A Few of My Favourite Cherry Blossom Photos on Twitter in 2018!

Obviously, I love cherry blossoms, so every year I look forward to admiring their fleeting beauty. I’m actually brimming with excitement when photos of these beautiful blossoms start to appear on Twitter and other social media platforms.

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know my husband and I visited Japan last year in September and you’re probably wondering why we didn’t go to Tokyo in March/April this year to see my favourite flower. The truth is I used to live in Japan and I’ve travelled to Japan many times in the past for short periods so I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the cherry blossoms on quite a few occasions. Another reason we went in September is that my husband wanted to travel to Japan when the weather was still warm. We also thought there would be fewer tourists and I was doing research for my writing and we didn’t want to wait for several hours to get into an attraction or a well-known restaurant.

We discovered later we were right! The number of tourists visiting Japan in the last couple of years has increased dramatically thanks to international media coverage and promotions by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO). Apparently, there were long queues and crowds at customs, all over Tokyo, and especially at Ueno Park, which is one of the most popular destinations to see the pretty pink and white petals. According to Euronews, 85,000 people a day visit this 540,500 square meter park (133 acres) over the nine days when the cherry blossoms bloom. So, if you’re planning to visit Japan during hanami (flower viewing) season be prepared to face huge crowds or do what we did and admire them on my blog or on Twitter!

 

cherry blossom 6 @hawaiimomtravel

Photo by @hawaiimomtravel

Cherry blossom 1 @erikochiai

Photo by @erikochiai

cherryblossom 3 @erikochiai

Photo by @erikochiai

cherry blossom 5 @HTravelism

Photo by @HTravelism

cherryblossom 6 @namasteablend

Photo by @namasteablend

cherry blossom 4 last of cherryblossoms @tcmyles

Photo by @tcmyles

Cherry blossom sho

Photo by @ShoFrex

Cherry blossom 10 @Tokyonobo

Photo by @Tokyonobo

cherry blossom 12 @Tokyonobo

Photo by @Tokyonobo

Sarah Hodge 1

Photo by @MRGSuperfan

Sarah Hodge 2

Photo by @MRGSuperfan

JOnelle 2

@jonellepatrick

Jonelle 1

@jonellepatrick

Toshi 4

@Toshi_Asaka

Toshi 3

@Toshi_Asaka

Kazuhiko 2

@alqudshilwa

cherry blossom local

@localbitesjp

cherry blossom 7 @centauri333

Photo by @centauri333

Below are a few 2017 cherry blossom photos taken by one of my favourite photographers Nathalie April Lim

cherry blossom Nathalie 3

cherry blossom Nathalie 1

Cherry blossom Nathalie 2

Treat Yourself to Unique, Delicious and Trendy Japanese Food and Lifestyle Products from Tokyo Direct

I live in the UK so sometimes I miss all the delicious Japanese food I could eat to my heart’s content when I lived in Tokyo. There are a few Japanese food suppliers in England so now and again I can get my Japanese food fix through their home delivery services but they all seem to offer the same items and I never get the chance to try anything different, that is up until now, thanks to Tokyo Direct. This is a new company in the UK offering unique and high-quality Japanese food and sweets, kawaii goods and lifestyle products.

I love the fact I can finally get my hands on delicious and unique Japanese food items that are trending in Japan right now. I can order instant ramen from Tokyo Direct that tastes better than some of the ramen noodles served in restaurants in Japan. I can now get Japanese cereals that are so delicious I can’t wait to get up in the morning. I can also order new varieties of chocolate biscuits or other snacks imported straight from Japan that go perfectly with a cup of PG Tips tea or Earl Grey if I’m feeling fancy!

The Managing Director of Tokyo Direct is Mr. Akira Soeda. He has been living in the UK for many years and he too was disappointed with the limited range of Japanese food and sweets available in the UK. He was also quick to recognise a lot of the food available here was outdated in terms of popularity and quality so he decided to start his own import company. Mr. Soeda knew from the get-go he wanted to introduce the finest Japanese food and lifestyle products. He also knew, right from the start, these products had to be unique and a cut above the rest when compared with the items offered by his competitors in terms of taste, quality, and packaging.

