Kansai Delights

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One of the side-streets from Kiyomizu-Zaka street which leads to the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto

I checked the ‘Sakura-zensen’ Sakura Blossom Forecast through the web and though it was not expected to be 100% accurate, it served as a gauge for planning my trip to Osaka and Kyoto. We arrived 3 days after the forecasted date and found the trees at Osaka Castle just budding. So we took a chance and made our way to Kyoto hoping for better luck with Sakura viewing.

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Kiyomizu Buddhist Temple in Kyoto with the balcony surrounded by Sakura trees

The trees were also budding at the Kiyomizudera but have not bloomed gloriously as the skies have been overcast and we experienced some drizzling and heavy rain one afternoon.

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Budding young ones

There are over 100 varieties of cherry trees which are cultivated for ornamental uses and they do not produce fruit. Edible cherries usually come from related species Prunus avium and Prunus cerasus.

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Kiyomizu Temple grounds

We found this picturesque spot at Kiyomizudera which is really a sprawling Buddhist temple complex with many annexes and it was an enjoyable amble.

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Gigantic Weeping Cherry Tree in Maruyama Park

It was a cold night but Maureen and I decided to make a dash to Kyoto’s favourite hangout for sakura viewing to see this centrepiece which is one gigantic and old ‘Shidarezakura’~ weeping cherry tree that is lit up at night.

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One of the more common Cherry tree variety, Somei Yoshino at Kyoto’s main Yozakura venue, Maruyama Koen

‘Yozakura’ which means night blossom, is one aspect of Japan’s ancient cherry blossom viewing tradition.

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Night time reverie at Maruyama Park

Viewing the sakuras bathed in dim light had an ethereal and mystical effect and I liked the ambience except for the cold that was becoming unbearable by the minute and we hastened our footsteps.

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One moon lit night in Kyoto

Even at night, the cherry trees continue to charm us under the moon and lanterns as the petals subtly reflect the gentle light.

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Heian Jingu

Heian Shrine was built in 1895 on the 1100th anniversary of the capital’s foundation in Kyoto and it is a partial replica of the original imperial palace from the Heian period. Kyoto was formerly known as Heian. There is a large number of Yaebeni Shidare ~ weeping cherry trees within the Shrine’s park but they usually bloom a few days later than the other cherry trees, so we missed the splendour.

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Blossoming Somei Yoshino cherry tree

Sakura blossoms typically last for about a week, which is why Hanami is a tricky thing for tourists who have to time it right to catch it.

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Sakura Season Dance Competition

We were captivated by groups of young people from the different universities in the Kansai region who have come to compete in this Sakura Dance competition. The loud pulsating music, energetic moves and formation coupled with their enthusiastic chant extolling the beauty of Sakuras reverberated at the fairgrounds. I now experience another aspect of Hanami in welcoming the lovely Spring and blossoming Sakuras.

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Food Stalls and Bazaar at the vicinity of Heian Shrine

As the weather was kind of chilly, we got hungry quickly and it was great to have ‘Okonomiyaki’ ~ veggie pancakes and piping hot Udon under a Sakura tree to stave off hunger pangs and at the same time keep warm.

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Okazaki Canal near Heian Shrine, is lined by many cherry trees

Okazaki Canal is part of a canal network that connects Kamo River with Lake Biwa. During Hanami season, popular boat tours are conducted for those who wish to admire the beautiful trees along the canal more closely. It is really a visual delight!

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Pink Shidarezakura (Weeping Cherry) tree

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On the grounds of Osaka Castle

‘Hanami’ which literally means viewing flowers has become a Japanese institution that is held all over the country during Springtime which is synonymous with Cherry blossom viewing. There is also an abundance of pretty flowers in Spring and some others like ‘Ume’ Plum, Camellias and the sweet-smelling Magnolias are commonly seen.

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The whole Sakura tree is ablaze with flowers.

The origins of Hanami apparently dated back to more than a thousand years ago, when aristocrats would enjoy viewing the beautiful cherry blossoms that inspired them to write poems.

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It’s Sunday and the Osakans are out to play.

The sun is out and with the cold breezes blowing, the delicate sakuras welcome the spring with open petals.

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An unusual darker shade of Pink

There is a popular folksong titled, ‘Sakura’ and several other pop songs, as well as many commercial items like kimono, stationery and even dishware which feature the cherry blossom which the Japanese have come to love and embrace over the centuries.

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Somei Yoshino Sakura

The transience, extreme beauty and quick death of the sakura has long been seen as a metaphor for mortality and for this reason it is richly symbolic and is often used in Japanese art, manga anime, film and musical performances of ambient effect and even on their 100yen coins.

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Under a canopy of Sakuras

In modern times, Hanami is when the people in Japan have fun viewing sakuras and merrymaking. It traverses the different generations who come out in full force with home-cooked meals, bought take-outs and even BBQ’s for a fantastic picnic under the trees.

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Amazing Sakura blooming from the tree trunk

These flowers managed to sprout into existence out of the dry and harden bark; to me it seems like a picture of the resilience of mankind who eke out a living in spite of the challenging conditions or circumstances.

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Prunus yedoensis ~ Somei Yoshino Cherry tree

Sakuras begin blossoming in Okinawa in January and gradually move northwards to Kyoto and Tokyo at the end of March or beginning of April and finally reaching Hokkaido by May.

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Osaka Castle’s main tower

One of Japan’s most famous castles, it played a significant role in the unification of the country during the Azuchi-Momoyama period in the 16th century. Over 4000 cherry trees are planted all over the spacious grounds of Osaka Castle and a good spot to picnic at is at Nishinomaru Park located at the western citadel where wide lawns and the castle tower lit in the night is in full view.

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Osaka Castle Moat 1 week before

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Sakura trees blooming en masse around Osaka Castle Moat

It was a good trip and we were duly rewarded and greeted by generous showers of beautiful Sakuras all over Kyoto and Osaka. I had promised Maureen that she would see them and I was glad I did not break my promise.

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