Spring Blossoms

“Is pink and red a strange combination,” I wondered.  I’d been getting a lot of stares from people I passed by while finding my way out from the Mizuhokuyakusho subway station.  When I was walking along the Yamazaki River, there was a middle-aged couple walking in the opposite direction. The woman was looking at me. “Why can’t they just focus their gaze on the sakura?” I complained to myself. Her husband had not even walked past me yet when he uttered “おしゃれ です ね.”

It’s already springtime and I missed my bright colored outfits that had been kept in the closet for four months. I was wearing a pink jacket and red palazzo pants with floral print. I didn’t plan my clothes to be in theme with the season. I just felt like it.  In the last week of March, the sakura trees in the city where I live had already blossomed. I had to wait for the weekend to travel to one of the best cherry blossom viewing sites in the nearby prefecture since I still had work.  Traveling by train after office hours would be inconvenient because it’s rush hour and I would probably not have enough time admiring the flowers. It rained most of the week and the only thing in my mind was for the sakura petals to cling to their receptacle.

I was walking a long stretch of the river lined with cherry blossom trees.  The place was teeming with the whiteness of the Somei Yoshino flowers. On a closer look, almost all the trees I saw had the combination of the flowers and leaves already. My heart, which was initially filled with excitement, was disappointed. The presence of the leaves signify one thing — the cherry blossoms were past their prime.

It was my last hanami and I wanted to capture the flowers in their most beautiful state. But nature is unpredictable. You’re the one who’s supposed to adjust if you want something from it. I kept walking onwards, stopping most of the time to get some good shots.

It was probably because of the disappointment I was feeling that my mind wasn’t thinking properly. Even though I was already tired of walking, I still went on. I didn’t give it a thought that I had to walk the same distance to get myself back to the subway station.  The number of people was dwindling as I walked further on the bridge along the Yamazaki River. Most of the people were going opposite my direction.

After quite a while, I noticed something. There was a change in the trees. The leaves were nonexistent.  I realized that the last few meters of the river were lined with cherry blossom trees which were still in their perfect glory. It was an unexpected turn of event but I was happy.

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Weeping Plum Blossoms

I love the different flowers that grow in Japan every spring. They don’t exist in my tropical country. More than that, there’s always a wide area or field where you get to see a bunch of those flowering plants.    To mark the start of the season, ‘ume’ or plum blossom is probably the first type of spring flower that you can see blooming. And for me, it means it’s time to visit a garden or a flower field again. Well, who wouldn’t get excited after the long cold dark winter? For this flower viewing, I opted to see the weeping plum blossoms at the Nagoya Agricultural Center.

To avoid the crowd, I woke up early but not early enough to make it in time for the train schedule I was aiming for. So, I took a taxi to the nearest station in my city which costed me around 1,000 yen. After that, I was off to Hirabari station which was the nearest station to the Nagoya Agricultural Center. From there, you can walk for 18 minutes to the area.  I decided to take the bus. I believed it was the right bus because a bus driver pointed me to that particular bus stop when I inquired. I usually make sure I got my transportation info right, but it’s been a few months since I traveled. My planning skills must have gone rusty. While aboard the bus, I kept checking my distance to the Agricultural through Google map but I seemed to be getting farther.  The walking distance extended to almost an hour.  I decided to get off and rode another bus back to where I came from.  Unfortunately, I took another wrong bus.  I wasted two hours riding multiple wrong buses when I could have just walked to the area for 18 minutes.  I got so frustrated because my encounter as a lost person was not positive. The first person to whom I sought help was not helpful and I didn’t think he was trying to understand him.  The second one was kind and his information led me to a turning point! He pointed me to the bus station where I was supposed to ride. I was thankful that the bus driver was nice.  He even called me out when the bus reached the bus station where I needed to ride another bus. It was exhausting being in the wrong places!

My spirit was already down when I returned to Hirabari Station. But I wanted to try again given that I already traveled far from my place just to see the flowers. So I went to the same bus stop again. But this time there was a station employee guiding local tourists who wanted to see the plum blossoms. I guess I must have arrived way early awhile ago. I found out the first trip to the Center was after 9 am. I arrived some time 8:30. The queue was now long but I patiently waited because I was pretty sure that I’d be getting on the right bus with the other tourists headed to the same place.  The trip took 10 minutes.  There were already a lot of people in the Agricultural Center. Well, it was almost noon. The taxi ride that I took from home just so I could wander around with less crowd was all for nothing. Well, not entirely.  I managed to take a few good pictures. The place was filled with weeping plum blossom trees.  There were families who had set-up their blankets on the ground to have a picnic.  Different food stalls were scattered selling traditional Japanese sweets, fruits and vegetables, and other international food like Tacos and American burgers. Probably my biggest regret in that place was buying lemonade for 400 yen. Quite expensive, don’t you think? Or does lemon cost that much now?