You really need to visit the Tokyo Direct online shop to see what’s available. While you’re there make sure you check out each and every page. There’s a selection of general food, ramen, sweets and snacks, matcha and tea, sake, stationery, and also kitchen and lifestyle products. Don’t be put off by the prices. You’re not buying your average ramen or curries from Tokyo Direct. You’re buying high-quality items that are incredibly tasty and a lot more delicious than any other food products you’ve tried before. If you do have a limited budget you can still afford the less expensive items such as the Ginza Curry for £4.50 or the Raoh Ramen Noodles for just £2.50.

I was lucky enough to try four different products sent directly to my home from Tokyo Direct. Everything was packaged really well and I was honestly blown away by the superior quality and taste of all the items I received.

1. Raoh Tonkotsu Ramen Noodles 1pcs 日清ラ王 豚骨 1袋 (£2.50 per packet)

Tonkotsu Ramen

I’ve never tasted ramen noodles in a packet that have been so good. I added some pork and sliced spring onions and each mouthful was divine. I’ll definitely be ordering some more of these Raoh ramen noodles in the future for quick and easy meals.

2. Matcha Granola (500g) 抹茶グラノーラ (£12.00 per packet)

Matcha granola

This packet is huge so you won’t have to buy cereal for a couple of weeks as long as you don’t end up eating this granola for breakfast, lunch, and dinner which you may very well do when you taste this variety. The granola is crunchy but it’s really fresh so it won’t break your teeth. I would never have thought a matcha-flavoured cereal could be this tasty but it really is! It’s like having a Zen moment in the morning with its subtle matcha flavour and of course, there are the health benefits because it contains wheat, milk and soybeans. Honestly, you have to try this cereal. You’ll love it and even if you’re not a matcha fan I promise this granola will convert you.

3. Shiroi Koibito -white lover chocolate cookie 白い恋人 (were £13.00 but now just £11.00 on sale)



These cookies are for the ladies! When I used to visit the homes of my Japanese friends in Tokyo they’d serve me English tea in Wedgwood cups and saucers with a dainty biscuit on the side in the most exquisite packaging. These cookies remind me of those times. Enjoy a sliver of white chocolate placed between two slices of langues de chat (light but crunchy French biscuits). It’s a winning combination and something you’ve probably never tried before so do yourself a favour and order these for sure. They’re the perfect accompaniment for a more refined afternoon tea with your Japanese or British friends and your Grandmother will love them as well!

4. KitKat Matcha (12 pieces) 抹茶キットカット 12枚 (were £10.00 but now just £5.00 on sale)

Matcha kitkat

There are lots of Kitkat lovers out there who have already tried this matcha flavoured variety but if you haven’t then you’re missing out. This lovely chocolate snack just melts in your mouth, they’re really creamy, and you’re going to find it difficult to eat just one so it’s lucky you get 12 small individually wrapped Kitkats in one packet!

Make sure you visit the Tokyo Direct online shop on a regular basis because new and exciting products are being added every day. You can also put in a request for any items you’ve seen in Japan that you’d like to enjoy in the UK and Akira Soeda will go above and beyond to get these for you and have the items delivered straight to your home.

Tokyo Direct

Four of the Best Japan Travel Guides in 2017

It’s always a good idea to buy a new travel guide if you’re itching to visit the Land of the Rising Sun or if you live in Japan and you want to explore more of the country. Take a look at these four Japan guidebooks below. Each guide will appeal to a certain type of traveller. Simply choose the one that’s right for you.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Japan published by DK Eyewitness Travel, flexibound £15.18, paperback £34.95, 408 pages

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Japan front coverEssential information is delivered in short paragraphs so this is perfect for travellers who don’t want to spend a lot of time reading but it’s the 875 stunning photos that make this guidebook so appealing. There’s also an emphasis on the cultural and historical aspects of Japan presented with 85 maps and 55 detailed illustrations. An added bonus is the durable flexibound cover which keeps the book clean and the pages protected from dog-earing.

