Christmas Illumillion- Sagamigawa

On my first winter trip to Japan during December of 2014 I learned that Japan does not celebrate Christmas in the traditional way that most of America does. Christmas is seen as a holiday mainly celebrated by couples, where gift giving is reserved only for those closest to you and in a relationship. I was surprised at this difference, and that you could see many couples walking around, shopping, or eating a meal together at restaurants on this special day. What they do really differently, however, is have an annual end of year light show that is held in multiple locations throughout Japan. My wife and family decided that we would like to see the light show in Kanagawa prefecture’s most popular display in an area pleasantly known as Lake Sagami Resort Pleasure Forest. During the spring, summer, and fall it is used as a type of mini amusement park with a couple of rides for children, and a restaurant at the base of the hill it is located on.

We decided to go on Christmas day, and I asked one of the stupidest questions I could ever ask.

“Why are we going so late? I thought it would be better to go early so we can see everything before the park closes.”

The response I got back was a burst of laughter and my wife asking me if I felt okay. Did I? What was I forgetting? Oh… right. The biggest issue you would have of seeing a light display is needing it to be DARK enough to see the lights clearly. After going red in the face and hiding my shame in my shirt front for a while, I calmed down a bit, ate some snacks before I could respond with a nervous laugh back. Some things never change (I still ask questions like these to this day, and have never figured out how to change that) ūüėČ . We waited until the sun was starting to go down, then headed out on our fun little trip to Pleasure Forest.


Upon arriving at the parking lot, the police directed us to drive to the backside since the main lot was full. No biggie, right? Not quite… the next parking lot was full, so we headed to the next closest space, and the trend continued. It was an extra 15 minutes of slow rolling and stopping for the traffic to finally get moving and we could find a parking spot somewhere on the side of a hill, in an area that wasn’t as great as we hoped for.We had to use the bathroom when we arrived, so we decided to use the ones located in that parking lot. This was the biggest mistake we could have ever made. There were no doors to close off the area from the outside, and that naturally meant no heat within the facilities. The men’s room had 2 stalls with only Japanese “traditional” toilets (these look like urinals that someone tipped off a wall and squished it into the ground), so that meant only light business in the bathroom. Luckily (or not?), there was a urinal area to relieve myself at… except, there was no urinal. It was just a long trough-like area dug into the ground, with no flusher, and it was half full of urine that was so pungent I had to plug my nose as I went, and I still cried from the nasty odors it brought. To top it all off, there was no soap, along with only cold water for washing your hands.

To¬†put that unpleasant experience behind ourselves, we headed over to the entrance as fast as we could, just so we could wait in line for another half hour. When we finally were able to enter, one of the first sights we could see was a tree decorated with many lights. It looked just like a Christmas tree, so I was a bit disappointed since I felt it was going to all look like trees in America. We continued walking a bit and ran into the first of many wonders of the park. The fountain had sprays of water coming up at random intervals, but still using a predetermined timing pattern, so we calculated the best time to take a picture when the water had all risen, resulting in the picture seen above. Next, we found and area that was dedicated to England (who would decide such a thing is beyond me… carrying on). The lights were really fun to watch because the pattern that they were turned on and off with created the illusion of movement of the characters shown. It was an incredible spectacle that was further supported by music that matched the types of movements seen.

After watching those lights, we headed back through the gateway and headed toward the ski lift (the quickest way to ascend the mountainous area). The gate was quite pretty with its fancy star patterns, and lit up trees behind it. As we continued walking we could see that a lot of the grass was saturated with glowing lights and funny designs that resembled more trees. We continued walking what felt like an endless path, so we ended up taking the ski lift up the mountain. The view from the lift as we ascended felt a lot like one of those Mario Kart racing game tracks (Did anyone play Super Mario Kart 64?).

At the top of the mountain, we looked down and saw the beautiful lights shining brightly in the distance. There was a brilliant mix of most colors that were extremely well planned out because I could easily see the images the creators ¬†wanted us to see. After looking at everything possible at the top, we decided to return down the mountain, but we used the side of the mountain instead of the ski lift. This was an excellent idea because we were able to see many more lights that aren’t visible from the bottom. The light tunnel we had to go through was a dark blue color and extended a long stretch. When we got through, the lights going down the path all looked like water and had cute sea creatures set up every step ¬†of the way to greet us. We walked down the mountainous side, and took a lot of pictures of the Illumillion display. When we went back down, we stopped in the¬†resting area to take a look at what we may have missed when we used those bathrooms nearby the car. It was definitely much cleaner, and easier to use too.

