Sakura at Kariya Park (Finally)

After a late start to spring and unseasonably cold weather, the sakura (桜 / さくら / cherry blossoms) have finally bloomed across the Greater Toronto Area. We began getting alerts early last week that flowers were out at High Park, Trinity Bellwoods, and outside Robart’s Library at U of T. We’ve been using Instagram to see when peak bloom time is happening (searching a location and selecting most recent posts) and, on our earliest day off together, decided we’d better make our way over to our favourite local spot – Kariya Park – to see if the trees were in bloom there as well.

This past Wednesday, we got up early and drove the 40 minutes into Mississauga. We wanted to get there around 9am to beat the crowds and catch some nice morning light. Even that early, there were a bunch of people there already – and to our surprise – of the 30 or so sakura trees at Kariya Park, only ONE tree was in full bloom.

kariya sakura 3.JPG

As it turns out, there is only a single somei yoshino variety of sakura there. These are the most famous ones that have 5 pinkish-white petals per blossom. That’s what most people think of when cherry blossoms come to mind. There are, however, many more varieties and they all have individual characteristics and bloom at differing times.

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somei yoshino sakura at Kariya Park

I’m not sure exactly which particular variety the other trees in the park are but I’ve at least narrowed down that the majority of them fall into the yaezakura category – they have larger, pink, multi-petal blossoms. They all had tons of buds ready to pop out at any second! (By the time this post and video are online, they will likely be at their peak.)

There is also one very tall weeping cherry (shidarezakura) by the second largest pond. It was also not yet in bloom this week, but should be very soon.

weeping cherry.JPG

Even with just the buds, the trees were still lovely, giving the park a nice pink hue. And the single yoshino sakura was gorgeous! Three other photographers had the same idea we did and had staked out spots around the tree, taking shots from every single angle. (I felt kind of lame with my iPhone while Jason and the other photographers had “fancy cameras”. I still think I managed to get a couple of nice shots.) Take a look at our JWJ Instagram (for Karen’s ) and Twitter (for Jason’s) accounts to see our Kariya sakura photos.

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Our main reason for visiting the park during sakura season was to have our own little hanami picnic. Hanami (花見 / はなliterally means “flower viewing” in Japanese and refers to the tradition of having an outing specifically to view flowers (mainly sakura), which usually consists of sitting under the trees and having a party. The word hanami also applies to the entire cherry blossom season.

Every year in Japan, hoards of people flock to public parks, lay out tarps under the sakura branches, and eat snacks and drink. I’m not sure how much blossom appreciation actually happens but it looks like a great time regardless.

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hanami at  Ueno Park in Tokyo – picture taken April 2015

The tarps are always the ubiquitous blue and snacks often include bento (lunch boxes) and traditional Japanese sweets and the drinks are almost always alcoholic. (These hanami parties can get a bit rowdy!) However, even though we DID bring our tarp with us, we didn’t sit because it’s been raining a lot lately and the ground was soaked. I was also too lazy to cook and prepare us some bento, so I just bought some onigiri (rice balls) at the mall food court. We didn’t have alcohol either – because A) it was only 9 in the morning and B) you can’t drink in parks in Canada. (You can in Japan though!)

I did pack our onigiri into a bento box. Just because I have one. LOL. (My friend Ames bought me a really cute Totoro one as a gift and I was happy to finally be able to use it.) And, although it wasn’t alcoholic, we did a taste test of a sakura-flavoured (??) cola I bought at a local Asian grocery store.

Jason surprised me by doing something completely unexpected when we were discussing what sakura flavour actually is. Make sure to watch for that! Haha. I guess that’s what happens when you make spur-of-the-moment, unplanned videos.

