Pink Ridge. You can see my home, Yuge Island, in the upper right-hand corner. In front of it is Ikina Island.
Spring has come to my little corner of Japan! And in Japan, spring time means only one thing…SAKURA! Sakura is the Japanese word for cherry blossoms. Sakura are a national symbol of Japan, and Japanese people are not short of obsessed with the flowers. Every night the national news reports on the sakura developments throughout the country, and every weather forecast is transformed into a sakura tracker to update the public as the sakura zensen (cherry blossom front) moves northward up the archipelago.
Sakura are so sacred in the Japanese culture because they are only in bloom for about two weeks every year, so they are a symbol of the transient nature of life. Every year during the sakura season several pop music singers come out with sakura-themed songs, traditional Japanese dance and music performances are held in honor of the sakura, and everyone goes to a popular hanami spot to get their fill of the real thing. Hanami is an event that takes place every year all over Japan during the short two weeks of the sakura life. Hanami is when people go to a good sakura-viewing spot and eat, drink, and socialize with friends and family under the
hanami in the park at the base of sekizensan
sukura. Hanami is such a popular activity in Japan that people have to strategically plan when to go and reserve a spot under the sakura in the early hours of the morning if they don’t want to be trampled by the stampede of hanami-goers. At popular sakura spots, thousands of people come to take part in hanami.
Last year I was in Malaysia and Thailand for the exact two weeks of the sakura season, so I didn’t get to participate in any hanami events. So, this year I wanted to make sure I got my fill of sakura. The island of Iwagi, one of the five inhabited islands included in the town in which I live, has a sakura matsuri (cherry blossom festival) every year. The island is basically one tall mountain, sekizensan, which actually happens to be the tallest mountain in the Inland Sea. From the top of sekizensan a beautiful 360 degree view of the Inland Sea and all the islands in the shimanamikaido (island chain route) can be seen. What’s more is that the entire mountain top and the whole path leading up the mountain are covered with three thousand sakura trees. This isn’t really anything
special during the rest of the year, but for those two weeks, it looks like a mountain of cotton candy!
So, I went to the sakura matsuri at the beginning of April and ate under the sakura at the base of the mountain and went to the top of the mountain along with the crowds of people. The sakura at the base of the mountain were in full bloom, but because of the altitude, the sakura at the mountain’s summit were just barely starting to bloom. So, I decided to go again the next weekend and do my own hanami with the flowers in full bloom and without the crowds of people.
The next weekend I took the first ferry out of Yuge at 6:45am and climbed up the mountain all by myself. I was climbing the mountain by 7:30 in the morning, and half way up I ran into a farmer that said I was the first person to climb it that day. Sekizensan takes about an hour to climb and the whole way is lined with sakura. A light breeze was blowing that day making the sakura petals fly through the air like pink snowflakes. The
crowds enjoying the flowers at the base of sekizensan during the sakura matsuri
fallen petals were so thick on the ground below that you could just scoop them up and fill your hand. It was absolutely lovely and I just couldn’t stop taking pictures! I tried to capture the beautiful effect made by the breeze blowing the sakura petals through the air, but unfortunately my photography skills didn’t cut it.
When I reached the top of the mountain I was pleased to see that the sakura were in full bloom there too. I relaxed at the summit for about an hour, enjoying the sweet perfume the sakura emits and taking in the views of the Inland Sea with my home of Yuge Island to the northeast. Just as I started to head back down the mountain, several hanami-goers and a string of cars started coming up. Perfect timing!
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