Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Mitaki Temple

A useful Japanese proverb to throw around

Nou aru taka wa tsume o kakusu
"A true hawk hides its talons"

If you're seeking another option to view the cherry blossoms or fall foliage in the Hiroshima area, there is a nice Buddhist temple easily accessible from the city. Mitaki is a very rich area, complete with Pagoda, waterfalls, Buddha statues, and a nice mountain climb if you're in the mood. I've been told it's a common field trip for Hiroshima city schools.

The path is well marked as you get closer to the temple

From Hiroshima or Yokogawa Station, take the Kabe Line to Mitaki Station. There should be a map at the entrance to the loading platform. You'll find the path a few minutes walk to the left.

Mitaki Website
GetHiroshima details

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Peak of the Season

Himejijo (姫路城)

Himeji was quite an experience in itself. To those who have been following my blog regularly, you've probably noticed that I tended to travel in western Japan. Why is that? Everyone travels in the Kansai region. Everyone. And in this time period, at the height of the cherry blossom season, it's safe to say Japan probably had its greatest influx of tourists. I wanted to see and do things off the beaten path. Not too many people know about the onsens of Beppu, the pilgrimage in Shikoku, or the chicken at Irori Sanzoku.

In any case, I kept an open mind on my journey to Himeji. Despite encountering more tourists in one day than I had seen since my arrival, and speaking English more often than Japanese, it was still a rather pleasant experience.

Himeji Castle remains one of the greatest cultural heritage sites in Japan. Take one look at the castle and the surrounding area and it's clear why. No other castle comes close to the preservation and design we see in Himeji. It's one of the few castles that wasn't completely burned to the ground.

I was lucky I happened to arrive so early - by the time I entered the castle and began my ascent to the top floor, it was already jam-packed with people waiting in line. The crowds on the grounds facing the castle were equally as large, with hanami parties everywhere.

Take the Sanyo Shinkansen to Himeji Station. It should be a stop for all Kodama, all Hikari, and most Nozomi trains. About thirty minutes from Osaka, about an hour from Hiroshima.

Once you arrive at Himeji Station, walk due north for about 15 minutes. The castle is easy to spot, and chances are most foot traffic is headed that direction anyway.

Official Himeji Website

Yoshinoyama (吉野山)

Yoshinoyama was a little bit of a letdown. At its height, it's quite clear that this is the place to be for cherry blossoms. Unfortunately, they must have peaked a few days prior to my appearance; some of the leaves were already browning.

Nevertheless, people were everywhere to witness the spectacular blooming. On the train over to Yoshino Station, I encountered a man looking nearly as confused as I was, observing each station we were passing to make sure we were on the right line. I struck up a conversation and it was immediately obvious that half the people in this car were headed for the mountain; it was his first visit as well.

Some advice about Yoshinoyama - during cherry blossom season, they should offer a few buses in addition to the ropeway to ascend the mountain. Take the bus if you're not walking; the ropeway still drops you off far below the main viewing areas, while the bus places you in a prime position to climb or descend. Same price - ¥350.

In addition, buy sakura food. Sakura salted pedals for tea. Blocks of jelly. Sakura soft cream (delicious). Don't know what you're looking for?


There are plenty of restaurants on the mountain, and there should be food stalls during the spring. This is my kind of place for cherry blossom viewing - there plenty of hanami, sure, but it's also a great place to be adventurous and explore the surrounding area. The mountain is pretty spread out.

Take the Kintetsu line to Yoshinoguchi and switch trains to Yoshino.

Maruyama Koen, Kyoto (円山公園)

I didn't spend too much time in Kyoto. Why? It was packed, for one. Second, I came to see a sight at the best of the best times. The temples and museums will always be there in the summer.

Gion is well known for its Geisha and Meiko population, but at the height of the cherry blossoms season, most of the attention is turned to Maruyama Park in the east. This park features one of the best and largest shidarezakura (しだれざくら) in Kyoto. It also happens to be lit up at night for the best viewing. Hanami parties are frequent, and the city offers an outdoor yakiniku restaurant in sight of the tree.

Access - from the front of Kyoto Station, go to platform D2 and take the #206 bus to Gion stop. It's about a 20 minute drive. Walk East for just a few minutes and you'll find the park.

More pictures of the cherry blossoms

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Cramming in Sakura

A lot of my travels in Kyushu have been sleepless sightseeing; catching the last train to Hakata, enjoying the nightlife and late night ramen, and going on the first limited express to the destination of my choice. I must be out of my mind, considering the toll it takes on my body every single time.

