Black eggs

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I spent my first two afternoons in Hakone at Owakudani. I had always wanted to see a live volcano ever since studying volcanoes in high school. While that dream has not come true yet, Owakudani came close. It is a great boiling valley with active boiling pools of sulfur-rich water and vents that spew steam and volcanic gases.

Besides the active volcanic activity, people are attracted to black eggs the valley is famous for. The eggs get their black colour by being hard-boiled in natural hot springs. The sulfur in the water gives the eggs their colour.

Legend has it that one egg adds seven years to one’s life span. If the legend is anything to go by, the five black eggs I ate have added 35 years to my life. That is more than the 26 years I have been living. In that case, I still have more years to travel and live life to the fullest.

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The eggs get their colour from being boiled in sulfur-rich hot springs.

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Owakudani is an active volcanic valley. 

Black ice-cream

After eating the black eggs, I ate black ice-cream. Don’t be fooled by the colour. The ice-cream tastes like any normal vanilla ice-cream. I believe the black colour of the ice-cream is all a marketing ploy to capitalize on the fame of the black eggs. After doing some research, I learnt that the black colour in the ice-cream was a result of charcoal being poured into the ice-cream mix. They also had some black steamed buns in the area.

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Do not be fooled by the black colour. It tastes like normal vanilla ice-cream.

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Ntendeni spent two afternoons at Owakudani.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lake Ashi

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Ntendeni’s one beautiful morning at Lake Ashi.

Besides bathing in beverages and a limited budget, another reason why I wanted to visit Hakone was the Hakone shrine gate at Lake Ashi. Living in Japan, shrines and shrine gates are everywhere but this one was different. I was attracted to the shrine gate in the lake.

Hakone shrine

When many people think of  Lake Ashi, the first image that comes to mind is that of the Hakone shrine gate on the lake. Hakone shrine has a couple of shrine gates but the most fascinating is the one at Lake Ashi.

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Ntendeni tried to take a centered picture in the middle of the Hakone shrine gate but the waves in the lake made canoeing difficult.

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Ntendeni at Lake Ashi

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Ntendeni woke up early in the morning to take beautiful pictures of the shrine gate without all the other tourists.

Pirate ships

Lake Ashi is also known for the pirate ships that give people views of Mount Fuji and Hakone shrine from the lake.

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One of the pirate ships.

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Mount Fuji

I was fortunate to see clear views of Mount Fuji for all the days I was in Hakone.

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Lake Ashi

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Ntendeni canoed against the waves to take the ultimate picture of Hakone shrine.

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Ramen: My new favourite food

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Odawara noodles are the best Ntendeni has ever had. Odawara, 2017.

I cannot believe that for the first five months I lived in Japan, I did not care for noodles. I used to wonder why in the world Japanese people would queue in the heat just for a bowl of noodles. Who queues for a bowl of noodles though?

Growing up in South Africa, the only noodles I knew were instant Maggi noodles which were associated with student struggles. Noodles where I come from are seen as last-minute, lazy meals or affordable meals which are the last resort during tough student financial struggles. Normally, people add water, boil the noodles in the microwave, drain excess water, pour the seasoning packet from the pack and eat. Noodles were always the one meal I hated.

After coming to Japan, I realised that they had a ramen restaurant  culture. Never in my entire existence did I think I would pay money just for a bowl of noodles or pay someone to cook it for me. Never would I associate noodles with skill. I never thought there would be people out there trained to make noodles! They even have ramen schools!

But the noodles in Japan are not from the microwave. They cook them properly and have different varieties. They also come in various broths, seasonings and meat. They are also varied from the thickest to the thinnest. I did not know that such a simple ingredient as noodles would go a long way into making a proper meal.

Thanks to the Tokyo Skytree disappointment on new year’s eve that led me to try my first bowl of noodles. I have never looked back ever since. I now go around hunting amazing noodles. One day, I spent maybe 30 minutes to an hour hunting noodles in Koshigaya. I am addicted!

Odawara ramen

The best noodles I have ever eaten are from Odawara, a town 35 minutes away from Tokyo by bullet train. This is where I began and ended my golden week with a bowl of noodles. When I order noodles, I always order the biggest bowl and choose the thickest noodles, the deepest and oiliest broth, the most seasonings and the most meat. When it comes to ramen, I want the best and I want it all.

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Ntendeni began her golden week with a bowl of ramen. Odawara, 2017.

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Ntendeni will now judge all ramen on the scale of one to Odawara. Odawara, 2017.

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Ntendeni always orders ramen with the most meat.

