Take a look at another side of Japan

tambo with water 1

Today I looked out of our bedroom window and realized, it’s been exactly one year since we visited this countryside. Tokamachi. My husband’s hometown. The place he grew up. And though we’ve visited a few times in the past, I could never get tired of the view, be it in summer or in winter or spring and maybe fall (we will yet to experience fall soon!).

Last year when I was here with the kids, it didn’t occur to me that we’d be moving back to Japan. Much more, live here. Not at all. We stayed for less than a week but we loved all the green fields that extended as far as our eyes can see, the laid back and slow life and even embraced the noise of the frogs at night like it’s white noise lulling us to sleep.

The place we lived before, Dubai, is hideous by June, weather wise. That’s the time of the year when the kids couldn’t even go out or stay out for longer periods of time during day time due to the heat so we weren’t looking forward to going back soon. Summer in Japan is the other way around – it’s perfect from May when all the snow has melted and everything comes alive!

flower power

Little did we know that a year after, we’d end up living here, experiencing our third season (we arrived in the middle of winter!) and raising the kids here.


flower garden
flower garden 2


Tokamachi City is located in southern Niigata Prefecture, along the coast of the Sea of Japan. Though it’s a ‘city’, it’s far from being the big city in Japan that you might imagine. Five regions make up Tokamachi City and most of the area is covered by lush green forests, rice fields and suffering from huge population decline so most towns are sleepy towns, literally.

tambo with water 2

tambo with water 3

With the Shinano River flowing through the center, the city consists of a basin and surrounding hilly and mountainous areas. It is the heart of Japan’s snow country with three to four meters of snow each winter. Rice is cultivated widely in the city, a production area of well-known Uonuma Koshihikari rice.

tambo 1

It is about 240 kilometers from Tokyo and accessible by bullet train from Tokyo to Echigo-Yuzawa and the local Hokuhoku line from Echigo-Yuzawa station. You can reach Tokamachi City in two hours from Tokyo.



Clean, unpolluted air.

Delicious water from the mountains.

Vast green spaces.

Fresh food from nearby farms.

Slower pace of life.

Stars in the night.

Fireflies in the garden.

Warm and friendly locals.


While travelers tend to be drawn to Japan’s major cities, there’s much to be savored in its quiet countryside, where a different, deeper kind of beauty awaits. We have only one regret moving here. And that is, why we didn’t do it sooner.


Are you ready to explore more of Japan than the heavily congested cities full of tourists? Come visit our countryside, you will get to see less buildings and more serene shrines and temples. Less people and more natural landscapes. Afraid to get lost physically and in translation (because yes, it does happen if you don’t know the local language)? I’m happy to help! I’ll write more details about it soon.

As per statistics, the number of foreigners who visited Japan in 2017 has reached to almost 30 million, with most flocking to its vibrant capital city, Tokyo. The big city of Tokyo is great and overflowing with things to do, but there’s so much to Japan beyond the busy Shibuya crossing.

Have you been to Japan? If you’ve been to Tokyo, did my photos make you want to visit the countryside next time?

Welcoming spring at Echigo Hillside Park

tulip garden 1

When we were living in Dubai, the only chance we had to see real tulips was inside a lobby of a five star hotel. Dubai is awesome like that, if you can’t get to the real flowers, they bring it in. These flowers are imported from far flung countries and handled with so much care so we desert dwellers could enjoy looking at it like they were freshly picked.

So our kids – they have seen tulips that were picked and put in a vase but not the tulips growing from the ground! One of the best things about moving to a country with four seasons is to be able to enjoy lots of nature, including these seasonal flowers.

Flowers and plants in their natural habitat, blooming at their own pace.

And what makes it more exciting is that there is a national park near us that’s twice the size of Tokyo’s Yoyogi Garden – the Echigo Hillside Park.

tulip garden 2


Echigo Hillside Park is located in Nagaoka City in Niigata Prefecture. With an enormous size of 120 hectares, this national government park is more than twice the size of many Tokyo dwellers’ favorite Yoyogi Park (54 hectares).

tulip garden 3

tulips up close 2
tulips up close 1

The park has a very huge space that people come early, especially in the warmer season to bring their tents and spend the whole day here. There are restaurants inside the park for park goers who do not like to bring their own food.

echigo hillside park hiroba

There are craft activities for kids and adults to enjoy, too. We went for the kite making activity because both our kids have not flown a kite ever. (They might never have seen or touched or made a kite – what am I doing with my parenting, right??)

pb fly kite

As soon as we walked out and they found a spot to fly their kites, we couldn’t get them to stop (because it’s too hot). No, mother dear, we did not hear you!


tulip collage

The park is worth visiting all year long with different flowers in bloom every time. You can catch the tulips in April, roses in May, cosmos in Sept/Oct, etc. Be sure to check their flower calendar.

