Friday, March 27, 2015

Photo Friday #3: Ueno Park hanami! フォト金曜日#3:上野公園花見!

フォト金曜日#3:上野公園花見!Photo Friday #3: Ueno Park hanami! 

As I wrote in Wednesday's Mini Post, the sakura (cherry blossoms) have opened in Tokyo! This week's Photo Friday entry takes a look at what Ueno Park will look like in a few days, when the sakura reach their peak...

Geisha performing amidst Ueno Park's sakura, March 23, 2013
Though Ueno Park opened to the public in 1873, hanami (flower-viewing) is a centuries-old tradition, stretching back to Japan's Nara and Heian periods (794-1185) when the Japanese elite first enjoyed parties under blossoming ume (plum) and sakura trees. Since then, hanami and sakura have become an important part of Japanese history and pop culture, from inclusion in The Tale of Genji to seasonal drinks at Starbucks.

As you can see in the photo above, Ueno Park, Japan's most-visited public city park, is one of the most popular spots in Tokyo for hanami. Every year, millions of people come to Ueno Park and its surrounding areas to see thousands of cherry trees in bloom. Nearby Ueno Station and Keisei Ueno Station become flooded with visitors, slowly walking shoulder-to-shoulder as they make their way to the park.

Once at the park, visitors are treated to traditional dance and music under millions of blooms, with picnickers enjoying delicious bento, sake, and beer on tarps or tatami mats. In the photo above, onlookers enjoy a performance by geisha, a rare treat in modern Japanese society. (Contrary to how Japan is sometimes portrayed, geisha aren't a common sight. During this trip, I briefly saw one on a Kyoto side street, presumably making her way to an appointment.)

I like this photo because it shows that foreign tourists aren't the only people fascinated by geisha; the entertainers are a bit of a dying breed, as fewer girls enter the profession in these modern times. Catching a glimpse of such a quintessentially Japanese sight, framed by sakura, was truly moving--and definitely worth missing our flight back to the U.S.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mini Post: Tokyo sakura! ミニポスト:東京桜!

ミニポスト:東京桜!Mini Post: Tokyo sakura!

Oh, to be in Japan right now: the sakura, or cherry blossoms, have opened in Tokyo! Nothing heralds the arrival of spring in Japan quite like sakura in bloom.

According to's Tokyo Report, the cherry blossoms in Ueno Park have just opened and are expected to be in full bloom by early next week. No doubt the hype surrounding hanami (flower-viewing) parties is building; in just a few days, Ueno Park will look something like this...

上野公園花見Ueno Park hanami, March 23, 2013
Predicting when the sakura will bloom is something Japan takes very seriously, as the iconic flowers are not only culturally significant--among other things, they represent the beautiful, fleeting nature of life--but are also important for tourism and the economy. (Case in point: during my first trip to Japan, we missed our flight back to the U.S. because we were stuck in traffic after viewing the cherry blossoms in a very congested Ueno Park, which had been practically empty just a few days prior.)

Every year, organizations like the Japan Weather Association publish their sakura forecasts for cities throughout Japan, basing their predictions on weather trends while also considering past years' results. This year, the blossoms have opened slightly earlier than average--Tokyo's representative tree at Yasukuni Shrine began blooming on March 21--but during our 2013 trip, they set the record for the earliest opening since record-keeping began in 1953.

As with plants and flowers in the U.S., southern areas' warmer climates produce the country's first blooms as early as January (Okinawa), and northern areas' cooler temperatures delay the opening as late as May (Hokkaido).

This has been a Mini Post, a chibi-sized version of a regular meauxtaku post. You may now return to your regularly scheduled internet.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Photo Friday #2: Heian Shrine! フォト金曜日#2:平安神宮!

フォト金曜日#2:平安神宮!Photo Friday #2: Heian Shrine!

Happy Friday...and happy spring! March 20 is the vernal equinox, bringing with it the promise of warmer weather for the northern hemisphere. For today's Photo Friday post, I'm again looking back to two years ago today, during my first trip to Japan. Two years ago we were in Kyoto, and we spent the first day of spring shrine-hopping:

The grounds of Heian-jingu, Heian Shrine
平安神宮:Heian-jingu (Heian Shrine)
March 20, 2013 was a day much like today: though it was the first day of spring in Kyoto, there was a chill in the air, and the skies were overcast and rainy. After breakfast at Kyoto Station--donuts from MisDo and coffee from Cafe du Monde--we hopped on a city bus and set off to visit Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.