Flipping through this guidebook, you’ll discover one page or two dedicated to aspects of the Japanese culture that require further explanation such as the differences between geisha, geiko and maiko in Kyoto, the inner-workings and the towers at Himeji Castle and the significance of the floating world of ukiyo-e woodblock prints.

Realizing tourists are interested in exploring areas outside of central Tokyo there’s a great introduction to Kamakura as well as Mount Fuji and the Fuji Five Lakes. For those who want to travel even further afield, there’s in-depth information about surrounding areas like Takayama with corresponding illustrations. The depiction of a gassho-zukuri house, famous in the Shokawa Valley for its steep thatched roof built to represent praying hands, is well-worth examining.

Fashion lovers will appreciate the sections dedicated to shopping with information on how to pay, the sales tax, rights and refunds, tax-free shopping, and the differences between Western and Japanese sizes. If you’re interested in buying tea, ceramics or traditional washi paper you’ll love the summary of specialty souvenirs in Kyoto.

Foodies will zero in on A Gourmet Tour of Central Japan recommending the chestnut confectionery in Obuse or the sasamushi (eel steamed in rice wrapped in bamboo leaves) in Matsumoto, as well as other local delicacies. There’s also a focus on the differences between Edo and Kansai cuisine and the types of tea, sake, soft drinks and beer sold primarily in Japan.

A brief but excellent nine-page guide to the history of Japan at the beginning is enough for first-time travellers and you can expect a short but informative description for each area when a new part of Japan is introduced. Sections are also dedicated to Northern Honshu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, Kyushu and Okinawa. These are colour-coded which makes it easy to turn to the area of your choice.

This guidebook also has lots of helpful hints and information on onsen (hot springs), the science-based, historical and foreign culture theme parks, as well as the popular amusement parks in Japan. There’s also a survival guide for travelling with children or if you’re visiting with a disability and a short section on how to be an environmentally responsible tourist.

Lonely Planet Guide Japan (Travel Guide) published by Lonely Planet, paperback £12.91, Kindle £12.91, 928 pages.
Lonely Planet Guide Japan front coverThis 2017 version with its pretty plum blossom cover is very comprehensive. It would make a fantastic reference book for hard-core visitors who plan to travel the length and breadth of the country. It would also appeal to niche travellers planning a skiing trip or travelling with children, hikers, adventure lovers who want to climb Mount Fuji and anyone who wants to know what’s new and interesting in Japan right now.

Fans of Lonely Planet Guides love their detailed maps and their insiders’ opinions on why a particular hotel or other form of accommodation is so appealing and you can expect the same from this Japan guide. There’s also a good-sized pull-out city and subway map at the back and lots of detailed maps inside to help you get around the different prefectures and towns.

Snippets of invaluable information are highlighted in yellow and red throughout the book with the titles Don’t miss, Worth a trip and Local knowledge. These are must-read sections to ensure you get the most out of every area you visit.

This Lonely Planet Guide certainly covers a lot of areas but it does go into more depth with several points of interest that deserve attention. The section on the Ainu, Hokkaido’s indigenous people, is particularly enlightening and the poignant descriptions of the atomic bomb explosions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki are essential reading.

The pages dedicated to the Northern Honshu, Tohoku region are also good. Train geeks will enjoy reading about the novelty trains in the area, you’ll want to make a note to visit the medieval town Yonezawa best known for its Yonezawa-gyū (local beef) and there’s a section dedicated to the famous music, arts and environmental Earth Celebration in Ogi.

A pocket-sized Lonely Planet Japanese Phrasebook and Dictionary is also available. It includes essential but very basic tips on speaking, pronouncing, reading and writing Japanese as well as a 350-word two-way dictionary.

 

Must-See Japan: The Complete Insider’s Guide to Seeing the Best of Japan in One Trip by Tom Fay, published by CreateSpace, paperback £5.79, Kindle £3.49, 174 pages.

