Top 5 Photos of 2016

It’s taken me awhile to get around to this post and not just because I was waiting until I returned from my latest trip to Japan.

If you’ve ever gone through reverse culture shock, you know it can be rather insidious. Things feel overwhelming, then they settle down, then they overwhelm you, and the roller coaster of adjustment continues. In my case, it’s been hard to surround myself with Japan in my California home, as palm trees sway outside and the seasons – always so clear-cut and defined in Japan – bleed into each other here with hardly any fanfare.

I admit I’ve ignored this blog, and other projects I’ve wanted to pursue. My motivation is temporarily absent. After eight years of being in Japan, having my identity defined in part by my geography and my circumstances, I am struggling to figure out the “current me” – who I am in the here and now, in this new location and new stage of life. Japan is forever a part of me, and one I do not want to abandon in the least, but I hope you’ll all bear with me a bit more as I start to put the pieces of life back into place again.

And now, after that rather maudlin and sentimental intro, let’s get to the photos! It was difficult, as it is every year, to narrow down the thousands of files to the top 5.

1. Chureito Pagoda and Mt Fuji (Yamanashi)


I started 2016 off with a bang, photographically (in my opinion). A mere two weeks after we had rung in the New Year, we set off to track down the elusive Chureito Pagoda in Yamanashi, not well marked but widely used in Japan travel marketing campaigns. It was a blood-warming 400 steps from the temple below to the pagoda’s viewpoint and the January snow on Fuji was at record low levels, but the view is one I’ll never forget.

2. Cherry Blossoms along the Meguro River (Tokyo)


Our house in Kumamoto stood one block from a street that was lined with 400 cherry trees. I thought nothing could ever top that scene, but as gorgeous as that was, the sakura along the Meguro River, a short walk from our apartment in Tokyo, is hands down my favorite cherry blossom experience. Perhaps it’s because you can be in the middle of the scene, on a bridge looking down the canal as flower-filled branches hang all around you, that really makes this place so special. You’re no mere witness here – you’re a part of the setting and the setting is divine. The nighttime illumination of the trees along the canal was nice but crowded – I much preferred weekday mornings, when you could have whole stretches on the path to yourself.

3. Yokosuka Iris Garden (Kanagawa)


Purple has always been my favorite color so I adore when spring rolls around in Japan – wisteria, hydrangea and the brilliant iris flower are the perfect palette to welcome the warmer weather. In June, I took a group on an excursion to Hayama, a quiet seaside area not far from Kamakura. We began our day just across the peninsula at the Yokosuka Iris Garden, where nearly 140,000 blooms spread beautifully landscaped acres. Iris gardeners often seem to dress in traditional clothes, which makes a nice touch for photos and a great contrast of colors.

4. Goldfish at Mitsukoshi Department Store (Tokyo)


Goldfish are a symbol of summer in Japan. Supposedly, the sight of them swimming around in their cool environs keeps the viewer cool on a humid day. (Ha. If that were the case, I’d buy a fish and save on air conditioning.) While I diasgree with the purported result, I did find this aquarium at in the front entryway at Tokyo’s Mitsukoshi Department Store in Nihombashi rather mesmerizing.

5. Autumn leaves in Arashiyama (Kyoto)


I’m addicted to autumn. I’ve made no secret of it here or on the Facebook page. It’s not the apples or the pumpkin spice, it’s definitely the foliage. For the past three years, I’ve made Kyoto my annual autumn pilgrimage spot and even though we’d moved in August, I just couldn’t imagine missing out this year. Thanks to a very understanding husband, I was able to jet off to Japan for nearly two weeks at the end of November and enjoy the annual leaf display. I nearly missed it – cold weather meant early changing leaves this year – but there were still some displays to catch, particularly this beautiful scene in Arashiyama.

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