So what do Japanese go look at after cherry blossoms, once the weather actually gets nice? My house told me—an azalea bush (tsutsuji) near the driveway burst into miniature pink blossoms this week. Kawaii! Last year at this time I was back in Texas as my sis planned for her and Justin’s Big Day, so everything blooming around me is a surprise.And this weekend was the trifecta of perfection. May 1 brought the first weekend all year where we didn’t need the heaters; we had warm, sunny weather and only needed a sweater or light jacket, even in the evening. Goodbye, winter coats! It’s the weekend of Japanese Golden Week, the national holiday that was set this week because it’s most likely to have beautiful weather. And of course, Chris and I are actually both in Japan together! A great start. So despite the fact that we were both battling head colds and my voice was squeaky with laryngitis we hopped on the train to check out Tokyo’s Nezu Jinja Shrine (a five-minute walk from Nezu Station on the green Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line; sometimes the shrine is called Nedujinja). I have always valued personal space and privacy. Isn’t a forest hike or sandy beach best experienced alone with whoever you’re with instead of vying for footholds or towel space? That was a big concern moving to Japan. Would I feel claustrophobic all the time? No. Crowds are mostly orderly, even when the country’s entire population is in movement on the same day. I did not expect these kinds of crowds at a shrine I’d never heard of before I researched azalea-viewing, but that’s Golden Week for you. And there’s something to be said for the communal appreciation of the first warm weekend and a garden of fellow admiring viewers. Everyone is in a good mood. Nezu Jinja is also known for its plum blossoms (February) and wisteria (soon, but I didn’t see any). The 300-year-old garden boasts more than 3,000 azalea bushes alone! The main hall, wall and gates—built by Japan’s 5th Shogun, Tsunayoshi Tokugawa in 1705—survived World War II intact and are now designated important cultural properties. The following shogun started the Tenka Matsuri festival that still happens every September 21. But the shrine (and current grounds) was established some 1,900 years ago! I love these long, red torii gate paths. At first I leaned against one for a photo. It wobbled precariously. Oops. Of course, since it’s the Saturday of Golden Week the entire backside of the shrine was filled to bursting with carnival games and vendors selling junk or food. Lots of junk; lots of food. Junk included: shoes, good luck waving kitties, chopsticks, jewelry, scarves and enormous underpants bigger than any Japanese lady I’ve seen yet. Are they sumo wrestler panties?? Food included the usual: yakisoba, octopus, chopped up octopus-bits fried into balls, chocolate covered bananas with sprinkles, a mass of veggies fried into a half-moon, grilled chicken, etc. We shared a plastic container (held shut with a rubber band) of yakisoba (noodles fried with soy sauce). We have gotten a little too used to being Japanese tourists. That means packing our schedules full with sight after sight and seeing everything. That is how I approached San Diego, I realized halfway through my visit there. Why hadn’t I read all the books I brought? Oh right, because I was out being a go-go-go Japanese tourist the whole time! But Saturday neither of us was up to full speed, which worked well for us, I think, especially for flower-viewing. We stopped more. We sat on the side of the temple. We strolled the garden with the masses. We sat in the tea garden and sipped steaming barley tea and the other beverage that came with it—something sort of thick, sweetish with lots of floating mochi bits or something. Warm, soft dumplings full of sweet red bean paste rounded off our tea time. The elderly couple sitting next to us on the bench in front of the pond offered us some of their dumplings before they saw we had some also. We all laughed at the turtles stretching their wrinkled legs, sunning themselves, and at the koi racing around the pond in a straight line of six. It’s been awhile since it felt so good to be outside in Japan!