Showa Kinen Park in Autumn

It’s hard to believe that it’s already the end of November! Living in Hawaii, seasons just kind of blend together and sometimes it doesn’t really feel like time is passing. (Then I check to see how long it’s been since my last blog post and I’m shocked!) I’ve been hearing about the beautiful autumn leaves (and now snow) from family and friends in Virginia so I’ve been feeling like I’m missing out on Fall. My solution: looking through my Fall photos from Japan! Last year we enjoyed a lot of time in Showa Kinen Park and the autumn leaves were simply gorgeous.

Lots of people visit the park during the peak season for the autumn colors. It’s a bit similar to the viewing of cherry blossoms in Spring except it doesn’t quite draw the same crowds (the cherry blossoms only last a few days so everyone is viewing them at one time) and you don’t have the picnics beneath the trees.


Still, we tried to go on weekdays when there were fewer people. There was an exhibit the park presented with images created from flower petals and twigs from trees. These must have taken a lot of time! The first image is from an anime named Gatchaman Crowds while the second is a scene with fireworks and autumn leaves.

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The entire park was filled with beautiful autumn leaves so we just enjoyed walking down the various paths and enjoying the beauty while enjoying a hot chocolate from a vending machine.

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We even found some flowers blooming!


The Japanese garden section had some of the most beautiful autumn scenery so we spent quite a bit of time there. There were some turtles enjoying the scenery and fading light as well!

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With that trip down memory lane, I’m feeling more in the spirit of the season! 🙂

Culture Day in Japan

I was just relaxing and checking the news after a busy day of class and work when I realized that today is Culture Day in Japan! Of course we missed all the celebrations this year but we were in Tokyo last year for Culture Day and had a great time at the celebration held at Meiji Shrine. Remembering that led to an immediate search through my photos to relive some fun memories.  (more…)

Memories of Tokyo Fireworks


I know the temperatures are starting to fall in a lot of places but not here! The unusually hot weather that arrived at the beginning of the month seems to have decided to stay and if today’s hot, humid weather is any indication, we’re in for more. All this hot weather has me thinking back to the last festival we went to before leaving Japan: the Showa Kinen Park Fireworks Festival! (more…)

Returning to Hawaii & Reverse Culture Shock


Just a little over a week ago, I returned to the US after living in Japan for two years. I really loved my time in Japan and the move back was somewhat bittersweet. I expected that I would miss all the things I loved about Japan (friends I’d made, delicious Japanese foods, exploring the country and culture, etc.) but I was also really looking forward to seeing friends and family, eating all the foods I’d missed, and just generally being home. And I was returning to Hawaii, a gorgeous place to visit and to live, so really there were a lot of positives, too. What I did not expect was to return to Hawaii only to feel completely out of place and almost a bit like I was visiting a new foreign country. I was completely surprised to feel this way and more than a little dismayed. This is what is known as reverse culture shock. I just read a very interesting post on the topic by Tokyo Five and posted my initial thoughts there in the comments but here are my thoughts after a few more days back in Hawaii. (more…)

A Little Owl Love at Fukuro Sabo

You may have heard of cat cafes in Japan where you can sit and enjoy a drink and perhaps have a slice of cake, all while cats roam around the room looking for treats and head scratches. They are fairly popular with those folks who love cats but cannot have one in their own apartment and though I was surprised to hear of them at first, it really makes a lot of sense. But have you ever heard of an owl cafe? They exist! (more…)

Our Last Day in Okinawa

On our last day in Okinawa Prefecture, we said goodbye to our resort in Ishigaki and flew back to Okinawa Island. We had most of the day before we had to be back at the airport for our flight to Tokyo so we had time for at least one more sightseeing spot around Naha. Since my husband is really interested in modern Japanese history, we headed to the Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters.  (more…)

Day Trip to Iriomote Island


On our last full day at Ishigaki, we decided to take a day trip to nearby Iriomote Island. Though the second largest Okinawan island, Iriomote is largely undeveloped and covered by jungle and mangrove forests. Our goal for the outing: to explore the mangrove forests lining Nakama River.

