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.

Keisokuji Temple 鶏足寺, Shiga 滋賀県

I exited Kinomoto Station and was greeted by two middle-aged men wearing Happi. For a moment, I wanted to ask them which bus stop is for Keisokuji Temple. But in the end, I just lined up in the area where there were four old men in complete hiking outfit. When the bus arrived, I went straight to the back part. I wasn’t expecting only a few local tourists to head to my destination. I thought maybe the place isn’t just popular. After 12 minutes, I pressed the alight button and got off at Imyojin Bus Stop as recommended by Google Map. I was left wondering why the other men ,who I assumed to be headed to the same place as I was, didn’t get off. I had the feeling I chose the wrong stop.

It’s autumn in Japan and I didn’t want to miss seeing the striking colors of Japanese maple leaves. Kyoto was my first choice, but I decided to go to Shiga Prefecture at the last minute. Kyoto might be one of the best places to visit during the fall, but I just couldn’t appreciate the place because of the crowd. In Shiga, there’s a place famous for its carpet of red maple leaves.  I saw it several times in Instagram and that’s how I ended up going to Keisokuji Temple.

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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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Tulips

I hadn’t seen a field of tulips before, so I decided to visit my favorite garden in Mie which is Nabana No Sato.  This place changes the flowers depending on the season.  I remember in autumn it had cosmos festival.  And I think by the end of May,  a new set of flowers will be planted as soon as the tulips have withered.

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Go to Meitetsu Bus Center just somewhere at the back of Nagoya Station.  Buy a ticket to Nabana no Sato.  Here’s the bus schedule. (*Schedule may change without prior notice.)

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Thoughts on Walking

I put on my white Adidas shoes as this is the only pair of sneakers that goes fashionably well with skirts, dresses, and suits.  I hurriedly went down the stairs of my apartment trying to make it to the main street before the school hymn of the nearby school came to an end.  It’s normally my cue to leave the apartment already or else I’d be late for work.

My workplace is a 30-minute walk from my apartment.  I’ve been going to school on foot for more than a year already, so I usually make it one or two minutes before my log-in time.  And that includes grabbing lunch and snacks in the supermarket next to my workplace.  My apartment is situated uphill and my workplace is located in another uphill ground.  It’s like going from one valley to another valley.  On regular weekdays, I walk a total of almost 5 kilometers.  I’ve walked in different seasons and I’ve realized that the different seasons play a big part on what I feel and what I think while walking.

SUMMER

Summer is unforgiving.  The heat is intense and the wind does not even let its presence be known.  I start to pity myself.  My upper clothing is drenched in sweat.  And because of that, I usually bring a towel and an extra blouse.  There seems to be no point wearing make-up.  By the time I arrive in the workplace, I look as if I’d just completed a morning workout.  My hair is messy, which is enough to be stressed out for the day.  Walking in summer feels like never ending especially if it’s an upward slope.  Every turn I take, I would wish it were the last.  And in every step, I’d repeatedly question why I placed myself in this situation.

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Summer – Shirotori Garden, Aichi Prefecture

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AUTUMN

Autumn is the beginning.  I’d like to think of autumn as the start of good things to come.  It’s much more comfortable walking in autumn.  It is when the feel of the cold temperature seems so much more inviting.  The color of the autumn leaves is striking—- may it be yellow, red, or orange.  There is a gingko tree with dark yellow leaves alongside the street I pass by.  I used to hate that tree not knowing what it was because its fruits would fall all over the ground and smell so bad.  Sometimes I would see its owner cleaning up the ground with a broom and I used to pity her.  It made me wonder why she would go through the hassle of sweeping the ground early in the morning.  Sometimes she’d collect a total of four garbage bags full of rotten fruits.  I didn’t understand then that that tree is like a shining star in the autumn daylight.

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Autumn- Tachikawa, Tokyo Prefecture

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WINTER

Winter is depressing and lonely.  That’s when all the dark thoughts occupy the mind.  It’s five in the afternoon and the light has retired early.  I shiver in cold as I walk my way uphill with nobody in sight.  Sometimes I daydream I am in the setting of M. Night Shyamalan’s chiller movie The Village.  On rare occasions, I see some students on their way home.  It sometimes boggles me how the female high school students can manage the cold in their mini skirt uniform whereas I, completely bundled up in my coat, scarf and gloves, can still feel the biting cold.  But if I’d have to choose, I’d pick winter over summer because I still look exactly the same as when I leave the apartment—- make-up intact and strands of hair still in place.

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Winter- Shirakawago, Gifu Prefecture

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SPRING

Spring is salvation.  The light after the dark.  It’s the season that constantly makes me want to freeze time even just for a minute, so I could appreciate the beauty of cherry blossom trees that line the street.  There are times when the wind would blow and the cherry blossom petals would rain on me.  And in my mind I’d be doing a twirl in my cute dress.  Or sometimes I wish someone would film me in slow motion as I gaze up completely amazed at the falling white pinkish petals.  But, nope.  None of that as I need to hurriedly get to the workplace. But my hopes are still high as I know there are two more blossom trees on the way.  It’s only in spring when I wish that the traffic lights would remain red, so I could enjoy the view of the cherry blossom tree standing near the stop lights.  And as I completely enter the compound of my workplace, another cherry blossom tree lifts my mood up.

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Spring- Kakamigahara, Gifu Prefecture

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Walking throughout the four seasons allows me to think of different things.  It’s not just a routine to reach my destination.  It’s a process that allows me to talk to myself and solve my worries.  Sometimes I’d go home filled with problems that only people living abroad would face.  In the whole 30-minute walk, I’m usually able to analyze the why’s and how’s of my situation.  By the time I reach home, the negative thoughts don’t linger anymore.  Walking is an invisible friend.  It’s solitary, yet, it brings me solace.