We decided that was enough for the trip, went back to the car, and headed straight back to my wife’s parents’ house. We did end up visiting the light display again in the somewhat recent past. It brought a lot of joy and excitement to the winter holidays, and it feels this is the perfect place to visit whether you go with your entire family. I loved the lights, and am looking forward to the next time I can see them. Until then, I can only trust my memories and these photos to hold me over until the next time.DSCN2965.JPG


Sakura- The Cherry Blossoms

On my first trip to Japan, I was very unfortunate to have missed the Spring season, when all the trees and flowers would bloom and share their beauty only for a brief time with the world. My first time going to Japan was in the Summer of 2010, and I stayed for the majority of the summer time. It was still fantastic, but I wish I could have seen what I was able to see in the Spring of 2016. Of all the famous sights to find in Japan, there is no equal to the annual cherry blossom viewings.

IMG_20160331_113107.jpgThe Sakura, or cherry blossoms, are a wonderful sight that leaves even the Japanese people in awe at their natural beauty. Every Spring, around the early weeks of April, families gather to prepare themselves for a great celebration, eating picnics under trees that have blooming cherry flowers. There are even newscasters on TV, watching in great anticipation for the first blossoms of Tokyo to occur, which officially marks the start of the cherry blossom season. Stores sell Sake in great abundance around this time of year because it is believed by many to be an excellent combination to watch the flower petals falling and drinking this light, yet refreshing, alcohol with friends and family (of course, only those who are of legal age to drink).

Wherever you go in Japan, you will find cherry blossoms in full bloom once April comes around. I went with my wife and her parents to explore many different cities throughout Japan during this past Spring. All the ones pictured directly above came from just the Sagamihara City area, with some being around Kamimizo station’s Yokoyama park, some were from the Asamizo park, and the remainders were taken by my wife while I was driving with her down a road in Kamimizo.

The first time I saw cherry blossoms I was speechless. Other than my wife, these were the most beautiful sights I have ever laid my eyes upon. I remember the first day I went with my wife to see them starting to come into bloom. It was a very warm spring day, and we were walking through the Yokoyama park nearby the Kamimizo train station. My wife pointed to a tree that had little buds starting to grow and said they would make one of the rarest sights I could ever see. I didn’t believe it too much because we saw a few blossoms in America, nearby our college. I would later find outing was very mistaken.

Soon, we headed out on our trip to Fukuoka and started our journey¬†down to Kumamoto city to see Kumamoto castle, one of Japan’s most precious treasures (Unfortunately, a majority of Kumamoto city was destroyed along with parts of the castle in the huge earthquake that hit about 1 week after we left). My wife’s father was driving at the time, so I got to take a peak out the window from time to time. The scenery felt so different with those blossoms that I had to check what month it was and make sure that wasn’t a spring snow. The castle itself was magnificent, standing on the wonderful stone wall that was built by hand hundreds of years ago.

I thought this couldn’t have been better and was pleased with the experience. On our way back from the trip, we arrived at Haneda airport and drove back to Sagamihara, cutting through Ueno city along the way. I think my wife and her parents planned this out very well because we arrived in the evening, with the sun just starting to set. Ueno is supposed to be a cherry blossom hot spot that many Japanese people go to see every year. These blossoms were the most breathtaking sight you could ever imagine.

Petals fell in even spread as the wind gently brushed them away from the trees. Walking under them as you see the sun setting feels like you are walking through a portal in time. With all the women wearing celebratory kimonos, it could very easily have been mistaken for the time of the samurai, the Edo Period. I had forgotten to take the pictures while the sun was still out, so I had to settle for night photos instead. The cherry blossoms of Ueno fell like a light snow that night, turning that into one of the best trips I’ve ever gone on during my visits to Japan.

I do have more things I would like to say about Kumamoto and Ueno, so I will have separate articles for those in the future. I plan on returning to Japan early enough to see these kinds of sights again this Spring, and can’t wait to refresh my soul with the ultimate satisfaction it brings when seen with family.