Our video also turned into a mini-tutorial on how to open an onigiri. It would seem straightforward but it’s more complex than it looks. Back in 2010 on our first trip, I thought I had understood how to do it but had never had one before and totally screwed it up. (There’s a video of that on my personal channel.) And even now, Jason didn’t realize the technology and thought that goes into onigiri packaging – and opened his own for the very first time.

onigiri
onigiri from the mall – WAY more expensive than in Japan

An onigiri is a ball of rice with some sort of filling inside it, usually molded into a triangle shape. Most of the time, it comes wrapped in a piece of seaweed to keep the sticky rice off of your fingers. The ingenuity comes from the way that it’s packaged. If the seaweed were touching the rice for a long time (while it sat on a shelf in the store before you buy it, for instance), it would become limp and soft. No one wants that! Part of the appeal is the crispy wrapper. Therefore, there is a layer of plastic in between the rice and the seaweed which is peeled away with the outer layer after you break the seal. It’s brilliant!

It’s definitely one of my favourite snacks but it’s so hard to find around here and so expensive. In Japan, they are sold at every single convenience store, there is an endless variety of kinds, and I’ve never paid more than 170¥ for one. (They are usually only around 100-120¥.) There is only one store that I know of that even sells them here, they only have 2 kinds, and they are $3.99 each. Crazy.

I think onigiri will be the very first thing I eat when I get to Japan. 🍙

 

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Super Hype Mix for Japan, vol.1 – Planning Stage

Now that our plane tickets are booked and the general idea for our itinerary is nailed down, I’m beginning to switch my focus to the specific details of what we’ll be doing at each stop and the times of arrival and departure in various places. I get ideas and inspiration from several different sources (more on that another time). Many of those have information about their own methods of trip-planning, which I make use of as well. They all have the same sort of basic outline – decide on dates, book flights and accommodations, buy passes and admission tickets, exchange money, etc.  Of course that’s necessary. And obvious. These are the concrete things you must do. What I’m surprised by is the lack of abstract preparation advice. No one really goes beyond that. They may make mention here and there about what to expect once you arrive but I have yet to come across any suggestions of how to put yourself in the right frame of mind emotionally before your trip begins.

As time gets closer to my departure from regular life to the extraordinary, I inevitably attempt to fully immerse myself in everything related to where I’m headed. This time will be no different. I’ve already been spending a lot of time watching Japanese movies and listening to Japanese music as well as reading books about or taking place in Japan and that will surely increase as time goes on. More than just idea and information gathering, doing this purely for entertainment gets me excited about finally being there.

A huge part of trip preparation for me is creating a playlist. I see playlists as a soundtrack for my own life experiences. To go on a trip without one would leave me feeling unprepared. It’s often a completely ignored aspect of trip planning but something that should be on everyone’s to-do lists, in my opinion.

While researching my own playlist, I found one website that touched on exactly what I was thinking and talked about the importance of cultivating a playlist for you to listen to once you head out. Music can put you in the right frame of mind as well as solidify your memories. Often, you only need to hear a song to be transported back to a certain time and place. If you prepare, you can select which songs should be associated with which moments.

However, something thing I’d suggest is to create a playlist for the actual planning process. Whether it’s songs that you will potentially use in your final trip playlist or something different altogether, I find it really helpful to have specific music to listen to during my planning to hype myself up and keep me focused while I plod through the mental effort of amassing information, collecting ideas, narrowing things down, organizing, and detailing. It makes it more of a fun activity rather than an overwhelming chore.

playlist

Here are some of the tunes I’ve been listening to while I sit at my computer, hour after hour, trying to put this epic adventure together:

(Sidenote: Most of these songs are specific to Tokyo rather than Japan in general, but that’s what was available that fit the feel I wanted. If I were to write my own music, it would be more encompassing.)

Local Natives – Wide Eyes

Oh, to see it with my own eyes

When I was researching my Japan trip in 2015, I came across this song in someone’s video on YouTube. A perfect selection, if you ask me. It’s not Japan-specific but it speaks about the desire to see the places you dream about for yourself. I liked it so much, I sought out the entirety of Local Natives‘ discography and am now a fan.

