Tag Archives: cherry blossoms

Cherry Blossom Season in Retrospect

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Cherry blossom season in Japan is incredibly beautiful

    At the end of March and beginning of April, the cherry blossoms began to bloom, ushering in warmer weather and a festive attitude amongst the Japanese people. I was too preoccupied with school work to make any posts to the Temple Abroad blog–I needed to start several final projects simultaneously. However, I still want to share my experience of cherry blossom season in Japan.

    During cherry blossom season, delicate pink and white flowers bloom from the numerous cherry trees in Japan. The season ends when the flowers fall from the trees, to be replaced with budding green leaves. Tourists and native Japanese alike flock to parks and gardens to take pictures of the short-lived blooms, called sakura. Many people also set up picnics or parties to watch the cherry blossoms, called hanami.

    I was lucky enough to go on several hanami outings. Some were sponsored by Temple University, while others were personal trips I took with friends. However, cherry blossom trees are so common in Japan, every trip outside felt like a mini hanami session. Hanami trees lined major streets and were planted in every park. There was one directly outside the TUJ dorms and three directly behind main campus in Azabu.

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The cherry blossom trees in Hama Rikyu Gardens

    The first flower viewing I went to was a field trip for one of my art classes. We went to Hama Rikyu Gardens, a series of gardens belonging to the Japanese government which initially served as the grounds for a wealthy feudal lord. The garden was crowded with other hopeful flower viewers. One fully blooming cherry tree was quickly surrounded by twenty or so people, all trying to take a picture of its sakura. My friend and I joined in the chaos and took some nice photos, although it was difficult to work around the many other people crowding around.

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Picture of myself with cherry blossoms and several other people in the background

    Though I thoroughly enjoyed Hama Rikyu Gardens, my personal favorite hanami experience happened at night, near the end of the season. I was meeting up with a friend who went to a nearby school. We ate dinner together at a bar and then casually strolled through Ueno Park after evening fell. The cherry blossoms were difficult to see and impossible to take pictures of in the dark, but I could still see their flowering branches stretching overhead, covering our path in a flowery canopy. Strings of lanterns illuminated small patches of white blossoms and the numerous picnics taking place underneath. Business men and groups of friends laughed and cracked open bottles of alcohol. Polite signs asked picnic-goers to throw away their trash, and the atmosphere was fun and lighthearted. My friend and I walked past the rows of picnics and food stands, passing by a large lake. Through the cherry blossom branches we could make out the bright city lights from across the water. I thought the view might have looked better during the daytime but in the nighttime, a serene atmosphere settled over our surroundings.

    The sakura season ended after two weeks. I remember going to school during finals week and feeling a twinge of disappointment upon seeing the pink petals replaced by tiny green leaves. The cherry blossoms lasted such a short time, but I still have some excellent memories and photos from the experience.

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TUJ Overnight Trip: Hatsushima Island

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Last weekend, TUJ had another one of its overnight trips. This time, we visited an island about an hour and a half away from Tokyo called Hatsushima. We had to take many trains, a taxi, and even a boat to get to our final destination: the island!

After taking a few train transfers, we finally made it to the dock to set off. Like every TUJ activity so far, the weather was rainy and gloomy, but that didn't keep the group from enjoying the island.

After taking a few train transfers, we finally made it to the dock to set off. Like every TUJ activity so far, the weather was rainy and gloomy, but that didn’t keep the group from enjoying the island.

One thing that was noticable getting off from the boat was the smell. There was no ocean smell at all! According to our guides, this is because the water in this area is not polluted and is very clear. If it had been warmer and a clearer day, it would have been tempting to jump right in!

One thing that was noticeable getting off from the boat was the smell. There was no ocean smell at all! According to our guides, this is because the water in this area is not polluted and is very clear. If it had been warmer and a clearer day, it would have been tempting to jump right in!

TUJ students Kelly Holloran, Alex Herraiz, and Mike Fournier check out the map of the island. The TUJ group was staying at the resort in the center of the island, but there actually are about 200 residents who live on the island all year!