Enoshima Aquarium

It was another beautiful summer day, with the heat boiling every drop of water in my body. My wife and I were happy we could spend some time just relaxing at home, but we wished there was somewhere we could go. We felt that it would be nice to go on a mini day trip to get our minds off the heat. After that, we went to buy our tickets from the nearby Family Mart, a local convenience store chain that is very popular in Japan. The next day, we headed out driving to Enoshima with a book bag filled with 6 bottles of water, tons of Jagariko snack cups (these are potato sticks with various flavors), and some onigiri from another convenience store.

We drove about 1 hour to get to Enoshima. The parking area felt like it was a completely different business on its own since there were multiple, multi-leveled ramps we could park in. The aquarium was across a body of water, which conveniently had a bridge built above it, and we could go up by escalator, stairs, or by elevator. The walk to the stair area from the parking lot took a bit over 10 minutes itself. Once we ascended and crossed the bridge, we saw that the park was huge, and there were a variety of buildings with different marine lifeforms inside.

One of the main attractions that made the park so special was being able to get close enough to touch the dolphins. When they felt like it, the dolphins would swim close to the edge of the pool and stick their heads out for visitors to touch them briefly. When they didn’t feel like it, the trainers would bring fish and guide the dolphins along the edge of the water so that they could be petted by the guests. The dolphin was very slippery like rubbing your fingers over a wet bar of soap, yet the skin was softer than a memory foam mattress mixed with a block of tofu. It felt so rare to touch a dolphin since you don’t particularly see them in areas of New York that aren’t in very few parts of the City.

After we pet the dolphins, we moved on to the other tanks in different buildings. There was a huge variety of oceanic organisms found within the tanks, and most of the tanks were so tall we could walk under them and see the fish swimming all around us. There were a lot of really cool looking fish that I’ve never seen before. This included eels and a variety of crabs, fish that looked like seaweed, and many little fish that I wouldn’t be able to describe properly. There was one main attraction other than the dolphins that Enoshima was famous for. We headed for that building after we saw these fish.

Jellyfish are some of the most magnificent creatures you will ever see in the ocean. Their very existence is mysterious. How do they see their food without eyes? Eat without having¬†teeth like ours? Poop using their… ok, never mind that question. The point is, these wonderful creatures glow in the water with a brilliant light that is not commonly seen in many other animals. Jellyfish come in a huge variety, and some of them are barely visible in the water when you are standing right next to them. I know this by experience because when I went clam digging, I nearly punched one on the head reaching down into the sand beneath… Not really the smartest thing to do when you consider the stingers they have on their arms.

Jellyfish are some of the most majestic creatures living in the oceans. Enojima’s researchers have dedicated a majority of their time studying Jellyfish compared to the other sea life in their aquarium.¬†I don’t know the reason for these studies, but somebody in Japan thought these jellyfish (fish?) were really cool and wanted people to learn more about them.

Overall, this was a really fun trip to the Enoshima aquarium located in Fujisawa City. I would love to return one day and see all the fish again. There is nothing quite like seeing the life beneath the ocean. I look forward to my return trip sometime this year. When the sun sets over the water, it feels like being placed on your own magical little paradise as you are surrounded by the beauty of the ocean.

Shark eggs illuminated with fluorescent bulbs behind a glass case

Remember, always make the most out of each day, as you never know what new experiences may come to your life. If you never try, you never learn and can’t make yourself grow as a person.

Machida’s Squirrel Park

My wife and I share a fondness for nearly every animal you can think of. We often buy bread or bring crackers with us when we go to parks so we can feed the wildlife when we have the chance. The first time my wife saw a squirrel up close, she freaked out saying it was so ugly… but, cute at the same time. We were sitting on a bench in a zoo feeding the chipmunks that came by when the squirrel appeared. She described it as “an alien creature that is made in garbage bins,” which is pretty accurate since that’s where many squirrels spend their time if the food is available. This had me wondering, how does it feel to see squirrels like this for the first time? I was born and raised in America, so I lost all memories of my first time seeing them long ago. Apparently, in Japan squirrels are a bit more rare, so it is really fun to see them not in captivity.

