I have always been fascinated by people who chase storms, driving thousands of miles in order to witness a big thunderstorm. I can understand wanting to watch nature displaying its power. And here in Japan, I have become a chaser of sorts, a cherry blossom chaser, a flower chaser per excellence, covering about 2,000 miles to see nature at its best. And I have seen the most beautiful sights imaginable.
I spent four days with the flu in bed in Tokyo when I first arrived but dragged myself on the 5th day for a couple of hours to visit Shinjuku Gyoen Park to see the late blossom. Still a little bit feverish, I thought this was a magnificent spectacle. Everyone was out enjoying the day, families having a picnic under the pink blossom shade, children running around, everyone seemed very happy. Coming across the beginning of azalea flowering in the pond area was fabulous.
I headed north to Kakunodate, an old samurai town where sadly I was too early by only a couple of days so there was no blossom to be seen. The samurai houses were interesting and simpler than I expected. The 2 km tree filled walk by the river forms a blossom tunnel when it is out which must be amazing. But I just walked it with the buds peeking out. Walking around the town I and everyone else, came across 3 trees that were already in full bloom so I perched myself on a rock waiting for the current bus load of Japanese admiring the blossom to move on so I could enjoy it in relative peace. As I sat there, a Japanese man came up to me, handed me a purple freesia and said “welcome”, bowed twice and he moved on. I was so stunned that I all could do was give him a big smile. It has been a while since a complete stranger complimented me like this!
The city of Akita is pleasant and I was looking forward to Senshu Park. This was like the day in Tokyo, families all out enjoying the blossom and the good weather. As I was walking along a trail I came across a mother and daughter who were very curious and started asking me questions: where are you from, what do you think of Japan, our city, the blossom, what has been your favourite, how long are you staying here. A string of questions that with time would become very typical and familiar. We chatted for a bit and the mother said she made bags, she whipped her bag open, took out 3 fabric bags and said “one is for you as a gift”. Again, I was stunned. This kind of thing has happened to me frequently in the north of Japan. I am left with a very warm, funny feeling in my stomach.
I left Hirosaki for the end and I am glad I did. For the blossom here is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Words can only fail to describe the immense beauty of so many pink cherry blossoms against the backdrop of the moat, bridges or castle. There is a small blossom tunnel by the water that you can walk in about 10 minutes so I had a small taste of Kakunodate would have been in its splendour. I have developed a technique to chat to people, I sit on a bench, wait and soon enough someone joins me and it is wonderful to see how curious and friendly everyone is. I am loving this country.