Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Amazing Hot Spring Bath Of Inubousaki

"Pure ocean, pure relaxation, pure life"

Inubousaki Kankou Hotel

Inubousaki Kanko Hotel (photo credit: Masataka Ishizaki).

Chiba Kun Ambassadors wrapped out the final tour of the year at Inubousaki Kankou Hotel. No, we were not there to stay overnight, but to dip ourselves into its famous natural hot spring, more commonly known in Japan as onsen (温泉). Public bathing in hot springs is a popular activity in Japan, especially during the cold winter season. Soaking in a hot spring is one of the most enjoyable ways to initiate deep healing and rejuvenation of body, mind and spirit.

I have to admit, when I first came to Japan, I never felt comfortable about the idea of getting naked in front of strangers and taking a bath. Having brought up in an environment like Malaysia, this practice is considered very awkward. Therefore, I never tried the onsen in Japan, until I entered my third year living in Japan.

The hot spring for legs outside the hotel (photo credit: Masataka Ishizaki).

Very well furnished lobby, which offers a wonderful view of the beach and ocean.

You can catch the sight of Inubousaki Lighthouse from the hotel, which I visited two years ago.

And trust me, that was one of the best decision I have ever made. I instantly fell in love with onsen. Winter is the time I eagerly wait each year, because this is the time of the year where I will usually pay multiple visits to the hot spring place. To most of my friends who have not tried it, just give it a try. After all, onsen is probably the only place where you can go naked in the public, yet not get caught by the law hahaha!

Back to the onsen of Inubousaki, it is not like any other usual onsen because here, filtered and treated sea water are used in the hot spring bath. Besides Inubousaki Kankou Hotel, there are three other hotels around this area that offers similar experience to the visitors, namely Inubousaki Hotel (犬吠埼ホテル), Hotel New Daishin (ホテルニュー大新), and Gyokeikan Hotel (ぎょうけい館ホテル).

 The entrance to the guys' hot spring bath room.

Part of the certificates that recognise the high quality of the hot spring in this hotel.

What makes these hotel popular among the visitors is the exclusive experience to enjoy the beautiful ocean while dipping into the hot spring. Also, visitors who stay in the hotel will have the rare experience to watch the sunrise early in the morning while they dip themselves in the hot spring. The sunrise in Inubousaki by the way, is the earliest in Japan, which makes it a famous spot on New Year's Day, because everyone would come here to catch the first sunrise of the year.

For beginners, I will briefly explain about what you usually do once you walk pass that cloth that hangs over the entrance. 
  1. First of all, take off all your clothes in the changing room. When I said all, I mean all. Everything. Put your clothes in the locker, basket, or on the shelf. If you are using public facilities, make sure not to leave any valuables in unlocked areas. Small lockers for valuables are often available.
  2. Enter the bathroom with a small towel and your amenities. I am not sure about the ladies, but for guys, the little towel we have is usually enough to cover the critical section. Before getting in the bathtub, scoop out some water from the bathtub using a bucket and rinse your body, or rinse your body using tap water in front of faucet.     
  3. Wash your body or hair and rinse off soap and shampoo well before you get in the bathtub.
  4. Get in the bathtub. It is proper etiquette in public facilities not to put a towel in the bathtub. Just leave it on the side of the bathtub, or simply place it on your head.
  5. Rinse your body with tap water in front of faucet. Dry your body with your small towel before you enter the changing room. Please remember not to drain the bathtub water when you are finished unless you are told to do so.
  6. Dry your body with your bath towel and dress in the changing room.

No photograph is possible inside the hot spring. So this is how this wonderful place looks like. (Note: The lady is not part of the package).

There are eight types of different bath tub in Inubousaki Kankou Hotel, three each for the guys and ladies, one private bath tub and one at the entrance which is called ashiyu (足湯) for the legs. There are two kinds of bath tubs for the guys and ladies, inside and outside one called rotenburo (露天風呂). Needless to say, the one outside is the most popular as visitors get to enjoy the breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean while dipping their body in the hot spring. It was indeed a very relaxing experience after our long day tour.

