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Snow Sports in Yuzawa Niigata

Monday, April 22nd, 2024

A few weeks ago, on March 29th 2024, ten of us went by shinkansen to Echigo-Yuzawa in Niigata. We met up in Tokyo station around 7 in the morning and boarded the train, excited for an energizing day in the snow!

Once we arrived, we immediately went to get our snow gear. After securing our rentals, we gathered to meet up with our ski instructor. We hopped on a gondola that took us up near the summit of the mountain and were pleasantly surprised by the long gondola ride. As soon as we reached the top, we put on the rest of our gear and headed off!

Gondola in Niigata

On our way up.

The weather was a bit rainy, but we didn’t let that stop us from having fun. We were determined to make every moment count!

The group with their ski gear

Looks like everyone is having fun!

Our ski instructor ensured that we were all having fun. Sure, there were a few wobbly moments and hilarious wipeouts, but hey, that’s all part of the adventure, right? After a solid three-hour session of shredding powder and carving through the snow, our stomachs began to rumble, signaling it was time to refuel. Gala Yuzawa had a variety of food, so we were able to take our pick.

Niigata udon

Doesn’t this look yummy?

Back to the slopes we zoomed by an extra couple of hours of snowy shenanigans! But after a long day, our muscles were begging for a break. So we decided to go relax at the sentō in the ski center. While some of us were all about soaking our sore muscles in those warm waters, others couldn’t resist the temptation of a last few thrilling runs down the slopes.

Gondola returning to the bottom of the mountain

On our way back down the mountain…

After recharging, our stomachs were grumbling for some food. Before bidding farewell to this wonderful area, we decided to eat at a local restaurant. It was the perfect way to relax and to get to know each other better.

Everyone at a restaurant table

Ended the day with a delicious meal.

Once we ate our fill, we took the extra bit of time to shop for omiyage! Rest assured, we made sure to bring lots of souvenirs back to the office.

And here’s some shots that some of us took!(^-^)
Plum blossoms

Some plum blossoms.

A bridge over a river

Bridge by the river.

Although we were sad to go, we were excited to get back and get some rest before the weekend started! Here’s the view from the top of Echigo-Yuzawa station. Today was the perfect balance of adventure and relaxation.

Train station

Until next time, Niigata!

Do you want to join us for the next snow sports event? Or do you have another suggestion for everyone? Do not hesitate to contact HR and let us know!

Hiking Adventure in Hadano

Monday, October 30th, 2023

It’s been ages since we tried to do some events all together. But finally, we’re trying to do that again!

Last Sunday, on October 22, 2023, three of us went by train to Hadano, a city about an hour away from Tokyo. We met up in Shinjuku around 10 in the morning and boarded the train, excited for a day of adventure!

After a quick break in a combini to grab some snacks and drinks, we headed to the trailhead. The trail was challenging right from the start (it was supposed to be easy!), with a steep climb up the mountainside. But we were determined to make it to the top and soon found ourselves surrounded by beautiful scenery.

The trail was well-maintained and easy to follow. We stopped frequently to rest and enjoy the view and had a lot of fun chatting and getting to know each other better.

After about two hours of hiking, we finally reached the summit of the mountain. We were rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding area, including Mount Fuji in the distance. Unfortunately, the top of Mount Fuji was covered in clouds, but it was still an amazing sight to see.

We spent some time at the summit, enjoying the view and taking pictures. Then, we moved on, continuing our road on the track. The goal was to reach Tsurumaki Onsen Station. Lots of (beautiful? interesting? big?) spiders to see in the forest, but the trail was definitely easier to follow as we were globally going down. Some treacherous passages were a nice excuse for more breaks.

Once out of the wood and back to the city, our trip almost had some urbex vibe to it!

Once at Tsurumaki, we rewarded ourselves with some delicious karaage! It was the perfect way to end a perfect day. The weather was perfect, and although we couldn’t have a perfect view on the Mount Fuji, it was overall sunny enough!

Do you want to join us for the next hiking event? Or do you know a trail good for everyone? Do not hesitate to contact HR and suggest your idea!

December 2019: The Big Cleaning Day and Year-End Party

Monday, January 6th, 2020

It’s time for the annual big cleaning session to get rid of what’s left of 2019 and start off the new year with a clean slate!

The brave people who joined the Osouji, the big clean-up, turned the office upside down and worked hard to make it shine again.

Props to those who came back after work or stayed longer to give their contribution.

Everyone was assigned to a specific area but in the end, we all helped each other out in order to finish as quickly as possible and enjoy the well-deserved dinner as planned.

Some of us found interesting artifacts in the process, and that was basically the highlight of the evening.

It was very refreshing to see the office so tidy and clean after unleashing our inner Cinderella, but at this point, it was already 20:15 pm, it was time for dinner.

We headed to a Belgian pub nearby where we enjoyed a few drinks and a Belgian-inspired meal between laughs and giggles.

Thank you, everyone, for joining this event and taking part in this year’s Ousouji!

I’ll take this opportunity to wish all of you guys happy holidays and a happy new year!

~ Writer: Graziana

November 2019: Thanksgiving Lunch

Monday, December 2nd, 2019

On Friday November 22nd, the whole office has come together to celebrate Thanksgiving day. What’s a better way to do that if not by having a great lunch at a classy location in Akasaka?