My record for staying awake stands at about 60 hours after I pulled two all-nighters during the last week of classes in college; my record for sleeping is 26 hours, following that nightmare. The only reason I'm able to survive in places like Beppu is I enter the onsen, and a state of deep relaxation. It's almost enough to forget REM sleep.

Nevertheless, I will be attempting another insane adventure this weekend while the cherry blossoms are still alive and well; this time, I will be well-rested, and prepared to go the distance. Cramming in as much sakura as possible, seeing the people, absorbing the sights, and feeling as content as I possibly can. Let the games begin.

Himejijo (姫路城)


Himeji is without a doubt the most well-preserved castle in Japan, the most visited, and the most impressive. Unlike many of the other castles you see in Japan which are complete recreations, Himeji stands intact with only minor restorations.

Over one thousand cherry blossom trees surround the castle and its grounds, making this a must-see place during the sakura season.

Access - along the Sanyo local and Shinkansen lines, Himeji Station.

Himeji website

Koyasan (高野山)

Koyasan, south of Osaka and east of Wakayama, is not particularly well-known for its cherry blossoms, but rather its rhododendron. Nevertheless, I will be visiting this famous city with its Buddhist temples as required by the "code" of the 88 temple pilgrimage.

I've been told this is an excellent place to stay in a traditional temple and join the monks for meals and morning prayers. However, this can be rather costly; I'm afraid I'll have to settle for the youth hostel.

Fortunately, April 8th happens to be the Buddha's birthday, so there will be an eventful ceremony that day.

Access - from Shinosaka, take the Midosuji subway line to Namba station. Walk to the JR Namba station and it's a direct train on the Nankai-Dentetsu line. About two hours from Osaka.

Koyasan Youth Hostel
Koyasan website
Japan-Guide information
Koyasan Tourist Organization

Yoshinoyama (吉野山)

Widely considered to be the most popular and famous place for cherry blossom viewing in Japan, Yoshinoyama lies just outside the ancient capital of Nara along an accessible rail line. 30,000 trees? - I'll say no more.

Access - check Hyperdia for this one; you could be coming from all directions.

Yoshinoyama, Japan-Guide

Maruyama Koen, Kyoto (円山公園)

Perhaps the second most famous spot for hanami in all of Japan, and certainly the most popular in Kyoto. This park just east of the city is jam-packed with partygoers once the sakura start blooming. It's just as eventful and exciting as any Japanese matsuri.

The real attention-grabber is the shidarezakura, the "weeping cherry blossom tree". It's lit up at night for the best viewing.

Access - from Kyoto station, take the #206 bus to Gion stop. Follow the smell of alcohol, or just walk in the same direction as everyone else.

Uncertain where to go? Certain that you're not as crazy as me? Check out some of the more popular cherry blossom viewing spots.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The First Glimpses

I went to parts of Kyushu and western Honshu this weekend to enjoy the blossoming of the sakura. Enjoy.


Beppu has a number of places good for hanami, the most centralized being Beppu Park (別府公園) just north of the station. Kannawa has an excellent viewpoint as well.


The most accessible place in Kokura seems to be the River Walk shopping center, adjacent to Kokura-jo (castle).


My favorite place thus far. Iwakuni is always a vibrant place around the Kintaikyo bridge; toss some cherry blossoms into the mix and you get a pretty good crowd of locals, photographers, and foreigners. The path on the northern side is completely lined with sakura for at least three kilometers.

Irori Sanzoku Restaurant, Yamaguchi

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Sakura Glitch

Apparently the Japan Meteorological Agency made an error (誤) in calculating the opening dates for the cherry blossoms. The correct (正) dates should be:

Opening Dates

Shizuoka ~ March 19th
Tokyo ~ March 21st
Matsuyama ~ March 23rd
Kumamoto ~ March 25th
Fukuoka, Hakata ~ March 25th
Takamatsu ~ March 26th
Hiroshima ~ March 31st
Osaka ~ March 31st
Kyoto ~ March 31st
Nara ~ March 31st

Approximate Full Bloom Dates

Shizuoka ~ March 26th
Tokyo ~ March 28th
Matsuyama ~ March 30th
Kumamoto ~ April 1st
Fukuoka, Hakata ~ April 1st
Takamatsu ~ April 2nd
Hiroshima ~ April 7th
Osaka ~ April 7th
Kyoto ~ April 7th
Nara ~ April 7th


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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Cherry Blossom Season 2007

UPDATE: the Japan Meteorological Agency made a mistake. Look here for the correct prediction dates.

And the results are in...