This is one of the place where you will to want to miss out when you visit Inubousaki. And I am already planning my next trip here, because the weather is still cold.

We were given a complementary ice cream after our hot dip.

One last group photo of the Chiba Kun Ambassadors before we head back to Chiba (photo credit: Ayako Uchiyama).

Inubousaki Kankou Hotel (犬吠埼観光ホテル)
Opening hours: 12:00 - 19:00 (closed at 20:30)
Price: 1,000 yen (adult), 600 yen (children) from Mon to Fri; 1,200 yen (adult), 800 yen (children) for Sat, Sun and national holidays.
Mio Tsukushi Private Bath (澪つくし貸切温泉)

Opening hours: 12:00 - 20:00 (reservation required)
Price: 3,150 yen (for 2 person for 50 minutes)

Price may vary depending on number of people and day. Please contact directly for details.
Tel: 0479-23-5111 (09:00 - 20:00)
Parking: Available
Website: http://www.inubou.co.jp (Japanese only)
: 10293, Inubousaki, Choshi-shi Chiba Prefecture, 288-0012, Japan.

① Train: From JR Choshi station (JR 銚子駅):
# Choshi Dentetsu (銚子電鉄) (20 minute-ride) (for Togawa station 外川行き), get down at Inubo station (犬吠駅).
② Car:
# From Tokyo (東京):
Kanto-Higashi Expressway (関東東自動車道), exit Itako IC (潮来 IC), take Route 124 to Route 356 via Choshi Ohashi Bridge (銚子大橋) (approximately 1 hour) to Choshi・Inubousaki.
From Tateyama・Kamogawa (館山・鴨川): From Tateyama・Kamogawa to Chiba Ichinomiya (千葉一宮) via Route 128 (approximately 60 minutes), then head to Kujukuri Beach Line (九十九里ビーチライン) via Kujukuri Paid Road (九十九里有料道路) approximately 30 minutes, then head to Choshi・Inubousaki (銚子・犬吠埼) via Route 126 (approximately 50 minutes).
③ Express bus: From Hamamatsucho bus terminal (浜松町バスターミナル) to Tokyo station Yaesu Exit (東京駅八重洲口)
# Board bus for Inubo
(犬吠行き), bus ride takes approximately 2 hours.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fresh Sumptuous Seafood From Choshi

"The treasure house of fresh seafood 
from the Pacific Ocean."
Choshi city of Chiba

The restaurant where the Chiba Kun Ambassadors had our lunch.

Choshi is a fishing port located in the eastern most tip of Chiba prefecture. The city, which has its three sides surrounded by the ocean, is located in a region with mild climate and many tourist spots and has developed as a port town since ancient time. Choshi fishing port is proud to have the highest catches in Japan for three consecutive years since 2011.

The highest catch in Choshi fishing ports is iwashi or sardine. During the raining season in June, the sardine caught are known as nyubai-iwashi (入梅いわし) for its richness in delicious fats during this time of the year. There are also sardine festival during this season when various stalls offers a wide variety of cuisine made of sardine.

You can tell this is a popular restaurant based on the reviews it got from famous celebrities who had dined here before (photo credit: Masataka Ishizaki).

The first floor of the restaurant, which has a huge aquarium in the middle.

A board that welcomes the arrival of the Chiba Kun Ambassadors.

A magnificent dining hall, where we get to enjoy the breathtaking view of the sea while having our meal.

Besides that, Choshi is also famous for its high quality red snapper or kinmedai (金目鯛). Just like sardine, the locals also hold a festival for this fish annually during summer. It is estimated that this festival attracts approximately 20,000 visitors every year to try on the freshly caught seafood. It makes me wonder, it must be lucky to be a fish in this city lol!