The gloomy weather hasn’t taken away from the magic of the day. The elegant location and delicious food warmed up the atmosphere and gave us the chance to bond with each other.

Once we arrived at the ANA Intercontinental Hotel, we all headed straight to the gorgeous buffet that was waiting for us! The chocolate fountains were the highlight of the day and caught everyone’s attention as we came in.

Sometimes you must stop and appreciate the people around you and what’s a better way to do it than sharing a nice meal together while chatting and taking a break from work!

Our stomachs were full and we were in high spirits when it was time to squeeze in for a group picture to end our lunch. We are a big bunch and ILL is still growing, that’s why it’s important to take the time to appreciate the people around us.

Thank you, everyone! And happy Thanksgiving!

~ Writer: Graziana

October 2019: Tokyo Disney Sea

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

The day we have all been waiting for had finally come. The Innovative Langauge Learning outing to Disney Sea! Let’s be honest, it always feels great to let our inner child out and this was our chance to do so.

We were not the only lucky ones to go to Disney sea our staff was allowed to bring their kids along. They were in for a treat, here is a cute picture of the kiddos waiting to enter the entertainment park.

After we all gathered around 8:00 am outside of the train station we were ready to go. Kyejin handed us the tickets and we all walked together to get the Disney train to the entrance.

When we got out of the train this was our view entering the park. It felt like the entrance to a small town in Italy not to Disney Sea.

We went inside the theme park and every group went their separate way. Exploring the different attractions Disney Sea has to offer, we found ourselves in Agrabah the land of Aladin where we stumbled on the Genie.

Agrahaba and Italy were not the only worlds we found ourselves in there were even more! The mystic temple fo the Mayas where Indiana Jones had his adventures.

Luckily, there was also time to think and enjoy the views of the different Disney worlds from above.

Disney brought us the nostalgia of our childhood memories and you wish you were a kid again. Until you realize they sell beer at Disney sea, which gives you the best of both worlds. I guess being a grownup isn’t that bad after all!

Let’s not forget the seasonal snacks which Disney Sea offers.

But before you know it the day is over, time flies when you are having fun. Even when it is dark Disney Sea is beautiful and you just don’t want to leave.

All good things come to an end, but it was hard for the ILL team to accept it, that’s why we took a crazy goodbye selfie to celebrate an ending of a beautiful day.

~ Writer: Terry

~ Participants: Alisha, Andrew, Anna, Becca, Caspar, Erik, Flemming & daughter, Kyejin, Laura & son, Lya, Maryssa, Meg, Michael & son, Mike, Philip, Terry, Wilson, Yuki & daughter

September 2019: We Crossed ‘Climbing Mt. Fuji’ Off Our Bucket List

Friday, October 4th, 2019

An amazing photo taken by Erik, the official photographer of the hiking group

On September 7th, 5 people (Anna, Lya, Meg, Erik and Kyejin) headed to Mount Fuji.

I’m sure you’ve heard about this most famous mountain in Japan. According to Wikipedia:

Mount Fuji (富士山; Fujisan), located on Honshū, is the highest volcano in Japan at 3,776.24 m (12,389 ft), 2nd-highest volcano of an island in Asia (after Mount Kerinci in Sumatra), and 7th-highest peak of an island in the world. It is an active stratovolcano that last erupted in 1707–1708. Mount Fuji lies about 100 kilometers (60 mi) south-west of Tokyo, and can be seen from there on a clear day. Mount Fuji’s exceptionally symmetrical cone, which is snow-capped for about 5 months a year, is commonly used as a symbol of Japan and it is frequently depicted in art and photographs, as well as visited by sightseers and climbers.

Mount Fuji is one of Japan’s “Three Holy Mountains” (三霊山 Sanreizan) along with Mount Tate and Mount Haku. It is also a Special Place of Scenic Beauty and one of Japan’s Historic Sites. It was added to the World Heritage List as a Cultural Site on June 22, 2013. According to UNESCO, Mount Fuji has “inspired artists and poets and been the object of pilgrimage for centuries”. UNESCO recognizes 25 sites of cultural interest within the Mount Fuji locality. These 25 locations include the mountain and the Shinto shrine, Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha, as well as the Buddhist Taisekiji Head Temple founded in 1290, later immortalized by Japanese ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai.

We started hiking from the 5th station around 8:20 pm after dinner and came back to Tokyo in the evening on the following day. It was tough but fantastic and definitely a worth-trying experience.

Keep reading the post and check out amazing pictures of Mount Fuji below!

1. How was the activity? Score from level 1 (bad) to 5 (good). Why?

The photo taken when we could still smile…

Anna: This is hard to answer…5 of course but there was some suffering but it was worth it!

Lya: 4. I wanted to do this for a long time and doing it with everyone made it better! It was really cold and dusty tho (TдT)

What the crater of Mt. Fuji looks like…

Meg: 4. It was a bit rough but still a good time.

Erik: 5, after 1 full week to recover, I can say that the whole activity was fantastic. Mount Fuji is not a really difficult mountain to climb, it’s a fun experience overall. I hope I would have brought 2 more layers because it gets really cold at the top.

In the morning

Kyejin: 5, Many of my friends said it was a near-death experience so I thought I might not be able to make it but it wasn’t as hard as I expected. I was just too scared xD but that doesn’t mean that it was easy. It was hard enough to challenge once in my life at least!