TUJ students Kelly Holloran, Alex Herraiz, and Mike Fournier check out the map of the island. The TUJ group was staying at the resort in the center of the island, but there actually are about 200 residents who live on the island all year!

The groups heads towards the days events: a zipline adventure and grilling our own barbeque.

The groups heads towards the days events: a zipline adventure and grilling our own barbeque.

Even on the island, some sakura were still popping out from the trees. During the trip, it was towards the end of the season, so many blossoms had fallen or faded.

Even on the island, some sakura were still popping out from the trees. During the trip, it was towards the end of the season, so many blossoms had fallen or faded.

The next activity included an adventure course and zipline. TUJ Oona Murphy comes to a running halt down the zipline.

The next activity included an adventure course and zipline. TUJ Oona Murphy comes to a running halt down the zipline.

Temple Japan student Yanan Shen shouts going down the zipline.

Temple Japan student Yanan Shen shouts going down the zipline.

TUJ student Nick Watanabe cheers on his fellow classmate Dina Pakstis as she takes on the adventure course.

TUJ student Nick Watanabe cheers on his fellow classmate Dina Pakstis as she takes on the adventure course.

The adventure course was high up in the air, involving balancing on ropes, stepping from wood plank to plank, and sliding down the zipline. TUJ student Jacqueline Barnes seems to have no problems at all, especially since all the students were hooked into ropes and harnesses so that there was no immediate risk of falling.

The adventure course was high up in the air, involving balancing on ropes, stepping from wood plank to plank, and sliding down the zipline. TUJ student Jacqueline Barnes seems to have no problems at all, especially since all the students were hooked into ropes and harnesses so that there was no immediate risk of falling.

At the end of the night, our guides provided us with some beef, chicken, vegetables, and tons of seafood. Thankfully, Temple Japan Jacqueline Barnes knew just how to cook each and every item to perfection.

At the end of the night, our guides provided us with some beef, chicken, vegetables, and tons of seafood. Thankfully, Temple Japan Jacqueline Barnes knew just how to cook each and every item to perfection.

For the evening, the group was split up and assigned to different trailers. Each trailer had an actually comfy bed for each person, private bathrooms, and HEAT. Thankfully, the second day of the trip was much sunnier than the previous day.

For the evening, the group was split up and assigned to different trailers. Each trailer had an actually comfy bed for each person, private bathrooms, and HEAT. Thankfully, the second day of the trip was much sunnier than the previous day.

Now that we were able to see the island in sunlight, it was easy to see was this destination was considered a resort. It was also almost 80 degrees Fahrenheit that day as well.

Now that we were able to see the island in sunlight, it was easy to see was this destination was considered a resort. It was also almost 80 degrees Fahrenheit that day as well.

On the second day, the water was so clear to see. While waiting for the boat, we even managed to spot a chain morray eel in the harbor, along with some other brightly colored fish.

On the second day, the water was so clear to see. While waiting for the boat, we even managed to spot a chain morray eel in the harbor, along with some other brightly colored fish.

The group awaits for the boat to take us back to mainland and to board the bus. From there, we would visit our other destinations before returning to Tokyo.

The group awaits for the boat to take us back to mainland and to board the bus. From there, we would visit our other destinations before returning to Tokyo.

Our first stop on the bus was probably the most magical. We stopped at one of the best places in the area to see some sakura. They were still brightly colored and in bloom when we arrived. Temple Japan students Alex Herraiz and Kelly Holloran thought it would be a great place to snap a photo.

Our first stop on the bus was probably the most magical. We stopped at one of the best places in the area to see some sakura. They were still brightly colored and in bloom when we arrived. Temple Japan students Alex Herraiz and Kelly Holloran thought it would be a great place to snap a photo.

Our second stop after seeing the sakura was a waterfall along the way. This area was well known for their wasabi, and even had wasabi ice cream to eat!

Our second stop after seeing the sakura was a waterfall along the way. This area was well known for their wasabi, and even had wasabi ice cream to eat!

Our final stop before returning to Tokyo was a strawberry farm. We were allowed to pick and eat as many strawberries as we pleased, in the 30 minutes we had.

