Visiting Japan in April Is not Simply About Cherry Blossoms


The ticket workplace attendant opened her mouth to say one thing earlier than the rushed arigatō had even escaped my lips, however by that time I used to be already sprinting out the exit and thru the turnstiles. I had simply 90 seconds left to board the Restricted Categorical Hida 3, and fewer than that if for some motive JR’s clock and mine weren’t synchronized.

Racing up the steps—solely the “down” escalator was working, due to course it was—I launched myself onto the car and solely then seemed out on the departures board to ensure it was the appropriate one; by likelihood, I had hopped into the right automobile.

The gentleman within the seat subsequent to mine let loose a grunt as he crossed his unfold legs and half-closed his copy of that day’s Yomiuri Shimbun, which had spotlighted Iran’s nascent drone assault on Israel. Within the backside, proper nook of the part cowl, I observed a picture of Kannon, butwas neither alert nor sufficient to attempt to make out even a single kanji within the sub-heading beneath it.

I, too, launched a sigh from inside my respiratory tract, having scarcely been in a position to breathe as much as that time, out of worry I’d miss the prepare, which began shifting proper at that second, if I had paused even to soak up air for an instantaneous.

She wished my signature, I noticed, after I thought again to the panicked look on the lady’s face after I darted away from the counter—I hadn’t signal the bank card receipt, an auspicious oversight.

If I had, I’d nonetheless be in Nagoya Station, and never on my strategy to Takayama.


Not that it made a lot sense for me to be on my strategy to Takayama.

As you’ll see should you proceed studying, the majority of this journey focuses totally on part of Japan that’s about as removed from the Alps as you will get.

Alternatively, as we speak was opening day of the twice-annual Takayama Matsuri, which I’d wished to attend since seeing its floats displayed in a museum in 2015, after I first visited the town.

However I didn’t need merely to bear witness to the parade, no—I had a particular picture in thoughts: I wished to see the procession crossing the town’s well-known Nakabashi bridge, flanked by boughs of sakura in excellent full bloom on all sides.

As I pasted two days in Takayama onto the front-end of the in any other case unrelated itinerary as I labored it out final 12 months, I knew that this was a tall order, and possibly an not possible one; I’ve spent a lot of the interceding months steeling myself for disappointment.

So think about my shock as I disembarked the Hida and walked eastward out of the station, solely to see each single cherry tree alongside the Miya River exactly at mankai. However not all was appropriately, not exactly—at the very least not but.

The primary downside? The floats have been being displayed at varied intersections inside Takayama’s previous city; not a single one was anyplace close to the vermillion viaduct.

The second downside? Locals have been no assist.

One after one other, every police officer, shopkeeper and bench-sitter I requested the seemingly easy query gave a response that was both complicated (It’ll be this night, one insisted, despite the truth that I’d proven her an image taken throughout the brightest a part of the day) or contemptuous, with a number of implying that no procession can be going down in any respect, that I ought to simply surrender and save myself the difficulty.

This left me with a selection: Did I be a part of the handfuls of different photographers (none of whom had any higher concept than I did about once we would possibly have the ability to get our “cash shot”) camped out ready for his or her likelihood? Or did I throw within the towel?

Initially I picked the latter, albeit by default. Each the softness of the futon and the woody aroma of the tatami inside my visitor home had confirmed too inviting to withstand after I returned there, ostensibly to clean up. My eyelids thudded shut as powerfully because the taiko drums I might hear being struck within the distance.

Lower than an hour into my slumber, nevertheless, an alarm I don’t bear in mind setting sounded. And whereas I might’ve simply turned it off and continued protracting my jet lag, I hoisted myself off the ground, to the sink to douse my face with herby Aveda cleanser, out the door and down the hill to Ikadabashi (the one that gives the most effective view on Nakabashi).

You already know that saying about fortune favoring the daring? Properly, there’s nothing “daring” about selecting to get up when it might be simply as simple to snooze. However Girl Luck definitely smiled on me that afternoon—and I smiled, as I seemed again on myself within the museum 9 Novembers earlier, doing my finest to quantum-tunnel a message to him.

It’s coming, I imagined him listening to, quietly and much off within the distance. Simply wait.






My second vacation spot was no extra smart than my first. It was even farther from the place I used to be finally headed than Takayama had been, for starters.

And as had been the case with the Takayama Matsuri, I envisioned the Saigyo-Modoshi-no-Matsu viewpoint over Miyagi prefecture’s Matsushima Bay intimately that will be nearly not possible for actuality to reconstruct, with its cherry blossoms in excellent situation, blue skies above the horizon and a glowing sea floor beneath it.