2. How was the scenery/sightseeing there? Score from1 (bad) to 5 (good). Why?

The scenery from the top

Anna: The sunrise was 10 and the night sky was even better. Climbing down was not nice. The views were good but the hill was dangerous. You had to be careful to step so we couldn’t watch the scenery all the time.

Beautiful night sky

Lya: 5 for the sunrise and the view above the clouds ♡

Meg: 6

The sunrise

Erik: 5 / 2

  • On the way up: The scenery is really beautiful, especially in the sunrise.
  • On the way down: The scenery sucks, it’s pretty much a desert mountain.

The “desert mountain” Erik mentioned…

Kyejin: 5, Stunning. Words can’t describe it. Go and check yourself ㋡

3. What was the most memorable moment of this trip?

Right before the sunrise

Anna: Seeing the starry sky at night!

Getting brighter

Lya: Seeing the sunrise

Meg: Seeing the sunrise

The sunrise that everyone chose as the most memorable moment of the trip

Erik: Early Dinner before going up all together at 5th base camp. Sunrise at the top! Finally getting all together at the last stop!

Kyejin: Can’t pick one!

  • Seeing the starry sky at night and taking pictures of it (realizing how great my camera is…)
  • Seeing the sunrise when it was so windy and cold…
  • Taking a nap on the top of Mt. Fuji near the crater.
  • Running down Mt. Fuji in the rain (worrying about the typhoon coming on the day…)

4. How was food? What was your favorite?

Dinner at the 5th station

Anna: Can’t apply. I brought food from home.

Lya: I was hoping there would be more food options when getting to the 5th station, but most of it was sold out. Huge Nikuman saved me from starvation, so I’ll vote for Nikuman

Meg: Food was not bad but nothing special lol

Erik: The Nikuman was really good. And the Fuji mountain Katsu Kare was fantastic!

Kyejin: I don’t remember the taste of all the snacks I had actually. I ate them just to survive from Mt. Fuji and the coldness.

5. Will you recommend this place to others? Score from 1 (No way) to 5 (Absolutely). Why?

Anna: 2.5, you need the motivation to go so wouldn’t force anybody, although I hope this tradition goes on and other ILL people climb it next year!

Lya: 5 if it’s on your bucket list, 2 if not.

Meg: I recommend you to go but please wear enough warm clothes.

Erik: 5, You need to have this experience once. It’s truly fantastic. It’s a rite of passage that separate child from Man / Woman. Now you stop being a caveman to become a hunter, a leader.

Kyejin: 5, Yes, if you live in Japan, it’s totally worth trying ☺ Try it when you’re still young! haha

6. Any comment?

Anna: We did it!!

Lya: Achievement complete ★

Meg: Mt. Fuji!!!! △

Erik: I’m never, in my life, gonna climb MT. Fuji again, Swipe left.

Kyejin: So I crossed one item off my bucket list… so I don’t need to go there again lol It was an amazing experience with amazing people! I couldn’t breathe well (my heart hurt so much…!!!) as the altitude became higher and higher but thanks for waiting for me >_< ♥︎

~ Anna, Lya, Meg, Erik, Kyejin

P.S. Anna drew the sunrise we saw from Mt. Fuji


P.P.S. Erik said: 
‘we hate fuji’. that’s the title of the post XD

P.P.P.S. August was too hot for hiking so we canceled it. Our next activity is a trip to Disney Sea on October 11th, 2019! Yay!

July 2019: The First ILL Glamping in Kawaguchiko, Yamanashi, near Mt.Fuji

Tuesday, July 30th, 2019

Breakfast timeBreakfast time

On July 6th, 6 people (Laura, Yafa, Lya, Maryssa, Erik and Kyejin) and 2 guests (Maryssa’s friend and Yafa’s friend) headed to Kawaguchiko in Yamanashi near Mt.Fuji.

Although it’s known as one of the best places for the view of Mt.Fuji in Japan, we couldn’t see Mt.Fuji because of the rain but the city near lake Kawaguchi was already so beautiful itself and we had an amazing time together.

Keep reading the post and check out pictures from our fun trip below!

1. How was the activity? Score from level 1 (bad) to level 5 (good). Why?

Our Home from June 6 to 7Our home from June 6 to 7

Laura: (5) I was great! Really fun and even if it was raining we walked around and were very active ☺ The time in the cabin was amazing too. We all worked together and had a great time.

Lya: 6/5; It was really fun, I had a blast with everyone ☺

KitchenKitchen

Maryssa: 4; Everything was really fun and everyone there made every activity better! The rain was unfortunate, but we made the best out of the situation and could still do a lot!

Barbequing OutsideBarbecuing Outside

Erik: 5! Glamping was really fun! It was my first time doing it here in Japan. We even had a sauna in the cabin!

Yafa: 2/3; It was raining all the time.

In the SupermarketIn the Supermarket

Kyejin: 5! We had to walk 45 minutes from our cabin to get groceries (and of course, another 45-minutes walking on the way back to our place). That was a great exercise xD We enjoyed walking around the city. BBQ was so good, UNO game was so fun, and all the people were amazing… It was just a perfect activity!