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The bowl of oily ramen that closed off Ntendeni’s first golden week in Japan.

Koshigaya ramen

The first bowl of ramen I ordered in Koshigaya did not leave me satisfied. I found it too watery and the bowl too shallow. I was still having a hangover from Odawara ramen.

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The noodles were not oily enough and the meat was too little for Ntendeni. Koshigaya, 2017.

After searching again, I finally found a decent bowl of ramen in Koshigaya. It exceeded my expectations.

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After spending more than 30 minutes hunting down ramen, Ntendeni finally found a good bowl in Koshigaya. Koshigaya, 2017.

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The broth and the ramen came in separate bowls.

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Eggs, seaweed, pork and noodles in one dish? A combination unthinkable to a South African.

Konosu ramen

I enjoyed a great bowl of spicy ramen when I went to the doll festival acclaimed city of Konosu in Saitama prefecture.

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Ntendeni was impressed with the bowl of spicy ramen in Konosu. Konosu, 2017.

Sapporo ramen

Sapporo is acclaimed for its great ramen. I find it amazing how in Japan, different regions compete to create the best ramen and chefs dedicate their craft to innovating new styles and tastes. As a South African, I would have never imagined that people would put their skills and passion into…noodles!

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Ntendeni had a taste of Sapporo ramen during the snow festival. Sapporo, 2017.

Tokyo ramen

A bowl of noodles outside the Tokyo Skytree is what started all the craving.

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The best bowls of ramen are those with the most generous servings of meat. Tokyo, 2017.

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Ntendeni always orders the noodles with the most meat.

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The ramen menu.

Kita-Senju, Tokyo

The latest bowl of ramen I ate was at Kita-Senju station in Tokyo, the station where I always change trains on my way to and fro church every Sunday.

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Again, Ntendeni went for the biggest bowl and the most meat. Kita-Senju, Tokyo, 2017.

Other noodles

As I was going through pictures of my life in Japan, I found other noodle dishes I had tried before.

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Yakisoba noodles from Minami-Koshigaya Awa Odori festival. Koshigaya, 2016.

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Vietnamese noodles from the Cup Noodles museum in Yokohama. Ntendeni loved the taste and texture of the thin noodles. Yokohama, 2016.

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Soba noodles on a bamboo tray at a dinner party with colleagues in Koshigaya. Koshigaya,2016.

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Noodles at Ntendeni’s first dinner with colleagues. Koshigaya, 2016.

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Ntendeni shared the noodles with colleagues. 

 

Bathing in beverages

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Bathers enjoy a Japanese sake(rice wine) bath.

As if the wine bath was not mind-boggling enough, Yunessun also lets you bath in Japanese sake(rice wine), green tea and coffee.

Coffee bath

The coffee bath was my favourite in terms of the aroma. I love the strong smell of coffee beans.

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Bathers relax in the warm coffee bath.

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A couple massages each other in the coffee bath. 

Green tea bath

My favourite green tea is matcha. Ever since tasting matcha and matcha products in Japan, I tend to judge all the other green teas on a zero to matcha scale. I was disappointed to find that the green tea bath was not as matcha as I expected but as someone who loves green tea, it was still a privilege to bathe in a version of it.

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Green tea bath.

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Bathers enjoy the green tea bath.

Tendi the posh bather

One day, I will tell my children that I took baths in wine, green tea, sake and coffee. If they do not believe me, I have the receipts to prove it.

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Ntendeni enjoys baths in wine, green tea, sake and coffee.

Doctor fish

The other pool I was looking forward to was the pool with doctor fish. Here I joined fellow bathers and put my feet in a pool filled with tiny fish that nibble away dead skin cells. The fish give a tickling feeling as they feast on the dead skin.

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Doctor fish feast on Ntendeni’s feet.

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The fish eat away dead skin, providing a natural foot spa.

Yunessun does not only focus on over-the-top baths. The resort has normal swimming pools available.

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Couples enjoy a collagen bath.

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The main swimming pool at Yunessun.

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A warm waterfall.

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Bathing in wine

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Yes. It’s true. There is a place in Japan where you can bathe in wine. It was one of the reasons I visited Hakone for golden week. It was a must for my trip.

I heard about a place where you could bathe in wine, green tea, coffee and Japanese sake and I had to see it to believe it. That place is Yunessun, a hot spring theme park dedicated to taking the idea of a Japanese  onsen to a whole new level.

Of all the baths, I really wanted the wine one because the idea of bathing in wine sounded sophisticated, royal and boujee.

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What is more romantic than a couple drinking red wine together? A couple cuddling and bathing together in red wine.

