FLEETING BLOSSOMS, ETERNAL SPIRIT
For many people, the iconic image of springtime in Japan is the sakura (cherry blossom). These beautiful petals only appear for a limited time early of the year and predicting when the cherry trees will be in full bloom is hardly an exact science.Luckily, a visit to Japan in spring isn’t dependent on sakura, as the nation has so much more to offer visitors during this time.
Among the many varieties of cherry trees,the Somei-Yoshino is grown all over Japan and its delicate pale pink flowers make it one of the most popular sakura, according to The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).These bloom in early spring in southern Japan and as late as May in the north. For example, in the city of Aomori, the Hirosaki Sakura Matsuri festival is held in Hirosaki Park every year from April 23 to May 3.
Hirosaki Park not only has the oldest Somei-Yoshino tree, planted in 1882, but it’s also the home of Hirosaki Castle. Castles across Japan are worth a visit in any season.In spring, the new foliage and colorful flowers present a particularly attractive image. If traveling throughout Kyushu in the south, then Kumamoto Castle is a place to visit for several reasons; it’s one of the most spectacular castles and a trip there helps support the landmark and the community, as both continue to recover from the effects of the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake.
Warmer weather and longer days mean more outdoor events across the country. For those who don’t mind loud, crowded festivals,the Sanja Matsuri (May 18 to 20) in the Asakusa district of Tokyo is one of the biggest in the country and features parades of mikoshi (portable shrines) and floats with musicians and dancers.
For a quieter time, head to Ashikaga Flower Park in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, to attend the Tale of Fuji no Hana (wisteria) festival (April 18 to May 20). The hanging masses of trellised wisteria — in purple, pale red, white and yellow — dazzle the eye by day or night; from April 21 through May 13, the flowers are illuminated between 5:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
As for seasonal delicacies, bamboo shoots and asari clams are springtime delights, as are spring tempura with vegetables such as fukinoto (butterbur shoots) and kogomi (fiddlehead ferns).
Spring also means the beginning of the baseball season for sports-minded visitors.Watching a Japanese baseball game is quite the cultural experience. For those looking forward to the Rugby World Cup in Japan next year, this is the season when applications for tickets are being ramped up ahead of the general sales starting this autumn.
The JNTO has been helping promote the 12 host cities of the Rugby World Cup 2019, the first cup to be held in Asia. A designated website (visitjapan2019.com) showcases the host cities and presents general information and news for visitors attending the Rugby World Cup. Maps to the stadiums, access information and sightseeing and accommodation recommendations are provided for each host city. The site is available in English, French and Italian, and will continue to be updated as the event approaches.
The Japan Times also has a similar website to promote the host cities of the Rugby World Cup games at www.japantimes.co.jp/rugbyworld-cup-2019-host-cities.
Japan’s national rugby team happens to be called the Brave Blossoms and their logo depicts three sakura blossoms. Perhaps cherry blossoms will soon reach an even more iconic status not limited to spring.