2. How was the scenery/sightseeing there? Score from1 (bad) to level 5 (good). Why?

Lake KawaguchiLake Kawaguchi

Laura: (5) It was a beautiful place! The fog in the forest and lake made it look mysterious.

Arakura Fuji Sengen Jinja (新倉富士浅間神社)Arakura Fuji Sengen Jinja (新倉富士浅間神社)

Lya: 2; Sorry, we couldn’t see Mt Fuji because of the rain. We saw some good temples and nature tho. I’m sure it’s beautiful when there is sun/sakura/momiji.

Chureito Pagoda (忠霊塔)Chureito Pagoda (忠霊塔)

Maryssa: 4; Everything was green and beautiful. The lake was stunning and the forest around it was so pretty! I wish we could’ve seen Mt. Fuji, but everything else was still gorgeous.

The View from Our CabinThe View from Our Cabin

Erik: 4! The house we rented was exactly in front of a beautiful lake, so we had a really nice view. With the rain and the fog, the ambiance was really chill, for cooking and sleeping. Afterward, we went hiking to Chureito pagoda, it’s a short hike and about 200 steps, but you get the view from the whole city which makes it totally worth it, even in the rain!

Yafa: 2/5; I didn’t have time to enjoy the scenery.

The Misty CityThe Misty City

Kyejin: 4! Although I couldn’t see Mt.Fuji, the misty city was beautiful. I liked the smell of the misty mountain too : D The lake near our place was very nice.

3. What was the most memorable moment of this trip?

Playing UNOPlaying UNO

Laura: There were many! I will choose a couple, 1) The restaurant we went at the beginning of the trip (recommended by Stan), the place was very cozy and we had a good time talking and planning. 2) We all sitting at the breakfast table.

Making S’moreMaking S’more

Lya: Cooking and playing together! Good job everyone ♡

We Made S’more!We Made S’more!

Maryssa: There were so many great, hilarious moments. I loved teaching everyone how to make s’mores and seeing each person’s reaction for the first time! But I think even this moment ties with the epic game of UNO we all played.

Lya Catching a BugLya Catching a Bug

Erik: If I have to say, I think playing Uno til late in the night, and doing BBQ! (I used to bbq every week back home, so it brought back many memories T_T) After that hiking in the rain was super fun as well!! Also, everyone screaming at the presence of bugs lol

Yafa: The BBQ was amazing and the team made great effort for having a great and memorable moment.

Hairdressers and a CustomerHairdressers and a Customer

Kyejin: Walking to the supermarket in the rain, having a wonderful barbeque and pasta (prepared by Eri and Lya) with wonderful people, learning how to make s’more from Maryssa, playing UNO until 3 am, having a huge and amazing breakfast prepared by Lya, changing hairstyle for Lya, Maryssa and Laura on the train, hiking to the pagoda, sleeping really well on the bus on the way back home… ^_^

4. How was food? What was your favorite?

Barbequing in an Argentinian WayBarbecuing in an Argentinian Way(?)

Laura: (5) Incredible. Everything was really good thanks to Erik and Lya. My favorite was the pasta that Lya made ☺ and of course, the s’mores that Maryssa taught us how to make.

Happy Dinner TimeHappy Dinner Time

Lya: Food was awesome. I loved the meat (≧▽≦) many thanks to our BBQ expert (๑•̀ㅂ•́)و✧

Cooking PastaCooking Pasta

Maryssa: The food was so delicious!! The pasta and bbq at the cabin were really really tasty and it was basically all you could eat! The local udon was also great and fun to try.

Team BBQTeam BBQ

Erik: Food was awesome!! Laura brought goat milk caramel, which was absolutely delicious. I tried S’mores for the first time in my life (thanks, Maryssa!), it was a memorable experience ☺ Breakfast was amazing (Lya!) And… BBQ… well…^^

Best BreakfastBest Breakfast

Yafa: The food was really good. We had a huge nice breakfast. The steak was my favorite.

Kyejin: 100 out of 5 : D Lya’s pasta and breakfast, Erik’s BBQ, Maryssa’s s’more and Laura’s caramel were all fantastic!

5. Will you recommend this place to others? Score from 1 (No way) to level 5 (Absolutely). Why?

Hiking SeriouslyHiking Seriously

Laura: (5) It is a beautiful place to explore, and glamping was perfect (you have it all, the right amount of nature and civilization).

Lya: 5/5; recommend with no rain and friends. 3/5 with rain and alone. The sights are still enjoyable but traveling together made it way better.

Hydrangea Near Lake KawaguchiHydrangea Near Lake Kawaguchi

Maryssa: 5 Absolutely! It was so beautiful and charming. The scenery was wonderful and despite being a tourist attraction, it felt like a quiet, small town.

Walking in the RainWalking in the Rain

Erik: 5! Yes, why not? Going to fuji is a nice getaway from the city any given day! It’s only 2 hours away, and you get amazing views, pure air, and the possibility of BBQ things.

Yafa: 3/5; I recommend it moderately. It’s better to go during spring and when not raining. Also, I thought that the expenses compared to the place are a little high.

Kyejin: 5! Yes! I’m sure it’ll be even better if we can see Mt.Fuji : D It’s not far from Tokyo but it was a completely different place.

6. Any comment?

Fun Shopping TimeFun Shopping Time

Laura: Thank you, everyone! Especially Kyejin, for all the time and energy she put in organizing and making sure everyone made it to the place and had a great time.