Upon my visits to Japan, my wife told me about a somewhat famous park (kind of a mini zoo) that was dedicated to showing off our little rodent friends. The name tells you pretty much all you need to know. It is known as the Machida Risuen, or Machida Squirrel Park. The park is located on a really steep hill heading down somewhere we never bothered exploring. To go on this trip, we drove from her parent’s house to Machida city, which was about a good half hour drive or so. It was a beautiful day, no clouds in the sky, and great temperature. We stopped by the 7-Eleven, that was 5 minutes away, for a quick snack before we arrived at the squirrel park.

Admission was 400ŚÜÜ per person, and one of the first animals you see is a cute brown squirrel, followed by a… chipmunk. Not quite a squirrel, but very cute either way. At least the chipmunk was related to the squirrel, but the turtles have no excuse. The rabbits are somewhat related, but that’s pushing it a bit much. When we passed the main entrance with the brown squirrel, we saw the area in the middle where we could hand feed the rabbits and turtles, while they had a booth that sold small bowls of lettuce and carrots for 100ŚÜÜ a piece. It was much funner feeding the turtles than I had initially anticipated, and it quickly became one of our favorite activities to do at the squirrel park, despite the squirrels being the main attraction. We are not alone on this idea either. Many Japanese children would bring bowls over and watch as the turtles wolf down fresh leafy greens. Their tongues look like little pieces of pink gum that as been rolled up like pretzel dough, and you can only see the end of that dough. We could spend hours just standing there, feeding and petting the turtles…

But, enough about turtles. The main attraction is a special outdoor dome that has netting running up several poles and covers the area like a tarp full of holes, whose only purpose is to prevent the squirrels from escaping. You can enter the squirrel area for free, of course, but if you wanted to feed them you had to buy the sunflower seed packs for another 100ŚÜÜ. The squirrels are quite ravenous and eat up the seeds really fast, so a single pack of them may not last more than 5 minutes if you aren’t careful.

The squirrels have a wonderful environment they live in under these conditions. I was very surprised to see that they were agreeable with so many visitors, and there were signs posted that monitored human traffic levels so visitors would know when the squirrels were recently fed too much, and when would be better feeding times. Technically, you are supposed to feed the squirrels only on one of the provided oven mitts to protect your hands from their sharp claws, but hand feeding them is extremely fun if you don’t get caught~~. The squirrels are so friendly they actually do climb onto you if you aren’t paying attention or aren’t being careful. I must say that their claws are extremely sharp, and I would not recommend coming in summer clothes despite the temperatures outside. When I went in shorts and a T-shirt, ¬†my legs looked like I tripped over a couple cacti and when my mother in law saw my arms, she thought I was an idiot for trying to pull out rose bushes from the front yard (that’s what it looked like; I would never touch her garden without permission).

Despite their really cute personalities, they are still quite timid. If you approach a squirrel without food, or try to touch them, they run away from you like how you would run away from a skunk. It is really a shame because they are adorable and look so fluffy to touch. One final word of advice is to not let the squirrels get near the bag of sunflower seeds. They have a nasty habit of grabbing the lower edge and either tearing it open to let out the seeds, or grabbing it so fast in their teeth that you don’t have time to react when they pull it away and scatter the seeds on the ground. You never have the time to retrieve the seeds either since they work in teams.

Even though these are not flying squirrels, they do like to jump onto you, especially when you wear loose clothing. I had this happen when I visited the first time. I almost walked out of the reserve area with a squirrel hitchhiking on my shoulder and I never would have known if the staff didn’t kindly stop me to shoo it away.

Overall, the Machida Squirrel Park is a fantastic place to visit if you love furry ¬†little creatures and want them to climb all over you like a tree. There are guinea pigs in the park as well, but they tend to stink pretty badly, so we typically avoid their pens. If you can see them out, the prairie dogs also are quite cute, but they are behind proper casings, so they are display models only. No, you can’t jump over and touch them… it really hurts trying to climb up one side and squeeze through the feeding area only to find out that there is a locked door next to the glass you are so desperately attempting to conquer :p

Again, fantastic place with very friendly staff. I encourage you to go if you have some free time and are able to visit the machida area. Even if you have seen many squirrels in America, or wherever you are from, you have not experienced something like this!IMG_20160306_152035.jpg

Asamiso Kouen- The Local Park

When you have some free time, come check out a local park in Sagamihara City. You just might be glad you did!

