Tuesday, May 15, 2012


The wait is finally over! After months of waiting, spring has sprung, the snow is GONE, and the sakura have arrived! The Tohoku region of Japan has been waiting with bated breath as reports have been coming in, documenting the sakura's journey north. We were able to see the first blossoms in Tokyo while we were there last month and have been waiting ever since then for Misawa to get these amazing little flowers.

I love so many things about Japan, and one of my favorites is how organized they are. They actually have websites and publications dedicated to the sakura's arrival in each region. Everywhere we checked, the sakura were due to arrive in Misawa April 30, just in time for Golden Week. At first, I laughed, because I found it amusing that the people of Japan were telling the blossoms when they could arrive.

Little did I know they'd be right on the money. The morning of April 30, the sun rose and the blossoms started blooming. One by one, the trees started turning pink and white. By May 3, the entire base and all the parks around town seemed to have turned pink. All the sakura-themed festivals planned for that weekend would have the sakura decorate the areas. Once again, the Japanese efficiency paid off in a glorious way!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

kihi wedding

Last weekend, I shot my first Japanese wedding. I feel incredibly lucky to have had this experience. Though it was incredibly stressful, it was a beautiful event that I will remember forever. The bride and groom, Aiko and Steven, were amazing. They were married at Kihi Shrine, which is about ten minutes from our house. This shrine has been featured in television shows aimed at showing what life is like around Misawa.

The ceremony was small and intimate, with 20 or so family members and close friends. There were many ceremonial events that happened at the ceremony, including the drinking of sake and the reading of scrolls. I wish I knew more Japanese so I could have understood what was being said!

After the ceremony, we took photos. The sakura started to bloom the day of the wedding and we were able to spot a few buds on the trees at the shrine.

After pictures, we headed to Kizan Misawa, which is basically a building with meeting rooms and ballrooms for events such as these. The ceremony was bigger, with nearly 60 guests in attendance. The party went late into the night and the bride and groom (and photographer) were exhausted once it was over!

While I enjoyed every part of this wedding, the part that amazed me the most was the amount of intricate detail that went into the bridal outfits. During the ceremony, Steve and Aiko wore traditional kimonos. Aiko's was made up of about 10 unique layers and it took several people to get it on her! She also wore a traditional Japanese head piece that weighed about 15 pounds. She looked absolutely stunning after the artists completed their work.

After the ceremony, Aiko returned to the Kizan dressing room, where her assistants helped her to change out her headdress. The bright, colorful hair ornaments were swapped out for sparkling silver ones. The effect was stunning.

Halfway through the reception, both bride and groom returned once more to the dressing rooms to change into their last outfit of the evening. Steve wore his Navy uniform while Aiko wore a beautiful red, ruffled wedding reception dress. I was amazed at how quickly the artists took of the 10 kimono layers and headdress, completely redid her hair and makeup, and got her dressed in the gown. She was in and out of there in 20 minutes flat, which was an amazing feat in itself.

As I've gone through photos of the event, I have had trouble pinning down my favorites. There are so many beautiful photos of this beautiful event, and I am so glad I was able to take part in this very special day!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

the amazing race, wind-swept umbrellas, kebabs, and the search for wonderland

Our last day in Tokyo was a wet one. Having diligently watched the weather reports for our weekend, we were expecting this and planned as many indoor activities as we could for the afternoon. The morning was bright and beautiful, though, and we started it out Amazing Race style.

Since the night bus back to Misawa left at 9 pm, we knew we'd have a huge amount of time to hang out in Tokyo prior to leaving. We did, however, want to make sure we knew exactly where to go since the terminal was not at Shinjuku Station. We had some rudimentary directions in Japlish on how to get to the terminal, and the three of us were having quite the time trying to figure out the best way to get there (especially since we'd have all of our luggage when going to catch the bus later that night.)

We finally decided to go about it Amazing Race style and each go our own ways. Ben chose the underground and walked through a several-kilometer-long cobblestone tunnel that runs underneath Shinjuku. I took to the streets and navigated through the Shinjuku district above ground (of course, this was right around the time it decided to start raining). Devon braved the subway system and had to find her way to the platform inside Shinjuku Station.

We all arrived within 10 minutes of each other, with Ben in the lead. So with our plans set in place for that evening, we were free to spend the rest of the day exploring more of Tokyo.

 Ben's photo after arriving at the terminal.

 Devon's adventure through the subway system.

My view as I reached our destination.

We jumped back on the subway and headed back to Roppongi. We had seen it at night but wanted to go up into the Mori Building to see the amazing view of Tokyo. As we arrived in Roppongi, we realized we hadn't eaten since our Starbucks early in the morning. We stopped at a hole-in-the-wall kebab place and had the best 500 yen meal we've had since arriving in Japan. After we finished, we walked back to the spider and tried to take a few pictures. I say "tried," because the wind and rain picked up so heavily that we had to seek cover almost immediately. I did get the camera out just in time to capture Devon's umbrella finally yielding to the wind. Needless to say, she wasn't too happy that her umbrella only made it through the morning.

We found the entrance to the Mori Building and rode the elevator up 51 floors to the observation deck. From there, we had a panoramic view of the entire city. Being the most populated city in the world, you can imagine there was quite a bit to see. The city looked beautiful in the rain and we spent quite a bit of time just watching. We eventually left the observation deck and took a tour through the most current exhibit in the Mori Art Museum.

The evening was supposed to be the best part - the thing I wanted to do the most in Japan was to eat at one of Tokyo's three Alice in Wonderland themed restaurants. We had read about them pretty soon after moving here, and I couldn't wait to dine among the huge daffodils and card shaped tables. It took a bit of navigating to find the restaurant, which ended up being below the basement of a huge building not too far from one of Shinjuku Station's 200 exits. Though I had called ahead and was told they didn't take reservations, we were turned away because we didn't have one. They did, however, let me walk through and take some photos before we left. I was incredibly upset until Ben found directions to its sister restaurant, which was also Alice themed. That restaurant, too, was packed and was only available with reservations.

At the end of our ropes, we finally settled for a small restaurant that served shabu shabu. This is a Korean meal that consists of boiled vegetables and meat cooked at your table. It was similar to yakiniku, except everything was soft and moist instead of grilled. The meal turned out to be a great experience despite our earlier disappointment. We'll just have to try Alice again next time we're in Tokyo!

After dinner we headed back to Shinjuku, picked up our baggage, and navigated our way to the bus terminal using Ben's underground route from the morning. We caught the bus and did our best to sleep on the way back up to Misawa. When we arrived, we immediately realized we were home because of the snow on the ground.

Though we had an amazing trip, it was good to be home! We can't wait to plan out our next trip to the biggest city in the world!