Lya: So fun~ 12/10, would do again with sun ☀

Maryssa: Everyone who joined the trip made it as fun as it was. Thanks to everyone for making this trip so fun a memorable! My friend who joined felt welcome and comfortable thanks to everyone. I’m excited for more adventures together!

Erik: Let’s do it again someday!!! ☺

Results of UNOResults of UNO

Kyejin: It was amazing teamwork. Thank you, everyone!

Thank you for finding a great place and being our human navigator, Laura.
Thank you for shopping a day before our camping day and bringing all the heavy ingredients, Maryssa. And please say thank you to Yukiko for all Japanese language help!
Although it was a late time, thank you for making efforts to join the activity with a good friend, Yafa!
Thank you for amazing cooking (pasta, BBQ, and breakfast), and hunting all bugs to save our lives, Lya.
Thank you for photographing, barbequing meat perfectly and guiding us to the pagoda and the lake near the station, Erik!

But please remember I was the first legendary winner of the great ILL UNO history ever… : P keke
- Note: Laura was the most frequent winner by the record, Erik was the most frequent winner as he remembers(!?), and Lya was the last winner of the great ILL UNO history so far.

On the BusOn the Bus

~ Laura, Yafa, Lya, Maryssa, Erik, Kyejin

P.S. Our next activity is hiking at Mt.Kentoku (2,031m) on August 18th so join us if you’re interested in this challenge!

P.P.S. Making fire wasn’t easy… Everyone was so moved at the moment when Maryssa and Lya succeded!!

Trying hard

Success

June 2019: Fun Kayaking in Okutama

Friday, July 19th, 2019

Before Kayaking

On June 16, the 3rd Sunday of the month as usual, 7 people (Anna, Meg, Laura, Yafa, Alicia, Motoko, and Kyejin) and 2 guests (Alicia’s friend and Motoko’s friend) headed to Okutama.

Okutama (奥多摩) is a town located in the west side of Tokyo. It’s just 1.5 hour away from the city but there are lots of different river and mountain activities available. It’s a perfect place for Tokyoites who want to enjoy nature.

Training for Kayaking

We decided to do kayaking as it’s easy even for beginners and most of us don’t have any experience.

By the way, did you know the difference between kayak and canoe? There are many differences but one of them is, kayaking paddles have two blades while canoeing paddles have one.

1. How was the activity? Score from level 1 (bad) to level 5 (good). Why?

Kayaking

Yafa: 5/5 The activity wasn’t very difficult and it was a well-balanced exercise between sports and enjoyment.

Alicia: I would score this activity a LEVEL 5! Not only was it fun, I really appreciate the fact that I was able to partake in an activity I’ve never tried before in Japan. Being outdoors surrounded by nature, water, and sunlight really made my mood feel great and as a part of a wellness program, this activity really marked all the boxes! I was able to have fun, relieve stress, clear my mind, work on my fitness, bond with everyone, get a tan, and work on my kayaking skills! It was really a great choice for an activity!

Anna: 4! Not 5 because I would have loved to stay more in the water, but it was great!

Fun Kayaking

Laura: 5, it was fun and the place was beautiful : )

Meg: 4. It was awesome!! I wish we got to do it longer!

Motoko: 4.5: Kayaking was amazing and its score was 5+, but the unexpected car ride almost made me sick. *I get motion sickness easily.

Kyejin: 5. It was so fun and I didn’t want to finish kayaking ;_; so I was almost crying when it was time to go back. It wasn’t so difficult nor dangerous. Also, the staffs were kind and friendly, and the owner was a kayak representative of Japan! Amazing!

2. How was the scenery/sightseeing there? Score from1 (bad) to level 5 (good). Why?

Kayaking Okutama

Yafa: 5/5 the scenery was just amazing!

Alicia: I would say the scenery was a LEVEL 5! I’ve only been kayaking in my hometown, Miami, where we would kayak in the ocean and see things like boats, islands, rough ocean waves, etc. But this kayaking experience was a whole different experience! The mountains, the amount of greenery, the refreshing water, the sunlight, the security and untouched feeling of nature, was really breathtaking and I feel really lucky I was able to see such a scene and experience the natural side of Japan more!

Anna: 5 being able to see the views from the kayaks was so new and different. Maybe it was a bit bright at some points but the weather was so good it made it perfect.

Perfect Weather for Kayaking

Laura: 5, lots of green and nature. Plus the weather was great.

Meg: 4. It was really nice and so much nature.

Motoko: 5: It’s not too far from the city, but has a lot of green and mountain view. The lake was also surrounded by good scenery to get relaxed.

Kyejin: 5. It was really beautiful. The weather was perfect - it was sunny, hot enough but not too hot. We were so lucky to go kayaking on such a wonderful day during the rainy season.

3. What was the most memorable moment of this trip?

Kayak Time

Yafa: The moment to get into the boat and where I tried to keep my balance.

Alicia: I would say the most memorable moment from the trip was taking a picture near the waterfall while everyone was kayaking! I think it was the only time everyone was actually able to get together while we were in the kayaks, so it was funny to see everyone working together to stay near the waterfall and hold on to each other for the picture!

