Friday, April 11, 2008

Japan - Cherry Blossoms

We love to visit Japan any time of year. But our favorite time is mid-April, during the cherry blossom season. And there is no better place in the world to see spring unfold than in Kyoto. Kyoto is Japan’s cultural heart. With an astonishing 1600 Buddhist temples, 400 Shinto shrines, grand palaces, dozens of parks and gardens, Kyoto is one of the most culturally rich cities in the world. It houses some 20% of Japan’s National Treasures, with 17 of its ancient structures and gardens designated UNESCO World heritage Sites.
Because Kyoto was the only major city not bombed during the Second World War, it still holds the flavor of ancient Japan, with narrow stone streets winding through neighborhoods of small wooden houses, and all the old temples and shrines are intact. But in the spring, it is the gardens that everyone comes to experience, and people all over Japan become pervaded with “cherry blossom mania” and flock to Kyoto while the trees are in bloom. The city comes alive with color, white, pink, and red blooms seemingly everywhere your eye wanders. Many of the grander gardens have massive bamboo supports bracing the branches of very old and massive cherry trees.

Osaka castle

The best places we found to experience the cheery blossoms were, the gardens of the Imperial Place, Nijo Castle gardens, the Kinkakuji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), and the Kiyomizudera Temple which is built on a steep hillside with wonderful views of the city. But you don’t have to visit the major sites to enjoy the beautiful spring blossoms. Many of the cities greatest aspects can be enjoyed by simply rambling through the back streets. Some of the tiny gardens of houses and small temples and neighborhood shrines are the most breathtaking.

The Great Buddha of Kamakura is a bronze statue of Amida Buddha that is located on the grounds of the Kotokuin Temple. With a height of 13.35 meters, it is the second largest Buddha statue in Japan. You can actually go inside of the Buddha through a side entrance and view the cavernous Buddha from within.
The statue was cast in 1252 and originally located inside a large temple hall. However, the temple buildings were washed away by a tsunami tidal wave in the end of the 15th century, and since then the Buddha stands in the open air.

Pachincko is still a very popular amusement for many Japanese in urban areas. It's not at all uncommon to see long queues forming just before opening times in the morning.

Kyoto, Japan time

*Memories: Ryokans, Sushi, Springtime

*Visits: Winter 1999, 2000, Spring 2003, 2005