I’ll begin with the dangerous information: The sakura framing Matsushima (one among Japan’s “three scenic views”) ended up being at the very least a number of days previous peak, in a means that even artistic picture processing proved unable to totally obscure. Whereas a lot of the clouds overhead did ultimately right here, moments of splendid illumination proved fleeting and few.

The excellent news? The remainder of the points of interest I noticed throughout my transient keep within the Tohoku area proved rather more spectacular than I’d anticipated, beginning with the Shiogama Shrine I’d stopped at en path to Matsushima, the place cascades of “weeping” shidarezakura stuffed an in any other case colorless courtyard with hues of blush and bubble-gum.

The subsequent morning I visited Hirazumi, a former hub of the Fujiwara clan that had apparently as soon as been seen as corresponding to Kyoto in proportion and status. After traipsing from the station to Twelfth-century Chuson-ji below gentle drizzle, I admired its fullest cherry tree whereas I waited for what had develop into a deluge to subside.

I wasn’t the one one: A spider (who was notably absent) had been amassing petals as they fell, and suspending them in its net.

Up the Shinkansen line in Kitakami later that afternoon, the billows alongside the riverfront at Tenshochi Park appeared just a few robust gusts of wind away from fully disappearing.

This prediction ended up coming true, however fortunately not till I used to be really within the strategy of leaving: A hanafubuki so dense and disorienting it seemed, at glances, like an precise blizzard ended up consuming the scene as I headed again towards the station.

It was a celebratory finish to the ill-advised (however principally well-executed) sakura prologue of my in any other case unrelated journey. And a reminder: Even should you do get precisely what you need, it gained’t final for lengthy.




“You’re proper,” the kimono-clad girl, to whom I’d simply dictated the essence of what I simply advised you, agreed. “It doesn’t make a lot sense to go to Takayama, then to Sendai after which to come back right here.”

We have been seated on a bench having espresso, overlooking Kuyoshihama Seaside on the west coast of Iki Islands, the primary of three bases I’d be utilizing to discover Nagasaki’s offshore islands, which had really been the inspirational start line of this journey, in addition to occupying up the majority (8 of 13 days) of its size.

Throughout the parking zone, Kelly Rowland’s “Dilemma” blared from the espresso truck, which was arrange for a busy day, despite the fact that not a single different automobile had a lot as handed within the quarter-hour or so we’d been sitting there.

The truck’s 50-something proprietor, who stood behind a placard explaining intimately his bean-sourcing expeditions to Brazil and Ethiopia, bopped alongside unbothered.

I’d briefly thought of explaining to Tomoko that the male voice on this track was none aside from my hometown rapper Nelly, however then I remembered: I by no means supposed to spend greater than a second at this seashore. I had a protracted checklist of others locations to see inside the lower than 24 hours I had left on this island, which like Japan as a complete proved a lot bigger as soon as on the bottom than it had seemed on the map.

So I bid her farewell within the kindest (but additionally quickest) means potential, and resumed the counter-clockwise loop I’d been making. As she blew me a kiss in my rear-view mirror, I contemplated how unusual her selection of outfit was, given the setting.

Cherry blossom season was lengthy over right here; there was not a very seasonal ingredient to my exploration, even when the occasional tsutsuji (azalea) bush or fuji (wisteria) vine peppered coloration into an in any other case inexperienced or blue patch off within the distance.

However I did really feel pressured to stay conscious of the time—and never simply out of concern for optimum lighting.

Employees on the island’s historical past museum, for instance, which was perched on a hill over its Yayoi-era archaeological web site Harunotsuji, had nudged me after I advised them about my subsequent plans.

Boats from Katsumoto Port to offshore Tatsunoshima Island would most likely cease working inside a few hours, they defined, on account of low demand throughout the interval of the 12 months between the ultimate petals falling and the beginning of Golden Week.

I’d additionally wished to return to Harunotsuji (however at floor stage, this time) in an effort to watch the solar set behind its thatched roofs. To say nothing of the truth that amid all of it, I’d have to eat, and had my coronary heart particularly set on native beef at a yakiniku restaurant Tomoko had beneficial.

Japan typically feels trapped in time. However time right here additionally has a means of trapping you, even if you suppose you’ve got loads of it to spare.




Throughout the ocean the following day in Tsushima, I ended up dealing with a really completely different downside (or dilemma, because it have been): The rain was so heavy (and, at the very least in response to the forecast, so unlikely to cease earlier than I flew to Nagasaki the day after that), my sightseeing checklist proved roughly superfluous.

