Full bloom...

Trip Start Feb 26, 2007
Trip End Jun 16, 2007

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Saturday, April 7, 2007

When travelling around Japan, there`s a danger of becoming shrined/templed/castled out as there are so many of the bloody things! However, during the cherry blossom season, there isn`t much chance of that happening because the colourful petals light up whichever destination you happen to be visiting. As a result, I did a day trip to Himeji on Tuesday to see yet another castle, albeit one that is considered to be the most magnificent in Japan...

I`d had a mixed bag of weather since arriving in Kyoto, but thankfully full bloom brought along blue sky, which always makes sightseeing more enjoyable (not to mention making photographs more impressive). I actually felt my neck burning a little bit as I walked around Himeji, gradually heading towards the castle that towers over the rest of the city...

On arrival, I had a brief look inside the castle, and it was interesting enough, but I wanted to be outside in the sunshine, and to be surrounded by all the cherry blossom trees...afterall, I couldn`t remember ever being in a more beautiful setting. Apparently the Japanese become somewhat depressed when the delicate petals begin to fall as it signifies that the brief season of sakura is coming to an end, and I can totally understand why as everything will seem so bare in the aftermath of such a colourful display.

After relaxing in the sun for a couple of hours, surrounded by Japanese people enjoying hanami, I made my way back to the train station...I had decided to call in at Osaka on my way home to visit the Working Holiday Association`s main office, and enquire about job opportunities in the area. There are a few factors that have made me want to elongate my stay in Japan (although one such factor stands head and shoulders above the others), and I`ll be looking further into it in May, after I`ve done a bit of travelling around...

In the meantime, I annoyingly had to change hostels as K`s House was entering its fully booked period. Unfortunately I misjudged the location of my new abode and ended up having to lug my backpacks through downtown Kyoto at midday, trying hard to find a path though the thousands and thousands of Japanese tourists, not to mention trying to avoid the bane of my existence in Japan...cyclists on the pavement (or "sidewalk" if you happen to be from Prince George, Canada)!

It was a bit of a rush, but I managed to arrive on time to meet Andrea at 1.30pm, and we went and did the Philosopher`s Walk together as it was now lined with hundreds of cherry blossom trees in full bloom. We had a gentle stroll for a couple of hours, before returning to the city centre and watching `Perfume` at the cinema, which turned out to be a great film, although very bizarre!

In what was turning out to be an eventful week, I went to Nara on Thursday and had a relaxing day surrounded by yet more cherry blossom. There were many tourists there of course, but the size of the park was such that it didn`t feel overcrowded at all, allowing me to have some quiet time sat in the sun (much needed after a week in the tourist mecca of Kyoto). Actually the biggest threat to my peace and quiet came from the abundant deer roaming around in search of food...or indeed, maps!

There were many shrines and temples within the park, all of which were attractive to look at, but the main attraction was Todai-ji, home to a gigantic bronze Buddha. It was an awesome sight, even surpassing the Daibatsu that I saw in Kamakura, and there were other fearsome statues surrounding it...definitely the highlight of the day.

A spur of the moment decision paid dividends the next day when I decided to go to Arashiyama, a district of Kyoto at the foot of the western mountains. There wasn`t a single cloud in the sky, providing great views as I strolled along the river and over the old bridge. It was completely rammed with people but I didn`t mind as the place had a nice family atmosphere, and the cherry blossom was as beautiful as ever. A photograph doesn`t really capture the spectacular sight of many intertwined sakura trees in full bloom...to actually be surrounded by them has left me open-mouthed at times.

I did a little detour to Fushimi-Inari Taisha on my way back to central Kyoto, a shrine famous for its hundreds of red torii that wind their way 4km up into the mountains. I didn`t walk the whole path but I spent an hour meandering my way through the torii and around the mini-shrines that were scattered around, as well as taking a look at the many statues of foxes along the way...apparently the Japanese see the fox as a sacred figure capable of possessing humans!

That evening, I went out for a few sakes with a Norwegian guy from my dorm, and he was very impressed when I told him that I`d been to Svalbard! My first impressions of him hadn`t been that great, as I barely slept a wink on my first night thanks to his ludicrous snoring, but he turned out to be a friendly bloke (complete with Frank Bruno laugh), and I enjoyed discussing football and travel with him.

I spent my last day in Kyoto with Andrea, beginning with her recounting, over a coffee, an horrendous day in which she`d had to be a tour guide for some, shall we say, dilitory fellow Canadians! She was relieved that it was over, but I`m afraid to say that I added insult to injury with some questionnable tactics in one arcade game, leading me to witness Andrea "in a moody," something that I thought was very cute! It certainly made me feel less guilty about my moodiness during and after the camera incident...

We went bowling after our arcade session, and despite winning the first game, I proceeded to lose the next four...with Andrea`s spirits now miraculously well and truely lifted! I blame the bowling shoes, as even the biggest size shoes were too small for me, making it more difficult to grip when approaching the bowling lane (just kidding, I openly admit to being rubbish at bowling!).

I`m sure that Andrea and me will have a bowling rematch at some point, but I won`t be in Kyoto again for the next few weeks as I embark on a three week trip around Kyushu, trying my best to avoid erupting volcanoes and the like...
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