Direct from the Japan Meteorological Agency, the sakura (cherry blossom) season in Japan will be as follows:

Tokyo ~ March 18th
Northern Shikoku ~ March 20th
Nagoya ~ March 20th
Hakata, Fukuoka ~ March 20th
Central Kyushu ~ March 25th
Hiroshima ~ March 25th
Osaka ~ March 25th
Kyoto, Nara ~ March 28th
Western Honshu ~ March 31st
Northern Japan ~ April 5th

Please note that I believe these are the dates for the blossoming period, not the full bloom - for the most spectacular cherry blossom sights, visit them one week after these dates.

Best viewing times

Tokyo ~ March 25th
Northern Shikoku ~ March 27th
Nagoya ~ March 27th
Hakata, Fukuoka ~ March 27th
Central Kyushu ~ April 1st
Hiroshima ~ April 1st
Osaka ~ April 1st
Kyoto, Nara ~ April 4th
Western Honshu ~ April 7th
Northern Japan ~ April 12th


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Monday, February 26, 2007

Cherry Blossoms in Beppu (別府)

If you're looking for cherry blossoms (桜) in Japan, look no further than Beppu (別府) in Oita Prefecture, Kyushu. Apparently the rumors surrounding an early blooming season were found to be true. But February 25th? Three weeks early? It's a crazy world.

Be sure to look around Beppu Park (picture) and the Kannawa area. Not all are in full bloom, but it shouldn't be long.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Early Bloom

After considering just how the warm winter would affect the arrival of cherry blossoms in Japan, it's looking like an early season this year; about a week earlier than average.

Expected full bloom times

Nagasaki, March 18th
Tokyo, March 19th
Osaka, March 22nd


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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Planning Hanami?

Hanami (花見), or flower viewing party, is the Japanese tradition of viewing the cherry blossoms, the unofficial national flower of Japan.

Jury out on when cherry blossoms will bloom

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Although it may be thought that the unusually warm winter could cause cherry blossoms to bloom earlier than usual, the flowers actually require the chill of winter if they are to bloom properly.

Although the Meteorological Agency will issue forecasts on March 7 for the flowering, experts have said cherry blossoms will appear later than usual in several regions.

After the flowers have fallen, new buds are formed by summer, but remain inactive.

During the cold winter months, the buds are exposed to low temperatures of about 5 C, which stirs them from their dormant state. This phenomenon is called dormancy breaking.

Once the temperature rises after February, the buds begin to grow and come into bloom.

The chill of winter followed by a rise in temperature in early spring are the ideal conditions for the flowers.

Last year's cold temperatures and snow were sufficient to rouse the buds from slumber. And, as the weather became warmer in early spring, the blooming process was accelerated.

Last spring, the flowering dates were March 21 in Tokyo, March 23 in Fukuoka, and March 28 in Osaka--all earlier than usual.

Average dates are March 26, 28 and 30, for Fukuoka, central Tokyo and Osaka, respectively.

Flowers appeared early in most cities in the Kanto region and to the west.

Meanwhile, temperatures around the country were high in December, a trend that has continued to date.

Snow has not been seen in central Tokyo, where the average January temperature was 7.6 C. The average January temperature in Osaka was 7.5 C. Some places recorded a 2 C increase above average.

Yasuyuki Aono, assistant professor of agricultural meteorology at Osaka Prefecture University, said: "Flowering could occur later than usual in the southern part of the country due to the unusually warm winter weather. In Kyushu, the cherry blossom front might come down from Fukuoka to Kagoshima, contrary to average years."

Meanwhile, the Japan Weather Association issued its forecasts for cherry blossom-flowering ahead of other companies and organizations on Jan. 29.

According to the forecasts, flowers will appear between March 22 to 25 in central Tokyo, between March 24 to 27 in Osaka, and between March 20 to 23 in Fukuoka. These predictions are earlier than average years, as the forecasts take into account the strong winter chills of late December.

The association predicted average dates for the Tohoku and southern Kyushu regions.

Weathernews Inc., a weather information company, has not made its forecasts yet.

"Opinions differ within the company-- some say the blooms will appear earlier than average, and others say they'll be delayed in certain parts. We haven't reached any conclusions on the effects of the warm winter," a company spokesman said.

The company will issue its forecasts within the week, taking last-minute weather changes into account.

The Meteorological Agency will calculate likely flowering dates after receiving temperature data by Tuesday and issue its first forecasts on March 7.

The agency said, "Flowering might be delayed in regions in which it hasn't been cold enough to stir the cherry buds."

In Ina, Nagano Prefecture--a popular cherry blossom-viewing spot, those involved in the tourist industry are worried about the forecasts. A spokesman at the city's Takatomachi tourist association, where an annual cherry blossom festival is held, said: "We still don't know what effect the warm winter will have on the cherry blossom. We might have to change the date of the festival."

(Feb. 20, 2007)


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