So if ever you get into a situation wherein you’re not sure of the bus you have to take, better go on foot instead if it’s just within reach in a matter of 30 minutes.  You’ll lose more time and money wandering around in the wrong places.

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How To Go There:

The nearest station is Hirabari station. If you are coming from Nagoya, take the Nagoya City Subway Higashiyama Line  for FUJIGAOKA and get off at Fushimi (Aichi).  It takes 3 minutes.  From Fushimi (Aichi) station, ride the Nagoya City Subway Tsurumai Line  for AKAIKE and get off at Hirabari Station. It takes 22 minutes.  The total cost is 300 yen. If you go to the Nagoya Agricultural Center during the plum blossom season, there’s actually a specific schedule that they post at the bus stop. And usually, there’s a station staff near the bus stop to guide the influx of tourists. But if you’re way too early like before 9 am, they may not be there, yet.  The bus stop going to the place is the bus stop farther away, not the one near the station exit. If you decide to walk, it’ll take 18 minutes according to Google Map. Here’s the address: Nagoya Agricultural Center, 平針黒石-2872番地-3 天白町 Tenpaku Ward, Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture 468-0021. Also, make sure to check when the flowers are in bloom. This year, I went in the middle of March and they were just perfect.

Winter at Shirakawago

My eyes drifted away from my phone into the snow-capped scenery overlooking the window.  The tall evergreen trees covered with snow calmed my heart.  It was December but not yet Christmas. I was seated on a bus filled with guilt and contemplation.  Were my actions an hour ago reasonable or was I just plain selfish? From time to time, I would dismiss the negative thoughts and marvel at the beauty of the untouched snow we passed by.

I took a paid leave from work so I could take my friend and his companion to the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site in Gifu — Shirakawago. My friend and I worked for five years in the same workplace until I resigned and pursued a training program in Japan.  Coming from a tropical country, experiencing snowfall in winter is a must and probably one of the major reasons that my friend decided to visit.  It was his first time in the land of the rising sun and I was filled with excitement to revisit Shirakawago again with someone from home.

It was 7 am and I was a few minutes on foot from the hostel where my friend was staying when he sent a message. He decided to move the schedule to 8:30 because he woke up late. In addition, he wanted to avail of the free breakfast from the hostel. I was filled with irritation! I woke up at around 4:30 in the morning of winter and walked for 30 minutes to my town’s train station before daylight just so I could be on time. Now, who wouldn’t be disappointed and annoyed?! I decided to keep my cool and just sent him a message to meet me at the bus station instead.

I was on the bus and my thoughts were drifting. My friend and his companion missed the last bus to Shirakawago partly because of a mistake in the direction that I sent. And there I was asking myself, “Am I not tired of traveling to Shirakawago so many times?” It was already my fifth visit.  It would have been a whole new experience if I were with companions.  I was actually looking forward to building a snowman and throwing snowballs at each other. Oh well, it was another solo travel again.

It was the same place, only with a different drop-off point.  The gassho-zukuri farmhouses, the village people going about their daily lives despite the influx of tourists, the scarecrows that remained fixed throughout the change of seasons, the not-your-typical snowmen, the whole ground covered with inches of snow ——-all of these and even more make Shirakawago one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.  It’s that magical picture of a quaint village that you thought you’d only see in a Christmas postcard.

Was I reasonable to just leave my friend to tend to himself and find the bus stop? Or was I just plain selfish in going to Shirakawago ahead so I could enjoy the scenery?  I couldn’t come up with an answer. The important thing was I apologized. Shirakawago is that charming of a place that would make you feel like others are at a loss for not having had a chance to see it.

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Sapporo, Hokkaido 北海道

 

Out of a sudden, I lost my balance and I saw my bronze Sony Xperia being flown away more than five feet away. I was too surprised at how it even kind of leaped out of the outside pocket of my bag. I was still trying to stand my ground or else I would be tumbling down the ground when I saw a man run after my cell phone and grabbed it.  After I said my “Arigatou Gozaimasu” to him, I immediately ran beside a post to keep myself from being blown away.  There is a department store just a few steps from where I was standing.  I decided to take shelter in it and let the strong wind pass by.