Anna: Seeing a man fishing on a floatable donut (?) in the middle of the river. It really made me think about my lifestyle and how much I wanted to be him.

Laura: Being able to explore around the river after getting full control of the kayak.

Okutama Kayaking

Meg: Kayaking in the water and just relaxing.

Motoko: Everyone’s smile while kayaking. Some were good at paddling, and some were not really, but everyone was smiling and I could see his different aspects I cannot see at work. The sky from the lake was also beautiful. When I looked up while I stopped paddling, looked up, I felt as if I was floating in the sky.

Kyejin: Can’t pick just one. When I first sit down on the kayak and got scared a little bit, when I was enjoying the view of the river surrounded by mountain under the blue sky, sitting down on the kayak without paddling, when we were trying to take pictures together on the kayak and it was difficult to do so we had to grab each other’s kayak, when I had to leave so I was almost crying : D

4. How was food? What was your favorite?

Soba Restaurant

Yafa: The best soba I have ever had served by two amazing grandma and grandpa xD The best was the cake that they gave us as a welcoming gift.

Alicia: The first thing I had was the beef croquette from the nearby local meat shop that was recommended to us by our guide from the rafting place. I really liked that it was a local business with a unique authentic taste owned by an elderly couple. The croquette really felt special because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get it anywhere else! My favorite meal was definitely the udon I had at the local soba shop. The portion was good, the flavors were good, the owners of the shop were also really friendly, and again I got the feeling of uniqueness because it was a local shop and I appreciated it more because I knew I wouldn’t be back often to be able to taste that specific udon so I’m glad I got the chance to! There weren’t many options of restaurants but everywhere we did go had friendly staff and the food was great!

Udon

Anna: The omiyage food we brought was quite good, it was from a shop close to the kayak place.

Laura: Good! The soba place was cozy, the soba was good but the best was the Oden service. Delicious homemade oden.

Meg: I really liked the menchikatsu. So good.

Ice Cream

Motoko: Ume soft served ice cream. The green ume plum flavoured sauce was a little bit sour but refreshing after the exercise.

Soba

Kyejin: Food after an activity is always so good : D The menchikatsu from grandma and grandpa who will retire this year was very tasty, the ume soft ice cream sold on “Snack Day” on June 16 was delicious, the soba served by sweet and kind grandma and grandpa who gave us cake as a gift was also great too! If I have to choose one, maybe I would choose soba. I was full so I thought I couldn’t finish it but once I tasted it, I just couldn’t stop eating lol

5. Will you recommend this place to others? Score from 1 (No way) to level 5 (Absolutely). Why?

Kayak Paddles

Yafa: 5/5 Not very far from Tokyo it allows an emergence into beautiful and almost untouched nature. And for people stressed by the noisy city it gives a moment of beatitude.

Alicia: I would definitely recommend this place to others, LEVEL 5! Not only is there kayaking, but there were also many other services available such as canoeing, rafting, paddle boarding. I think there’s something for everyone to enjoy, it’s a great group activity, and it’s a great chance to enjoy the outdoors in Japan while having fun!

Anna: 4, if you like to do different activities I think this is very different to do an activity around Tokyo.

Laura: 5, this activity is good for anyone. The level of challenge was good, something new but with a bit of practice (and with great instructors, like the people Meg found for this trip) anyone can enjoy it. Pretty safe too.

Meg: 4. Yes, I totally recommend for a nice chill day to relax and enjoy.

Motoko: 4: I recommend this place for those who want something special for holidays. If you don’t like water activities, maybe not. This activity would be tough in winter.

Kyejin: 5. Yes! It’s not far from Tokyo but the atmosphere is completely different. There are many activities to enjoy in the beautiful nature and I think it’s a good place for a day trip for those who live in Tokyo.

6. Any comment?

Kayak Shop Kayak Shop Funny Face

Yafa: The ome ice cream was also very oishi.

Alicia: I think we got so lucky being able to kayak on such a beautiful day, I couldn’t have asked for better weather! If I were to say something I would change for next time, it would probably be that the actual kayaking portion felt a bit short so it would be nice if we can enjoy it a bit more next time! But everything was so fun! I want to say thank you so much to everyone who organized this activity! I think it was a great choice, and I’m really happy I was able to go and participate with everyone! I had a great time and would definitely do it again!

Anna: Kayak people were super nice and took lots of pictures of us in the water. And recommended us what to eat and where!

Polaroid

Laura: Thank you Kyejin for organizing! It’s great we can try new experiences with the people we see every day at the office. We get to know each other better : )

Meg: Come join us!!

Motoko: If the company plans a kayaking event, I definitely join! Once is not enough to fully enjoy it.

Kyejin: Thank you for coming, everyone! I’m so happy I got even more awesome memories with these awesome ILL friends. I’m already so excited about our next activity, camping, in a few weeks!

In Front of Restaurant

~ Anna, Meg, Laura, Yafa, Alicia, Motoko, and Kyejin

P.S. Our next activity is camping (or glamping) from July 6 to 7 in Yamanashi near Mt.Fuji!

May 2019: Mt.Mitumine and Mitsumine Shrine

Thursday, May 30th, 2019

Our May activity had 4 brave hikers - Anna, Meg, Laura and Kyejin! It was May 19th, the 3rd Sunday of the month as usual.