When I visit Japan, my parents-in-law have a house located in Kanagawa Prefecture’s Sagamihara City. The first time I visited Japan, I was told that the city was quite different from the pictures of Tokyo. That was quite accurate as I was able to see trees and lots of grass (farms too!), which was quite different from building saturated towns located within Tokyo. Don’t get me wrong, Tokyo is still a wonderful place to visit, I just prefer to feel closer to nature, and Tokyo does not give that experience.

Knowing this, I wanted to see a lot of local attractions since Sagamihara is off of most tourist lists of where to visit first. I wanted to get an idea of what Japanese people really like to do, where they like to go, when they have free time. My wife suggested we visit a wonderful park within the bigger Sagamihara park area, which was known as Asamiso Kouen. We got in the car, made a few turns here and there, went up a steep hill, around some more curves in the road, and finally settled in the parking lot.

The park felt like any traditional one would, and didn’t appear to be all that special at first glance. Oh well, a park’s a park, I thought.¬†We walked down the pathway on the right side a little bit, then my wife told me something strange. She said there was a petting zoo, and she wanted to pet the guinea pigs.

“You… what?!”

“Guinea Pigs”

Cute, aren’t they? Apparently, in this park there is a mini zoo area that houses a variety of unusual animals you shouldn’t normally find in a park. The petting zoo area is one of the key attractions, that is completely free (YAY!), and is a great way to get children to visit the park. The only catch is you can’t bring in your own food to give the little guys if you felt inclined enough to feed them. Instead, you can buy some freshly cut carrot wedges they love eating. This was actually the first time I ever held a guinea pig in my hands, or touched them, so it was a fun new experience for me. We bought 2 cups of carrots at 100ŚÜÜ per cup, and started feeding them. The way they moved their little whiskers and mouths when they ate was really cute, and they were quite friendly to strangers since they are handled so much on a daily basis.


Those little things are quite chunky. They are pampered a lot, and don’t really get exercise, so they kind of plump up. Rest assured, they are well taken care of, and they love being on people’s laps. There are also 2 white roosters living in the shed connected to the petting zoo area, and you are allowed to pet them when they come out. My wife loves chickens since she used to own one when she was little, so she went and caught one to set on her lap while we sat. The chickens were really cute, closing their eyes when we pet them on the head, and sometimes they tried to hide their faces in our arms.

The area also has sheep and goats. What’s better than hand feeding a barn animal¬†by giving him food little-by-little?

img_20160524_141334You guessed it, watching a sheep getting sheared live! This is such a funny summer time event to see (admittedly, this was a few years after my initial visit  when I found out about it)! The sheep was in a disagreement with the zookeepers, and tried to fight back by rolling around the ground. The keepers had to eventually rest his head between their knees and take turns shaving him down until all that nasty, bulky fur was cut down to a summer suit.

After being satisfied with this scenery, we walked around the park area and saw a few of the other animals. These included some birds, miniature horses, raccoons, and… a peacock?


There were 2 females and 1 male peacock in the same cage. During the summer, the male tries to spark the females’ interest, so he spreads his tail out like a fan in his attempt at attraction. Unfortunately, he is really lousy at it somehow, and almost never gets the females to even look in his direction. On the contrary, it appears they are trying to ignore him completely.Poor guy, I used to be in that kind of situation a long time ago, so I know his pain ;( .

Walking around the park, we were able to see a variety of really nice sights. The trees were wonderful, the fountain was fun to walk by with its misty spray streaking across our faces to relieve us from the summer heat. There are many reasons to want to come back to this park, but there is one in particular that strongly attracts me back, no matter how different the park may change. Can you guess what that reason is? I’ll give you a hint; it’s related to the petting zoo, but it isn’t part of the zoo.

Cats. These adorable little creatures of comfort are abundant within the park. Many of them have been cruelly left behind by their owners, never to have the owners return. A lot of regular visitors to the park know this, and bring food for the cats on a daily basis, as well as water for drinking, and blankets for them during the winter. It breaks my heart knowing that these lovable little angels have been exiled from their houses and are forced to live outdoors where they must have been shocked on their first time going. The cats are very sweet and love to be petted by pretty much anyone they are willing to get close to.

