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Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

Sendai Tanabata

A few years back, I went on a trip to Sendai for the Tanabata Festival. At that time, I was only interested because of the colorful decorations that I heard were so famous. I badgered a Japanese friend to accompany me, and she was so nice she’d even explained everything I thought there was to know about the festival.

The Legend of Tanabata goes something like this…

Ages ago, in the time of the gods and stars and space, there lived the Sky god. He was called Tenkou. Tenkou had a knock-out of a daughter, named Orihime. Orihime was a career weaver. Her line was goddess kimonos. She was too much into her fashion that her dad soon worried about her. So he fixed her up with this guy, Hikoboshi, who lived on the other side of the Amanogawa. Hikoboshi was a workaholic cattle herder himself, and Tenkou thought they’d totally hit it off. And they did.

Orihime and Hikoboshi fell in love and spent each waking hour together. Orihime forgot about her weaving and Hikoboshi let the cows wander. This angered Tenkou so he banished Hikoboshi and forbade the couple from ever meeting again. Orihime went into deep depression and cried all day and all night. Her dad again got all worried and said yeah, maybe they could again see each other. But this time there was a condition: they could only meet on the 7th day of the 7th month of each year.

The thing was, the Amanogawa was difficult to cross, and the only way they could was if magpies helped them cross it. Magpies don’t come out though if it rains. So many Japanese people hope that it doesn’t rain on Tanabata night, else, the star lovers don’t meet again for a whole year.

Since being to Sendai, I’ve been religiously wishing for the rains to stop on Tanabata night. The stars Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair) just have to meet, they just have to. So join me in wishing the skies will be clear tomorrow night…

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Azaleas at dusk

The next week is going to be quite busy (as the past two have been…), so I’m afraid my non-writing streak will continue for a while longer. I apologize, but it is the Golden Week and I hope at the end of it I will be equipped with stories to share and pictures to show.

While there are no particular events or festivals to witness this holiday season, there are tons of places to visit, and things to do in and around Japan. Hiking season is again on and there are flower parks in full bloom. Check out the temples or parks with Wisterias, Peonies, Azaleas and Roses.  I wish everyone a very happy Golden Week!

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I just went to see the grandmommy of shidare-zakuras… it was literally the grandmother of a 150-year-old weeping cherry blossom tree in Fukushima and the parent of another several hundred-year-old cherry tree in the same area. The Takizakura of Miharu is about 1000 years old. According to our tour guide, the hollow trunk of the tree makes it difficult to determine its exact age.

The Takizakura was in half-bloom when we visited. But it made it no less grand. Upon first sight, a sense of humbleness fills you. Incomparable to any other tree I’ve seen so far, it stood in the middle of a sloping hill. As we picnicked on the opposite hill, we couldn’t but admire its grandeur as a cherry blossom tree.

There were a hundred or so people visiting. I’m sure come the weekend, the place will be packed as the best viewing time is on the 19th and 20th of April.

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The Hanami Season is not over yet! For those die-hard cherry blossom fans like me, Tohoku is the place to visit in the coming weeks. I’ve been longingly looking at a poster on my station’s wall featuring the places in the Tohoku and Yamanashi-Nagano area that will be in bloom from the middle of April to the beginning of May, and I couldn’t help but wish that the cherry blossoms lasted longer, and that I had enough time to see all these places. But as it turns out, I can only see a few places a year.

This year, I will be visiting Miharu in Fukushima to see the Takizakura. Other places on the poster were:

Koushinetsu (甲信越, Yamanashi, Nagano and Niigata)

Shinden no Ooitozakura in Yamanashi (mid- to late April)

Takatoo Castle Ruins in Nagano (early to mid-April)

Matsumoto Castle in Nagano (early to mid- April)

Yahiko Shrine in Niigata (early to late April)

Takada Castle in Niigata (early to mid-April), famous for its night lights

Southern Tohoku (南東北, Yamagata, Miyagi and Fukushima)

Okitama Sakura-Kairou in Yamagata (mid- to late April)

Yonezawa in Yamagata (late April to early May)

Hitome Senbon Zakura in Miyagi (mid- to late April)

Hanamiyama Park in Fukushima (early to late April)

Miharu in Fukushima (mid- to late April)

Aizu-Wakamatsu Tsuruga Castle in Fukushima (mid- to late April)

Northern Tohoku (北東北, Aomori, Akita and Iwate)

Hirosaki Park in Aomori (late April to early May)

Kanagi and Ashino Park in Aomori (late April to early May)

Kakunodate in Akita (late April to early May)

Chiaki Park in Akita (mid- to late April)

Kitakami Tenshochi Park in Iwate (mid- to late April)

Koiwai Farm in Iwate (late April to early May)

Tune in again for more information on flower parks and spring events!

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One of my favorite destinations in Tokyo for the Cherry Blossoms is Chidorigafuchi. I know I have a lot of favorites, but if I had to choose between Ueno Park, Sumida Park, Yoyogi Park, etc. etc. I’d choose to go to Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park. While most parks allow viewers to bring their mats and party under the blossoms, Chidorigafuchi doesn’t allow picnics and only viewing is what people go there for, which is ideal for amateur photography buffs like me…

Chidorigafuchi is the North-Eastern moat of the Imperial Palace. Hanami can be done from the moat on a rowboat. I’m sure a night boat ride would be really romantic but I was there in the late afternoon until early evening, however, and rowing out into the dark waters just gave me chills…

The Chiyoda Tourist Association (I’m not sure what it’s called) did a good job of coordinating the cherry blossom viewing and subsequent night lights. The place was clean and while it was crowded, the crowds were orderly. I got there quite early though, and I was able to get photos before the crowds came. It was crazy on my way back though… the line went all the way up to Kudanshita Station.