Nakama River Cruise

After a 40 minute ferry ride from Ishigaki to Iriomote’s Ohara Port, we signed up for a Nakama River cruise and were soon on our way! Our boat driver and tour guide was a resident of Iriomote and pointed out the area where he lived as we passed by the private resident dock. Strangely enough, he said he never used that dock to go out in a small boat because he gets sea sick! The cruise itself didn’t seem to bother him though and he described various interesting points about the river and mangrove forest, calling the area the “Amazon of Japan.”


The mangrove forest is part of the Iriomote National Park, so the trees are mostly left untouched by residents and visitors. Our guide pointed out damage that had been caused several years prior during a typhoon. Years later, the damaged trees were still there and you could clearly see swaths of the forest that took the most damage.


A species of palm called the Satake Palm can be found on Iriomote Island. We saw a large swath of them growing on the side of the mountain and we saw several fruits on palms lining the river but, according to our guide, they are not good for eating.


Our boat cruise made one stop before turning back down the river. We all hopped off the boat to follow a short path to the Sakishimasuou tree, a 400 year old mangrove tree with some of the most amazing roots!

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On our way back down the river, our guide pointed out two rock outcroppings that are said to look like two cats. I really didn’t see the shape of cats in the rock but maybe if you just keep staring at it…


Our guide also passed around a giant clam shell he’d found in the river. He said these are the same kind you often find in miso soup, although those are much, much smaller. Apparently these large ones are not so tasty but if you look through the little hole in the side, you’ll see the future. So what did I see? Well, there was nothing inside but it was very bright with the shell catching and reflecting the light. So, rather than thinking the future is empty, I’ll say it’s going to be very bright. ^_~


Once we were back at the port, we decided we’d just not had enough yet. Most of the tours went on to various stops along the island before going to activities like water buffalo cart rides that we’d already done so we decided to take a walk and see if we could rent a canoe to explore the river on our own.

Walking Around Iriomote

Remember how I said Iriomote is mostly undeveloped? Our walk from the port to the canoe rental shop was probably about half an hour but we saw very few people in that time. We passed a gas station and a couple souvenir shops but other than the staff waiting for customers, no one seemed to be out and about. Of course maybe that was because it was a rather hot, humid day and everyone else was inside with AC somewhere. We picked up some water bottles from a vending machine and then crossed the bridge over Nakama River. We found two cat statues guarding the bridge.

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When we finally reached the rental shop, we chose a two person canoe for our little river adventure. After going over the safety information and a map showing some of the hidden underwater hazards we’d need to avoid, we were given life jackets and sent on our way. I think the person helping us out thought we were a little crazy because I’d never been in a canoe before and we both had cameras and phones, etc. that we had to store in the canoe. In our defense, we assumed there would be little lockers for our valuables because they appear all over Japan and are always so handy. But I guess Iriomote is not the kind of place people go walking around so most people lock valuables in their car…which we obviously didn’t have. Silly us. ^_^;

Exploring Nakama River By Canoe

Two of the big advantages to exploring the river on our own was that we could go at our own pace and since we were in a canoe, we weren’t restricted to staying in the middle of the river where it was deepest. It was so much fun to check out narrow breaks in the forest!


Since we were in what seemed like the perfect environment for mosquitoes, I used lots of bug spray AND I wore an insect repellent wristband. Mosquitoes really seem to love me (I get bitten when no one else around me does) so I was hoping the citronella oil on the wristband would provide a double layer of defense. Plus I couldn’t resist wearing something with Rilakkuma on it!


Being able to get so close to the mangrove trees was really a great experience. I’m glad we did the river cruise because we got a lot of information from the guide but  exploring on our own was definitely a lot more fun for me. With the sunlight streaming through the trees, it felt like we were in some kind of mystical place.


But I will admit that sometimes it felt a bit eerie when the forest began closing back up on our chosen course, especially since there was no one else around and it was just so quiet.


