Atsuta Jingu Shrine, Nagoya

I approached a man near the stairs of a subway exit.  He looked as if he was unsure of where he was.  I walked toward his direction and got a closer look at his face.

“すみません。遅くになりました。携帯電話は家で忘れちゃった。間違い電車を乗りました。ごめんなさい,”I said apologetically.  He didn’t look pissed or disappointed at me.

“何時に来ましたか?,” I asked.

“10時” he replied.

I checked my watch and it was almost 11:00 am.  We were supposed to meet at 10 in the morning, but I forgot my cell phone at my apartment.    Since I mostly rely on my cellphone to find out what train I need to ride here and there, I got on the wrong subway train twice.  I wasn’t expecting him to still be at our meeting place, although I hoped he would be just so I could explain myself.  After I made my way pass the non-optical turnstile at the subway station, I looked for him, but he was nowhere to be found. It was then that I decided to just go through with our initial plan of exploring Atsuta Shrine.

The weather was the opposite of the sunny yesterday.  It was cold and raining.  I crossed the street and that was when I found him.  I actually forgot his real name, but I had no intention of asking him again because it just seemed awkward. And so instead of calling him by his name, I managed to say すみません – which means I’m sorry or Excuse me. It sounded perfect especially in our situation. 

We went around the Atsuta Shrine vicinity while getting lost in translation.   He is at N3  level and I am at N4 in terms of Japanese ability. He couldn’t understand English and so we both communicated in a language that neither of us was highly proficient at.  After sightseeing, we had lunch at a Korean restaurant that I frequent at Kanayama Station.  We were beside a Japanese couple and I just felt uneasy speaking in Japanese beside the natives. While waiting for our food, there were episodes of silence between us, but I didn’t mind.  I just wanted to eat. Probably because of the limited vocabulary that we possess, the question and answer portion was filled with questions one doesn’t normally ask on a first date — the worst was when he asked me how much salary I make!

I felt like the whole situation is just a preview of what dating life would be in case I’d ever date a Japanese man.    After he paid the bill for our lunch, he asked me where I wanted to go next.

“今から帰ります。大丈夫?洗濯をしなければなりません,” I told him just so I could excuse myself.

We parted ways at the station.  I didn’t go home and do laundry as what I mentioned to him.  Instead, I spent the remaining afternoon naked in a big indoor bath tub called onsen with the obaasan in my town.

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This is a ‘yorishiro’ – an object considered sacred.  This sacred tree has a rope called ‘shimenawa’ tied around it for ritual purification.

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Empty sake barrels called Kazaridaru 

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Temizuya water pavilion. You have to rinse your hands and mouth before entering the shrine to purify yourself.

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Atsuta Jingu shrine is the second most important Shinto shrine in Japan after Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture.

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Shirotori Garden 

I kept on drinking the cold bottled water that I bought from one of the vending machines nearby as I patiently waited for other people who signed up to join the activity.  The organizers were already there but we were far from complete. We stood outside Jingunishi Station as people from different nationalities started arriving. After I uttered a simple hello to each one, I kept myself busy by looking around or scrolling the feed in my cellphone.  I just find small talks so superficial that I just couldn’t get myself to engage in it.

I was one of those who received an email invitation to join the event. As I had not been to Shirotori Garden nor participated in a ‘roudoku’, I was very interested to attend. I wasn’t just going to go sightseeing, but also learn about Japanese culture. I didn’t have so many opportunities to do this after I finished my scholarship in the university. It was also one way for me to mingle and get myself to socialize!

After a long walk to the garden, we were divided into groups. An English guide was assigned to us. As I am not such a fan of guided tours, I found it so long and dragging at first. The tour guide gave trivias about the place and even told us about a famous Japanese story, which I happened to read once at the school library.  The volunteer guide was such a nice lady and I later found out that she’s working as a junior high school teacher. 

After a guided tour of the garden, we were led into a tea ceremony house. The view overlooking the garden is beautiful. There’s a pond filled with lily pads and carps. Inside the tea house, we were served with green tea and Japanese sweets.  I really admire the Japanese way of serving tea. Even though there were many of us, the master didn’t get tired of serving us the green tea individually. 

After having the Japanese sweets and matcha, we were given a written copy of the masterpiece “The Restaurant of Many Orders ” by Kenji Miyazawa.  The text was written in hiragana.  Each one of us were assigned a role to practice. When the ‘roudoku’ or read-aloud session started,  I was amazed with how our Japanese companions were so good with the activity. They were amazing voice actors. The session was even complete with sound effects. 

The whole activity made me admire the Japanese literary art. There’s harmony with nature. Walking along the Shirotori Garden, drinking green tea, and performing a literary piece help you appreciate art and nature while at the same time calm and relax your mind.  It is such an awesome idea to have the garden in the middle of the city. It is a perfect place to escape from the busy metropolis. 