After Chidorigafuchi, I headed to Yasukuni Shrine, where there were dozens of food stands offering different kinds of festival food: Yakitori, Okonomiyaki, Jaga-bata, Yakisoba, Oden, Shioyaki Ayu, Crepes, and other really tasty-looking goodies.

There was a Noh play in Yasukuni, which I want to see some other time. The drum rolls and flutes (I think…) could be heard outside, though. For those interested, the lights are still going to be on this weekend.

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Higashiyama in Kyoto is another favorite destination of mine… The first time I visited it was autumn, and it was beautiful but visiting the next spring was even more memorable. Everything was just so fresh. The doors of the Chion-in were open, and I felt like it was a sign of spring.

Higashiyama is in Eastern Kyoto and many of the most popular temples, shrines and parks are located there: Gion, Yasaka Shrine, Kiyomizudera, Chion-in, Tofukuji, Kenninji, and Kodaiji. The Sakura Tree in Maruyama Park is something people from all over go there to see.

A lot of tea houses and shops are also scattered all over Higashiyama. And there are small winding roads that lead up from Kiyomizudera that are lined with cherry blossom trees.

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Philosopher’s Path, known in Japanese as Tetsugaku no Michi (哲学の道), is one of the best places to view Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto. The path connects Kyoto’s Silver Pavillion, otherwise known as Ginkakuji (銀閣寺), with Nanzenji (南禅寺). It is so named for the philosopher Nishida Kitaro, who walked there everyday. It is a three-hour walk.

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For those looking to enjoy Yozakura (夜桜, lit-up cherry blossoms), there are literally dozens of places to visit in the next two weeks. Below are some of the more popular ones in the Kanto Area.

Chidorigafuchi, Kitanomaru Park and Yasukuni Shrine

Chidorigafuchi is the North Eastern moat of the Imperial Palace. Together with Kitanomaru Park, it is one of the most popular hanami spots in Tokyo. If you go during the day, you can enjoy viewing the cherry blossoms from boats available for rent. The lights are on from 6:30 to 10:00 p.m. A Yozakura Noh will be held from April 2 to 4 at Yasukuni Shrine. The closest station is the subway Kudanshita Station.

Sumida Park and Sumida River

Cherry blossoms line both sides of Sumida River, which is best viewed from cruise boats. Nighttime trips will be made from March 31st to April 6th. The boats depart Asakusa from around 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. The 45-minute cruise costs ¥1200, reservations may be required. The park is a few steps from Asakusa Station.

Ueno Park

Ueno Park is one of the noisiest and most crowded hanami spots. The park boasts of 1,300 cherry trees. Lights will be turned on in the early evening.

Tokyo Tower, Ark Hills and Roponggi Hills

Around the Roponggi Area, the lit-up cherry blossoms can be viewed with Tokyo Tower in the background. There will be a Sakura Tunnel from the Sakura-saka to the Spain-saka in Ark Hills.

Rikugien

The Shidare-zakura of Rikugien is one of the most spectacular around the Tokyo area, especially when lit up. Yozakura is from March 20 to 30. The park is located about 5 minutes from Kamagome Station on the Namboku Line.

Hamarikyu Gardens

Hamarikyu Gardens is located along the Sumida River. The Suijo-bus from Asakusa ports at the garden gates. It is also 7 minutes away from Shiodome Station. Yoshino-sakura will be lit up from April 3 to 6, while Yae-zakura will be lit up from April 12 to 20.

Photos via: Let’s Enjoy Tokyo, Tokyo Parks, Date Navi , Sozai-Free

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Yesterday, I took a walk and saw that the Cherry Blossom Trees near my house were turning pink! A few flowers were blooming. It just made me really happy. It looks like this weekend will be great for a Hanami party!

Sakura with two unsuspecting salarymen

Check out the Live Webcams on Live Japan for more images of Sakura Blooming!

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Nagatoro is located in Northern Saitama, a very remote tourist destination on the quaint Chichibu Line. I headed there with some friends to see the last of the Plum Blossoms. We originally meant to take the Steam Locomotive train, the Paleo Express, but since the train only opened a few days ago for the new season, we were worried we wouldn’t get any tickets, so we opted to go by car instead.

Nagatoro is known for its metamorphic rocks and the prehistoric fossils of the Paleoparadoxia Tabadai. The metamorphic rocks, that are often called “tatami stones” by the locals, and the Nagatoro Red Wall are best viewed when riding one of the yakata-bune, the river boats. The river boats are steered by local boat men using long sticks, that they use to push on the river bed to set the boat sailing. Riding on the river boat was both exciting and terrifying.

At Hodo-san Shrine, they hold a Fire Festival on the first Sunday of March. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to witness the event, but it looked like an interesting festival. Up on Mt. Hodo, a view of the Chichibu Basin among the Plum Blossoms can be enjoyed. The summit is often visited during the last half of February and the first half of March. A yellow plum blossom variety called Robai surrounds the more popular pink and white blossoms. Visitors to the mountain can hike up or take the 5-minute ropeway car.

Fossils of the Paleoparadoxia Tabadai are on display at the Saitama Prefectural Museum of Natural History. The Paleparadoxia Tabadai is one of the few known marine mammals that lived 15 million years ago.

Nagatoro offers some of the best handmade Soba and Udon noodles in the area. Along with the noodles, we enjoyed mountain vegetable tempura, which I highly recommend.

Nagatoro is also famous for its Cherry Blossoms, which will be in bloom late March to early April.

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