Ohanami, Royal Sightings, and Cosplay

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We had quite the serendipitous weekend recently!

On Saturday, Josh and I set out to admire the cherry blossoms in full bloom. We ventured around our neighborhood, as well as the historic Imai-cho district. However, when we reached the train station it was uncharacteristically packed to the brim with people! I couldn’t even see the platforms in the distance. Everyone was waving flags and cheering, and I was utterly confused as to what was going on. Friends via LINE suggested that it was a return party for the victorious Chiben Gakuen baseball team, or perhaps even…the emperor himself!! We stopped for a bite to eat since it seemed we wouldn’t be going very far anytime soon, but the crowd vanished by the time we finished. Very mysterious…

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Josh got some wonderful photos! I’ll post a few here for now, but they deserve a post of their own.

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On our way back home, we noticed a new crowd at the station- this time with lanterns and flags, and shouting “Banzai!” At this point I got confirmation that the Emperor and Empress were indeed in town to commemorate the 2600th anniversary of the death of Jimmu-sama, the first emperor of Japan. He is said to have ascended to the throne at the base of Mt. Unebi (now enshrined within Kashihara Shrine). How exciting!!

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On Sunday, my friend Bethany and I decided to meet up for lunch at Kashihara Shrine, while lowkey hoping for a glimpse of the Imperial family. There was no telling if they were actually going to be there at that time, though, so I didn’t get my hopes up. On the way there, I noticed some flawless cosplayers from the series Kyoukai no Kanata (Beyond the Boundary- an anime series that takes place in Nara) doing a photoshoot at Kume-Dera Temple! I soo wanted a photo but didn’t want to disturb their work.

As we ventured closer to the shrine, we noticed huge crowds with flags yet again, as well as lots of security- could it be? We had time to eat maybe half of our lunch by the lake (which, by the way, was so gorgeous in all of its spring splendor) before we heard some loud cheering and rushed over to join the group. The Emperor and Empress were walking through the gates! I barely managed to snap some good shots- mostly because I got lost in the moment of waving and cheering from afar! When the Empress waved I heard lots of girls squealing. It was amazing to be that close! We met two more of our friends Casey and Kerry in the crowd, who also happened to be in the right place at the right time since they were spontaneously sightseeing.

The Japan Times wrote an article on the visit here!

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Lo and behold, I ran into the cosplayers again! This time they didn’t seem as busy so I timidly asked for a photo. I love the guy standing behind the sakura tree there. Darn my awkward nervous pose! I didn’t realize what I was doing till later. Oh well! It was cool to meet them, and they seemed surprised and happy that I knew about the series.

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Review: KFC Matcha Azuki Krusher

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Let me preface this review with a bit of backstory: I love everything about matcha. The bitterness, the color, the texture- it’s all wonderful. This love is also linked to my fascination with the Japanese tea ceremony and the philosophy behind it. To me, drinking a cup of matcha is like experiencing a small taste of wabi sabi. Anyways, I’m sure you get my point already. I like matcha.

So when I caught wind of all the new matcha-flavored treats arriving to Japan this spring, I was overjoyed. I was especially excited to try the new Matcha Azuki Krusher from KFC. Matcha AND Red Bean in one delicious milkshake? I’m in heaven! Unfortunately, one thing I’ve noticed since I’ve come to Japan is that just because something says “matcha” on it, doesn’t mean it’s going to taste like a good ole cup of tea ceremony matcha. I don’t mind if it’s a bit sweet (even though I prefer bitter with a splash of milk), but some varieties have tasted like not much more than green sugar syrup (on this note, Glica Matcha Lattes are wayy too sweet, but Lipton Matcha Lattes are pretty nice). For those who have never tried matcha, the best comparison I can think of is encountering that horrible fake banana taste when you were expecting real banana instead. It’s truly a heartbreaking experience! So I was understandably a bit hesitant to try this one.

FIRST IMPRESSION: It looked a bit lighter than in the picture, and there was no dollop of red beans on top, but I’m not picky about things like that. I was looking forward to the taste! You can also get a premium version with whipped cream and what looked like a dusting of kinako on top, but I opted for the cheaper 350 yen version.

10299940_10154121425957990_8995139658085463793_nTEXTURE: Cold and creamy, but sadly not like soft serve (which is what I was quietly hoping for, dangit). It was kind of thin. The chunks of red bean are nice and soft, until you encounter some sort of  hard crunchy sugar particles clinging near it. I really didn’t like that, mostly because of the flavor (see below).

TASTE: Well, I am sorry to say it, folks. It wasn’t super matcha-y, and was extremely sweet. Some people might like that, though! The very first sip was tasty and mixed well with the red bean (though the red bean tasted like it was saturated to the brink with sugar), until I encountered a bizarre chunk of crispy spearmint flavor. I don’t know if this is just my American tastebuds, but my mind was really rejecting that combo. Every time I encountered a red bean, I seemed to crunch a strong spearmint thing with it. This alone made it difficult to enjoyably finish the otherwise fine shake.

IF I MADE IT MYSELF: I would use a matcha vanilla twist soft serve base (like the bitter kind you can get in Kyoto or other special vendors). Then put some not-too-sweet azuki on top rather than mix it through out, so that the customer could choose to blend it or not later (it also looks pretty). Lastly, by the maker, I would leave those minty things out. Haha.

FINAL IMPRESSIONS: I won’t be trying this one again. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t very enjoyable either. At 350 yen, I think I would get more refreshment from a vending machine.

How about you guys? Have you tried any fantastic matcha sweets lately? I’m planning to try the McDonald’s Matcha McFlurry next. 😀