Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Spring in Japan!

Spring is officially my new favorite season. It used to be summer, but I realized that was an antiquated notion of mine from a time when summer meant freedom from school for three months to play video games all morning, swim all afternoon, and watch anime all night (oh, sweet sweet childhood). Now though, the events, weather, and foliage of spring have made it my new favorite time of year. And lucky for me, Japan in spring is absolutely gorgeous!

I knew this because I have already seen springtime in Japan during my stint as a study abroad student. But this time was so much sweeter after enduring a frigid winter in Tamba. First, finally being able to wear shorts and shirts again was enough to put a huge smile on my face, but then I remembered that place I was avoiding all winter - outside! Everywhere I looked were gorgeous flowers in bloom: tulips, irises, daffodils, petunias, lilies, etc. And then of course are the more popular ones that generate whole matsuris (festivals) and special viewing events just for them. The popular events I attended were for plum ()*, cherry (桜), and wisteria () blossoms. There are waaay too many places in Japan that have spectacular scenery surrounding seasonal flowers, so I just stuck to my area and was not disappointed.

In addition to the natural beauty, spring has, like other seasons, seen new seasonal products (probably the most famous being products flavored with plum or cherry, obviously) and also presented some opportunities for vacation! My previous entry covered my travels during spring, so check that out!

*Some people might consider plum blossom viewing to be a winter occasion since they start in February. However, I'm grouping seasons into three month periods with spring being March, April, and May. Plum blossoms blooming through the March thus I include it in my springtime adventures since that's when I saw them.

Plum Blossom Viewing (梅見): In the Osaka Castle park grounds is a massive plum grove that attracts visitors from all over. If you're unfamiliar, there are several types of plum blossoms with different colorings to accompany them. During my first spring in Japan, I hadn't realized that what I was seeing in March were plum blossoms and not cherry blossoms. They can be easily confused at first glance, but I think I've seen enough now to be able to pick them out from a line up - you know if it ever came to that, hehe. As you can tell from the pictures, it was still a bit nippy even in late March, but what you can't tell is that walking through grove had an intoxicating smell.

Cherry Blossom Viewing (花見): I visited several places this year and adhered to the fun tradition of having picnics under the trees with friends; first at Sakuranomiya in Osaka, and then at various parks in Tamba. Kyoto is one of the most famous places to see cherry blossoms since the flowers coupled with the ancient shrines and temples creates amazing scenery to behold that sends the Japanese into a frenzy and has them flocking from all over the country to see. Fortunately for me though, I did the Kyoto circuit back in my Gaidai days and avoided the crowds this time.

Wisteria Blossom Viewing (藤見): Wisteria season took me by surprise. I was so preoccupied with preparing for my Golden Week plans that when I got back, I was lucky to hear about an event and then was barely able to make time to go to it. I went to Byakugoji Temple in nearby Ichijima which apparently was not a secret spot considering half my town was there. Parking was a nightmare, and the temple was quite crowded, but it was breathtaking nonetheless. I've heard of several other impressive sites for wisteria viewing in Hyogo that I'll be sure to check out next time!