Shinto is Japan's most enduring religion, and along with Buddhism, it continues to be an important part of Japanese life and culture today. When in Japan, there's no place quite like Kyoto so well-known for its connection to Shinto and Buddhism: one could spend weeks in the city just visiting shrines and temples. They're absolutely everywhere, and they're known the world over. Having seen so many photos and references to Heian Shrine in popular culture (scenes from Lost in Translation and Memoirs of a Geisha come to mind), I knew we had to see it for ourselves.

Heian Shrine in Okazaki, Kyoto wasn't the first Shinto shrine we visited, but it was among the newest: the shrine was actually built in 1895 to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Japan's capital Heian (Heian being one of many of Kyoto's former names), and honors the spirits of the first and last emperors to rule Japan from Kyoto. Heian Shrine is a scale model of the original Imperial Palace built in 794, which was destroyed by fire in 1227. Fires were a problem for Kyoto's wooden shrines even into the 20th century, as a 1976 fire destroyed several structures at Heian Shrine. Donations were collected, and the buildings were rebuilt three years later.

I really enjoy this photo I took on the grounds of Heian Shrine, with a little girl playing in the gravel as her parents continued ahead. We enjoyed watching the family perform temizu, the ritual Shinto purification, and wondered what it would be like to be raised in a city steeped in such history and tradition. (To put it into perspective, the American city where I currently live was chosen as the state's capital in 1820 and is looking forward to its bicentennial in 2020, but Kyoto became Japan's capital in 794, and was the Imperial capital of Japan for over 1,000 years!)

The grounds were practically empty that day, as it was a rainy weekday afternoon, so it had an especially serene, spiritual feel. Although I've only visited a fraction of Kyoto's shrines--some say they number close to 2,000!--I would definitely recommend visiting Heian Shrine. Here, you can get a feel of what Imperial life must have been like centuries ago, and as you stroll through its iconic gardens, you'll forget you're in the middle of a major metropolitan city.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Johto Memories: Happy Anniversary, HG/SS! おめでとう!

Flashback to five years ago, this past weekend: the newly remastered second generation Pokémon games, HeartGold and SoulSilver (HG/SS), hits North American stores. Pokéfans of all ages spend countless hours exploring the Johto region on the Nintendo DS, with some experiencing it for the very first time, and others enjoying a bit of nostalgia from 10 years past. Most notably, however, wasn't necessarily the improved graphics or the addition of the DS' touchscreen and stylus to gameplay; it was the inclusion of a pedometer sold with the game that truly took the game to the next level.

Taking my Poliwhirl out for a (very long) stroll along Tokyo's Kappabashi-dori
Known as a Pokéwalker, this pedometer wasn't the first virtual Poké-pet. The Pokémon Pikachu was released in the late 1990s as a standalone toy amid the virtual pet craze à la Tamagotchi, and the Pokémon Pikachu 2 GS followed soon after, featuring infrared communication with that era's current Pokémon games of Gold, Silver, and Crystal. Trainers looking to receive Mystery Gifts from their Pikachu 2 GS had to make a separate purchase; unlike the Pokéwalker and HG/SS, the GS did not come bundled with the games.

The integration of the Pokéwalker with HG/SS put the nostalgia off the charts for me, and was one of my favorite features of the game. As an adult, it not only hearkened back to my childhood days of wishing Pokémon were real (well, I still wish that!), but it also encouraged me to be more active. As you can see in the picture above, it wasn't difficult for me to rack up thousands of steps per day in places like Tokyo...but in my Indiana city, where foot traffic isn't as common, practical, or safe, it became a challenge: can I break 10,000 steps a day? 15,000? 20,000? Ultimately, that gamer mentality of "leveling up" helped push me toward a healthier lifestyle.

Of course, due to the Pokéwalker's small size and slippery case, many a soul stored within became lost: whether met with the watery grave of the washing machine, or stealthily jumping out of pockets in pursuit of freedom, many of us mourned the loss of our beloved virtual pets. Through several strokes of luck, I still have mine: not only did an especially tenacious Furret survive a trip through the wash (Furret used Surf!), he made it through what I mistakenly thought was a permanent separation at the San Antonio airport, instead spending a few months hiding out under the driver's seat of my car. Nowadays, my Pokéwalker and my Pikachu 2 GS spend most of their days in relative safety on my dresser, not because I've forsaken my active lifestyle--but because I'm terrified of losing such nostalgic relics.

