The trouble with Japan is that it is a country so rich in history and culture that there is always so much to see and do. So, while a morning’s rest might have been in order after all our trekking around we decided to make the most of my parents’ last day in Japan.
When the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck Japan in 1985 my dad was working as a geography teacher and brought the earthquake part of the school syllabus forward in order that the students could learn about the tragedy of earthquakes as events unfolded in and around Kobe. He never thought he would have the opportunity to visit this part of Japan himself but look who just gave him the excuse!
Mum and dad had already paid a visit to the Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum whilst I was working at Matsusue’s Bonsai studio last week but this morning I recommended that we make a return trip to Awaji (I had taken them to see Kiseki no Hoshi the previous weekend) to visit the Hokkudan Earthquake Memorial Park. The section of the Nojima fault line preserved here makes quite an impression on all who visit the Memorial Park – you may remember that Phil and I visited here during our first month in Japan. The blog from that trip can be viewed here https://triadfellowship.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/hokudan-earthquake-memorial-park-and-nagoya-flower-market/ .
Next it was back to Himeji Castle for a third time to show my parents this most splendid of Japanese Castles and to meet two of my friends who had arrived in Japan the previous day and were here in Japan to spend a week travelling with me. Again, if you’d like to know more about the history of the castle, please see my previous blog post https://triadfellowship.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/himeji-castle-and-koko-en-gardens/ .
Those who have read the blog may remember that the donjon (main tower) was still under construction so we were unable to enter on that occasion. March 27th saw the grand reopening of Himeji Castle following a major five-year restoration project, so our intention today had been to explore the castle in its entirety. That was until we saw the queues! Apparently everyone else in Japan had the same idea and the queues for tickets were around 90 minutes long! With mum and dad’s flight from Kansai Airport looming large we decided instead to order lunch from a nearby bento vendor and sit beneath the glorious sakura around the castle grounds instead.
Actually Haname – as the practice of ‘bentoing’ (yes, I made that word up) with friends whilst enjoying cherry blossom is correctly known – is something I’d been looking forward to ever since my arrival in Japan. What a glorious way to spend an hour or so of one’s day, I thought. Interestingly, haname literally translates as ‘flower viewing’ (‘hana’ means ‘flower’) but the term is reserved exclusively for the sakura season, when Japanese people traditionally gather together to eat, drink and be merry together beneath the pretty pink petals which herald the true arrival of spring.
Wandering the grounds after our own little Haname fiesta we met (Mr? Mrs?) Himeji!. I love how the Japanese are able to create a characterisation of literally anything! My friend Siân and I couldn’t resist posing for a photograph!
Nor could Thomas resist posing for one with this samurai character. Well, I may have coerced him…
The cherry blossom at Himeji Castle really was quite spectacular and I can quite see why the castle is renowned for it! What a treat to arrive in just the right season to see the castle at its best!
A truly beautiful place in which to say goodbye to my wonderful parents…
…and a great place to celebrate the arrival of my friends Siân and Thomas.
After checking into our hotel in Himeji, Siân, Thomas and I took a little wander around the town centre, stumbling into the basement floor of a large department store where we tried ‘sakura’, the flavour of the month, in ice cream form. Delicious of course!
Then it was time for dinner and a celebratory drink at a nearby restaurant, and to discuss our plans for an exciting week of travel in Japan!
PS. For anyone wondering about the title ‘sugoi’ means ‘amazing’…