May 28, 2015

The Shibazakura Hill in Chichibu


I feel like every other blog post lately is of flowers.

Then again, it is spring! The season where everything starts to bloom. That's a good reason, right? You'll just have to bare with me for a bit longer! (Yes, I do have a few more in store...)

Right before Golden Week, I got itchy feet and hopped on a train headed to Chichibu (秩父), a corner of Saitama Prefecture surrounded by mountains. It's a really great spot to explore and hike, about 1.5 hours from Shinjuku by train. As much as I love living in the city (and I really do), sometimes the inner inaka in me craves nature. Thankfully, it's not too difficult to get away from the city in Tokyo (although it doesn't necessarily mean that you get away from the crowds).

It was Shibazakura season at Hitsuji-yama Park (羊山公園).

Shibazakura, phlox subulata or moss phlox in English, is originally from North America. The flowers look like small cherry blossoms and cover the ground like grass, thus the name Shibazakura in Japanese (shiba=grass, sakura=cherry blossoms).

There were nine different types of Shibazakura that cover the 17,600 sqm (4.3 acres) hillside in various colors. The design is based on the traditional clothes the float riders wear participating in the Chichibu Yomatsuri, a very large festival in this area.

Although the flowers itself are very small and simple, seeing it cover the hill is quite impressive. I noticed a very sweet scent in the air from the Shibazakura, too. I may have gotten slightly high from that at one point. Did I also mention you get a fabulous view of the massive mountain, Bukosan (武甲山)? It was beautiful. And they also served sakura flavored soft serve!

Now doesn't that make you want to go see this Shibazakura hill next year? x

















6267 Omiya, Chichibu-shi, Saitama JAPAN
埼玉県秩父市 大宮6267
TEL: 0494 21 2277
ENTRANCE FEE: 300 yen

May 23, 2015

The Bookstore RIVE GAUCHE


Bonjour les amis! (Did I get that right?)

I wanted to show you this little French bookshop that F and I stopped by on our afternoon in Kagurazaka. Isn't the exterior lovely? Especially that red door.

Looks very French to me (possibly because I've never been there...but someday!).

The Institut français du Japon is a cultural center run by the government of France. It operates a French language school, as well as a library and restaurant within the compound. Promoting the French culture through art and literature, they provide various events such as lectures and films. (I might have to come back to see a French film, they apparently have English or Japanese subtitles.)

I'd never entered the grounds before but when F and I passed by a gorgeous wall of ivy, we stopped to ooh and aah over it. F is very into ivy, as am I. It was really something.

Then I turned around...and there it was. This quaint little bookstore filled with books and magazines, all in French!

Despite my lack of knowledge whatsoever about this language, I found the bookstore to be interesting. They had Japanese manga in French, including rare ones like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (which is on my to-read list). I even found a corner with Kazuo Ishiguro novels!

It's a tiny store but if you're looking for something in French here in Tokyo, this is the bookstore for you. x





Impressive ivy wall, right? x

15 Ichigaya Funagawara-machi, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo JAPAN
東京都新宿区市谷船河原町15 アンスティチュ・フランセ東京内
TEL: 03 3267 1280
HOURS: Mon 12:00pm-1:30pm, 2:30pm-7:30pm
              Tue-Fri 10:30am-1:30pm, 2:30pm-7:30pm
              Sat 10:30am-6:00pm
              Sun 12:00pm-6:00pm (closed holidays)

May 18, 2015

The Afternoon in Kagurazaka


I have always liked the Kagurazaka neighborhood.

A couple weekends ago, my friend F and I went exploring! We wanted to check out the new bookstore, Kamome Books, which opened at the end of last year. It's not just a bookstore with a great selection of books and magazines. It also has a cafe (with an open terrace in warmer weather!) and an art gallery in the back

This spot was previously also a bookstore, that suddenly closed in the spring of 2014. The owner of a manuscript proofreading company walked passed and realized the bookstore was closing. He decided then and there to do something about it so he opened Kamome Books for people to enjoy "off-line" time in this age where everyone seems to always be online. 

F and I browsed the whole bookstore before settling down for a latte. It was a really warm day and a great place to sit down and chat. With La Kagu right across the street, it's also a really great place to people watch!




After coffee time, we walked down the street to Akagi Shrine.

It's a very modern shrine designed by the ever famous architect, Kengo Kuma. I really like it, despite the huge condo right next to it on the property. I'm sure the beautiful shrine is what sold those condos because if it were an old run down shrine with a graveyard behind it, I don't think I would buy a condo next to that. I mean, I don't really believe in ghosts. But I am definitely scared of them (if they're real...you never know!)

You can read more about the shrine here.

We also bumped into a crowd of people wearing kimonos at the shrine. Kagurazaka is one of those places where it's not unusual to see people wearing them. Kimonos are not the most easiest thing to wear but I love wearing it. It makes the day special, in my opinion. This crowd seemed excited to be walking around Kagurazaka wearing kimonos, too.








We also passed by Mugimaru2, the quirkiest manju cafe.

I knew they had cats inside the cafe. I did not know they had fish outside. Am I the only one worried about this combination? Hopefully the cats are well fed.

My favorite here is the Yomogi Cheese manju (140 yen!).

F and I were too full for a manju...but you can never be too full for gelato! We stopped by Gelateria Theobroma, a tiny gelato shop that F discovered while we were exploring the backstreets of Kagurazaka. Her gelato radar is spot on!



One of the best things about Kagurazaka is that there are various shops located in areas that you would think is a residential area. So it's a great place to just randomly roam because you never know what you will discover.

Like this pretty park with gorgeous wisteria!

It was in full bloom and you could smell the fragrance of the flowers instantly as you step into the park grounds. It's a local park, nothing special. But a fun discovery just the same.







You can't come to Kagurazaka without stopping by Le Bretagne to try their delicious galette, a traditional Bretagne crepe made from buckwheat flour.

They have many restaurants in Tokyo but this was the first one to open. They have both indoor and outdoor seating, which I think will be great once it gets warm. From the cobblestone path that leads to the restaurant, the lovely interior and friendly staff welcoming you in French...it takes you away from Japan, if only during your meal.

I had a great time catching up with F over dinner! It was delicious and we definitely left Kagurazaka full and happy :D



Have you been to Kagurazaka? Do you have any recommendations?

KAMOME BOOKS (かもめブックス)
Daiichi Yarai Bldg, 123 Yarai-cho, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo JAPAN
東京都新宿区矢来町123 第一矢来ビル1階
TEL: 03 5228 5490
HOURS: Mon-Sat 10:00am-10:00pm, Sun 11:00am-8:00pm

AKAGI SHRINE (赤城神社)
1-10 Akagi-motomachi, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo JAPAN
東京都新宿区赤城元町1-10
TEL: 03 3260 5071

MUGIMARU2
5-20 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo JAPAN
東京都新宿区神楽坂5-20
TEL: 03 5228 6393
HOURS: 12:00pm-9:00pm (closed Wednesdays)

GELATORIA THEOBROMA
Borgo Oojime, 6-8 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo JAPAN
東京都新宿区神楽坂6-8 Borgo Oojime
TEL: 03 5206 5195
HOURS: 10:30am-7:30pm

NAKAMACHI PARK (中町公園)
5 Naka-cho, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo JAPAN
東京都新宿区中町5

LE BRETAGNE
4-2 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo JAPAN
東京都新宿区神楽坂4-2
TEL: 03 3235 3001
HOURS: Tue-Sat 11:30am-10:30pm, Sun 11:30am-10:00pm (closed Mondays)