Our move to Japan has been a huge transition in our lives but the flowers we see blooming all around us definitely makes this journey easier. Christian Dior famously said, “After women, flowers are the most lovely thing God has given the world.”

How right that is.

Useful information:

Echigo Hillside Park
1921 Miyamoto Higashikata-machi, Nagaoka City
Tel: 0258-47-8001
Entrance fee:450 yen for adults, 210 yen for 65 years old and above, free for children under 15 years of age.
Website (Japanese only): https://echigo-park.jp/

Spring comes to our new home

spring garden

The promise of spring’s arrival is enough to get anyone through the bitter winter.

People who visit this area called, “snow country” in Niigata prefecture would think it will take a year for all the snow to melt. And I can’t blame them, I mean look at this. This picture was taken last February, in the middle of winter and nope, we weren’t having a super snow storm because when it snows in this part of Japan, it is always super snow storm.

snow country

Fortunately, there are four seasons in Japan so there is no such thing as one full year of winter though every winter day you may feel like it. At one point or another, all the snow will have to melt, paving way for another phase of life, the spring season.


melt into spring 1
melt into spring 2

I love spring. I think it’s one of life’s mystery, one of Earth’s miracles. For me spring is a time of renewal. I love to watch the gardens around me as the daffodils and tulips and cherry blossoms (!) start to show their beauty. It is such a miracle that this can happen each year. The sun gets stronger and you really begin to feel its warmth against your face.

ben in red

Things begin to come alive. Or they just simply BEGIN. The fiscal year in Japan starts in April. This is when the new school year start and new college graduates start working. This spring is definitely a new beginning for us – Benjamin attending first grade at the elementary school.

red tulips 1
yellow tulips

When I was living in Dubai, I was perfectly ok without experiencing the seasons. It was so convenient to be able to wear the same type of clothes everyday all throughout the year. And also not suffer from pollen allergy in spring time. I lived in Japan for 10+ years before moving to Dubai so I thought, I’ve had my fill of spring, I won’t miss it. However, I didn’t realize how much I loved and longed for the seasons once we moved back to Japan.


We arrived and started our life here in the beginning of the year, in the middle of winter and then now everything is becoming alive and green.

spring flowers collage

Spring is also the time we finally change the tires in our car from studless snow tires to normal ones. Benjamin gets to help do it, only because he really, really wanted to do it so he is in charge of turning the screws as if he knows what he’s doing. Oh boys and cars.

change tires 1
change tires 2

Speaking of seasons, when we moved here in the middle of winter, I was worried the kids would hate me. That they’d utter the word ‘Dubai’ (our previous home and where they grew up) every single winter day. But surprisingly, not only did they welcome the change, one of them actually LOVES winter. Weird, I know but in the eyes of a child, everything is fresh and new, it seems.

It’s the kids first experience of the spring season and it may be the warmer weather, or the greens outside or the fact that even if it’s April or May, they can actually play outside. In Dubai, they start to get lesser and lesser time outdoors in these months due to the heat.

where snow

Looking at the smiles on their faces, I am confident to say that our move to Japan was a great decision, at least, for them. They get to know their grandparents better (we live with them), they get to know about the culture and heritage that’s part of who they are and then they get to experience the changing of the seasons (and lots of outdoor time).

Do you live in a place with four seasons? Which one is your favorite?

Starting a new life in Niigata

morning view

For the past two months, this is the view that greets me every morning when I wake up and open the curtains.

If you saw the photos I recently posted on my Instagram account during our move to Japan, specifically in Niigata prefecture, you would tell me I’ve gone crazy. And I’m going to tell you, you’re not alone in telling me that.

Yes, we traded the year round sunshine (and skyscrapers and heat!) of Dubai to this.

winter view 6

winter view 1

frozen pond

The peaceful, rural, countryside living over the big city life.