Our map showed a spot where you could pull the canoe up against the rocks and take a trail up to an observation point and we made that our goal. We were going against the tide so it was definitely work to paddle up the river that far. A guide from a river boat that passed us along the way shouted, “Ganbatte!” It’s an expression used to encourage someone to try hard or do their best. We definitely worked hard but we did finally make it to the small dock and began trekking through the forest. The start of the trail was fine but further up it was not well maintained and we were constantly on the lookout for any venomous Habu snakes that might cross our path. We didn’t see any snakes but we did come to one point on the trail where the side of the path had become a beehive and there were lots of bees buzzing around. Rather than try to walk through/by them or go off trail through possibly snake infested forest, we decided to play it safe and turn back.


Once back in the canoe, we decided we should probably start heading back and explore the opposite side of the river as we went. One of the really interesting things I learned about mangroves is how they survive and thrive in inundated areas. The trees are often propped out of the water somewhat by their root system that acts like stilts to keep the main trunk above the waterline.


The trees also have lots of roots that stick back up out of the water like little breathing tubes and this helps them to take in more air. All those little pieces that look like they could be small, broken trunks are actually roots that have grown back up to reach the air.


The trees also have a clever way of dealing with all that extra salt from the seawater. Their root system does a fantastic job of filtering out extra salt and according to our guide, the trees get rid of any remaining excess by sacrificing certain leaves. You can see that most of the leaves are a healthy green but a couple are yellow. These yellow leaves are supposed to have that excess salt stored in them, allowing the remaining leaves to stay healthy.


As we headed back to the rental shop, the tide was going out and we encountered several sandbanks that had become impassable. As we worked our way around these and back to deeper water, we saw several egrets making an appearance. Perhaps low tide means dinnertime for them!


When we returned the canoe, we discovered we’d been out and about for 3-4 hours. No wonder my arms felt like they were going to fall off! It was a lot of fun to go exploring on our own but I will admit, I was exhausted. And I was very grateful when the staff offered to drive us back to the port so we didn’t have to walk another half hour in the heat!

Port Distractions

Back at Ohara Port, we had just enough time before the next ferry to look around the gift shop and buy some souvenirs. I also got distracted watching the jellyfish and what appeared to be some type of puffer fish swimming around the shop’s small aquarium.


One thing I would have liked to have seen but knew I probably wouldn’t was an Iriomote yamaneko (西表山猫, “Iriomote mountain cat”). This cat is found only on Iriomote Island but a sighting is very rare since they are not only nocturnal but also since so few remain that they are considered critically endangered. The closest I got to seeing one was this information board.


Dinner at Fusaki Resort Village

After such an exhausting outing, we headed back to the resort and relaxed until dinner. We’d enjoyed the resort’s Japanese Restaurant Yuntaku so much the previous night that we decided to go back again for our last dinner there. We ordered more of the tasty Okinawan leeks served tempura style and the delicious beef sushi we couldn’t get enough of. This time around we went with the charcoal grilled beef as the main course and it was just so good. We really don’t eat beef very often at home so we definitely splurged in a big way on our trip and it was delicious!

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After all that paddling, I definitely felt like I earned every bite of dinner that night. With all the exploring, learning interesting new things, and eating delicious foods, it was quite a satisfying day!

Day Trip to Taketomi Island


One thing I loved about our stay in Ishigaki was that we could easily hop a ferry to visit one of the other nearby islands for a day or afternoon. On our third day, we took a day trip to Taketomi Island, a small island southwest of Ishigaki. It’s the location of a traditional Ryukyu village that has been beautifully preserved. Just a 20 minute ferry ride from Ishigaki, it’s well worth a day trip to explore the village and enjoy the beautiful scenery and beaches. (more…)

Relaxing in Ishigaki: Fusaki Resort Village & Beach


During our trip to Okinawa, we decided to treat ourselves and stay at a resort since it was our anniversary. We stayed at the Fusaki Resort Village on the west coast of Ishigaki and were completely impressed with the quality of the resort, wonderful service, and beautiful beach-side location. Oh, and let’s not forget the delicious food! (more…)