We dropped by one of the many restaurants which line along the coastal beach of Choshi to have our lunch. Ichiyama Ikesu is a restaurant which specialises in seafood. The Chiba Kun Ambassadors had the privilege to dine at the private room on the second floor, which offers a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean. On the first floor, there is a huge pool called ikesu (生け簀) or aquarium, where diners get to enjoy the living sea-creatures while enjoying their meal.

 Our sumptuous lunch set.

With Tridat, who others think we look like brothers lol!

The first dish was fresh sashimi, which has tuna (まぐろ), Olive flounder (ヒラメ), octopus (イカ), and shrimp (エビ). The second dish was tenpura, which consists of tiger prawn and bell pepper stuffed with meat. The next dish was some kind of fish cooked with soy sauce, which tasted really good. And to complete the meal was a hot bowl of lobster miso soup.

My honest verdict - the food here was not bad but what was special about this restaurant is the fact that diners get to enjoy the beautiful scenery outside while having their meal.

Having a group photo outside the restaurant after our satisfying lunch (photo credit: Ayako Uchiyama).

Ichiyama Ikesu (一山いけす)
Opening hours: 11:00 - 15:30 (lunch time); 16:30 - 20:00 (dinner time)
Tel: 0479-22-7622     Fax: 0479-22-7624
Parking: Available
: 7387-5, Kurohai-cho, Choshi-shi, Chiba Prefecture, 288-0003, Japan.

http://www.ichiyamaikesu.co.jp/ (Japanese only)
① Train: From JR Choshi station (JR 銚子駅):
# Take Chiba bus (千葉交通バス) (20 minute-ride) (for Kurohai・Ashikajima 黒生・海鹿島方面), get down at Tonbiiwa bus stop (とんび岩停留所), 1 minute by foot.
# Choshi Dentetsu (銚子電鉄) (20 minute-ride) (for Togawa station 外川行き), get down at Kasagamikurohae station (笠上黒生駅), 15 minute by foot.
# Taxi (15 minute-ride) for approximately 1,300 - 1,500 yen.
② Car: From Tokyo
# Kanto-Higashi Expressway (関東東自動車道), exit Sahara・Katori IC (佐原・香取 IC), take Route 356 to Choshi station (approximately 1 hour), and then to Ichiyama Ikesu (10 minutes).
Kanto-Higashi Expressway (関東東自動車道), exit Itako IC (潮来 IC), take Route 124 to Route 356 via Choshi Ohashi Bridge (銚子大橋) (approximately 1 hour), and then to Choshi station, and then to Ichiyama Ikesu (10 minutes).# Keiyo Road・Togane Road (京葉道路・東金道路), exit Matsuoyokoshiba IC (松尾横芝 IC), take Route 126 to Choshi Inubosaki (approximately 1 hour), and then to Ichiyama Ikesu (5 minutes).
③ Express bus: From Hamamatsucho bus terminal (浜松町バスターミナル) or Tokyo station Yaesu Exit (東京駅八重洲口)
# Board bus for Inubosaki Hotel
(犬吠埼ホテル行き) or for Choshi・Inubosaki (銚子・犬吠埼行き), get down at Kosoku Kurohai (高速黒生); bus ride takes approximately 2.5 hours and one-way ticket costs 2,500 yen.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Making Handkerchief With Choshi's Chijimi

"It is hard to mary into a family 
for a girl who cannot weave"
the early stage
of the Edo period

Choshi famous chijimi,  made into various kinds of products.

Chiba Prefecture has designated 168 different traditional craftworks of the prefecture. These include items such as maiwai-shiki tairyo hata (special flags used to celebrate a good catch), which are famous nationwide. Various efforts are taken to preserve these traditions, and Chiba's traditional handicrafts are now being handed down to fourth and fifth generations, while at the same time incorporating fresh ideas of a new age as well.