Why here and not Tokyo? Because we have decided to live more simply and not run around like headless chickens to get into packed trains every morning. That’s why I have declined offers of work in metropolitan Tokyo – I feel I am too old to handle the pressure of the daily commute and the work that pays more that would naturally mean work is more. We wanted to get the kids closer to nature and closer to their grandparents while they’re still around.

(This is where their father was born and raised until he moved out for college in the big city.)

You see all white in my photos because we moved to Japan after 11 years in Dubai in the middle of winter and settled in one of Japan’s snowiest areas where from December to March, cold Siberian air streaming south and east across the relatively warm waters of the Sea of Japan generate bands of clouds that dump snow over the mountains on the western part of Japan’s main island of Honshu.

winter view 2

(All these snow is too much? No baby, this is just the start. Pic taken a few days after we arrived in mid-January 2018)

Parts of Niigata Prefecture receive up to 8 meters (26.25 ft) of snow; the prefectural average is 5.78 meters (almost 19 ft). The city of Tsunan (next city to us) sometimes can get 10 meters (32.8 ft) of snow, literally covering the entire town if not for the very efficient snow clearing trucks that run regularly 24/7! Snow is so much that residents in most villages in Niigata prefecture must enter homes through special second-story entrances, including the in-laws’ house where we live now.

winter view 5

niigata house 1
niigata house 2

I’ve been to Tokamachi city in Niigata prefecture many times before, even in winter time but never stayed long enough to see how this small rural beauty which is evergreen in summer turn into a sprawling white wonderland in winter. The amount of snow is no joke but the resilience of the people living here echoes the life lesson, “this too shall pass”.

During January and February, they’ll be days where it snows like it would snow forever, no ending in sight. There will be mornings where we wake up to a 50 centimeters of snow and our car buried in white stuff – something I miss about living in Dubai is that you can easily get on your car and speed away, no snow to rake out in ‘winter’.

winter view 7

To be honest, I tried so hard not to end up living here because of the images about the dreadful images playing in my mind. But my husband said, how will you know if we don’t try? Surprisingly, I am not hating life here at all. I mean, not right now (maybe because I didn’t have to drive through the snow storms to work yet?).  Snow storms can be dark and gloomy and dangerous and the most inconvenient thing is that, here, life goes on. Schools or work have not been suspended so far because of a snow storm. Like, ever, my mother in-law says.

winter view 12

winter view 10
winter view 11

When it snows, it’s kind of depressing but when the sun peeks out after a storm, it makes you think the snow storm that passed was just a bad nightmare. (And when it snows again, you’d wonder if the great sunshiny weather was just a wonderful dream…)

winter view 8

winter view 9

Beautiful, no? Snow is definitely beautiful to look at, in the photos. But to live with it, is another thing.

Luckily, there is no such thing as a whole year of winter. (even if my son wishes so!)

It’s almost spring as I write this. I’ve put off blogging for a while though I had the time (I am not working yet!) – I was busy cleaning, arranging things and renovating an almost 50 year old house, turning over corners that have been untouched for at least twenty years!

Visiting Japan’s small town charm

going to tokamachi

I’ve been thinking a lot about Japan lately. I blame my husband – we have been watching Japanese news on the TV almost every night at bed time. Everything sounds and feels familiar once again. I blame my mother in law who, right now got addicted to sending Japanese foodstuff lately. Or this is just plain nostalgia attack for me, which happens every now and then. I don’t know. Japan has always been that place that hold a very special place in my heart. I’ve lived there for more than ten years, starting when I was nineteen years old. It’s hard to forget.

Japan has appeared in my dreams lately, too – suddenly, I see myself living there again and I wake up, say to myself, yeah why not?

The horror, right? People who’d hear me right now would probably recall the reasons I told them why we left way back in 2007: the work-life balance sucks (at least for us middle class working parents in the city), the lack of available domestic help, etc., the cold winters.

But that place would always be our home. When and if all else fails, we know we would have Japan as a place to go, a retreat, a place to reset, if we want to.

We were in Japan last summer and I took the kids to their grandparents in the countryside. It’s a long way from Tokyo – 2 hours via Shinkansen or the bullet train and another hour by regular train. It’s Benjamin’s first time to see his grandfather and grandmother from his father’s side. This visit was long overdue.


