Trip Start Jul 22, 2006
Trip End Aug 15, 2010

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Flag of Japan  , Ibaraki,
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thank you very much for your comments on the pictures in my last entry!  Once again, please feel free to comment as much as you like, as I'd love to know whether you think plum blossoms are as lovely as I think they are.

* * *

Japan likes neat little lists, such as "The Three Most..." of anything.  A few weeks ago, I visited Kairakuen, one of the "Three Great Gardens" of the country.  I'd actually been there once before, in the summer, but I thought that since the place is famous for its plum blossoms, I really ought to visit again when the trees were in bloom.

The day of my planned expedition turned out to be rainy and cold, and all my friends bailed on me.  Still, I embarked on the three-hour train journey (I could have taken an express train to save myself an hour of travel time, but I didn't feel like paying more than I had to, and besides, I like travelling by train), armed with umbrella and my camera.

The Joban line from Tokyo has a stop at Kairakuen, but it's only open during the plum blossom festival, in March.  The rest of the year, you have to get off at Mito Station and take a bus to Kairakuen.  Since Kairakuen Station is not a regular one, there were no permanent card readers (for the Suica Card, a rechargeable card for public transit), only employees with portable scanners.

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised by the number of people who decided, like me, to not let something as trivial as the weather get in the way of their touristing.  In Japan, visiting famous sites and bringing back souvenir snacks is a sacred activity; it would take more than near-freezing temperatures and rain to keep people at home.  Over the course of the day, I became quite adept at snapping pictures one-handed, as my other hand was frozen in a claw shape around the handle of my umbrella.

As expected, the plum blossoms were lovely; I'm not sure how many varieties Kairakuen boasts, but there were many, many different kinds, ranging in colour from white to deep magenta.  My first winter in Japan, I fell in love with these small, beautiful flowers, and I can't seem to get enough of them, especially of their sweet, fruity fragrance.  My only disappointment this time was that because of the cold, the scent was fainter than it would have been on a warm day.

In addition to the thousands of blooming plum trees, I saw the home of Tokugawa Nariaki, the daimyo who had Kairakuen built in the 1840's.  It was nice to be out of the rain for a while, and once I made my way back through the garden, I warmed my hands and my insides with a cup of piping hot amazake, then spent some time sampling food at the various gift shops before heading back to the train station.
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