So last weekend I couldn’t resist the end of the sakura for this year. I suspected that there were not many left from my tiresome inquiries to anyone who lived in or been recently to the Tokyo area. But I didn’t want to miss out a chance to fly up and wander around Ueno Park (sort of like NYC’s Central Park) and partake in this yearly Japanese event.
I discovered a lovely hotel in Chiba, my new love on Mainland, and checked JetStar Airlines for a bargain. I found one, loaded up my Patagonia backpack and I was off to a three day adventure in Tokyo. I left Naha at about 0730 on Saturday morning and we touched down in Tokyo at 1000.
I know I have talked about the free goodies at Japanese hotels, such as pajamas and slippers, free toothbrushes, washcloths, combs and hair bands. But here’s a little information I haven’t mentioned. If it says check in time is 1500, they are not just joking around. You do not get checked in at 1458 or even 1459, 1500 is when it happens. I don’t know why I always forget this and think there will be some flexibility. They will however hold your bags, so I always pack a little cheap nylon backpack with my Doraemon (look it up) pin to throw my cameras in.
I consulted my app for trains, departure times and cost. I hopped on the Keisei Electric Rail which takes me right into Ueno Park. This might explain how I always end up there. By 1500, I had disembarked the crowded train and stepped into the stream of humanity that is Tokyo.
In the park there were all these blue tarps on the ground and people everywhere, talking, laughing, drinking and eating. Children running around, chasing each other. This is hanami: a picnic under the cherry trees and it is ubiquitous in Japan. Any cherry tree you see with blossoms, will have a bunch of people camped out underneath having a picnic. It is amazing to me
The sakura here in Okinawa usually comes and goes in the month of February, since we are such a tropical place. And the Okinawa sakura are indeed something to behold, but the Japanese sakura is something else, not just a blossom of another color, the tree is different and there are these big pompoms of light, almost white petals. Next year I will return to see the sakura at the beginning of the year. What a treat to be able to experience these things.
I was speaking with someone this week about these uniquely Japanese experiences, like the onsen and hanami. She said when you love these things you have a Japanese heart. I thought that was beautiful. I also thought of that wonderful movie ‘The Last Samurai’ and Katsumoto says a life searching for the perfect blossom would not be a wasted life. At the end of the movie, his honored restored and dying on the field of battle he says finally, ‘they are all perfect.’ …. I understand now.
I walked around the park, ignoring the pandas that are in the zoo there. I would love to see the pandas, because I feel that they probably don’t do anything differently in the zoo than they would do in nature, eat bamboo and sleep. But I can’t look at animals imprisoned for being animals. I wandered down to Shinobazu Pond where any animals I encountered were there of their own free will. I watched a little sparrow taking a dirt bath, several ducks and a gorgeous egret. I had the thrill to watch it hunt for dinner.
I had a nice cup of coffee, delicious Korean barbecue and got a late train back to Chiba shi (city) and took my time walking down to the hotel. I was a little chilly as my blood has thinned living here in the land of eternal sunshine and flowers. Not too far from the hotel was the sketchy session, which means of course, I had to walk there. No incidents, but plenty to see, another side of the Japanese culture.
In the morning I decided to go check out the Chiba Shrine since it looked interesting in all the pictures I had seen. Located about three blocks from my hotel, I could see it from my room, well, if I stuck my head out the window, but still…
The shrine was built in 1181…yes that’s right…1181..and dedicated to the Shinto deity Myoken, a “bosatsu” who is the personification of the Polaris Star. Myoken is believed to offer protection from bad luck and bad health. It was tranquil, picturesque and fragrant. Blooming trees, incense and the spring breeze perfumed the air. Kois swam lazily in a sun-reflecting pond. I think this is one of my favorite places and I will definitely visit again when I am in Chiba again.
There is also the world’s longest suspended monorail that wends through the city. I just looked at it this time, but maybe next time I will work up the nerve to get on and take a ride.
Yesterday I took a little day trip over to Croissant Island…Minna Jima….I have a sunburn and the pictures, now all I have to do is write it…
have a great week everybody!