Benjamin inside hoku hoku line

rainy niigata collage

We know it’s nearing Niigata prefecture when the buildings disappear and replaced by two to three storey houses and rice fields upon rice fields as far as the eyes can see.

nearing niigata


My in-laws had been looking forward to meeting the kids for months. Now, my father in-law is a workaholic, has a day job but also maintains a rice farm. At 68 years old now, he should have retired already – which he did three years ago, however after only a month, he volunteered to work again at the same company 3-4 times a week and still maintained his rice farm. For more than thirty years, he is proud to say, he has not applied for any leave, whether medical or for vacation.

But when I told him I’d be visiting them with the kids in tow? He took a full week off!

benjamin-with-ojiisan 2

He said he’d meet us at the station but I didn’t expect he would be waiting for us at the train platform, right where we get down the train! I didn’t even see him when he scooped Benjamin up as soon as he got out of the train!

Here’s the thing, he has not seen photos of Benjamin before.

WHY? By some kind of sorcery, my in-laws do not own a smart phone and there is NO internet at their house. So there’s no way I can send pictures of the kids. The last time we met them, Benjamin wasn’t born yet.

I asked him, how did he know it was his grand child? What if he took the wrong child? It would have been a disaster. He simply told me, Benjamin’s face looks familiar that without a doubt he knew he got the right child to hold. Benjamin looked like my husband when he was younger. Benjamin on the other hand, did not protest as well, even if he has not seen this man in his whole life!

It was raining when we arrived but grandpa took us to the groceries and told the kids – go crazy and buy anything you want!

My crazy kids went straight to the food aisle. They’re definitely my kids.

nihon no okashi

My FIL even picked up a cake from the bakery and we celebrated both Benjamin and Pristine’s birthday at home, complete with candles. “This is for all the birthdays we’ve missed!”, the grandparents said.


The next morning, the weather cleared up and FIL didn’t waste time and drove us around the town. The kids just finished breakfast and were still in their pajamas.

visit to nearby temple in the morning 1

He then took us to see all the rice paddies. It was summer and this part of Japan was bathed in sea of green patches of rice plantations. Another first for my father in-law: driving an automatic car! He only drives manual transmission but then had rented a van for us. The available vehicles to rent were all automatic so he drove one.

(He’s that type of being picky about things he is not familiar with but he endured this!)

oyaji driving

fields of niigata 2

fields of niigata 5

fields of niigata

Ah, the serene countryside in Niigata prefecture. My husband was born and brought up here. There’s nothing fancy, no bright lights, billboards and crowds you would see in the streets of metropolitan Tokyo. It’s dark after 8pm and in the summer time, you’d hear the chorus of the frogs which is annoying at first but kind of becomes white noise that lulls you to sleep. The kids hyperventilated at the sight of fireflies in the pitch black garden at night.

I love summers in Niigata though it can be hot and humid because this prefecture is coastal. But it’s when the Earth comes alive.

niigata garden 4


me and p in niigata

The kids had a lovely time walking around but the most exciting part for Benjamin must be getting on one of his grandfather’s tractors (for farming)! It must be every boy’s dream to get into these real life monster trucks!

tructor ride 1

tructor ride 4

My mother in-law has clinical depression and had been in and out of the hospital and on medication for so many years. During summer though, she is well. She has tried her best to be in her ‘best form’ (her term) to meet the kids. She told me she’s thankful I took the kids to visit them, it dispelled the loneliness of their home, if only for a short while. It was enough that they know they aren’t truly alone and that they have something to look forward from now on.

My in-laws don’t speak any English. Pristine can converse with them in Nihongo but Benjamin cannot – we have to work on that (thankfully, the big sister is always there to translate). That didn’t hinder him from getting close to them and for the short time we were there, he has constructed short Nihongo sentences and blurted them out proudly.

I am grateful my kids have sweet and kind grandparents on my side and I am equally thankful they have another set from my husband’s side. What lucky kids.

You may ask, why do the grandparents NOT visit us here in Dubai and we have to go to Japan? Good question, actually since we’re almost eleven years here and they have not visited even once. For my in-laws, who has lived in this small town from the day they were born, travelling is this big, insurmountable thing that takes too much energy and COURAGE to tackle. It’s simply not their thing and we have accepted that.

niigata-garden-6 2

And besides, I don’t think the kids mind hopping on the plane and riding the bullet train to get to them! I definitely don’t! (Although it’s a bit stressful to sync the time and meetup with them because as I have mentioned, they do not have mobile phones! I had to plan the time we get on the train, let them know what time we arrive and on which train and STICK to it. Hello the 1980’s!)

