It’s the end of 2015 and in a few hours, the year will wrap up and roll over into another one. Such is the way of time, and there’s no stopping it. (Much as I want to. Can we roll back to autumn? 🙂 )
This year has ZOOMED, more so for the fact that I am attempting to drag out every last moment of it. Savoring final days in Kumamoto, savoring limited days in Tokyo … this year has been all about sucking the marrow out of life (and Japan), I suppose.
In fact, we have done so many things (yes, I feel lucky beyond measure) and taken so many photos that it was incredibly difficult to sort through even a section of them for this post. So forgive me if a good portion of the pictures here are from the latter months of the year. Those are the trips I still remember and can find easily in the archives!
1. Cafe On the Beach in northern Okinawa
I’ve made a lot of mentions on the blog and on Facebook in the past four years about how Okinawa was NOT my favorite place in Japan. Happily, the further I get from my three years of “forced” residence on the island, the better able I am to see Okinawa objectively, rather than tied into the emotionally-fraught time I spent there. And the more I go, the more I realize … Okinawa is unique and beautiful and I enjoy myself to a great degree each time I return. Our last visit was just this past December, when the weather was perfect (flip flops and sweatshirt weather, my ideal!) and we toured some of the northern parts of the island we had missed during our tenure there. This unplanned stop at On the Beach, a cafe located quite literally where its name implies, turned into an hour-long leisurely shell hunt and sand playtime.
2. Irises at Lake Kagurame, Oita
My favorite color is purple so you can bet I adore the month of June, when all of Japan’s flowers seem to bloom in that hue. One of our last trips before leaving Kumamoto was out to Beppu, on the eastern side of Oita. Oh sure, I told my husband I wanted to see the Beppu hells but the main point of the trip for me was to see the irises in bloom around Lake Kagurame. I still think it’s one of the prettiest settings for irises that I have seen yet … and Oita’s many fantastic onsen are just a short ride away.
3. Autumn Leaves at Otaguro Park, Tokyo
The leaves turned late in Tokyo this year and yet I still feel like I didn’t quite explore as many spots as I would have liked. Luckily, I led a tour of lesser-known leaf-peeping locales in the first days of December and stumbled across the hidden gem that is Otaguro Park. Not an old garden (only created in 1981) nor a well-known garden (it’s out in Ogikubo), this still ended up being my favorite spot to view the foliage this year.
4. Wisteria in Yamaga, Kumamoto
I managed to visit the famed Kawachi Fujien wisteria garden in Fukuoka this year and it lived up to my expectations in every way. It even made my list of Top 25 experiences in Japan. But I still felt even more ridiculously happy to stumble across a gorgeous, unknown wisteria garden in Yamaga, a short drive from my home in Kumamoto. The site of the garden’s oldest tree stretching out its gnarled branches and covering the area with purple-hued shade … stunning.
5. Snowy onsen escape in Niigata
This photo just sneaked into this year’s round-up, seeing as how I took it in Niigata a mere few days ago. Last year, a random facebook ad led me to the site of Rankeiso, a secluded hot springs in near a very untouristed part of Niigata. Looking for a snow escape similar to that of our time n Tochigi last year, I booked it, not knowing just how amazing our time would be there. From enjoying the region’s first snowfall from our room next to the river to the outdoor private family bath we relaxed in (twice!) while the flakes fell all around, this will long remain one of our most memorable escapes.
I know in other years I’ve posted ten photos, but as I seem to be sharing so many more these days on Facebook, I’ll leave it at five and just encourage you to check out the Uncovering Japan Facebook page for a pictorial record of my travels for the year.