The Bird and the Bee – Love Letter to Japan

From the west to the east I have flown to be near you
I have come all this way to be close, to be here with you …
… I am yours, I am yours
For as long, for as long as you will have me

THIS. WHOLE. SONG.
I don’t know her, but I feel like she gets it. The obsession. The longing. Yes. This is a fellow Japan-lover.

PUFFY – Tokyo, I’m On My Way

Tokyo, I’m on my way
I’m going to be in love

This was the very first song I picked for my original Japan Trip Playlist way back in 2010. Back before we started getting in trouble for using copyrighted music, I put this song in my own video of our flight taking off. When I hear it, it still holds that excitement of bouncing in my seat in anticipation of finally being on my way.

Pizzicato 5 – Non-Stop to Tokyo

Non-stop, non-stop, non-stop to Tokyo

The Japanese lyrics are mostly to do with having a summer vacation fling, but since the only English lyrics are “non-stop to Tokyo” and our flight IS non-stop to Tokyo, it seemed fitting.

Humpe Humpe – Yamaha

Yamaha, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Suzuki, Sony
Minolta, Kawasaki, Sanyo, Casio, Toshiba

My cousin introduced me to this song years ago. It’s just a bunch of Japanese name brands sung over and over, so as a song, it’s complete nonsense and it’s totally 80s but I love it.

The Pinker Tones – Tokyo

Oh, why don’t we go to Tokyo?
Come on, come on, come on
Let’s go

Yes. Let’s!

Geno Samuel – City Lights of Tokyo

Longing for the bright lights and the city sights of Tokyo

I feel like I live in a perpetual state of that.

PUFFY – Tokyo Nights

Tokyo nights
I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love

Even the lyrics in Japanese don’t make much sense. It’s just a fun song that you can apply any meaning you want. Have a great time being crazy in Tokyo!

Tita Lau – Tokyo (Go Japan Go)

It got a little crazy down in Tokyo

That’s probably something a lot of people who’ve been there can relate to. And people who haven’t, can probably imagine.

Juno Reactor – Tokyo Dub

Tokyo, out of my head you flow
From my heart to my soul
Watch the energy flow

Those are the only lyrics of the song and they repeat over and over throughout the (very long) song.
A lot of songs about Tokyo talk about the fast pace, bright lights, and chaos. This song however is chill and relaxed, but it’s still got a nighttime, almost… high-tech (??) vibe. Like a robot in a club, maybe? Haha.

Plastics – Copy

Copy people
C-O-P-Y
Copy this and copy that …
… Tokyo Copy Town

For as ridiculous as this song seems, it says a lot. I’ll let you derive your own meaning out of it, as I have. (I take it as a positive though, rather than something bad.)

Teriyaki Boyz – Tokyo Drift

I wonder if you know how they live in Tokyo
If you seen it, then you mean it
Then you know you have to go

Lyrically, a pretty shallow song but it’s still fun and will, of course, always bring to mind scenes from Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift. I love it when tidbits of Japanese culture are shared with the mainstream masses.

The Presidents of the United States of America – Japan

Everything is rockin’ out of control
When we hit Japan

Like a lot of other songs I came across (and skipped), this song highlights a band’s experience touring Japan, but unlike others, it’s in an excited, positive way.
I like to sing along with the repeated “when we hit Japan” part.

Yoshida Brothers – Kodo (Inside the Sun Remix)

♫ 

There are 2 Yoshida Brothers songs in this playlist. I chose them because I love the way the brothers blend traditional Japanese sounds (tsugaru shamisen, in their case) with modern beats.
I highly recommend picking a few songs that are instrumental only, that feed your hype through their vibe. I also recommend picking a few songs that are from Japan, rather than strictly about Japan. Yoshida Brothers would be a great choice because they have that iconic Japanese sound.

The Wombats – Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)

If you love me, let me go back to that bar in Tokyo

Japan can be an escape for some people. And I’m also looking forward to leaving behind regular life for awhile to be there. There are many reasons I picked this song, but none of them are very meaningful. I just really like it.

