I was on vacation in Japan from December 28, 2016 until January 24, 2017. When I returned from my last trip to Japan in 2014 I shared travel photos with themed bentos inspired by my trip. I will do the same this time. I stayed with a friend I have known since I was 19 and did home-stays with 3 language partners. My language partners are women who live in Japan. For many years now, we speak weekly via video chat on Skype for 30 minutes in English and 30 minutes in Japanese. I was able to visit with 5 of my language partners during my stay in Japan. It was an experience of a lifetime to spend time with my friend, my language partners and their families. I tried to be a good house guest but it was a time of transition in my life and I was not always at my best. I was fortunate to experience many cultural experiences not normally accessible for a tourist. My friends were generous, kind, and patient. I am truly touched.
My college friend, Akiko lives in Niigata. It was my first time to travel there in the winter. It seemed like almost everywhere we went there was a swan in a rice field. We also went to a swan lake to see the swans. Swans migrate to Niigata in the winter because it is warmer than their summer home in Russia. This simple bento lunch is a reminder of the beautiful swans I was able to see in Niigata.
Container: U Konserve
Contents: Swan – Cheddar cheese (cookie cutter), rice cooked in vegetable bouillon with carrots, blueberries
We could not get as close as usual to the birds in this lake because of the Avian Flu. It was still a memorable experience.
My second bento lunch inspired by my trip to Niigata is a girl wearing a kimono. Akiko’s daughter is 20 years old. In Japan 20 year olds celebrate Seijin no Hi (Coming of Age Day). At 20 they are considered an adult and they dress up and gather in their city to celebrate and hear speeches. I was given the opportunity to see many 20 year olds gather before the ceremony. It was an experience of a lifetime to be near so many women wearing colorful kimono.
Left Side: Girl wearing Kimono – Cheddar cheese mashed potatoes with cooked broccoli florets cut small, spinach details (hair, kimono dots decoration), green bell pepper, cooked carrots
Top Right: Green peas with plastic flower
Bottom Right: Mandarin oranges with flower food picks
I was fascinated by the various beautiful hair decorations. I actually considered asking women if I could take close-up photos of their hair ornaments. But I did not want to seem too strange and provide an unusual memory for their special day. So instead I quickly snapped photos with my smart phone.
In-case you are thinking that only young women attend this event, here is a photo of some 20 year old boys. The young men wore ordinary suits so I took a lot more photos of the women in their colorful kimono. (The 28 in this photo refers to the 28th year of the current emperor’s reign.)
Now I will share other photos and experiences from my time with Akiko in Niigata.
I stayed nearly 2 weeks with Akiko, her husband, 14 year old son, and the 82 year old mother-in-law. I wanted to be in Japan and with them for New Years and Akiko wanted me to be at her house for the Coming of Age Day. While planning my trip she wanted to find things for me to do while she worked. I asked for opportunities to tutor English and have language exchanges. She was very kind to arrange opportunities for me.
In exchange for tutoring a 16 year old boy in conversational English, his mother took us and Akiko to a charming buffet restaurant in the mountains. The place was very cute and I loved the divided plate and enjoyed filling my plate. Yes I know it is full of carbs but that is the life of a vegetarian at a buffet.
After lunch we went to a foot onsen. At this special onsen, people remove their socks and shoes and lift up their pants and just soak their legs and feet. I participated and my skin was very soft afterwards. The experience was very smelly -sulfur, but after awhile I became a little accustomed to it.
In Japan it is common for the family’s name to be outside their home. I discovered this one on a walk in Akiko’s neighborhood.
This river scene is not far from my Akiko’s home. I am glad that I took an opportunity to go for a walk.
Akiko made many beautiful meals for me. This was my meal on New Years Eve. Gorgeous! Most of it was delicious. One of the mini sushi is natto. It was my first time trying it and it did not go down well. But at least I tried it.
I went with Akiko, her husband, and son to a nearby shrine for the between the two years event. There was a fire where people could bring old things to burn (maybe mostly religious items from home shrines). Some people put dried fish on fishing poles and held them over the fire. People believe that if they eat it they will receive good luck.
I took this photo as a passenger in Akiko’s car. We were at a stoplight and I thought that these buildings looked like quintessential Japan to me.
I found these socks in a store and thought that they were cute. This was on a day that I went shopping and out to lunch with two 14 year old girls as part of a language exchange.
This bouquet of teddy bears and fabric flowers made a huge impression on me. Who can be sad if they see a bouquet such as this? I told myself that if I ever felt stressed or sad to just to think about this bouquet of teddy bears.
For most of my trip to the Niigata area there was very little snow. It was unusual for the time of year. But on the day we toured the Yasuda Yogurt factory there was a little bit of snow. Beautiful!
I love bakeries in Japan. This is an example of an especially pretty one.
I took this photo at the Niigata Aquarium. It was a nice aquarium to spend an afternoon.
The Sea of Japan was only a short walk from the Niigata Aquarium.
I hope that you enjoyed seeing my photos from Niigata, Japan. The next travel post will be my photos from a day trip to Sado Island and my bento depiction of the Japanese Crested Ibis.