We met at Ikebukuro Station at 10 am and went to Seibu-Chichibu Station. It took about an hour and a half, and we had to take a bus to the Owa (大輪) bus stop for 35 minutes. It was a steep 3-hour hike and since the last bus back home was at 4:30 pm from the top of the mountain, we tried not to take a lot of breaks and kept hiking.

When we reached the summit, we could breathe in the fresh air and had some time to walk around the famous Mitsumine Shrine (三峯神社; Mitsumine jinja). It is surrounded by tall and old trees and somewhat has some mysterious atmosphere.

We haven’t been to this much high mountain for the last few months so it wasn’t an easy hike but it was definitely worth!

1. Was this hiking easy or hard? Score from level 1 (easy) to level 5 (hard).

Laura: Objectively: 3. Nice trail. Nothing dangerous. For me, the highest mountain I have ever climbed by foot: 5.

Meg: 3.5

Anna: I’d say this one was a 3 for me. Compared to others it was quite challenging since the whole route was quite steep.

Kyejin: 3. The route was steep but not very difficult. We haven’t done any long hike recently so we felt it was much harder than usual.

2. How was the scenery/sightseeing there? Score from 1 (bad) to 5 (amazing).

Laura: 5, beautiful mountains and green all around.

Meg: 3

Anna: I loved this route since the route is very natural as if made by the mountain and there are almost no stairs.

Kyejin: The Mitsumine Shrine was stunning! It was crowded with visitors but I could see why. And it was more rewarding to see it after a long hike. The scenery on the way to the top was also beautiful.

3. What was the most memorable moment of this trip?

Laura: The three abandoned houses almost at the top of the mountain. (How were those people able to live there? Grocery shopping? Maybe are haunted!)

Meg: Flying the drone, eating Laura’s nature valley, planning all the next events on the way back!

Anna: Finding Meg’s PASMO which got lost in the middle of the trail >_< Also watching Kyejin and Laura eat as in a food competition was something to be remembered.

Kyejin: Listening to a kind obaachan talking about the history of her restaurant, sharing snacks with ILL hikers, reaching the shrine after a long hike, etc. So many!! :D

4. How was food? What was your favorite?

Laura: Most of what we ate was snacks we brought from around home. But the local snack, miso potato, was very tasty.

Meg: I had niku udon this time and it was really good.

Anna: Again miso potato was awesome!!

Kyejin: Laura’s Nature Valley was good, Chichibu miso potato was so tasty and my butadon was so amazing that I could eat up in 5 minutes!

5. Will you recommend this mountain to others? Score from 1 (No) to level 5 (Absolutely).

Laura: 5. Yes, a beautiful place. If someone is not up for a 3-hour hike climbing up, going by bus or car to the top of the mountain is also good! I want to bring my dog and kid.

Meg: 3, It’s hard to say because I didn’t make it up to the top haha.

Anna: Hmm probably 3. Nice mountain, a few spots to take pictures in the middle of the trail so why not : )

Kyejin: 3.5. There was a beautiful dam, and Laura said a baby bear was running there o_O Recommend it for those who want to see a bear! In general, it was really good too!

6. Any comment?

Laura: Need to practice hiking uphill. I could barely make it : D

Anna: Join us next month!

Kyejin: It’s a heads up but we’re going kayaking in June and camping in July xD Let me know if you’re interested!

~ Anna, Meg, Laura, Kyejin

P.S. The 3rd Sunday of the month is our Activity Day so the next event will be on June 16th and we’ll go kayaking! Please join this fun event, dear ILL people!

April 2019: Beautiful Hanami at Hitsujiyama and Kinchakuda

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019

Our April activity had 7 brave hikers - Anna, Lya, Meg, Laura, Maryssa, Stan and Kyejin! Since it’s a perfect season for hanami, we decided to go to 2 different places to enjoy beautiful flowers, 1) Shibazakura Hill (芝桜の丘; Shibazakura no oka) at Chichibu Hitsujiyama Park (秩父羊山公園; Chichibu Hitsujiyama Kōen) and 2) Kinchakuda (巾着田; Kinchakuda).

1) Chichibu Hitsujiyama Park (秩父羊山公園; Chichibu Hitsujiyama Kōen)

Hitsujiyama Park is a 20 minutes walk from Seibu Chichibu station. The name of the park, Hitsujiyama, literally means Sheep Mountain as hitsuji (羊) means sheep and yama (山) means a mountain. As the name shows, you can see some sheep in the park.

Our destination was Shibazakura Hill (芝桜の丘; Shibazakura no oka) on that day. It is located in the south of Hitsujiyama Park (羊山公園) and has an area of about 17,600m².

We could enjoy cherry blossoms in full bloom on the way to the hill. There are different kinds of cherry blossoms, which made the place even more colorful and stunning.

Shibazakura Hill is planted in more than 400,000 pink phlox mosses of 9 different colors. In the blooming season, it becomes a flowering carpet shape is designed from Floats and costume patterns of the Chichibu Night Festival and night festival’s excitement.

2) Kinchakuda (巾着田; Kinchakuda)

Kinchakuda Plateau is a 15 walk from Koma station. We just needed to follow a red sign with 巾着田 (kinchakuda) so it wasn’t difficult to find it.