Wisteria

The reign of cherry blossoms has ended which means other spring flowers will have their time to shine.  Most people flock to gardens or tunnels to see the growing wisteria. Wisteria has its own charm as a growing vine with purple or white flowers.11Mandaraji Park is one of the nearest places in my area to see the wisteria.  This park can be found in Konan City in Aichi Prefecture.  I had a very smooth travel going to Konan Station.  If you’re coming from Nagoya, it takes less than 30 minutes by train via Meitetsu Inuyama Line.  By the time I exited the station, I saw someone holding a placard informing the travelers where they could ride the bus going to Mandaraji Park.  I really found it very helpful as I didn’t know in which bus stop I was supposed to go to.12I went to Mandaraji Park on May 4th  which is actually Midori no Hi or Greenery Day in Japan.  It is a day to appreciate mother nature.  Thus, I found it befitting to see the blooming wisteria on that particular holiday.  It was  sunny but I didn’t feel sweaty at all because the wisteria vines kept me under the shade.  Plus, the beauty of nature really has a way to keep one in a good mood.13Actually, I’ve only come to appreciate spring this time around because I was more of an autumn person.  But after being stuck in cold weather for many months, I find myself longing for the warmth of the spring season.  The presence of flowers in the front yard of the houses I pass allows my mind to destress even for just a moment.  Truly, colors and flowers have a positive effect on a person’s emotional state.  Until now, it amazes me to see these beautiful flowers just within my reach because not all people are lucky enough to see so much of nature in the place where they live.14There is just something ethereal walking through a place with hanging bluish-purple wisteria vines.  I feel like I am in a fairytale world.  Actually, Mandaraji Park isn’t the place where I really wanted to go to see the wisteria.  My dream destination is the Wisteria flower tunnel at Kawachi Fuji Garden in Fukuoka.  Since I ran out of budget to go to Kyushu Island, I decided to just enjoy the wisteria in Aichi Prefecture.

As I entered Mandaraji Park, I was actually disappointed because the wisteria vines that I saw were lacking in length.  They were just crawling on the trellis.  But as I walked further inside, I finally spotted the hanging wisteria vines which were much longer than the ones I saw at the entrance.  Aside from the bluish-purple species, I also enjoyed the white-colored wisterias because they smelled so good.  It reminded me of Sampaguita: the national flower of the Philippines.15What I appreciate most in Japan is that even disabled people get to enjoy nature.  I spotted one or two people in wheelchairs.  It’s always a family affair whenever Japanese people go sightseeing. I really appreciate how this country makes it easy for everyone to access the local tourist spots.

Flowers are beautiful gifts of nature.  They’re one of the reasons why I travel to different places. Hopefully, I’ll get to visit my dream wisteria tunnel.16

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Cherry Blossoms at Yamazakigawa River

DSCF3423 “This weekend is the best time to see the cherry blossoms,” mentioned the woman I work with.  It might be true but I wasn’t planning to have my hanami on said weekend because I had a dental appointment.  Come Saturday, I was patiently waiting for my teeth to be examined when the dentist assistant engaged me in a chitchat.  “Today is the best time to see the cherry blossoms,” she said cheerfully.  Two Japanese women randomly telling me that that Saturday was the perfect time to see the cherry blossoms made me decide to finally go to Yamizakigawa River: the best viewing spot in Aichi prefecture.

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It was the first weekend of April. Most people probably scheduled their hanami on that day if I base it on the number of people around.  It was rainy the day prior to that and the days after which made it the perfect day.  It was a sunny spring day so I didn’t have to wear my long coat.  It was a comfortable long walk because the sun’s heat was not intense.  This is my second time to live in Japan and also my second time to experience spring.

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Since my arrival in August of last year, I started having a deep fascination with flowers.  Cherry Blossom, being the most beautiful and beloved in this country, is always a must-see.  The sight of just one or two trees is not enough for ne anymore as I always spot them on my way to work every week.  Thus, I longed to see a hundred of them in a park or lining a river.  Yamazakigawa is a perfect choice and a recommended spot in most of my online searches.

I reached the subway station but since it’s still a 10-minute walk, my problem started to arise.  I didn’t know which way to go so I just followed the direction where most people went.  Unfortunately, almost ten minutes had passed but there was still no sign of cherry blossoms.  That was when I finally decided to use google map to bring me to Nagoya Women’s University which is near the river.  When I reached Nagoya University, I saw many people going in one direction so I just started following them.  Lines of cherry blossoms can also be found along the road.  By the time I saw a bridge, I knew that I found the Yamazakigawa River.

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I went to Yamazakigawa with the intention of photographing only the beauty of the place.  When I include myself into the picture, I usually become a little stressed because I tend to focus on getting a good angle for my portrait.  But on that rare day, my mind was just on the cherry blossoms.  I walked the long kilometer of the riverside.  The place was packed with people.  It amuses me how the Japanese celebrate hanami.  I saw people with their family, friends, and partners eating lunch or having snacks under the cherry blossom trees.  Because it was too crowded, I think some of them didn’t mind at all even if they weren’t able to set-up a plastic blanket on the ground for their hanami.  Some brought a cooler and even had wine.  Some had bento boxes which were probably bought from a convenience store on their way to the river.  There were also two or three small vans selling street food.  Although there weren’t a lot, the restaurants near the area were also full.