Are you an expat family living away from the grandparents? How often do you visit them?

Missing Niigata


My mother in law called me last weekend, and asked the perpetual question, as she does almost every year: “When are you coming here again, aren’t you doing the taiken nyuugaku anymore?” The last time we were in Japan was already more than three years ago and though we would have loved to go more often and earlier, there were some personal circumstances (in their part) that made us postpone going.

I smiled and asked her the same question. In two months, it will be TEN years since we moved to Dubai – and not once did they visit, nor expressed their wish to do so. Unlike other Japanese people who recently have been becoming keen to see the world, my in-laws ‘got out’ of Japan, all together only once – when their son and I got married almost 14 years ago in the Philippines.

For them, travelling is this big, insurmountable thing that takes too much energy to tackle and if they have extra cash, they’d rather use it to get another truck, farming tool or purchase more land. I never understood it at first but after a few visits to their town and I get it.

When I first visited in 1999, I learned how many of the townspeople choose to stay in their comfort zones. Some die without even leaving the small town or city. Travel is definitely not for everyone and definitely not for my in-laws. And that’s ok as long as they are happy tethered to their comfort zone.


My husband’s hometown is not a popular tourist destination in Japan. It’s miles and miles away from Tokyo. It’s dark after 8 pm. Ciccadas are loud in the summer and deers, wild rabbits and raccoon dogs appear out of nowhere any given time of the day.

The summers are hot and humid – believe me it’s tougher to spend summer there than in Dubai and the winters are long, wet and the snow…oh the snow.

I’ve been sorting out my old hard disk drive and found photos I took way before I started blogging so I thought, why not share the story behind these photos? My in-laws live in Niigata Prefecture, in the north western part of Japan, facing the Sea of Japan. Niigata prefecture, especially their town of Tokamachi is one of the biggest producers of premium quality rice in the country.


What you would find in the books about Tokamachi City in Niigata Prefecture are two things.

Rice and snow.

My father in-law owns a number of farm plots near his house. He tends to it ALONE. But forget the traditional farming in South East Asia where you see water buffalos tilling the soil and farmers having difficult time doing it alone.

ine kari

Like other modern Japanese farmers, my FIL (father in-law)  has these power tractors that make work easier for him. My mother in-law helps and during school breaks, when I didn’t have part time jobs, I was there to help out. {Even before getting married, I was already close to them.}


ine kari

So close that they allow me to help out in this seasonal task.

Actually, I would be there on long weekends in September too when the rice grains are ripe and ready to harvest because I had been enthralled with the whole process of rice production and wonder why this part of the country earned the honor of being “the best in Japan”.  Once you tasted the cooked Japanese rice from the first harvest…you somehow crave for it…along with awesome Japanese sake (rice wine)!

But before the bowl of rice reaches your table, you have to work for it! I was curious about how these machines work and my father in law allowed me to ‘test drive’.

Japan farm life

Now, my FIL is a typical Japanese who aims for perfection. I was surprised he allowed me to get into this thing!

Japan farm life

He was so detailed about everything and I have seen him during the planting season. This man takes his rice affair very seriously.


The Uonuma (name of their town) Koshihikari rice is the best in Japan, something that the locals of nearby Akita would contest.  The Uonuma district in Niigata prefecture is famous for producing Koshihikari of top quality, and this is why Koshihikari produced in this district, or Uonuma-san Koshihikari (“san” means “produce”), is called “burando mai” (brand rice). Uonuma-san Koshihikari is ranked as Toku A by the Japan Grain Inspection Association. (Toku means Special).

The other thing about this town is snow.

Tokamachi City is known for abundance of snow. In fact, the area receives the most snow compared to any area on the main island of Honshu and is the record holder of the most amount of snowfall with 463 cm. So that verdant green fields in the summer?

niigata snow

GONE by winter.

Japan farm life

Here’s a photo of my brother (left) and my husband’s brother taken just outside of my in-laws’ house during the middle of winter season. My brother who just arrived in Japan a few months prior wanted to see snow so I sent him off to my in-laws in Niigata prefecture. My family, we were living in Nagano prefecture where snow is less so I thought my brother need to see the real deal. I guess he got all the snow he wished for!