Our next stop was experiencing the method in making one of Choshi's famous craftwork - chijimi (ちぢみ). No, it is not the Korean pancake, but a stripped cotton crêpe, with pre-dyed threads, tough and neat. This light, thin fabric with a wrinkled surface fabric has its weft thread twined and hence, is five times stronger than ordinary thread.

Choshi famous Chijimi Traditional Crafts Center.

 Choshi chijimi is designated the intangible cultural assets by the government of Chiba Prefecture.

 The Chiba Kun Ambassadors were first shown a ten-minute video, about the history and the process of making the fabric.

 Today, we will be making handkerchief.

And this is our sensei who started with some introduction about chijimi (photo credit: Ayako Uchiyama).

 Our sensei showing us samples of Choshi chijimi.

 The bottom roll is the final product, where you can see the fabric has shrunk significantly (about two-third) from the initial stage (top).

 The materials for handkerchief making - a piece of white chijimi cloth, a chopstick and three rubber bands.

"Here is how you are supposed to tie your cloth!" (photo credit: Masataka Ishizaki)

Listening attentively to the instruction like a primary school kid lol! (photo credit: Masataka Ishizaki)

 The first step of the process is done. Now, it is ready to be dyed.

In the early stage of the Edo period, a traditional fine fibre called "Choshi Chijimi" was being woven in and around the district of Choshi, a fishery town in the easternmost region of Chiba Prefecture. During its golden age, there were about 50 weaving shops together with more than 100 subsidiary workers. In the neighbourhood then, there was a prevailing rumours which says that, "it is hard to marry into a family for a girl who cannot weave."

This fabric was loved by many men of fashion and refined tastes in those days. Baisuiin Chobei, a famous figure, known as the "knight of the town", was also one of those who loved kimono made of Choshi chijimi, winning public admiration throughout the town of Edo. 

 The huge barrels containing the dye, which is made of a plant called ai(Persicaria_tinctoria) ().

Counting down. One... two... three... ... ... ... ... twenty... ... ... ... ... fifty... ... ... ... ninety-nine... (photo credit: Ayako Uchiyama).

My handkerchief, which has been soaked with love lol!

Ai, which also means "love" (愛) in Japanese, is a species of flowering plant in the buckwheat family. Common names include Chinese indigo. It is native to Eastern Europe and Asia and the leaves were a source of indigo dye. It was already in use in the Western Zhou period (ca. 1045-771 B.C.), and was the most important blue dye in East Asia until the arrival of Indigofera from the south.

In Japan, ai is mainly produced commercially in Tokushima in Shikoku. However, as this plant only grows in the summer, the leaves are dried and made into balls. These balls are diluted with water when they are to be used as dye during the making of chijimi. The initial colour is yellowish green, but due to the chemical reaction (oxidation) with the air, the colour will turn indigo eventually.

After soaking in the dye for sometime, the last steps were to dip the cloth in a mixture of vinegar and water, and finally rinse it with plain water. 
Weird facial expressions due to the vinegar water which was really cold! (photo credit: Ayako Uchiyama).

Tada! Our Japanese version of batik hahaha!

After soaking in the dye for several times (approximately one minute per time), we dipped the handkerchief in vinegar water and finally washed them. 

The last process is drying them in front of the heater (photo credit: Ayako Uchiyama).

I am not a big fan of handkerchief, but this is indeed a great experience!

Doesn't it resemble Mount Fuji?

It was a pity that manufacture of this fabric had become extinct for a pretty long period of time. Fortunately, however, this valuable fabric has been revived owing to the great efforts made by Tokoyoda family of Choshi ever since the memorable year of 1953. Today, it is designated the intangible cultural assets by the government of Chiba Prefecture.

At present, the weaving of Choshi chijimi is being well-managed in spite of many difficulties through the incessant labour of both Mr Toyokoda himself and his son under the warm encouragement from the national, prefectural and municipal authorities concerned alike. All the local people are particularly supporting them vigourously, as they believe it is their responsibility to protect the cultural assets of their town. 


Rolls of Choshi chijimi with various beautiful motifs. 