Pharoah Sanders – Japan

♫ 

This is another purely instrumental song, no lyrics at all, but this one has a completely different feel. Slow and peaceful. When I first heard it, I immediately thought of the Shikoku Pilgrimage. (The bells in the song sound like the bells attached to the pilgrim’s walking stick.) That’s something I’d love to do someday. This time around, I’ll be able to visit one or two of those temples, so at least that’s something. For now.

Thompson Twins – Tokyo

Tokyo, why can’t I ever say no?
Tokyo

I can’t say no either. (Although, I think they are maybe unable to resist something different than me. LOL.)
Honestly, I picked this song because it’s classic 80s. And I love the 80s.
BTW, if you’re interested in seeing what Tokyo looked like back then, there is an amazing series of videos on YouTube from a guy who digitized his old home movies.

Yoshida Brothers – Rising

♫ 

The other Yoshida Brothers song I chose. Isn’t it great?!

Kyu Sakamoto – Sayonara Tokyo

Sayonara, Tokyo

Well, that’s a pretty self-explanatory choice. (You knew that sayonara means goodbye, right?) I’ll be very sad to leave at the end of our trip and this song has that melancholic feel.
I also wanted to include a song by Kyu Sakamoto. You may have heard the SUPER famous song Ue o Muite Arukou, which is known in the west as Sukiyaki. It’s been covered many times over the years. That’s him!

Kay Cee Jones – Sayonara

The time has come for us to say sayonara
My heart will always be yours for eternity
I knew sometime we’d have to say sayonara
Please promise that you’ll be returning someday to me

I realize she’s talking to a person but I’m talking about Japan.

 

Bonus Track:
I came across this song on two separate people’s Japan trip videos on YouTube when researching in 2015 and I loved the feel of it and gave my own meaning to “the importance of elsewhere”. Then I listened to the lyrics and realized it’s about a drug trip, not travelling. Hahaha. But it’s still a great song and I still link it in my brain to that jet-setting idea.

Lack of Afro – The Importance of Elsewhere

 

What songs make YOU think of Japan? What songs would you put on your own travel playlist?

 

If you’re having trouble loading all the videos links or if you want to listen to all the songs continuously, I made a public playlist on our YouTube channel.

See you next time.  また かい。

A Bit of Japan in Canada: Kariya Park

entrance

Kariya Park is a Japanese-style garden right in the heart of Mississauga, Ontario (not far from Toronto). It’s located just down the street from Square One Shopping Centre, less than a five minute walk.

We visited in early December to give you a tour. Maybe not the best time to shoot a video outside but we wanted to practice taking footage and editing before we leave for Japan. (I AM SO SORRY ABOUT THE AUDIO! This is why practice is needed before we go, so we know what NOT to do once we’re in Japan. Please bear with us and we’ll get better, I swear.)

Kariya Park was opened in 1992 to commemorate the 11th anniversary of the twin-city relationship between Mississauga, Ontario, Canada and Kariya, Aichi, Japan. The city of Kariya is located 15km southwest of Nagoya.

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It was created as a collaborative effort between Canadian and Japanese designers and therefore has the authentic feel of a garden one would find in Japan. Within the park, you can see many trees, plants and flowers indigenous to Japan such as peonies, maple, ginko, sweetgum, redbud, and sakura trees as well as Kariya’s official flower – the purple Rabbit-Ear Iris (杜若/かきつばた/kakitsubata in Japanese).

kakitsubata.jpg
Rabbit-Ear Iris – picture from Wikipedia

I was at Kariya Park last week and noticed that the irises that flank the walkway to the entrance are currently in bloom.

The park covers 7.5 acres and is enclosed with a high wooden wall so the city noise is dimmed (although there is an elementary school on the other side which can get a bit louder when the kids are out for recess). A gravel lined path runs in a circular shape around the perimeter with three more lines crossing the middle.

