My name is Lisa and I'm a crafty girl with wanderlust working as an engineer by day. My blog chronicles projects in my home as well as pictures and stories from my travels.




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Entries in Japan (93)


Picture of the Day: Snowy Roofs in Shirakawago

Shirakawago, Japan


Picture of the Day: Shore of Lake Shikotsu



















Lake Shikotsu
Hokkaido, Japan


Picture of the Day: Snowy Waterfall in Tono Valley



















Tono Valley
Iwate Prefecture, Japan


Halloween in Japan (With a Hello Kitty Piñata Tutorial, Of Course)

Halloween is such a part of American culture it seemed hard to let it pass unnoticed while I was living in Japan. Another one of the American expats, who was from Arizona, was keen to host a Halloween party at his place and thought a piñata would be a perfect addition. Actually, he really just wanted an excuse to have a piñata and Halloween fit the bill since candy was involved.

He had looked online to see if there was any way to get piñata sent to Japan. When he came up with no leads, he asked me if I knew how to make one knowing I was crafty. I had never done it before but I always like trying new things so I agreed to help out.

Since we were in Japan we quickly settled on Hello Kitty as our piñata subject. To make the form we used two large balloon with the pointed ends tilted out for the ears. To fill in the space and make the head oval we blew up a little balloon and placed it in between the ears using a little bit of tape to hold the balloons together.

Next we paper-mached the balloons. We made paper mache paste mixing together 1 part flour to 2 parts water. We cut up pieces of newspaper into 1" strips, dipped  them into into the paste and layered them over the balloons. In order to get a strong piñata we made sure to cross the strips and put on several layers.

Once the paper mache was dry we popped the balloons, cut a hole in the bottom, filled it with candy and taped the flap back shut. Finally it was time to decorate. We cut up squares of white paper, crinkled them, put a dab of glue on the back of the middle and pressed them onto the form. I used some black duct tape to make eyes and whiskers and an oval of yellow paper for the nose. With a red bow from the Hyaku-en Store the Hello Kitty piñata was complete and ready for the party. If you want to make your own piñata just arrange balloons into the form you want and then follow the rest of my instructions.

My friend lived in an American style apartment complex that had a courtyard and he figured out a way to string up the piñata between two of the buildings and a small tree. I apologize for the crappy pictures but it was nighttime and even I am not so dorky that I would bring a tripod to a party.

The piñata was a big hit (haha, I am punny!) at the party. We had made it a good strength and it took 18 people before it was finally brought down. Most of the people in attendance were not Americans (a mix of Japanese, Europeans and Australians) and so they didn't get the whole "rush to gather the candy after the piñata breaks" part of the tradition. I, of course, love candy so I was gathering it up by myself while everyone else looked on like I was crazy. More for me, right? Well, actually I figured that I had an unfair advantage since this was not my first piñata so I passed the candy around.

All in all it was a really great night and the piñata was a fun, non-traditional addition to the Halloween evening.  


Autumn Leaves in Korankei Gorge

Japan is famous for its maple trees with tiny delicate leaves and in the autumn the trees put on a wonderful display turning amazing colors. The autumn leaves can be referred to in Japanese by either momiji or kouyou. Both words are written with the same kanji, 紅葉, which literally means "crimson leaves".

The Japanese love their four seasons and what hanami (cherry blossom viewing) is to Spring kouyou-gari (literally meaning autumn leaf chasing) is to Fall. Websites will give reports about the status of the kouyou front letting people know when the colors are likely to hit their peak in places famous for autumn colors. It is a popular activity in the fall to travel to see the changing leaves.

Lucky for me, one place known for beautiful fall leaves, Korankei Gorge (香嵐渓) in Asuke (足助), was not too far from where I lived in Japan. The gorge stretches just short of a mile upstream of the Tomoe River and is lined with maple trees. I had visited the gorge earlier in the spring and had found it a lovely place and promised myself to come back in the fall to see the leaves when they changed color.