If you look at the pictures, you can see one of them has a mickey mouse pattern on her backside, and the one next to her is nicknamed baby ball. During the winter, if you sit down, expect her to bolt like lightning and jump onto your lap to get comfortable and she will not leave until you force her off your lap. In the future, I want to donate a lot of money to the park to have them help support the cats that are there, and to make an effort to stop people from mercilessly leaving behind the pets they once loved.

Overall, this is a wonderful park that I want to be able to visit every day if I have the chance. There are so many fond memories I have going there. Many public events are held at the park as well, including flea markets, and festivals, so it always has something fun to do during the summer time. If you are ever in Sagamihara and want to refresh yourself in a bit of nature, I highly recommend going to Asamiso Kouen. There are surprises hiding around every corner……


Gunkanjima- The Abandoned Island

A mysterious island in Japan, lost in the depths of nearby locals’ memories.

My family and I had arrived in Nagasaki on a Monday afternoon. After some slight discrepancies with the car rental facilities at the airport were resolved, I was able to drive around with my international permit. We drove down to the port area to check out the surroundings, eat lunch, and find the hotel. After we got everything taken care of, we made our way over to the port of Nagasaki to see when the next tour cruise was.

“Gunkanjima, ship leaves at 3:30pm.” Just enough time to finish off lunch and rest a bit. We bought the tickets ahead of time and prepared ourselves for a mild cruise across blissful waves.

We got in line at 3:00 just to make sure we could get good seats. The ship itself was quite lovely, having a viewing dock in the backside, as well as a photo taking area on the 2nd floor. The tour guides provided their customers with some hard candy, and let the guests onto the ship. It looked peaceful enough sitting there in the docks, so we thought we could relax.

No more than 5 minutes into the ride did the ship start rocking violently as it crashed through the waves. Looking out the window, it felt like we were about to be capsized and left stranded in the ocean. My wife wasn’t able to handle the rocking, so she tried to sleep while I took out the camera and made my way up to the top floor. With the camera in 1 hand, and the guard rail in the other, I climbed my way up to the backside first, then toward the top. Having no other tourists on the top should have been an indication that something was either wrong or dangerous, but I ignored the signs anyway.

The view from the top was quite lovely, and it would have been perfect had the captain thought to slow the ship even a little. Unfortunately, the top was open on all sides except for a mini rail that rose up to my waistline. Most of the pictures I took from the top were very blurry because I wasn’t able to find the right footing, so I felt defeated and returned to my family in the lower portion of the ship, in which all the other tourists smartly stayed.

The ride took about half an hour despite the vicious speed the ship moved at. After that torturous ride, the ship suddenly slowed, and the captain announced we had arrived at Gunkanjima, the battleship island, abandoned for many years and protected by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

The island was¬†more beautiful and mysterious feeling than these pictures give credit for. We were led by the tour guide off the¬†ship and through a very limited course that would allow us to have a brief view of many of the different¬†buildings that were once standing tall many years ago. The guide also gave us a brief history of the island, which was very monotonous and most people ignored him for photographic opportunities (poor guy… he was just doing his job). The main idea is that the island was originally¬†inhabited because there was a coal mine hidden in the lower layers of the island. The miners couldn’t realistically travel back and forth every day from the island, and wanted to see their families more often. So, the government supported the idea of having normal citizens living on the island and built multiple apartments, a school, a hospital, and a post office for the inhabitants. It worked fine for quite a while, but the fad quickly died down, and people started leaving the island.

The¬†remains that are seen were overgrown by nature, taken back to be recycled into the earth once more. That is, until UNESCO decided to step in and actively take part in preserving the scenery as it is known today. By keeping this unique abandoned town, people are able to see something quite different from any other place they could visit. When we were taking pictures, I felt like Spiderman or some other freak of nature would pop out of the buildings at any second.DSCN4096.JPGDoesn’t this just take your breath away? The crumbling walls, the debris of an abandoned civilization, and the sound of water crashing upon the walls below just draw about a serenity no other place in the world can give you. After we saw the rest of what we were allowed, we headed on back to the ship, to take the cursed ferry back to the main land, never to set foot on this island again.

dscn4110If you are into this sort of thing, I highly recommend visiting Gunkanjima as soon as you can! It is a fantastic trip, and Nagasaki isn’t bad either. There is a lot of fun stuff to do in the area, but nothing else is quite like this.

Always remember to enjoy your life and try new things because you never know what those experiences may bring to your life.