T-shirts and scarf.

Japanese traditional fans.


And not forgetting, small cute decorative items, such as this key-chain.   

The process of weaving Choshi chijimi begins with making arrangement of cotton threads that run crosswise, twisted as firmly as possible, prepared in two types, one being S-shaped and the other Z-shaped respectively. Then weaving is started by making each of the two types of threads run through alternately, from one side and the other by turns. 

Finally, when weaving is completed, put the cloth into hot water, rubbing it there, and you will find fine wave-like unevenness appearing on the surface of the cloth, which is formed due to the elastic force originating from the mutual repulsion of the different type of thread occuring as it untwists. This is what we call "shibo-dashi" (しぼ出し) and it is the most striking feature of the fabric. By the way, Choshi chijimi is well-known as a very strong, yet very soft cloth.

Choshi Chijimi Traditional Crafts Center (銚子ちぢみ伝統工芸館)
Opening hours: 09:00 - 17:00
Price: 1,575 yen (handkerchief making)
Price ranges according to items. Please contact directly for details.
Tel: 0479-22-2103     Fax: 0479-22-2032
Parking: Available
: 3-228, Matsugishi-machi, Choshi-shi, Chiba Prefecture, 288-0836, Japan.

: Train: From JR Matsugishi station (JR 松木市駅), 5 minutes (350m) by foot.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Aiberry From Tounosho-machi

 "If you keep my secret, 
this strawberry is yours."
Tsugumi Ohba,
Death Note Box Set

A quick question before I begin this entry. What do you call strawberries which are grown with love?

Aiberry, or "love strawberry".

You call it Aiberry (アイベリー). "Ai" (愛) in Japanese, means love, and that is how you get the name aiberry. And I kid you not, because this is the king of luxury strawberries which goes as much as 500 yen a pop. Aiberry is touted as the 21st century equivalent of the cantaloupe, or "musk melon", which was typically the go-to fruit when foreign media wanted to demonstrate the utter ridiculousness of high-priced Japanese food culture. One best example was a pair of cantaloupe melons from Hokkaido which fetch 1.6 million yen in 2013.

Back to this strawberry of love (read: aiberry), it refers to a kind of large, sweet and fragrant berries found only in Japan. It represents Japan's best effort to date of getting strawberries to mimic watermelons, which still keeping sugar level high. Japanese strawberries are not grown commercially because they are too soft and would be hard to pack. But they are perfect for the home gardener. They have the most amazing taste. Very sweet and juicy.

First stop of the day - strawberry picking in Tounosho-machi.

Hayashi's Farm is one of the seven strawberry farms found in this town. And yes, it snowed that morning.

A banner which is written with the word "aiberry" (アイベリー).

As usual, the Chiba Kun Ambassadors are always given a warm welcome at each of the places we visit.

We had our forth and final Chiba Kun Ambassadors tour over the weekend and the first stop took us to Mr Hayashi's farm for ichigogari (いちご狩り). The idea is, we were given thirty minutes, and within this period of time, we get to pick and eat-all-we-can the strawberries in the farm. Sounds like a great deal, isn't it?

And guess what, this farm only grows aiberry! Thirty minutes to enjoy the delights of this rare gem!

Tada! The dozen long rows of strawberries ready to be attacked lol!

Aiberries from afar. Apparently, the smaller aiberries are as sweet as their gigantic cousins.

Lets take a closer look at these berries. On average, each pop measures about 10 cm long and 4 cm wide.

I was told that berries which weird shapes like this are generally sweeter.

We were given some short briefings on the berries grown in this farm, and what are the do's and don'ts while we are picking the strawberries. Among them, you should not wash the berries with water, since it might deplete the aroma. Just "blow on it" to get ride of any residue. Then you smell it, hold it up to the light to "enjoy the color", say goodbye, and then slowly eat the berry one bite at a time, savoring not only the flavour (each part of the strawberry has a different grade of "sweetness") but also the "structure".