Our final stop before returning to Tokyo was a strawberry farm. We were allowed to pick and eat as many strawberries as we pleased, in the 30 minutes we had.

The strawberries here were free of any bugs (they smoked out the area so that the bugs were out, and the strawberries were safe). They were also the sweetest I've ever tasted, and the reddest I've ever seen.

The strawberries here were free of any bugs (they smoked out the area so that the bugs were out, and the strawberries were safe). They were also the sweetest I’ve ever tasted, and the reddest I’ve ever seen.

Temple Japan student Dina Pakstis chomps down on her 100th some strawberry, that become quite addicting after just one bite.

Temple Japan student Dina Pakstis chomps down on her 100th some strawberry, that become quite addicting after just one bite.

Although the weather did not cooperate yet again, Hatsushima was surprisingly pleasant, and has some things that certainly need to be seen when in Japan.

A Must-Visit in Japan: Sakura Spots

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IMG_20150402_204512Another one of my list-toppers, which should have a place on your travel checklist as well, is a good sakura spot: a beautiful place in Japan that showcases sakura when they appear in early spring. Sakura can be seen in many countries around the world, but in Japan they have an altogether different meaning for the nation’s people. Take time out in January to view the gorgeous blossoms if you visit the southern part of Japan, and in late March or early April if you’re near in the north near Tokyo. Bring a picnic blanket and some friends to check them out, or swing by a sakura spot alone after classes. Whatever the situation, be sure to give yourself some time to appreciate their brief presence — it’ll make for a relaxing break from the stress of your daily life, and some breathtaking photos!

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Sakura on a street in the girls’ dorm neighborhood (near Life grocery store!).

What are sakura?

桜 (さくら): Sakura is the Japanese term for cherry blossoms — the small beautiful light pink or white flowers that bloom on cherry trees for just a few weeks after winter, when the weather becomes warmer. Sakura refers to the Japanese cherry tree, which is pretty much just an ornamental tree, and doesn’t bear fruits.

 

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❤ Fallen sakura petals! ❤

What do sakura mean for the Japanese?

Sakura are a significant part of Japanese culture, and have had an appearance in Japanese art and literature for centuries. They signify the transience of life — the short time humans have on this Earth to live and to love — because they bloom briefly and fall to the ground in a number of days. In this way, sakura are also associated with a Japanese term I learned of in a literature course here at TUJ, 物の哀れ (もののあわれ) mono no aware. The term describes the sad but reflective feeling that comes along with the transience of things on Earth and in life, but in Japan this idea, along with viewing sakura in the spring time, seems to signal a chance to take a “time-out” from life to appreciate the concept itself and your own life. It’s also a time to connect with nature, and in Japan sakura viewing is an important part of your spring.

What is hanami?

Hanami (花見/はなみ) is a word for the act of viewing sakura; hana (花) means “flower” (and was at one time used to mean only sakura, not necessarily all flowers), and mi (見/見る) means “eyes” or “to watch.” Hanami is the act of picnicking under sakura trees to view their blossoms with friends. Usually people find grassy spots that have many sakura trees around them to picnic under, and a lot of people turn out to celebrate the custom. One of the more popular and unexpected spots for sakura I passed by quite a few times was Arisugawa Memorial Park (有栖川宮記念公園), which is the park that beautifully encases Tokyo Metropolitan Library (東京都立図書館).

Groups of friends and families gathering in the park outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Library.

Groups of friends and families gathering in the park outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Library.

Be sure to check out some sakura if you study abroad in Tokyo – it’s worth your time! Take a walk in a park, stroll across a bridge, or pick a spot to have lunch with friends if the weather is nice! Have fun!

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From Tokyo to Kyoto

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From Tokyo to Kyoto

Get ready for a storm of pictures – pictures that will make you never want to see another cherry blossom or temple ever again.

Just kidding. But seriously, if you want to see your share of sakura, temples/shrines, and geisha – you must make your way to Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, and the heart of its ancient culture.

