Published: April 17th 2011April 12th 2011
On Mt. Bizan in Tokushima
Celebrating hanami seems disrespectful with so many people suffering in the north, and Japanese people are cancelling vacations and parties to show solidarity with the victims. But cherry blossoms, or sakura, have been blooming all over Japan and as the weather slowly infects me with spring fever, it's also hard not to enjoy the season.
I experienced big league hanami in Kyoto two weeks ago, and the picturesque views in traditional gardens and temples left me with no doubt why Kyoto is the famous place to see cherry blossoms. Even just strolling down the street in Gion, the Geisha/Maiko district, is scenic and just pleasant in general. Bridges and canals run alongside sakura-lined streets with little Edo period (16-1800s) buildings that could have walked off the set of Memoirs of a Geisha
We wandered through this part of town on Saturday, enjoying one of the first warm days of the season and watching the local people do the same - walking their dogs, riding bikes and looking at the opening cherry blossoms - and ended the day at Kiyomizu-dera, or "pure water," Shrine. The spectacular nighttime illumination of the towering pagoda and blooming sakura trees is one of the
most powerful images in my mind of the trip.
At this shrine I was blessed in three different ways: first, everyone in the group secured good luck in love by touching one "love stone" and finding the other with our eyes closed; then, by groping blindly through an underground simulation of the womb and running around a giant stone (this sounds cryptic and creepy? It was, a little bit), I was blessed for I don't know what, fertility maybe; and, finally, we drank the pure water that gives the shrine its name, and runs in a kind of waterfall that drinkers stand underneath, catching it in silver cups from below.
The next day, I was lucky enough to have a ten year seasoned resident of Japan as a tour guide. We started at Yasaka Shrine, and worked our way to Ginkakuji, the Silver Pagoda. The first stop was Maruyama Park, home to one of Kyoto's oldest Sakura trees, one with weeping branches. Next was Chion-in Temple, which has the largest original wooden entrance gate in Japan, and Nanzenji Temple, across which a Roman style aqueduct stretches in all its surprising grandeur and un-Japanese-ness.
The Philosopher's Walk, a
Spotted: Almost Maiko
Tourists dressed like maiko, but they still look cool!
sweet little path that philosopher Nishida Kitaro used for meditation, was next. It runs along a canal lined with sakura and tiny specialty shops, perfect for stopping for ice cream or buying a bracelet from a Japanese hippie, all opportunities which I took advantage of. We ended the sightseeing at Ginkakuji, surrounded by sand gardens and blooming flowers.
In honor of our tour guide, who is Hawaiian, we ate dinner at an amazing Hawaiian restaurant, and again I was reminded to savor not only my immersion into Japanese culture while on JET, but also the benefit of meeting other foreigners from all over the world. And now I'm dying to go to Hawaii.
Apart from the wonderfulness of spring, one thing that struck me about this trip was the visible effect of the earthquake on all of Japan. Even at touristy places in general in Japan there aren't many foreigners, which is one of the coolest things about the country, but from what I've heard about Kyoto during hanami this year was exceptionally quiet.
The great thing about hanami is that it happens all over Japan because cherry trees are everywhere. Last week one of my coworkers
(the same one who was responsible for me becoming a cheerleader) took me on a sakura city tour, to her old high school, to a mid-mountain park, and to a country road with sakura creating a tunnel effect.
Then, the Tokushima foreigners had a hanami party in the park in the center of the city. If there's one thing I love, it's a daytime party, so I was in heaven. The park was packed with people lounging under the pink and white trees on tarps, drinking sake and beer and eating lunch. I ride my bike through this park sometimes to get to work, so I've been seeing these celebrations throughout the season, and am thankful every time that the winter has finally thawed into something friendlier.
There are more photos below