Do you still have your Pokéwalker, or Pokémon Pikachu? Comment here and share your adventures! Also, don't forget to check out some of my favorite Johto-inspired designs, currently on sale in my Teepublic shop!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Photo Friday! フォト金曜日!(ノ^▽^)ノ*:・゚✧

フォト金曜日!Photo Friday!

Every Friday here at, I'm going to be posting a picture I took in Japan. I'm not a professional photographer by any means--I took them with my iPhone!--but I hope my pictures will help bring my stories and experiences to life. I'm particularly excited about this week's photo, as I took it two years ago today (!) during my first visit to Japan. This being the inaugural Photo Friday, it seemed appropriate to choose an extra touristy one; indeed, this famous landmark was one of the first places I visited in Tokyo:

東京タワー : Tokyo Tower
This is a picture I took of Tokyo Tower, one of many Japanese tributes to France and its culture. Open since 1958, it has also become an icon of Japanese culture in its own right: Tokyo Tower has its own mascots (Conehead-esque brothers named Noppon); its own emoji (no, that's not a red and white Eiffel Tower on your phone!); and has appeared in countless anime, manga, TV shows, and movies. Located in Tokyo's Shiba-koen district in Minato, it's used to broadcast radio and TV signals, and also offers breathtaking vistas of the sprawling city below. On a clear day, Mount Fuji (roughly 135 kilometers, or 80 miles away) can be seen from the tower's observation decks. Under the tower is Foot Town, a department store of sorts--after all, it wouldn't be Tokyo without shopping!--offering souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes, a convenience store, an aquarium, an amusement park, and other tourist attractions.

Admittance to the upper reaches of the tower is granted upon paying an entrance fee to access the level of one's choice: at the time of writing, adult fees are 900 yen for the Main Observatory, 150 meters high; 700 yen for the Special Observatory, 250 meters high; or 1,600 yen for both levels. Speedy elevators are available, but ambitious visitors can choose to climb more than 600 steps from Foot Town's roof to reach the Main Observatory.

For tourists unafraid of heights, Lookdown Window is located on the Main Observatory's first floor, and it's exactly what it sounds like: it's a pane of glass laid in the floor, offering a view of the ground from around 48 stories up. (I wasn't brave enough to stand on it, but that's actually encouraged; Tokyo Tower's own website even dares you to "jump as high as you can" on it. Pass!) If the thrill of Lookdown Window is a little too much for you, find peace on the second floor of the Main Observatory; it houses the Great Shinto Shrine of the Tower, the "tallest" shrine in Tokyo, where people come to pray for success with love and school.

At night, Tokyo Tower is certainly hard to miss: not only is it the second highest structure in Tokyo (surpassed only by the newer communications tower, Tokyo Skytree, in Sumida), but depending on the month, holiday, or season, it's illuminated with a variety of lighting effects. While walking from our Tamachi hotel to midnight mass at St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Minato this past Christmas Eve, we were treated to a gorgeous view of the tower lit in whites, blues, and reds with a heart icon on the side of the observation deck; a few days later, we got to see "2015" illuminated on the tower in honor of the new year.

Is it a tourist trap? Well, yes, a bit. But visiting Tokyo Tower should be one of your first stops in Tokyo--not just because it's a famous sightseeing spot, but because it's a great introduction to Japanese culture. Seeing the city from such a high vantage point helps you appreciate just how huge Tokyo really is, making you realize that you're not in Kansas Indiana anymore.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

March 11, Japan, and me: がんばって!

The USGS's overview of affected areas
While surfing the internet today, you may notice an increase in news stories about Japan, and it's not just your imagination: March 11 is an important day in recent Japanese history.

Four years ago today, the most powerful earthquake to ever hit Japan during modern times struck off the coast of the Touhoku region, the northeastern area of Japan's main island of Honshu. The earthquake triggered deadly tsunami, landslides, and aftershocks; the natural disasters caused nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima; and the death toll passed 15,000, with thousands still missing. Even today, it's estimated that over 200,000 people are still displaced, living in temporary housing.

Having lived in Indiana for most of my life, I've only experienced a handful of earthquakes that I can remember; since they're so rare and weak here, they usually mainly cause confusion and surprise rather than major damage--as in, "whoa, did a car just hit the house?!"--so it's hard for me to truly comprehend what it would have been like. The Japan Quake Map, set to March 11, gives us a scientific, geological perspective--watch the map until the time advances to 14:46 JST to see the far-reaching magnitude of a ~9.0 earthquake, and the many aftershocks that followed in its wake--but to actually have been there must have been beyond words.