Japan farm life

The amount of snowfall is so ridiculous but instead of whining about it, the residents graciously deal with it every year and make gigantic figures out of it and also holds an annual “snow festival” in February. Tokamachi Yuki Matsuri (snow festival) was started in 1950 by the citizens and for the citizens of Tokamachi based on the idea “let’s not make snow our enemy, let’s make snow our friend.”

The fireworks that decorate the sky at the finale of the snow-stage carnival make snowy scenery that appears straight out of a fantasy.


I hoped you enjoyed today’s little tidbits about my life in Japan. If you’re a new reader, a little background: I lived in Japan for 10 years and a few months before relocating to the UAE.

I’ve not been able to visit my in laws during harvest time but one day, I hope to take the kids there to experience it. As I’ve said in the beginning of this post, my in laws’ little town isn’t as glamorous as the big and popular cities of Tokyo or Osaka but I miss it. It holds a special place in my heart.

The longest and largest river in Japan and random foodie memories

chikuma gawa

I remember when my husband and I were still dating, we would drive to the north to his hometown on school breaks (we met while in university), we would pass this long, winding river from Nagano Prefecture to Niigata Prefecture from Kanagawa.

This is Japan’s longest and largest river and flows from the mountainous region of Nagano to the plains of Niigata and exit to the sea of Japan.

Now that we have kids, of course we wanted them to see it too.

The river is approximately 367 kilometers  (228 miles) long and we chose a road by the river as much as we can when we had a road trip to Niigata again last summer. It was a long journey and then we stopped to take photos. Benjamin was asleep in the car when we parked so only Pristine and I went out to take some snaps.

Pristine jump shot

In Niigata, the river is called Shinano River, maybe to remind people that this river flows from the prefecture of Nagano (Shinano is the old name of Nagano). In Nagano on the other hand, the river is called Chikuma River. The Japanese characters for the word “chikuma” means “a thousand bends”.

Because the land near the river is very fertile, there are a lot of fruit and vegetable farms near it. The rich soil of Niigata, home to Japan’s tastiest rice variety (other areas like Akita will debate this though!) owes its richness to this river.

farmers market 2

Summer in Japan meant farmer’s markets where the freshest produce can be bought at a cheaper price than the ones in the grocery stores. Every time we go to the in-laws, we always drop by to buy these luscious pears.

farmers market 1

The pears was meant for grandpa and grandma but almost always, we end up eating it ourselves. The kids loved it and asked, can we get this in Dubai too?


Erm, maybe but not as sweet and plump and fresh! It’s really different when the food has traveled a lot than when it’s produced locally. Farm to table food are always the best.

peach 2

One tray with 3-4 peaches is 580 yen (approx. US$5). I am not sure if it’s cheap or expensive but the peaches at farmer’s markets are cheaper than when they are in the grocery stores and definitely fresher so we buy them in bulk, no questions asked.


Last year, Pristine ate the peaches with gusto like it’s her first time. She really thought it was her first peach. Little did she know that these were her favorite summer fruit way back then! Indeed traveling with children is not a waste – it relieves them of memories lost!

satsuma imo

Then there was satsuma-imo (Japanese sweet potatoes). They are my favorite kind of sweet potatoes. The ones which live up to their name…it’s really sweet. Usually their season is during autumn when the weather cools down and you can hear the shout of “yaki—imo!” outside. Compared to orange colored yams, the Japanese sweet potato (sometimes called oriental sweet potato, or Satsuma potato) is much sweeter and more densely textured – almost like a chestnut. A creamy chestnut.

yaki imo 6

If you’ve lived in Japan long enough to be there in Autumn, you would have heard of the cry of the ishi yaki-imo man, the stone roasted sweet potato seller. I loved rushing down from my school dormitory to buy some piping hot potatoes wrapped in newspaper. Ah, foodie memories of Japan!

Where was I?

Initially wanting to talk about Japan’s longest river and then the peaches and the sweet potatoes. Wow, this happens when your mind drifts away while looking at old photo files in the hard disk drive!

How about you? What are your favorite foodie memories from your travels?

Rural Japan in summer


Summer in Japan is a vibrant season. I love how everything is so green and the weather is warmer.

My father in-law’s rice paddies come to life. Obviously, not all of the places in Japan are chaotic, teeming with people and having the rush that the big city of Tokyo has. This rice paddy is right beside my in-law’s house. The next neigbor is about 100 meters away. I love the singing frogs and crickets in the summer, they couldn’t beat my Mr. Big CD.

