A brief tale of my travels through Japan (in particular Sapporo, my second home). I started travelling to Japan in 2003, and have made 9 trips since then... I've been married (to T-chan), bought my first house, and had one child (our son, L-kun) and now a second one (our daughter, C-chan).
I'm writing this in 2012, so it's sort of like going back in a time machine. Eventually I will get back to current day!...
3rd May, 2008 - So we arrived in Japan, our fifth trip together - but (obviously) the first time with our son. We had been stressing out about how we would go on the flight over with L-kun, but the truth is he slept almost the entire way from Adelaide. However - such was our anxiety (as newbie parents) that we forgot to take any snapshots of our trip over. Or even our first day in Japan.
We had planned the trip to coincide with the sakura (cherry blossom) season in Hokkaido... however, like many things in life, it didn't quite work out as planned. Now according to local speculation, the peak season in Sapporo should be around early to mid-May (which is much later than most of Japan due to the colder temperatures in Hokkaido). Now this was the start of Golden Week (when there are 4 public holidays strung together... but I'll talk more about that later... today was Constitution Day. Yeah! In a normal year, the Cherry Blossoms peak throughout Golden Week, being a very convenient though busy time to enjoy a spot of hanami (flower viewing). This year however, the flowers had come early... in fact the earliest in 23 years (or so I read).
The best place in Sapporo to go for hanami is Maruyama Kouen, which sits adjacent to Hokkaido Jingu (shrine). This is where thousands of people go come Spring... so if you like avoiding crowds, try to avoid Maruyama Kouen. And what do you do when you go to hanami in Hokkaido? Well, typically gather a group together, rent a bbq (specifically jingisukan), bring lots of food and drink - then spend the rest of the afternoon/evening there getting decidely merry. Unfortunately, this year the blossoms were already saying "sayonara"... so it must have been a slightly muted experience for all of those thousands of people.
Now, before I go any further I should first of make some introductions... (without my usual smiley faces... maybe there's hope yet that T-chan will be happy to have her photo's up)
(left to right) L-kun, Otousan, S-Obasan, Okaasan
Anyhow, I guess L-kun is the easy one to pick from the photo above (it was a cool day, hence the blanket). On the left is my father-in-law (otousan=father) and on the right my mother-in-law (okaasan = mother). In the middle is my "auntie-in-law", let's just call her S-obasan (obasan = auntie).
Whilst I mentioned that the cherry blossoms were on the way out, of course, there were a few left. You'll note that these sakura are not the typical white ones that we normally associated with cherry blossoms... but rather a beautiful pink shade. Actually there are a number of different varieties in the park... with over 1700 cherry trees within the park itself. Actually - there are three main varieties: yamazakura (mountain cherry), ezo yamazakura (Ezo mountain cherry - which is also known as known as the Sargent's Cherry. Note Ezo is also written as Yezo which was an alternative name for Hokkaido), and finally the somei yoshino zakura. I'm definitely not an expert at discerning the different types... but somethings can just be enjoyed.
Yezo Yamazakura (Yezo Mountain Cherry)
There were white sakura blossoms. When the blooms have lost their petals, they look more like the traditional flower.... but they had definitely reached the end of their peak.
The sakura below bloomed in abundance... though so the story goes, you can search your whole life and not find the perfect blossom. No matter how many there are. Having said that... why would you want to? Those crazy Japanese... always looking for answers to slightly oddball questions.
This was my first experience with cherry blossoms, and I have to admit that I was a little disappointed (that we'd arrived so late to miss the main show). However, we had a fantastic picnic lunch and L-kun enjoyed himself tremendously... especially when the wind picked up and we were showered with blossoms... a phenomenon known a sakura fubuki... or cherry blossom snow-storm.
There were other blossoms going strong at the time... for example Maruyama has a lot of plum trees as well that bloomed in just as spectacular a show... We enjoyed these blooms slightly more as they were still at their peak. Though they lack the beauty of the cherry blossom, they made up in sheer presence.
I guess the lesson here is that going to Japan to see the Cherry Blossoms is always a bit of a gamble... unless you can (1) stay a long time either side of the peak, or (2) have the flexibility to travel to find the blossoms which take several months to travel south to north through Japan.
One of the things that I had not quite expected however - that did come as a very nice surprise - was the amazing display of colour from the tulips that were planted around the front of Maruyama Kouen (and for that matter all over the city). Sapporo definitely has a tulip fetish, and they can be found growing every where.. even on the sides of the roads. Indeed there's even a variety of Tulip named after Sapporo.
Certainly - they grow well here, and provided a splash of colour that really did bring home the fact that it was Spring-time in Japan.