I remember watching videos of the aftermath on what seemed like endless repeat on CNN in the break room at work that following week, feeling so helpless, being moved to tears. Thanks to social media, Japanese and American friends living across Japan were able to check in with us, reassuring everyone of their safety--even if they had been stuck in their Tokyo office buildings without electricity for hours--and word of opportunities to donate toward Japan relief spread like wildfire. 

Opportunities to donate toward Japan relief abounded
In the days that followed, I received many emails and saw posts on social media from some of my favorite companies about donating to the American Red Cross toward Japan relief. T-shirt company DesignByHumans gave $3 to the Red Cross for every Japan Relief shirt sold; fashion brand tokidoki organized a Relief Run with actor Josh Duhamel, also selling totes and shirts for Japan relief; Nissan donated $500,000 to the Red Cross and matched donations for the first $500,000; LivingSocial offered $5 for a $10 donation to the Red Cross; and even Lady Gaga sold "We Pray for Japan" wristbands (which unfortunately resulted in a lawsuit, but did remind us to be mindful and guarded when making charitable donations).

The events surrounding 3.11 left a big impact on me. I had enjoyed Japanese culture for as long as I could remember, but the Touhoku quake pushed me to take a closer look at why Japan had fascinated me for so long and what I loved about it, and ultimately drove me to immerse myself in all things Japanese in an attempt to answer those questions. Later that year, I began to formally study Japanese in a university setting, so I could begin to understand more of the language as it related to the culture. On March 11, 2013--the two year anniversary of the Touhoku earthquake--I realized a lifelong dream and visited Japan for the first time. When I was in Japan, something strange happened: for the first time since second grade, I felt like I belonged...which, admittedly, sounds strange, as I was a head taller and several shades blonder than the vast majority of the population, but that feeling was there nonetheless. I knew then that continuing to learn more about Japan was the best course of action for me, and I hope to live there someday.

がんばって (ganbatte) isn't just a word tossed around in anime; the spirit of it is inherent in Japanese culture. Conjugated from the verb 頑張る (ganbaru), it has many meanings, but the main idea involves persevering through tough times, always trying one's best, and keeping at it. "Ganbatte!" was everywhere in the wake of the Touhoku earthquake, and this concept so ingrained in the spirit of Japanese people undoubtedly helped get Japan back on its feet. It really spoke to me, too, not only in my studies of Japanese language, but in life as well: in my line of work I'm faced with a lot of difficult rejection, but ganbatte--as well as the proverb 七転び八起き, which I'll discuss in a future blog post-- helps me persevere. And although many cities in Japan are still struggling with lingering effects and trauma of 3.11, they'll undoubtedly carry on with ganbatte in mind.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Mini Post! ミニポスト!φ(^ω^ )

ミニポスト!Mini Post!

One of the many reasons I love Japan: they don't observe Daylight Saving Time. No springing forward, no falling back, and none of the confusion surrounding it.

Ukrainian designer Anna Marinenko's "Japan Clock," much more straightforward than DST.
You may wonder why an adult has such a beef with DST. Shouldn't I be used to it by now? Well, no: growing up in Indiana, I never had to worry about it--because we didn't observe it. However, in 2006, DST was implemented as per a ruling from the General Assembly, and it continues to be a hot-button issue today. Personally, I could do without's just weird to have to wait until the sun sets at 10 p.m. to watch fireworks on July 4.

If you live in the U.S., did you remember to spring forward and set your clocks forward one hour last night?

This has been a Mini Post, a chibi-sized version of a regular meauxtaku post. You may now return to your regularly scheduled internet.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Welcome to the blog! ブログへようこそ!ヾ(^▽^)ノ

ブログへようこそ!Welcome to the blog!

こんにちは!Hello! My name's Mary (メアリー), but you can call me merimeaux (メリモ). I'm an artist and writer living in Indiana. For as long as I can remember, Japanese culture has fascinated me; everything about it is so foreign from my upbringing in the southern and midwestern United States, so it caught my interest at a young age. (Admittedly, the cute factor of characters like Hello Kitty and Nyan Nyan Nyanko definitely helped draw me in, too.)

Coffee in my Otona Kawaii MisDo mug + Japanese chocolate croissant pastry = Creative fuel!
It's much too difficult to condense what I love about Japan into a single blog post, so I've created meauxtaku (モタク) as an outlet for my musings and memories. I hope you'll join me as I explore Japanese culture, food, customs, and language in future entries. I've got some fun stuff in the works, including giveaways and freebies, so check back often! Until next time...じゃあまたねー!