Japan rice paddies

If you haven’t tried listening to the sound of nature (along with my MIL screaming when she finds out another racoon has taken her melons) then you’re missing out on the big thing.

Then there’s celebrations, weddings, fireworks and the long holiday called O-bon festival. The O-bon is one of the most important traditions for Japanese people. It is a Buddhist event and is the period of praying for the departed loved ones.

Summer is the perfect season for visiting the graves because in winter, believe it or not, this whole thing is covered in snow!

My in-laws has their private grave or ohaka just a few meters away from their house. Here is where my husband’s grandparents’ ashes are. MIL takes Pristine for some education and tradition lesson.


I’ll tell you a secret: I am afraid of cemeteries, thanks to  Stephen King. My daughter on the other hand is brave. I don’t know if it’s because her parents didn’t show her any zoombie featured movies or because she has no idea what the grave is for and what’s inside it.

MIL explained that this is the place where generations earlier is laid to rest. Pristine did not understand the concept of “generations earlier” or “laid to rest”. I gave a short and simple explanation that her dad’s grandmother has died of old age and is kept there, her ashes that is. She quickly understood and asked no further question. The idea did not freak her out like it freaked me out when I was her age.

paying respect

But in Japan, I found myself totally cool with cemeteries. I once laid a mat near this grave and slept one summer afternoon some years ago. The idea that the Japanese don’t bury their dead and instead cremate them makes all the difference. No physical body in the grave, just ashes. I am cool with ashes – they don’t come alive in the night.

Pristine paying respect

She lit a few incense sticks and mumbled a prayer. By the way, the kanji inscription on the stones on her left and right side is my husband’s family name. Those little stone tablets on the ground are where the ashes of his grandparents.

Then she stepped down and bowed again.


We proceeded to the nearby small temple – built by the people in their small community.

Jinja in Niigata

Pristine asked whether this is a church and where’s the priest and the pews. “No, not a church, no priest and no pews.” No more questions, please. “But what is this then?” She’s not yet fully aware that everything that ends in a curvy mark with a dot is a question.

Jinja in Niigata

The Buddhist Japanese (not generally speaking – just about my in-laws) do not have masses in churches or in temples like this. As far as I know, they visit this during the first day of the year. Some temples are huge and grand but this one is sort of, like, a private family temple. My father in-law has an interesting hobby. There’s a another small temple he helped build not too far away.

Don’t you like the greens around? Living in the desert with artificial greens all over make me miss the nature that is Japan. Summer in Japan is wonderful.

Except for the mosquitoes.


They are despicable creatures that attack without warning and permission. And they make my little girl miserable. I’ve once negotiated with them to bite me instead but the mosquitoes in Japan didn’t settle and wanted fresher, younger blood. Ouch.


See the mosquito bites on her legs? Poor girl but she gave me a smile one last time before we ran back to the house where MIL’s fresh melons await.


And these red, juicy stuff makes hubby’s rural hometown so pleasant, despite the mosquitoes. And the frogs and crickets.

If you enjoyed this, see more my Japan posts here.

Japanese summer festival


Summer in Japan means a lot of outdoor celebrations or “matsuri”. The matsuris are usually held in temples, “jinja” and the whole place is lit up with these paper lanterns.

When we went to Japan for vacation last year, my in-laws invited my brother and his wife, who just got married in summer of 2008 to come over for a small surprise. We lent my sister in-law a kimono, got the new couple dressed and dolled up.

dress up like Japanese

~ My brother and his wife with the hairdresser/kimono dresser ~


What a memorable gift but in one condition, they have to take a photo like how Japanese newly wed couples in kimono look like. No smiles. LOL! (joking…this was just for the kicks)

No smile photo!

The above photo was taken at my in-law’s house, in their Japanese-style room with tatami flooring, near their Butsudan, a wooden cabinet with doors that enclose and protect a religious icon, typically a statue of a mandala scroll. Here they pay respect to their God or the deceased.

I don’t know much about butsudans except that the incense sticks they light in there makes me sneeze. My mother in-law has already forgiven me and have dealt with my butsudan allergy since I stepped into that house so we’re cool.

Anyway, back to the topic…we went to a matsuri that night and Pristine got to wear her Happi coat. The kanji at the back reads “Matsuri”, this is a typical matsuri or festival coat.