I arrived in Sapporo the previous day.  I decided to spend my holidays in Hokkaido for this year. My December doesn’t seem complete if I don’t experience a white Christmas.  The place has been in my must-see destinations list in Japan.  I only booked for three nights in the hotel because I didn’t know if I could handle the temperature in Japan’s northernmost island.

I had just crossed the street from Otaru Station when the strong wind blew.  I was holding a walking map that I got from the tourist center.  With the unfavorable weather at hand, I deemed it much comfortable to rely on Google map. It took me at least 10 minutes to get to the Canal.  It was hard to take photos as the snow was pouring down heavily and at the same time, I was trying to protect my camera from getting wet. After I walked to the other end of the canal, I decided to head to Sakaimachi Street.

The walk to Sakaimachi Street was terrible.  The pair of gloves I bought from the convenience store was not giving my hands enough warmth.  For the past few weeks, my hands have been having small cuts because of the winter cold in Japan.  I had not eaten anything and I was keeping my eye specifically on ramen restaurants.  I kept getting disappointed as I saw mostly seafood restaurants and cafes serving sweets.  I was too hungry that I ended up eating in 3 cafes that I passed by.  There were actually museums and shops along the way but I didn’t bother to go inside anymore.  I decided to just head back to the station. I just couldn’t take the cold, the wind, and the heavy snow.  At one point, I decided to buy an umbrella because the weather was just too much.  The man told me the umbrella cost 540 yen.  I knew I was being ripped off, but probably I just couldn’t think and act well and so I still ended up buying it.  I honestly felt so bad afterwards not just because I decided to pay for it but because of the illusion I had in mind that everybody in Japan is honest and trustworthy.  It didn’t help that I kept seeing the same plastic umbrellas in other shops with a 200-yen price on it.

I finally reached Otaru station after taking shelter in multiple shops every few minutes.  There was a moment I wanted to cry and kept telling myself I just want to reach the station already.  That’s how bad the condition in Otaru was.  And when I finally was about to buy the train ticket back to Sapporo, the ticket machine was not in service. The train service going to Sapporo was stopped because of the weather condition.

My first travel day in Hokkaido might not have gone well but it didn’t mean I did not enjoy the region.  My friend met up with me on Christmas Day.  I thought I was going to spend the holidays alone. I tasted the most delicious vegetable soup curry in a restaurant called Garaku. I had a beautiful view of Nakajima Park from my hotel. And I finally understood what it means when people say Hokkaido has some of the best powder snow in the world.

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Kamikochi

I sat on the far back of the bus, away from most people. It was going to be an hour and 5-minute ride from Shin-shimashima bus terminal to Kamikochi— the Japanese version of the Alps. I kept on fidgeting as I wait for the bus to leave.

It was a Facebook post in November by one of my colleagues.  The scenery in the photo amazed me.  I wondered in which country she went.  I looked at the comments under the photo to find some clues. Surprisingly, the place isn’t abroad.  It’s just here in Japan.

It had almost been eight months and I was reminded of the Alps.  I wanted to go somewhere for my birthday weekend.  I’d been attempting to book a flight to Taiwan, but I was torn because the view of nature in Kamikochi was something I could not wait to see.  In the end, I chose to travel domestically.

It was around 10:35 am when the bus finally arrived in Kamikochi.  I must have drunk a lot of water before the journey because right after getting off, I just had to run to the restroom.  I knew I was going to walk for several kilometers in a forest, so I just had to stuff myself with food.  I looked around for a place to eat at the arrival terminal.  I had ramen for lunch and then I was off to find the most important thing in my list — the bear bell.

I scolded myself for forgetting to bring a jacket.  The place is situated on a high ground so it felt cold to just wear a simple blouse which doesn’t even have long sleeves. In the end, I did manage as the long walks kept me warm. In situations where I couldn’t see a single hiker in view, my heart rate would go faster and I made sure my bear bell tinkled louder.

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How To Get There:

From Matsumoto Station, take the ALPICO Line for SHINSHIMASHIMA and get off at SHINSHIMASHIMA station.  It takes 30 min and costs ¥700. From SHINSHIMASHIMA station, take the bus bound to Kamikochi.

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