Sunday, April 15, 2012

Happy Birthday to me~

Tuesday (April 10) was my birthday! Not much going on this week besides the entrance ceremony, which was nice. It's so much fun seeing the familiar faces that I used to teach at elementary school. Last Saturday there was a joint ALT birthday at a private venue, which included drinks, live music, themed cakes for each of us (mine was strawberry!), and a balloon drop at the end. It definitely makes the list of epic birthday parties in my lifetime.

So, onto more good news:
after a long, cold, miserable winter, spring is finally showing itself. Matt and I made plans to visit Kyoto last weekend, since we haven’t left our town since the Yuki Matsuri in February (mainly to save money)! The main draw to Kyoto was of course, sakura (cherry blossoms).

Matt and I enjoyed the sakura all along the famous Philosopher’s Path, one of Kyoto's best viewing locations. Although all of the trees weren’t in full bloom, many of them were quite nice. The scenery and sunshine were exactly what we needed. I can't really describe the magic that happens when you walk along a path of sakura for the first time in your life. Since I love spring, pink things, and of course my birthday, this is something I will always remember. We also stopped to enjoy sakura flavored ice cream (delicious, btw) and purchased an artist's watercolor postcard prints to enjoy in our home.

I took nenkyu on Monday the 9th so we could enjoy the area for one more day. One thing I’ve had on my Japan Bucket List for a while now has been a Maiko Makeover. While it might scream touristy, many Japanese do this as well. It was a must-do for me, as a kimono and historical costuming enthusiast. I went with Yume Koubou, which has a very professional and English-friendly staff. The procedure is pretty simple:

  • Undress, put your clothes in a locker, slip on tabi socks and an underrobe.
  • Choose a kimono -- in my case, a furisode since I was doing the maiko package, over a geiko package. They have a good selection, and correspond to the correct season.
  • Sit in a chair while they pull your hair up in a wig cap and apply the makeup. You don’t even have to do anything!
  • Stand up and allow the staff to put the kimono on you. They are very efficient. Note: Try not to eat or drink too much beforehand. The garments are probably tighter than what you are used to wearing, but it isn’t painful.
  • Sit down carefully (especially if you are a taller-than-the-average-Japanese foreigner like me!) so that they can place the wig on your head. Again, simple and painless.
  • At this point, I was allowed to leave the dressing room for photos. My husband met me in the hallway and took photos against a scenic backdrop.
  • Next, I went into the studio with the professional photographer. He told me exactly what to do and posed me accordingly. If there’s one thing I love, it’s bossy photographers – they know what they’re doing, and the photos turned out amazing! 
  • When you're all finished, the staff will undress you and assist with removing the makeup. 

Here's a few photos from my session! The entire process only cost 9,975円 which included a disc containing all 20 high-res images from the photoshoot.

Our last stop in Kyoto was Arashiyama. It’s on the western outskirts of the city, against the beautiful mountains and along the Ōi river. The area is famous for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in spring, and koyo (leaf) viewing in fall. The harsh winter has caused late blooms, so there weren’t as many here. We made our way across the scenic bridge and into Iwatayama Monkey Park. Ever since we came to Japan, Matt has been dying to see monkeys! He finally got his wish.

We hiked our way up a mountain to see them, but it was worth it. At one point, there were monkeys following us on the path! Once we reached the research park, we got to go inside a hut and purchase food (only 100yen) to feed them. I chose bananas, since it seemed healthier than peanuts. The monkeys are used to humans and take the food right out of your hand! The babies were so adorable~

The only thing we didn’t get around to doing was the Sagano Bamboo Forest. I’d like to return in a few weeks to explore that. Although I’m sad our trip was short-lived, it was a lot of fun and the perfect way to celebrate my birthday :) Thanks again to friends and family for the well-wishes!

I'll get you next time!

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