Beijing, China

I inserted the 20 yuan bill in the ticket machine.  Instead of seeing a ticket card, the same bill came out again.  I got a different yuan bill and the same thing happened.  I kept doing it over and over again for more than five minutes until I gave up.  I didn’t care if there were people lining up.  I actually wanted them to notice me or at least the person standing behind me. Finally, I gave up and took just two steps away from the ticket machine.  And then one of the best things happened.  A long-haired young woman wearing a black overall jumper dress stood beside me and kept pointing to the 10 yuan bill sign while saying something which I completely didn’t understand.  She had a reprimanding tone, but I didn’t mind it at all.  After a day of staying in China, I kind of noticed that it’s just the way people there speak.  I understood her gesture, so I got a 10 yuan note and inserted it in the ticket machine.  Just after a few seconds, I successfully purchased a ticket card on my own.

I arrived at the Beijing Capital International Airport the previous day.  It was past midnight when the plane landed.  I didn’t expect that I’d travel to China alone considering the political tensions brought about by territorial disputes between China and my country.  I was even hesitant to go on this trip even after I already bought my ticket. But I have a goal.  And traveling to China is part of it. So I was off to Beijing!

On the day of my arrival, I decided to go to Tiananmen Square.  There were a lot of people lining up in the ticket counter, so I tried out the machine.  However, the machine just kept on spitting the money. I turned around and smiled at the woman standing behind me.  I raised the yuan note, pointed to the machine and asked the lady “How?”I was hoping she’d get it.  But she just smiled blankly and moved her head sideways.  I was frustrated. How could she not get it? I was sure she had seen I was having trouble. I stepped aside. Then she purchased her own ticket.  I tried again and did exactly the same thing the woman did. But I was again unsuccessful. I approached the lady guard who was just standing a few steps away.  I asked for help using the same gestures that I did with the woman. She just looked at me, turned around and talked to the lady guard beside her. I was even frustrated then.  But no.  I had four days more in this country and I wanted to learn how to purchase the ticket card on my own.  So I stood in front of the ticket machine again and tried several times.  I stopped when someone tapped my back.  It was the lady guard.  She pointed to the ticket counter. I knew about the ticket counter, but I wanted to use the ticket machine. Eventually, I just gave up and headed to the counter.

There was another incident when I asked help in the subway but all I got was a sideways movement of the head.  I’ve been to other non-English speaking countries in East Asia and I’ve never really faced any language barrier with those countries.  I was frustrated because I kind of think that when I asked for help from the locals, they focused so much on the language that I used and not on my gestures. In some countries, I had no problem relying on gestures so I somehow could not get why the people I approached in the subway couldn’t.

I was at that point when I didn’t believe asking someone would gain me the help I needed.  I was ecstatic when the young woman in the subway approached me and pointed out to me what I did wrong, why the machine was spitting out my money.  Just when I’d lost hope, someone was out to save the day.

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Arashiyama

I’m one of those very few people who dislike Kyoto. If it weren’t for this bamboo forest, I don’t think I’d ever go sightseeing in Kyoto again. It’s such a crowded place that it’s so hard to see and enjoy the scenery. So this time around, I made sure to go as early as possible. On the way to the bamboo forest, an old Japanese man had a chat with me. The moment we entered the place, I slowed down to take pictures but he kept telling me to keep moving because we hadn’t reached the best area, yet. I think he told me several times especially whenever he noticed me stopping. I was glad he did because I would have missed the best view if I just wandered alone.dscf4507dscf4534dscf4539dscf4541dscf4545dscf4554dscf4566dscf4571dscf4579dscf4590dscf4593dscf4640

Narai-juku

I hopped on an early train to Nakatsugawa on the first day of the Golden Week. I quickly grabbed an empty seat because I knew that travel time was long.  What makes the way to Nakatsugawa distinctive to me is the presence of high mountains full of greenery.  It can be scary to get lost in this area because there aren’t so many houses and people in sight.  However, the scenery which is abundant with nature allowed me to relax my mind.