First up, we all met at Shinagawa station in Tokyo. Everyone had to wake up super early to meet up, so half of them were half-asleep while the other half was buzzing with excitement. Luckily everyone showed up on time, so we all hopped on the Nozomi Shinkansen (新幹線), otherwise known as the famous bullet train. And yes, it travels very, very fast.

Here I was, all comfortable and reclined, ready for a nice long nap… only to be woken up about three hours or so later, to discover we were already in Kyoto. Talk about fast.

After switching to a local train, we took it to the… middle of nowhere. It was a huge change of scenery for most of us, as many of us hadn’t seen such open land in a long time. Tokyo isn’t exactly the most river, forest, and mountain friendly city here in Japan. So we took our time, taking everything in, and simply absorbed our surroundings. It started to get drizzly, so Haru had to put me back in her bag. It was a good thing too, since our next event was the Hozugawa (保津川) boat ride.

Here it is: our vessel. Haru and a few of her friends got front row seats, which meant some serious splashing form the rapids. Therefore, before we went anywhere, the lot of them were bundled up in plastic sheets.

It was a good thing too, because the weather was ridiculously unpredictable. One minute it was sunny, the next it was raining, and after that it was HAILING. Yes, hailing. Here’s a photo of Brittani and Yuan huddled under the plastic sheet wrap.

Next up was the Rurouni Kenshin bridge, for those of you who know what I’m talking about. That’s not its real name, but we couldn’t remember the real name of the bridge – just that it was the inspiration for the scene where Kenshin and Misao defeated a gang of thugs by destroying said bridge. At least that’s what Tonghwi said. And I’ll take our awesome student guide’s words at face value. After all, he’s lived in Kyoto for a while, and goes to Kyoto University too.

Anyway, you can also see a maiko, a geisha in training, walking with her entourage. There were plenty of them walking about Kyoto. It’s just not something you see here in Tokyo.

After eating lunch nearby, we went off to see Tenryu-ji (天龍寺), a super famous Buddhist temple with its famed gardens.

Although it was still rather cold and not all the flowers were blooming, it was still a sight to behold.

Soon after, we went to visit the Nonomiya Jinja (野宮神社), a Shinto shrine situated almost right next door. The shrine is especially famous for its amazing bamboo path. When the wind breathes through its sheltering foliage, the entire area is filled with music so sweet and a feeling so enchanting, that its as if the path belonged to another world altogether.

It was so beautiful, so otherworldly, that I believe I have turned into a poet during my short stay there.

Of course, for those who wanted to see sakura, or cherry blossoms in bloom, Kyoto had them by the road-full.

Here we are, walking into the Gion district. And if you are familiar with the name, you’ll know its home to the geisha. While we did pas a few geisha in training, Haru was more interested in capturing scenic photos.

With our three Kyoto University student guides leading us, we walked through the area visiting several stores.

For instance, here’s the Studio Ghibli store that Haru and her friends just HAD to visit. Being fans of Ghibli films and all, it was something none of them could pass up.

Of course, visiting this area also meant having to see the Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), an Eastern Kyoto temple that has achieved super-star fame as far as Japanese temples go. It’s associated to making wishes come true, such as finding true love.

In the Edo period, people actually believed that jumping from the Kiyomizu-dera’s stage and surviving the 13 meter drop would grant their wishes. Don’t try it though, since it’s more suicidal than anything. Not only is it prohibited these days, but let’s say you wish to become the world’s best-looking athlete. Even if you survive the fall, surely you’d have a few permanent injuries to the limbs and face. How would that wish come true then?

Anyway, the walk through the temple at night makes for a fantastic spot for a night time photo shoot. But even photos cannot capture what it actually felt like being there, watching the temple grounds light up at night.

After the walkthrough though, this is what people looked like.

As night fell, it was time to head to the hotel for some good food and a good rest. And it wasn’t just any hotel we went to – we actually lodged at a temple, the Hongan-ji Monpo-Kaikan to be exact.

The food was delicious, and the rooms were super comfortable. And for my public-bath-loving friend, it had a great hot tub.

Our adventures in the Kansai area are not over yet! Next up, I’ll tell you about the deer we met and fed in Nara.

Until then,

Rowan