I actually made more than good on my promise by visiting not once, but twice in the fall. The first time I visited after work when it was already dark. That may not sound interesting, but in November when the leaves are at their peak color, the trees are light up by spotlights at night for evening viewing.

I wanted to see the leaves during the daylight as well, but it was hard to make time with me being at work during the daylight hours during the week and the weekends quite busy. The first Sunday of December I was taking the JLPT (Japannese Language Proficiency Test) and when I was finished with the exam I headed to Asuke to visit Korankei Gorge as a little celebration and to relax. It was late in the day and already dusk, but I did have a little time before the sun set.

I'll start by sharing my pictures from the second trip first, since it makes more sense to see what the gorge looks like in the light before seeing it all lit up at night. The gorge has two red bridges spanning it and a typical visit would find a person doing a loop, crossing over the main bridge, walking along the paths along the river and then crossing over the smaller pedestrian bridge to circle back. 

The paths along the river are quite lovely with the large maple trees seeming to create tunnels of leaves. It is hard to tell in pictures just how lovely it is. 

The variegation of the scarlet leaves was really amazing and so flamboyant looking.

Along the main path were scattered some moss covered lanterns and some stepping stone paths.

Since it was the end of the season, many of the leaves had fallen, carpeting the ground in a sea of red with a few patches of moss still peeping through.

I especially loved how the fallen leaves crept right up the the river bank, half burying the stones along the water's edge.

At some points the river was quite still providing lovely reflections of the moss, stones and leaves.

In other areas the river rushed by creating tiny little rapids among the rocks.

I didn't have much daylight and by the time I crossed the pedestrian bridge the sun had set. Of course, there happened to be some yatai stands (festival street food stands) set up on the town side of the river so I grabbed a treat (or two, or three) and headed home.

Going back in time, on my first autumn trip to Korankei Gorge, as I approached the view looking at the small pedestrian bridge was stunning.

The lights made everything an amber colored wonderland that was reflected in the water. The leaves that were scarlet during the day now looked different shades of yellow and orange standing in stark contrast to the night sky.

There were a number of visitors to see the leaves, especially scrambling along the rocks along the bank to see the leaves better.

Taking pictures was hard since the light was low and I didn't have a tripod, but I didn't think about that too much because I was so enchanted with the spectacle of the illuminated foliage. It was quite surreal looking.

Here is a view looking up at the night sky and the leaves above me. Beautiful!

The small pedestrian bridge was popular with several people posing to take pictures there.

Both of my visits to Korankei Gorge were lovely (that's why I went twice!) and I would highly recommend visiting if you are in Central Honshu or Aichi in November.

Do you have a favorite memory of seeing autumn leaves? Where was it? Do you have a place you recommend to see fall leaves?


Picture of the Day: Lanterns Lining the Street in Sakamoto




















Sakamoto, Japan


My Coffee Table Indirect From Japan

With Super Couch (oh, how I love it!) happily ensconced in my living room I needed to find a solution for a coffee table. Previously I had been using a Pottery Barn Chloe Coffee Table that I had picked up six years ago at a Pottery Barn Outlet for $60. Regular price it was $350 so it was quite a steal. Although it was a great coffee table the long narrow shape looked awkward with Super Couch. I needed something square or at least a very wide in order to fill up the space properly and look proportional to the sectional.

As I was contemplating what to do it dawned on me that the low table that I brought back from Japan might just work. I bought the table at a Recycle Center (a Japanese second hand shop for home goods) for ¥1000 (about $10 US at the time). The table is low because it is meant to be sat at with cushions on the floor. I loved how spacious the table top was and decided to set it up in my Japanese apartment as a work table for crafts. It worked out really well and I spent a lot of time working on projects sprawled out over the table.

I shipped the table back to the U.S. when I returned home but since then the table has languished in one of the back rooms of my house that I never really use. I rescued it from oblivion and placed it in front of the sectional. It was just the right size and fills the space nicely.

I love the curvy shape of the table legs and the grain pattern of the wood on the top. It really is a beautiful piece, especially for the great deal I got it for, and I am glad that I finally have a place for it in my home that showcases it better.