There are 3 ponds of different sizes inside the pathway. The smallest one in the middle has a cute little waterfall and a plank wood bridge in a staggered pattern (although it’s currently drained of water). The second largest pond is on the left-hand side of the park and is flanked with a stone lantern and bench. The largest of the ponds has a curved wooden bridge at the narrower end and then it opens up to reveal the main feature of the park – the pavillion.

The pavillion is a Japanese-style wooden structure with curved roof tips and is made up of two separate roofs joined together in the middle – symbolizing Kariya and Mississauga – where a bronze bell hangs. The bell was cast in Japan and donated to the city of Mississauga in 2001 for the 20th anniversary. It’s the same sort of style of bell you would find at a Japanese temple (梵鐘/ぼんしょう/bonshō) but it’s decorated with maple leaves,  the logo of the City of Mississauga, and the Rabbit-Ear Iris to symbolize Kariya.

There is a repeating motif found throughout the park. It’s the merging of wild goose in flight (kari) and infinity symbol (ya).

There is also a large stone statue of two friends sitting together, another gift to the city from the twin city of Kariya for the 20th anniversary. It’s really cute and we seem to have taken quite a few pictures with it over the years.

For the 30th anniversary of “twinning” in 2011, a large art piece was installed. It’s a mosaic of 6,750 individual pictures of past exchanges between people of Mississauga and Kariya, and together they form the image of a giant paper lantern called a mando. Mando Matsuri (Festival) is held annually in Kariya and is an important cultural event there.

For such a small area and considering it’s proximity to traffic and commerce, there is quite an abundance of wildlife to be seen in the park. Birds of many kinds and squirrels are almost always present as well as ducks, geese, turtles, and fish in the ponds.

We have a personal affinity for the park because we used to live in the apartment buildings right across the street and would pop over frequently to enjoy the tranquillity. It really is lovely in any season. We also had our wedding pictures done here. (There is actually a sign at the entrance of the park that says permits are required for photography but… we didn’t realize that at the time. Oops!)

Kariya Park is open daily from 7am until 9pm (or dusk, whichever comes first).

Since the park isn’t as well-known, it’s a great alternative option for sakura (cherry blossom) viewing rather than highly popular areas like High Park in Toronto.

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Comparison of crowd traffic: High Park on the left and Kariya Park on the right
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As of last week, the buds on the sakura trees are just starting to appear but it’ll be at least a few more weeks before we can expect some blossoms.

It’s a lovely spot to go and enjoy a few serene moments to escape the fast pace of the city and we recommend it to anyone who is interested in Japanese design, enjoys nature, or just needs a break – especially during spring when the trees have their leaves and the flowers are in bloom.

 

There is a Mississauga Park in Kariya as well, although we feel like we got the better end of that deal. LOL. Their pavillion is a concrete structure that replicates a smaller version of Mississauga’s City Hall and they have a giant metal “sculpture” of a maple leaf. We’ve also heard their is a statue of a bear in a canoe (SO Canadian, eh?) but we haven’t seen pictures of that one.

If we have time while we are in Japan, it could be cool to swing by Kariya and check it out.

References for this post:
City of Mississauga – Kariya Park
Blog TO – Kariya Park
justinpluslauren.com – Kariya Park
insauga.com – Mississauga Park
ohmatsuri.com – Mando Matsuri in Kariya
video that we mentioned in ours explaining how some trees were knocked down
drone footage of the park

our 360° tour of Kariya Park

We’re Live

Our plane tickets have been booked and our first video has been posted on YouTube! Our Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest accounts are also up and running. If you want to follow along during our adventure in Japan, check those spots out. 🛩🗾⛩🍁🍂

We’ll be in Japan for 70 days, arriving on October 18th, 2019. We’re so excited to share our experiences with everyone. We also have a lot of travel prep videos and posts planned for the 6 months leading up to our departure. We’ll also be sharing photos and tidbits from our previous trips on our various accounts. Don’t miss out!

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