When it is over, you can even appreciate the aftertaste and start to hunt for the next berry.

And so, we started our strawberry buffet-cum-breakfast hahaha!

Say i-chee-go!

Despite being busy with the berries, Ros and I still had time for selfie in the farm hahaha!

Everyone were in aesthetic to see such huge strawberries for the first time in our life.

Happy faces of Chiba Kun Ambassadors, enjoying the strawberries full of love haha! (photo credit: Ayako Uchiyama).

There are seven strawberry farms in Tounosho-machi and all of these farms grows the high-quality aiberry. There is a stretch, called the Strawberry Highway (いちご街道, ichigo kaido), in which there are direct-selling strawberries stalls set up along the route 356 in this town.

The best season to enjoy the strawberries is between February to March. The temperature difference between the warm day time and chill night time plays an important part in producing delicious strawberries.

The total damage done in thirty minutes.

I'll say this about Japan, when it comes to fruit, they pull out all the stops. Sure it may be expensive and all that, but this is one instance where you get what you pay for. In Malaysia, you can buy a bag of 20 apples for a couple bucks, but half of them may be duds, and they are small. And sometimes, if you are lucky, they will come with unexpected new friends (read: caterpillars lol!).

In Japan fruit is big! Farmers grow and care for fruit like they would their own children. Each fruit is individually wrapped in protective paper or maybe a plastic bubble, while it is still on the tree. The way they are groomed, pampered and polished, you'd think each piece was being readied for a personal meeting with the emperor or something.

The staff packing the aiberries manually, by grading them according to sizes and quality.

And here you are, just in case you wonder how much these red gems cost.

There are also other strawberry-based souvenir such as cookies and snacks.

And just a simple trivia about strawberries to cap up this entry. The actual fruit part of the strawberry are the little seeds on the outside, not the juicy red stuff you are eating.  Strawberries are actually not berries nor are they made of straw. They are actually what is known as an accessory fruit.

Hayashi Strawberry Farm (林いちご園)
Opening hours: 10:00 - 16:00 (operates from early January - mid-May)
Price: 1,700 yen (eat-all-you-can for 30 minutes, between Jan 5 - 31), 1,500 yen for children between 3 -6 years old.
Price ranges according to season. Check the website for details.
Tel: 0478-86-4019 (Mon - Fri), 0478-86-1614 (Sat, Sun, national holidays)
Parking: 40 cars.
: 1120, Sasagawaro, Tounosho-machi, Katori-gun, Chiba Prefecture, 289-0602, Japan. 

http://w01.tp1.jp/~a273350079/ (Japanese only)

Access: Train: From JR Sasagawa station (JR 笹川駅), 20 minutes by foot.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Welcoming 2014

"Learn from yesterday, 
live for today, 
hope for tomorrow" 
Albert Einstein

I hope it is still not too late to wish you all Happy New Year 2014!

Here in Japan, it is a long holiday for us. Nine-straight days of holidays, and in result, my biological clock has gone haywire lol! After a few days of lazing around and indulging non-stop in good food, I bet it will not be easy to return to work come Monday.

Osechi-ryōri (お節料理) from nearby supermarket. Note that this is not really the accurate representation of a typical traditional Japanese meal on New Year's eve. 

Watching the first sunrise of the year is an integral part of New Year's celebrations in Japan, as people gather at various viewing locations to pray for a successful year to come. After spending more than seven years in Japan, it was the first time I went to see the first sunrise.

The spot I pick was the Heiwa otorii gate nearby Haneda International Airport in Tokyo.

Upon reaching the spot, the volunteers were distributing hot shijimi (freshwater clam) soup and sake for free to everyone.

While everyone were waiting for the sunrise, this hot bowl of soup came just at the perfect time.

Sunrise time for January 1st, 2014 was 6:51 a.m. for Tokyo. As the clock ticks on, the crowd began to pill up and thirty minutes to the sunrise time, there were an estimated of 2,000 people, mostly locals who have gathered there. A couple of minutes before the sunrise, everyone started to look closely to their watches until the time came.

