Posts tagged ‘ohanami’

Cherry Blossom Viewing: Nijo Castle

On April 2nd, the cherry blossoms were headed into full bloom, and o-hanami (blossom viewing) had begun. My friends and I were thrilled to be able to participate in such a nationwide event, and so we planned our weekends carefully to see them. We began o-hanami by going to a night viewing, which means the buildings and blossoms are lit up at night. I’d also been to a night viewing during the fall for the autumn colors, and such events are usually very colorful and interesting (although the pictures usually don’t come out very well.)

Nijo Castle is in the northern Kyoto, on the way up to Kitano Tenmagu shrine. I hope to go back there during the daytime. Unfortunately, many of these pictures will look abstract. I hope they still convey the feeling of the night!

Lanterns line the walkways, and the cherry trees are lit up!

There was a display of contemporary art lanterns, which added greatly to the mood.

Some of the cherry trees were huge.

We also enjoyed an amazing koto performance. It was a great ending to a wonderful night!


Ume (Plum) Blossoms

Well, Hirakata went through what could be called a winter (it got pretty chilly, but didn’t really snow), and now, in February and March, things are beginning to warm up. Even though there were bushes that blossomed and didn’t lose their leaves over winter, the trees are waking up and budding again. This is rather strange to a person used to living in Maine.

However, at the end of February and the beginning of March begins the fruit blossom season, when the plum and cherry blossoms begin to bud and open. The cherry blossom season is well known in Japan, and the hanami begins in April, but the plum blossom season, which begins in February, is somewhat lesser known. I didn’t know about it until I read a post on the bulletin board downstairs in the dorm and in a post on the OpenKyoto blog. A friend and I decided to go on February 25th to Kitano Tenmagu shrine, which has over 2,000 plum trees.

It turned out to be a breathtakingly beautiful day. I was worried because it rained for two days beforehand, but the 25th dawned bright and sunny, one of those gorgeous warm springy days with a breeze. Perfect.

We took the trains into Kyoto station, then took the bus up to the shrine/temple. (Shrines are supposed to be for the Shinto religion, and temples for Buddhist. This place had both.)

The entrance was bustling with people, including Japanese tourist buses. The walk from the torii to the front gate was lined with food vendors, lending a festive atmosphere to the blossom-viewing.

Inside the gates, the grounds of the temple were interesting enough (being from the Heian period, they have a different style of architecture than other shrines I’ve seen), but throughout the grounds, plum trees showed their bright presence with blossoms of white and pink. It was fairly crowded, with many people taking pictures of the blossoms, but it didn’t attract from the atmosphere at all.

We went into one of the buildings, which turned out to be a museum. There were several interesting artifacts, including a mirror that had a map of feudal Japan on the back, samurai armor and swords, and several Heian religious scrolls. There were also paintings depicting the person I think might have been the founder, surrounded by sprays of plum blossoms.

The plum blossoms were just so beautiful, though. Their scent was heavenly, and simply walking around, seeing the blossoms, made me very happy. I was content.

There was a long line to pray at the shrine, so we didn’t participate in that activity, but I did purchase something I had thought about getting when I did my New Year’s stay in Tokyo – a New Year’s arrow. For some reason, this shrine was still selling them. This arrow was particularly special because it had gilded plum blossoms. You can also see that there is a charm and a prayer-board, similar to the ones at the shrine. This one is decorated with tigers, since this year is a Year of the Tiger.

This shrine is frequented often by students praying about their exams – the patron of the shrine was a scholar, and so students pray for knowledge. They write their prayers and wishes on wooden boards and leave them at the shrine. The rainbow strings are thousands of origami paper cranes, which are also supposed to grant a wish.

We went down to a creek, where there was a lovely red bridge.

Then we went on to the plum orchard, which was stunning. It was like walking through clouds of brilliant blossoms – sky above, with the wind wafting their scent.

There was a pavilion that was filled with people – my friend Katie and I didn’t really understand what was going on. Then Katie noticed that people were handing in their tickets (which we purchased to get into the orchard) and receiving packets of tea and crackers. We did so, and I ate the crackers (but didn’t have any tea – I don’t like green tea.) They were interesting – a mad mixture of salty, sweet, and sour.

The circles are representative of plum blossoms, a motif that was present throughout the shrine, even on the ends of the roofs:

After this beautiful time, we went into Kyoto for more activities, to be continued in a later post. 🙂