Pristine in hapi

See how she’s so excited to immerse in the culture. Even when we were still living in Japan, we rarely go to my in-law’s house because it’s far, too hot in the summer or too snowy and cold in the winter. I know what you’re thinking: She’s got all the excuses available!

Yes, I do and I still have lots other in case the season or event doesn’t call for any of those above excuse categories, but believe me, they are all legal and logical. I’ve got them all covered.

Pristine was three years old when we left Japan so she has little memory of the traditional celebrations there but surprise, surprise she was a natural. She even found a friend within minutes of our arrival at the festival venue.

Japanese friend

Living in Dubai since three and going to an English School, Pristine has forgotten most of her Japanese language but that didn’t stop her from interacting with the kids there. She struggled with her broken Japanese – but guess what, the other kids didn’t mind and welcomed her with open arms. Although I think everyone blamed me for her broken Japanese…”look the mom is a foreigner…”

Hubby’s hometown is very rural (I’ll post more about it soon), and people know, help each other and yes, talk about each other. LOL. My in-law’s are famous for having a “daughter in-law from outside”. Outside Japan, that is, not outside Earth, I hope!

These two ladies almost spilled their o-sake when I greeted them in Japanese language. “Oh, you know Japanese! Why didn’t you say so!” Oh, now I’m saying. Smile!

Serving o-sake

They served o-sake to everyone at the matsuri. My brother and his wife gave it a whirl – or should I say, the rice wine made them go whirl. I once had a terrible hangover from hell from rice wine so I vowed not to have them again, ever and I politely declined their offer, complete with the Japanese bow of apology. It’s a good lower back exercise.


and then most probably, the  town’s people started a buzz. “That foreign wife isn’t interested in our rice wine…” Oh well.

Meanwhile, while my brother was chatting with a few residents in that small town, (I told you, there are very, very few foreigners in that area of Japan and we are treated like a new hybrid specie), Pristine was having a blast with the children.

Laughing at their jokes…I didn’t get the joke. It might’ve required me to be a 5 year old again to understand the tickly stories they were sharing.

Pristine having fun at matsuri

But I probably would have squirmed too if tickled like this. If I am a 5 year old.

Pristine having fun at matsuri

Different story if this happened 10 years later. We would have filed for sexual harassment, acts of lasciviousness, gender discrimination, intrusion of privacy, unjust vexation charges etc…all those legal jargon judges all love to pronounce.

They were queuing for a carnival game which I don’t know the English of,  but the one involving a plastic toy gun loaded with pellets and aimed at plastic action figures and boxes of candies and bubble gums – so we’ll call it the bang-bang game.


~ the carnival person is explaining to Pristine how to fire the toy gun ~

We are gun-free (toy and real) in our house so this is the first time Pristine got hold of a toy gun so we didn’t expect her to be able to shoot the target. But she wasn’t empty handed that night! She actually “shot” three prizes out of the 5 shots she was given. Homegirl can become a SWAT member in the future.

The victorious YES! face and pose and the high-fives around her.

Victorious YES!

and then I looked around and sharpened my hearing. The town’s people are saying, “that foreign mother must have taught her girl how to handle a gun”…

A trip to rural Japan is always interesting. More to come soon!

Experiencing farm life in Japan


We had our fill of rural, laid back life in my husband’s hometown in Japan last summer. Life there was simple: people tend their farms, grow vegetables and shops close before 9pm. My image of Japan as a place with lightning speed  technology and ultra busy lifestyle changed when I first visited this quiet town.

My father in-law works in a confectionery factory and tends to his rice plantation for hobby. My mother in-law stays at home and grows a lot of vegetables for family consumption and public donation to the visiting racoons, rabbits and other farm creatures. 🙂

MIL took us to her potato garden one afternoon with Pristine wearing oversized boots. I wasn’t there to do any work except to take photos and shoo away the mosquitoes!



Grandma shows Pristine the spots where the potatoes are:


Then start digging:




Proud potato moments!



Then out of the blue, probably out of sheer excitement with her harvest with the combination of oversized booties, she fell face flat on the dirt road.


But when I asked her if she would do it again (the potato  harvest, not the falling of course), she let out a big YES!


I am happy we were able to do this – reconnect with nature and learn a little about farm life, something that we wouldn’t be able to do here in Dubai! Not in a million years!