And so the time has come, the cherry blossom has bloomed in glorious style here in Aomori-ken, it is the official marking of the lifting of the snow blanket, life has returned, it’s pink and beautiful and it’s all around us.
A trip to Hirosaki Castle is on everybody’s to do list, it is known as one of the best places in the Tohoku region to view the cherry blossom. There are over 2,000 cherry trees in the castle area, of varying color and variety, the grounds are truly draped in blossoms ( there are probably over 2,000 SLR cameras photographing these flowers every second).
The start of May is Golden week here in Japan. A string of national holidays bunched together, which I’ve been told was organised by the government to force the hard working Japanese people to take well deserved breaks from work, days that they would never take out of choice. A friday, then a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday results in a great opportunity for people to rest and/or travel. This luckily co-opperates with Aomori’s Sakura season! Giving the prefecture an enjoybale activity to pass the days off.
On Saturday we drove the 1 hour trip from Aomori city to Hirosaki and joined thousands of others walking up the streets to the main gate of the castle (which was originally completed in 1611, destroyed by lightning in 1627 and rebuilt in 1810). Dressed for the occasion people were walking in beautifully delicate ‘spring’ clothes, enjoying the warmer weather after a long hibernation in layers and layers of thermals. Children and grandmothers and brothers, everybody was here. The blossom was truly amazing, dripping from the trees everywhere you turned. It also became an equally enjoyable site to watch everyone desperate for the perfect photograph. Japan is photo crazy, completely crazy. One must get a close up of each variety/ color of blossom from every angle as well as a couple/ group/ family shot with a) the castle in the background and b) the blossom….both together is the real winner but its only possible if you wait long enough to grab a spot from the crowded bridge. It’s very easy to get sucked into this photo craze, I find myself sneaky peeking at other people’s photos and become very jealous if I don’t get the perfect shot that they did. Quite scary when you realize you barely even noticed your surroundings, all you wanted was that photograph! Every so often you see someone with a lens bigger than a small child or another setting up an elaborate tripod stand, which snaps me out of the craze. I suddenly realize I am no competition for these pro’s, all you can do is laugh at yourself and your bizarre instinct desire for the perfect photograph.
‘Hanami’ are cherry blossom viewing parties, they are an important Japanese custom where people enjoy picnics and BBQ’s beneath the blossom. The castle grounds were littered with groups enjoying an afternoon beneath the blooms.
What I find really enjoyable about living in Japan is all the seasons having their own events. Summer is ‘Nebuta’ Festival, Autumn is the viewing of the ‘Changing of the Leaves’, Winter is the ‘Snow festival’ and Spring is ‘Cherry Blossom’. Here we are, spring is here and thank god for its arrival. Spring for Aomori means so much more, the snow that has engulfed us for many many months has eventually departed and this change over is celebrated with the arrival of the cherry blossom, it gives you a realization of your survival of the difficult winter. A sense of freedom, Aomori feels so warm inside and happy.
For Tohoku spring is a new beginning, a step to brighter weeks ahead compared to the devastating weeks recently passed. A chance to look forward to a more positive and uplifting season to be.