit sad — I’ve become quite attached to my colleagues, and working provides some much-needed structure to my days.

von Laedlein family taiko players

von Laedlein family taiko players

And now that I have left, it’s really dawning on me how little time we have left in Japan. Two years has flown by incredibly quickly and I can’t believe we’re headed out so soon. On top of the temptation to to run screaming into the Japanese wilderness, we are also starting to sort out our moving and DC housing arrangements, which is a job in itself.

Laedleins at Meiji Temple

Laedleins at Meiji Temple

As I left the job, Patty came to visit for two weeks, and we quickly headed out for several days in Kyoto, a hands-on washi-making workshop in Mino, and a gorgeous ryokan in Hakone. I will write more about that in depth later. For now I want to catch up with some of the random things from this spring and early summer.

Azaleas in bloom near the house

Azaleas in bloom near the house

a favorite screen from Kairakuen

a favorite screen from Kairakuen

As Jen posted, spring and summer start festival season, but they’re also the time when the country bursts into bloom. We’ve posted about the cherry blossoms, but the flower culture here is much broader — there are whole calendars showing when certain blossoms are at their peak where in the country.

Roses in the neighborhood park

Roses in the neighborhood park

Wisteria, azaleas, irises, roses… the list goes on. Some gardens are famous for a certain type of flower, but many are also designed to be beautiful at any time of year, with at least one thing in bloom most of the time. In early April Jen and I visited Kairakuen in Mito, which is an hour and a half by express train north-east of Tokyo in Ibaraki prefecture.

bamboo forest at Kairakuen

bamboo forest at Kairakuen

Swans and cygnets under the willows

Swans and cygnets under the willows

We walked along the lake between the station and the garden, which was full of swans and cygnets, black and white, and then through the garden itself, which is particularly special because it’s one of the only famous major gardens that was a garden “of the people” rather than for the leisure of the wealthy and important.

Black Swan

Black Swan

Plum orchard in the afternoon light

Plum orchard in the afternoon light

View from the top of Kairakuen

View from the top of Kairakuen

Another weekend we climbed Mt Mitake, which, like many of the mountains had a nice path up and lots of temples along the way. The trail was lined with white iris-orchid-ish flowers that bloom under the trees in the mountains.

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Jen photographing a little ghoul-face in the stairs on Mt Mitake

Jen photographing a little ghoul-face in the stairs on Mt Mitake

We also went to a “wisteria festival” at a temple that features an extensive wisteria garden hanging over ponds and red bridges. These festivals have their own cuisine — festival-food which can run from the fried-fare you might expect to the somewhat more exotic grilled seafood on a stick.

Wisteria Festival

Wisteria Festival

Jen's favorite, somewhat difficult to eat, festival snack -- a whole grilled squid on a stick

Jen’s favorite, somewhat difficult to eat, festival snack — a whole grilled squid on a stick

One challenge to living over-seas is balancing adjusting to a new diet, with new things available, and also bringing those things with you that you love. Mexican food, it turns out, is one of the hardest things to get in Tokyo. It’s available in a couple restaurants, mostly in the foreigner districts, but it’s not good. And we really can’t live without a nice taco now and then. So we make a lot of our own at the house. Granted, certain adjustments have been made — cabbage, for example, is now a regular edition.

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We are now getting into moving-season for state department employees — most people go from post to post in the summer, and we’ve already seen a number of friends leave. Given the turbulence this causes in the embassy-itself, Jen has been working very hard and will continue to do so through the summer, but we are taking a number of fun trips. The first is to Shikoku, the fourth largest of the islands that make up Japan, and a beautiful mountainous country full of temples and castles. Excited!

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