I saw a picture of a traditional Japanese village with unique rows of wooden houses located in a high mountain slope.  The lush mountains in the background made the village even more attractive and conducive to peaceful living.  It was like a scene you can only see in Japanese anime.  When I found out the name of the place, I checked the nearest station and found out it was just less than three hours from where I live.  I decided to travel early in the morning because I wanted to avoid the crowd from blocking the view of the place whenever I take a picture.

There were more than five people who got off at Narai station.  The first thing I decided to look for was the wooden arch bridge, Kiso Ohashi, which was my point of reference for the village.  It was nowhere in sight so I had to choose which direction to tread.  Fortunately, I made the right choice.  I saw the typical houses common only during the Edo Period.  They are basically of the same style with that of the traditional houses I saw at Takayama and Magome-juku.  I have to admit that the view at Narai-juku is nothing new anymore once you’ve been to other historical villages of the Edo era. I wasn’t able to eat at a local café or buy ica cream like I always do when I visit a new place.  I just didn’t feel too relaxed during that time since I didn’t see the bridge, yet.

I think I walked back and forth four times just to cover what I wanted to do in that place.  However, I didn’t see the Kiso Ohashi until I decided to call it a day and look for a place to eat while I wait for the next train. I ended up not eating. Instead, I followed the signs that led me to the bridge.  It wasn’t that far although I had to extend my departure for an hour again just to fully enjoy the area.  The bridge amazes me because it’s still functional even if it’s around 300 years old.

It was only when I read again the wooden post sign that welcomes tourists to Naraijuku did I realize I was already in Nagano Prefecture. Walking around historic post towns just give me a sense of calm while making me feel as if I’m in a completely different world. I guess I long for places that take me away from this modern society. As I rode my train back home, I let sleep take over me so I could escape once again.DSCF3735DSCF3747DSCF3748DSCF3753DSCF3771DSCF3781DSCF3797DSCF3819DSCF3820DSCF3728How To Go There:

From Nagoya Station, take the Limited Express (Wide View) Shinano train to Nakatsugawa.  From Nakatsugawa, ride the JR Chuo Line for Matsumoto and get off at Narai Station.  The total cost is 3,770 Yen.  If you want a reserved seat from Nagoya to Nakatsugawa, you’d have to spend a total of 4,090 yen.  Travel time is 2 hours and 25 minutes.  If you want to lessen your fare, you can ride the JR Chuo Line Rapid for Nakatsugawa at Nagoya Station.  Get off at Nakatsugawa and ride the JR Chuo Line for Matsumoto and get off at Narai Station.  The total cost is 2,590 yen.  Travel time is 2 hours and 55 minutes.

Wisteria

The reign of cherry blossoms has ended which means other spring flowers will have their time to shine.  Most people flock to gardens or tunnels to see the growing wisteria. Wisteria has its own charm as a growing vine with purple or white flowers.11Mandaraji Park is one of the nearest places in my area to see the wisteria.  This park can be found in Konan City in Aichi Prefecture.  I had a very smooth travel going to Konan Station.  If you’re coming from Nagoya, it takes less than 30 minutes by train via Meitetsu Inuyama Line.  By the time I exited the station, I saw someone holding a placard informing the travelers where they could ride the bus going to Mandaraji Park.  I really found it very helpful as I didn’t know in which bus stop I was supposed to go to.12I went to Mandaraji Park on May 4th  which is actually Midori no Hi or Greenery Day in Japan.  It is a day to appreciate mother nature.  Thus, I found it befitting to see the blooming wisteria on that particular holiday.  It was  sunny but I didn’t feel sweaty at all because the wisteria vines kept me under the shade.  Plus, the beauty of nature really has a way to keep one in a good mood.13Actually, I’ve only come to appreciate spring this time around because I was more of an autumn person.  But after being stuck in cold weather for many months, I find myself longing for the warmth of the spring season.  The presence of flowers in the front yard of the houses I pass allows my mind to destress even for just a moment.  Truly, colors and flowers have a positive effect on a person’s emotional state.  Until now, it amazes me to see these beautiful flowers just within my reach because not all people are lucky enough to see so much of nature in the place where they live.14There is just something ethereal walking through a place with hanging bluish-purple wisteria vines.  I feel like I am in a fairytale world.  Actually, Mandaraji Park isn’t the place where I really wanted to go to see the wisteria.  My dream destination is the Wisteria flower tunnel at Kawachi Fuji Garden in Fukuoka.  Since I ran out of budget to go to Kyushu Island, I decided to just enjoy the wisteria in Aichi Prefecture.

