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/

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!

Earthquake in Niigata Prefecture, again

By now you must have heard already.

An earthquake measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale struck the northwestern province of Niigata, Japan collapsing houses and halting train operations. Casualties are said to increase as people searched through the rubble. A fire broke out in the nuclear reactor site in Kashiwazaki City. A tsunami warning was issued off the coastal area but was lifted after a few hours.

Earthquake of almost the SAME intensity struck the SAME area last October 23, 2004.

Japan sits precariously on 4 tectonic plates. Two major earthquake in three years!! After the main quake this morning, several aftershocks came including one strong one with a magnitude of 5.8.

Pictures on top of a mountain; it’s already almost June when this was taken but there are still traces of snow

Niigata Prefecture is very close to my heart – it is M’s hometown. His family, my in-laws are all there.

Summer in Kawanishi-machi, 20 kms. from Kashiwazaki

Niigata winters aren’t appealing at all so we try to visit them during spring or summer.

Does this justify why I don’t like Niigata Prefecture in winter?

My brother and M’s brother at the peak of winter. My brother wants to see ‘some’ snow so I sent him there 😉

My mother in-law called me a few minutes ago saying their house is still standing (as it is built on a very big rock!).

Niigata Prefecture is an agricultural area with most of the houses being built on top of rice paddies which is soft and very vulnerable to jolts.

Thinking of all of you and praying for safety.