Finally, after more than an hour waiting in the chilly morning, we saw the first glimpse of the sun ray!

The very first sun light of the year, rising from the horizon.

Watching the first sunrise of the year from the land of the rising sun. Cool, isn't it?

Another shot of the sunrise by Tamagawa river.

No words or photos can describe the beauty we saw that morning. We saw the sun rising from the horizon, and in less than a couple of minutes, the whole thing is out. The sun was in blazing orange, round, and bright! It was simply gorgeous. Something that you have to see it with your own eyes.

I guess the freezing morning we endured was worth it after all.

The two characters on the torii gate, which read heiwa (平和), meaning "peace".

Located just a stone's throw away from Haneda International Airport, this torii gate wishes for the world peace.

Long lines of visitors who queued up for the hot shijimi soup.

My next destination was for hatsumōde (初詣). In Japan, the first event of the New Year is hatsumōde, which refers to one’s first visit to a shrine or temple in order to greet the New Year. There is no set period for this practice, but many people perform hatsumōde within the first three days of the year.

This year, my pick was Asakusa's Sensoji Temple, which opens up for this special prayer ceremony as soon as the clock rings at midnight and the new year begins. Unlike visits to this temple on other time of the year, the temple grounds and the Nakamise shopping street in front of Sensoji itself are decorated beautifully to welcome all visitors.

Kaminarimon Gate, the entrance to Sensoji Temple.

Beautiful wooden carving of a dragon just below the giant lantern.

Nakamise shopping street, which is beautifully decorated to welcome the year of horse.

The five-storey pagoda and the main entrance to the grand hall.

I am not sure why, but the temple was relatively not crowded at all. I get to walk into the main praying hall like almost immediately, without queuing like always. Perhaps it was the timing I was there. So, lesson learned. Go for your hatsumōde around eight to nine in the morning next time, and the place should be quite empty, unless you enjoy the crowd and long queues lol!

The main hall of Sensoji Temple.

The saisenbako (賽銭箱), an offering box for you to throw your coins into and make your prayers, was specially enlarged for new year's celebration lol!

Another tradition is getting omikuji (おみくじ), to foresee the future fortune.

 We were supposed to shake this case until a stick which has number written on it comes out.

Half fortune? Hmmm, not bad-lar I think lol!

After the visit to the temple, it was breakfast time. Miso saba mackerel breakfast set at Gasto.

Since Tokyo Skytree is just nearby, I decided to kill some time there, while enjoying the atmosphere of the shoppers fighting for fukubukuro, another new year craze which happens in Japan every year. This year, 1,000 lucky visitors will get to watch the first sunrise of the year from the tallest location in Tokyo - Tokyo Skytree's two observation towers - 350 meters and 450 meters up - opened from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. The winners were chosen by lottery, but guess how much one ticket cost? 

One ticket to watch the sunrise from Tokyo Skytree costs a whopping 5,000 yen! Crazy stuff. I'd better watch it from Haneda. Not only it is free, we were served hot shijimi soups to beat the coldness as well haha!

 Tokyo Skytree seen from Sumida river.

Acrobatic performances at Tokyo Skytree.

Not only there were quite good, they were fu*king funny as well lol!

And talking about new year, this year I got only two new year cards. A record low haha! Must be due to the fact that I moved to a new place since December 2012 and all my cards got bounced to the sender :(

Anyway, the two were from my lecturer in Nagaoka and another one from Shei Pien in Toyama. But the pick of the lot (not that many anyway lol!) was from Shei Pien.

Nengajō (年賀状) or new year greeting cards for the year of horse.

This one (keyword: horse, laughing) from Shei Pien really made my day. Thanks mouse! I am gonna miss her nengajō a lot after this!

Happy New Year again guys, and have a wonderful year ahead!\(^O^)/