Temporarily on top I put a beige Marit table runner from Ikea that I already had. The tray is a hand carved wooden batea meant for tossing corn and rice that I picked up at a market in Panama this past summer. The two vases on the outside I bought in Seto, Japan and the one in the middle I made when I was a kid. I love how it is a little wonky, but not so bad for being in sixth grade, I think.

I plan to replace the items with something a little more colorful in the future, but for now it will do.

I'm really happy that the table works so well in the living room. Seeing it there when I walk in the front door brings back a lot of great memories from Japan and brightens my day. Now I just need to find a new rug and things will really be starting to come together...

Have you recently "shopped your home" and moved a piece of furniture or decor item to another room? What kind of coffee table do you have?


Picture of the Day: Stone Lantern Finial Covered with Lichens



















Gujo Hachiman, Japan


Picture of the Day: Fallen Ginko Leaf

Narita, Japan


American Presidential Election as an Expat in Japan

The 2012 American Presidential campaign is in full swing with the first of the debates between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama last night. Election time is such a wonderful chance to see our democracy in action and I enjoy learning more about the candidates and their ideas.

I like following politics and can be pretty opinionated sometimes so I always vote in every election. A typical presidential Election Day will find me heading to the polls and then dorkily, but proudly wearing my "I Voted Today" sticker to work. In the evening I eagerly watch the election returns come in, often times inviting people over to watch for an election party.

During the last presidential election, however, I had quite a different experience since I was living in Japan in 2008. One of the biggest differences was my exposure to campaign ads. Back in the US it is common to be continuously bombarded with election information and advertising. In Japan I had the luxury of choosing how much I wanted to be exposed to since I was seeking information out myself on the internet. I found it quite refreshing actually and had a lot of fun following how the campaigns unfolded from afar.

Having the chance to talk to other expats from different countries and my Japanese colleagues about what they thought of the election was interesting. Hearing an outside perspective was thought provoking and I had a number of fun discussions learning about how elections are run in other countries and how it contrasts with the United States.

A little town in Fukui Prefecture in Japan is named Obama (小浜) so during the election it received a lot of publicity in Japan for sharing a name with one of the American Presidential candidates. The town capitalized on its newfound fame by making all sorts of memorabilia with the candidate's image on it. They even made sweets emblazoned with Barack Obama's face. 

Actual voting was quite different for me while I was in Japan. I wasn't going to let being overseas keep me from voting so I applied for an absentee ballot which I had never done before. It seemed really strange to vote by mail in October a few weeks before the election instead of going to my local polling station on Election Day but I was still happy to be have my chance to exercise my right to vote.

The weirdest thing for me was watching the returns come in. Instead of watching at home they were coming in while I was at work due to the 13 hour time difference from Eastern Standard Time and Japan Standard Time. All morning as I was working at my desk I kept peeking at the Internet to check the electoral college standings. By lunchtime I knew that Barack Obama had won over John McCain. This was a far cry from the election eight years prior to that where I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning during the 2000 election only to learn that the decision between George Bush and Al Gore would not be decided that night.

Despite already knowing the outcome of the election, I wasn't deterred from having an election party at my apartment that night. I decided to make American comfort food. With my Japanese kitchen only equipped with a stove top and a small convection microwave and my grocery access limited to Japanese offerings I had to be creative with my menu. I wanted to make burgers but since that wasn't feasible in my kitchen I made sloppy joes served on some rolls that I found instead. For sides I made potato salad and green bean casserole. I also decided to make curried apple pumpkin soup since I had some canned pumpkin that I had brought from the US to Japan with me for something special. 

To add a little patriotic flare I added some skewers to the sloppy joes. I had found a package of red, white and blue twist ties at a Hyaku-En Store and attached them to the top of the skewers making little pennants. 

We had a fun night and for the Americans in attendance it was nice to eat some food we hadn't had in a long time. I never knew before that I could crave potato salad...

What do you normally do on Election Day?

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