Akira, the one different buyer consuming inside a rokube noodle store that in any other case would’ve been overflowing, appeared to empathize. He’d moved from Osaka to the island months earlier for a single function—birdwatching—which was actually not possible on days like this.

He was none the wiser, to make certain, after I defined to him how I’d discovered my strategy to what occurred to be the closest restaurant to his rented residence.

“Not that I’m a Ok-Drama fan, thoughts you,” I defined in a mixture of Japanese and English to laughter from my new buddy, having advised him that the store had develop into well-known amongst vacationers from Korea (which was really nearer to this island than mainland Japan) after being briefly featured on a KBS present years earlier. “It was only a touchstone as I used to be planning.”

Which—planning, that is—had confirmed unexpectedly troublesome. As I shortly discovered, the precise Tsushima island is second in recognition to the fictionalized one in Ghost of Tsushima, a online game that conservatively makes up 80% of Google search outcomes about “Tsushima,” even in response to queries conspicuously about taking an actual journey to the actual place.

Whereas I’ve by no means been of clichés about clouds and silver linings, the truth is that despite being by far the largest of Nagasaki’s islands—it took actually two hours to drive from Izuhara Port to my lodge on its north shore—Tsushima merely isn’t residence to numerous notable points of interest.

Maybe fittingly, those I did find yourself having the ability to see beneath the deluge have been, for lack of a greater phrase, ghostly. As I stood below the principle torii of Watatsumi Shrine, wanting off into the space into Aso Bay, I contemplated whether or not I would simply disappear into the mist.


Tsubaki (camellia) are the de-facto image of the Goto islands, my third and remaining island vacation spot off the coast of Nagasaki, though that is puzzling for plenty of causes.

Before everything as a result of camellia is a winter flower; the local weather right here is sub-tropical. By the point I received right here throughout the third week of April, the one blooms I noticed have been decaying on the bottom.

Properly, the one precise blooms: Illustrated ones are in every single place, be they painted on bus stops, ferry terminals and different items of infrastructure, or constructed into the stained glass home windows of the archipelago’s dozens of Catholic church buildings.

(Which, other than such particulars—and the maybe-questionable “Hidden Christian” narrative that underlies their historical past—are totally unimpressive, at the very least to somebody from Europe or the Americas.)

And but in some ways, the Goto archipelago proved to be essentially the most satisfying section of my seabound sojourn. The place its broad strokes had didn’t encourage, its finer particulars have been did wanting captivate me.

This began proper because the airplane was touchdown: The volcanic soils of the fields coming into the main target have been a chalky chocolate which, when contrasted towards the colourful chartreuse of sprouting rice crops and the turbid teal of the waves lapping at its lava-rock shoreline, seemed nearly as if it would’ve been precise cocoa.

The next afternoon, standing beneath a likeness of the Mom Mary simply behind the stand of palms ensconcing Takaitabi Seaside on Nakadori, one of many satellites of Goto’s primary Fukue island, I learn a placard that took me all the way in which again to the start of the journey.

Through the Sakoku interval when Christians have been being persecuted, it defined, native craftsmen would typically disguise statues like this one as Kannon.

Whereas it was unlikely that the blurb in my seat mate’s newspaper had associated in any respect to this factoid, it did appear to counsel karma, kismet or coincidence.




At all times one for symmetry (if not sensibility), I made a decision to bookend my journey with a vacation spot that was maybe much more temperamental than the somei yoshino bushes of Takayama: Kawachi Wisteria Tunnel close to Fukuoka.

I knew of its temperament first-hand, having scored extremely sought-after tickets to the viral spot twice earlier than: In 2021 (after I received rained out); and simply final 12 months, when the vines reached full bloom a full week earlier than I used to be scheduled to reach.

As had been the case with postcard pursuit over within the Alps, my journey into the tunnel had been little greater than a shot at nighttime. I used to be merely hoping, with out proof, that the third time can be the appeal.

And but the second I emerged from my rental automobile—earlier than I even caught a glimpse of the arboretum, whose entrance is actually toes from the parking zone—the grape-candy odor that perfumed my nasal passages confirmed that I had as soon as once more hit the bullseye, if as soon as once more unwittingly.

I typically marvel, significantly after I miss the mark by a mile, whether or not I focus an excessive amount of on the main points of touring in Japan, if maybe my propensity for planning suffocates serendipity in its crib, earlier than it even has an opportunity to smile upon.

However this journey suggests {that a} rosier studying on actuality could also be so as: I create the vacuum nature abhors—and it fills the house with what I am keen on.



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