When we arrived at the place, the Spring Festival was already over but instead, we could enjoy the 菜花 (nanohana; rapeseed flowers) in full bloom ourselves. There was no crowd and we were the only people there! The purse-shaped field filled with rapeseed flowers is surrounded by cherry blossoms in full bloom too, and when the wind blows, it rained cherry blossom petals. It was such a beautiful place.

1. Was this hiking easy or hard? Score from level 1 (easy) to level 5 (hard).

Laura: level 1

Stan: The hike was VERY easy, grade 1. And why? Well, we did not really do any climb except few stairs : )

Anna: Easy, easy 1! I think it’s the first time we didn’t encounter stairs!

Lya: It was so easy! No big slopes, barely any stairs, really chill : D

Meg: 1. It was easy. XD We didn’t really hike up any mountains this time.

Maryssa: 1 Easy. There were few hills.

Kyejin: Level 1. It was easy!

2. How was the scenery/sightseeing there? Score from 1 (bad) to 5 (amazing).

Laura: level 5. Luckily we went when the Sakura trees were fully bloomed. Plus, the park surrounded by mountains was beautiful.

Stan: The scenery was much better than I expected in both cases - firstly, I had known Chichibu a bit from the past and I did not expect so many sakuras (including the pink, leaning ones) over there in a full bloom, plus the shibazakura flowers were great and I finally managed to see them. So 5, of course. And why? Flowers. I just like them.

Anna: 10! The cherry blossom trees in Chichibu were stunning! There weren’t as many people as in Tokyo famous spots which made it even more beautiful than any other big Sakura park I’ve seen before.

Lya: 7/5. Sakura and flowers were in full bloom! All the colors! So pretty♥

Meg: 5. It was soo beautiful. One of the best hanami spots and not a lot of people. I highly recommend this place to do hanami and enjoy sakura.

Maryssa: 5 The flowers were blooming beautifully.

Kyejin: It was the most beautiful and not crowded hanami I’ve ever experienced. I would love to visit there again next spring!

3. What was the most memorable moment of this trip?

Laura: There was a spot full of Shidarezakura in full bloom. Since it was a bit windy the rain of sakura petals was very pretty.

Stan: Probably the sakura petal falls in the wind.

Anna: I discovered a punishment for Korean kids. Ah and of course Sakura rain ✿

Lya: When the wind blew softly and it rained Sakura petals. Stan took a good video of it!

Meg: Enjoying the sakura fall down with the wind and eating yummy food.

Maryssa: Walking down the path lined with sakura trees.

Kyejin: Showing Anna how to write her own name as a Korean punishment o_O and dancing with everyone in the rapeseed flower field. Also, the sakura rain whenever the wind blows…♡

4. How was food? What was your favorite?

Laura: I didn’t eat much since I had a cold. But the snack shared by Kyejin was good (good)

Stan: I only had one food and that was yakiniku, grilled one, one the stick. So I cannot compare, but then again, no matter how I look like, I am not a “big eater”…

Anna: New things I tried were miso potatoes and buta miso don. Both worth it.

Lya: SNACKS FTW. My favorite was wild boar skewers (๑•̀ㅂ•́)و✧

Meg: Maryssa and I had a butadon and it was really good. The homemade gelato was awesome too!

Maryssa: The food was great. The butadon was so delicious.

Kyejin: Miso butadon (the one on the right side in the picture) was so gooood! The one on the left side is hiroshima okonomiyaki and it was good too : ) Anna and I shared these two dishes and we were very satisfied! And we had late dinner after hiking at the Mexican restaurant where Maryssa introduced and it was great too. Everything was perfect on that day : D

5. Will you recommend this mountain to others? Score from 1 (No) to level 5 (Absolutely).

Laura: level 4. If people go during the time either the sakura trees or the gardens have lots of flowers, the park is very pretty. Otherwise, I think it is too far away and there are no trails around there to venture into the forest or mountains nearby. But the station and town are pretty and the people friendly so it is a nice place to hang out.

Stan: I can recommend both places with 5. I am not sure if Chichibu is worth 5 out of the sakura/pink moss blooming season, but in this case yes.

Anna: Yes! It wasn’t crowded at all and it was beautiful. The second location we went to also looked like a perfect place to have a barbecue.

Lya: 5! Absolutely, it was gorgeous!

Meg: 5. It’s just so beautiful and food is good too! : D

Maryssa: 5 Would definitely recommend. The scenery was stunning, food was delicious, and staff were nice.

Kyejin: Of course. It’s now my secret(?) place for hanami!

6. Any comment?

Stan: Thanks for the great trip, socializing was also outstanding, I personally need more stuff like this, it made me switch off, even though I was working occasionally.

Anna: Looking forward to the next hiking with everyone. There are always nice sceneries around no matter the season.

Lya: A really fun and pretty day (≧▽≦) Special mention for Sushi Go!

Meg: Big thanks to the company! : D

Maryssa: I would call it more of a walking tour than a hike, but it was gorgeous and a nice place people could spend the whole day having a picnic at.

Kyejin: Yes, big big big thanks to the company! : D It was really fun and I can’t wait for our next hiking already. Let’s hike, people!

~ Anna, Lya, Meg, Laura, Maryssa, Stan, Kyejin

P.S. The 3rd Sunday of the month is the Hiking Day so the next hiking will be on May 19th! Please join this fun hiking, dear ILL people : D