Must-see Japan front coverPublished in 2016 but updated in 2017, Must-See Japan is a brief travel guide that focuses on the three main areas tourists want to visit: Tokyo, the Mount Fuji region and Kyoto. This guidebook is perfect for visitors planning a short stay, backpackers who don’t want to lug around a bulky guide and travellers who want a concise guide that will fit neatly into their handbag or carry-on.

This travel guide claims it’s an insider’s guide to Japan and it certainly delivers on this promise with lots of great recommendations throughout the book. Even regular visitors to Japan will discover lots of new and different experiences, great restaurants, and out-of-the-way places they’ve never heard of before.

Find out where you can eat tendon (tempura over rice) at the first restaurant in Japan to serve this dish, which travel pass you should buy if you’re in Osaka for only a couple of days, and the best time of the year to climb Mount Fuji. These tips and so many other helpful suggestions are all packed inside this short but very informative guidebook.

Although this travel guide concentrates on the three main areas in Japan, it does cover quite a few other major and well-known areas including Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, Hokkaido, Shikoku, Kyushu and Okinawa. The information on these areas is limited but it’s still well-worth reading the insider tips if you want a more memorable stay in Japan.

If you skip to the back of the book you’ll find even more expert recommendations on must-eat foods, must-do activities, onsen, karaoke, shopping, hiking, sumo, ryokans (Japanese inns) and capsule hotels.

 

The Rough Guide to Japan published by Rough Guides, paperback £11.35, Kindle £13.67, 880 pages.

The Rough Guide to Japan front coverThis 2017 edition with 880 pages is nearly as thick as the Lonely Planet Guide and just as informative if you want to know a little bit about anything and everywhere in Japan. The sections on Kyoto and Nara, Buddhist and Shinto beliefs and pilgrimages would really appeal to travellers interested in history, culture and the spiritual elements that are very much a part of Japanese life.

There’s a list of 29 things not to miss at the beginning with corresponding page numbers so you can easily find that point of interest in the guidebook and you can expect entertaining and practical advice throughout. You’re urged to turn on the TV in your hotel room and enjoy the fairly easy to understand food programs just for a laugh and there’s excellent advice on earthquake safety procedures and how to call home if you want to contact your family.

You can also find out where to get the best coffee in Kyoto or for something different readers are advised to take the sake brewery tour in Kobe, join the Obubu Tea Farm tours in Uji or help the local community construct a giant snow sculpture in Odori Park at the Yuki Matsuri (snow festival) in Sapporo.

This guidebook also touches on current affairs in Japan such as the problem with Yasukuni and why this shrine is so controversial and the setbacks associated with relocating the Tsukiji fish market. There’s also a quick guide on who’s who in Sumo wrestling and information on renting a kimono in Asakusa, Harajuku or Shibuya.

The comment “I might as well be going to the ends of the earth” by the famous poet Matsuo Basho introduces the section on Northern Honshu where visitors can enjoy rural traditions and festivals. There’s also a very informative section on the three sacred mountains of Dewa and its shrines in Yamagata Prefecture where you can see the yamabushi (mountain priests) practising ancient rites as they summon the gods.

Travelers who want to take part in other ascetic experiences should read the sections on the 88 Temple Pilgrimage on Shikoku and the Kumano Kodo trail in the southern Kansai region, as well as information on shukubō (temple lodgings) and the monasteries and temples where you can stop to worship.

The section on Okinawa towards the end of the guidebook gives a lovely description of these islands and its beautiful beaches where you can dive, snorkel and appreciate the underwater wildlife. There’s also an interesting segment on the Ryukyu culture urging travelers to try the delicious Okinawan cuisine.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2018!

It’s the season to wish one another joy, love, peace and gratitude so I’d like to say a BIG THANK YOU to everyone who has read my books and visited my Cherry Blossom Stories Blog in 2017. I hope you’ll continue to support me in 2018. Here’s a short Christmas video I put together for you to enjoy. Happy holidays, stay safe during the festive season and fill your hearts with warmth and love as we say goodbye to 2017 and welcome the new year.