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The entrance to the wine bath.

Royal Tendi

It is said that Cleopatra and Queen Mary(whoever that was) used to have their beauty baths in wine. I felt royal and boujee bathing in the wine.

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Ntendeni has a taste of that Cleopatra swag.

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Just the idea of bathing in red wine sounds like something from a dream…or a cartoon.

 

Cherry Blossom Picnics

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As if the cherry blossoms and cherry blossom illuminations are not enough, then there are cherry blossom picnics. The picnics are a big part of the hanami(cherry blossom viewing) festivities. People gather as families, friends, couples or co-workers to have picnics under cherry blossom trees. This was my first spring overseas and I cannot imagine a better place to see spring celebrations than Japan.

Ueno park

Ueno park is one of the main, and overcrowded, cherry blossom viewing sites in Tokyo.

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Traditionally dressed women perform to some Japanese music. Ueno park, Tokyo, 2017.

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Picnics under cherry blossoms.

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The five-story pagoda at Ueno park.

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Although Ntendeni “does not drink alcohol”, the cherry blossom flavoured wine was worth losing some morals for. 

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More cherry blossom wine later that night in Meguro.

My first cherry blossom picnic

I joined fellow English teachers in Saitama prefecture at Omiya park for my first hanami picnic.

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Omiya park is a famous cherry blossom picnic area in Saitama prefecture. Japan, 2017.

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Cherry Blossom Illuminations

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Meguro cherry blossoms illuminated to create a romantic atmosphere at night. Meguro, Tokyo, 2017.

What is more beautiful than viewing cherry blossoms? Viewing illuminated cherry blossoms at night. After visiting Chidorigafuchi, I thought the park was the highlight of both day and night cherry blossoms but as I was going through the season’s pictures once again, I will give the best cherry blossom illumination award to Meguro. The canal has no boats to finish off the look but gives Chidorigafuchi a run for the money at night.

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Ntendeni was not alone. Viewing cherry blossoms is a past time in Japanese spring.

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Chidorigafuchi 

Chidorigafuchi won me with the colourful boats.

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The boats being driven away with the Tokyo skyline in the background.

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The boats with the Tokyo Tower in the far background.

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Fellow revelers enjoy illuminations on a chilly spring night.

 

 

 

 

Koshigaya Cherry Blossoms

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My cherry blossom hunt ended at the bank of Moto-Ara river in my new town of Koshigaya. I pass the river bank and row of trees every day on my way to work and I watched the trees go from a boring green to blossom pink.

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Residents enjoy Koshigaya cherry blossom viewing.

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Pink floors

The amazing part is when the blossoms start to fall and make the grounds pink.

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Ever heard of a pink garden?

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Meguro Cherry Blossoms

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Before going to Chidorigafuchi, I was convinced that Meguro was the best cherry blossom view in Tokyo. The cherry blossoms turn the river into a romantic canal.

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Tendi’s first cherry blossom view 

Meguro was my first official cherry blossom viewing. I was not in the mood to leave my apartment that Saturday but I could not miss this.

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Ntendeni used cherry blossom season to wear her favourite, yet cheapest, winter jacket for the last time. 

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Ntendeni enjoys cherry blossoms.

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In South Africa, spring already hot. In Japan, spring is still cold.

Preparing for the night

Towards the evening, the lamps start to light up to prepare for cherry blossom illumination.

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Good night.

 

My favourite Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo

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Chidorigafuchi stood out as Ntendeni’s favourite Cherry Blossom view.

My Japanese winter was made up of lazy hibernations on Saturdays. My Saturdays went from exciting one-day trips that made up my first summer in Japan to sleeping all day, hiding from the cold.

When spring came, I was still too lazy to leave my nest and it was still cold but I was not going to miss the short-lived cherry blossoms; another major travel season for Japan. I was lucky that unlike other tourists who have to beat inflated plane tickets, hotels and tour guides that suck people’s pockets in the season, I was just an hour away from Tokyo.

Although I did not get to see all the cherry blossom spots I wanted to see in Tokyo, Thank God I found out about Chidorigafuchi park at the imperial palace. The boats in the moat put it on top of my first cherry blossom viewing.

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Chery Blossom petals in the river.

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Cherry Blossom rain is when petals fall and make surfaces pink.

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Cherry blossoms start to illuminate in the night. 

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Workers assist revelers to get on and off boats.

Family time

Although I am a lone traveler, I take time to watch families being happy from a distance. I love studying human relationships from afar.

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Ntendeni enjoys watching families interact while she travels.