As I entered Mandaraji Park, I was actually disappointed because the wisteria vines that I saw were lacking in length.  They were just crawling on the trellis.  But as I walked further inside, I finally spotted the hanging wisteria vines which were much longer than the ones I saw at the entrance.  Aside from the bluish-purple species, I also enjoyed the white-colored wisterias because they smelled so good.  It reminded me of Sampaguita: the national flower of the Philippines.15What I appreciate most in Japan is that even disabled people get to enjoy nature.  I spotted one or two people in wheelchairs.  It’s always a family affair whenever Japanese people go sightseeing. I really appreciate how this country makes it easy for everyone to access the local tourist spots.

Flowers are beautiful gifts of nature.  They’re one of the reasons why I travel to different places. Hopefully, I’ll get to visit my dream wisteria tunnel.16

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Irago Nanohana Garden, Tahara City

“And I thought to myself, what a wonderful world.” This line of a famous song instantly registered in my mind right after I stepped into the garden.  You have to see the place to understand what I mean.  Irago Nanohana Garden is such a spectacle of beauty in early spring.

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Irago Nanohana Graden is one big garden filled with rapeseed blossoms (nanohana).  It’s the widest flower field that I’ve ever been so far. The rapeseed plants grow as high as five feet. There’s an elevated ground in the middle that allows you to see the whole place.   If you stand in that area, you can see the vastness of the garden from left to right.  I’ve never seen so much yellow around me.  There are enough rapeseed blossoms as far as your eyes can see.

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Irago Nanohana Garden is a perfect place to enjoy nature together with family, friends, and loved ones.  There are stalls near the gate entrance that offer different kinds of Japanese snacks, street food, and local souvenirs.  If you want to dress up your toddler, you can also rent a bumblebee outfit in one of the stalls.  I’ve seen parents who really enjoyed taking photographs of their cute kids in costume. The middle part of the garden also serves as a playground for kids where they can ­­do sand sledding. There are also specially decorated areas that are meant for taking souvenir pictures.  You can also pick rapeseed blossom from the garden to take home.  There’s a designated part where visitors can use scissors and just cut the flowers.

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The garden is difficult to access using local transportation.  The first time I decided to go there, I wasn’t able to see the place because there was no shuttle bus on that particular day.  The local shuttle bus was only available on specific dates.  Actually, the shuttle bus that I rode became full at once, but going back, I was the only passenger.  Most of the visitors I saw were local tourists who used their own cars in going there.  It only takes ten minutes by bus from Irago-Misaki station.  While aboard the bus, I saw a big group of Japanese tourists who hiked from the station to the garden.  I thought it was too far to reach on foot.

Irago Nanohana Graden is definitely a must see in spring.  I wouldn’t have attempted to go there twice if I thought the place wasn’t worth it.  During my long trip there, the scenery brought glee to my tired face. The rapeseed blossoms in Irago Nanohana Garden are enough to make you anticipate the coming of spring.

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Shuttle bus schedule from Irago Misaki bus stop (Crystal Port) to Irago Nanohana Garden

How To Go There:

From Toyohashi Station, go to bus stop #1 and ride the bus #2. (I suggest you go to the bus center first which is just near the bus stop #1.  You can save up a lot if you buy a roundtrip ticket.) Get off at the last station which is the Irago Misaki bus stop (I also refer to it as the Crystal Port area).  It takes more than an hour.   From there, ride a local shuttle bus to Irago Nanohana Garden. It only takes ten minutes to get there. Take note that the local shuttle bus only travels on specific dates, so make sure you visit the event website before traveling to Tahara City.  In case you wouldn’t be able to make it to the last bus trip home to Toyohashi Station, you can still ride a bus and get off at Tahara Station.  From Tahara Station, you can ride the train to Shin-Toyohashi Station.  From Shin-Toyohashi Station, you can walk for 3 to 5 minutes to Toyohashi Station.