I was glad I did go on that particular day.  Thanks to the two Japanese women who unconsciously prodded me.  The cherry blossoms were at their best.  The rain partnered with the strong wind of the succeeding days would have hastened the falling of the petals.  Ymazakigawa River, undeniably, had the most number of cherry blossom trees that I’ve seen in my region so far.

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Irago Nanohana Garden, Tahara City

“And I thought to myself, what a wonderful world.” This line of a famous song instantly registered in my mind right after I stepped into the garden.  You have to see the place to understand what I mean.  Irago Nanohana Garden is such a spectacle of beauty in early spring.

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Irago Nanohana Graden is one big garden filled with rapeseed blossoms (nanohana).  It’s the widest flower field that I’ve ever been so far. The rapeseed plants grow as high as five feet. There’s an elevated ground in the middle that allows you to see the whole place.   If you stand in that area, you can see the vastness of the garden from left to right.  I’ve never seen so much yellow around me.  There are enough rapeseed blossoms as far as your eyes can see.

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Irago Nanohana Garden is a perfect place to enjoy nature together with family, friends, and loved ones.  There are stalls near the gate entrance that offer different kinds of Japanese snacks, street food, and local souvenirs.  If you want to dress up your toddler, you can also rent a bumblebee outfit in one of the stalls.  I’ve seen parents who really enjoyed taking photographs of their cute kids in costume. The middle part of the garden also serves as a playground for kids where they can ­­do sand sledding. There are also specially decorated areas that are meant for taking souvenir pictures.  You can also pick rapeseed blossom from the garden to take home.  There’s a designated part where visitors can use scissors and just cut the flowers.

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The garden is difficult to access using local transportation.  The first time I decided to go there, I wasn’t able to see the place because there was no shuttle bus on that particular day.  The local shuttle bus was only available on specific dates.  Actually, the shuttle bus that I rode became full at once, but going back, I was the only passenger.  Most of the visitors I saw were local tourists who used their own cars in going there.  It only takes ten minutes by bus from Irago-Misaki station.  While aboard the bus, I saw a big group of Japanese tourists who hiked from the station to the garden.  I thought it was too far to reach on foot.

Irago Nanohana Graden is definitely a must see in spring.  I wouldn’t have attempted to go there twice if I thought the place wasn’t worth it.  During my long trip there, the scenery brought glee to my tired face. The rapeseed blossoms in Irago Nanohana Garden are enough to make you anticipate the coming of spring.

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Shuttle bus schedule from Irago Misaki bus stop (Crystal Port) to Irago Nanohana Garden

How To Go There:

From Toyohashi Station, go to bus stop #1 and ride the bus #2. (I suggest you go to the bus center first which is just near the bus stop #1.  You can save up a lot if you buy a roundtrip ticket.) Get off at the last station which is the Irago Misaki bus stop (I also refer to it as the Crystal Port area).  It takes more than an hour.   From there, ride a local shuttle bus to Irago Nanohana Garden. It only takes ten minutes to get there. Take note that the local shuttle bus only travels on specific dates, so make sure you visit the event website before traveling to Tahara City.  In case you wouldn’t be able to make it to the last bus trip home to Toyohashi Station, you can still ride a bus and get off at Tahara Station.  From Tahara Station, you can ride the train to Shin-Toyohashi Station.  From Shin-Toyohashi Station, you can walk for 3 to 5 minutes to Toyohashi Station.

Travel Fail

After two train rides, I walked into a restaurant, discreetly looking for the menu on the counter.  I was too lazy to compose what I wanted to say to the Japanese cashier.  I’d rather point to the picture of the food, pay, and eat.  After almost 30 seconds, I left the restaurant only to return again because I knew I had to eat.  When food was served on my table, I was satisfied with the generous amount and I was even contemplating on whether to ask the lady server why the food was so cheap  But since I didn’t want to talk, I just had a quiet discussion with myself that maybe I was somewhere outside the main city.  But with its busy station and the number of people going back and forth the automatic ticket gate, Toyohashi seemed to be a thriving city.

I traveled for almost two hours in a place that I had never been before to see a vast of land filled with the main ingredient of a vegetable oil.  I didn’t have a fascination with oil or any intention of getting into a business involving any kind of oil.  I was just dying to see a yellow carpet of rapeseed.  I wanted to be surrounded with the lovely radiant color of yellow.  Flower fields are just so beautiful.  How I wish my native country can allot a piece of land and fill it with flowers.

From Toyohashi Station, I went to the bus station and bought a ticket bound for Irago-Misaki bus stop.  Because I arrived at noon, my estimated arrival time was past 1:00 pm.  And by the time I reached the bus stop, I still needed to ride a shuttle bus to Irago Nanohana Garden.  That meant going home late.  I didn’t expect the bus ride would take long.  I felt dizzy along the way, but every time we passed by a bunch of rapeseed along the road, my spirit was lifted high.   When I arrived at Irago-Misaki bus stop, I waited for the shuttle bus that would take me to Irago Nanohana Garden.  The scheduled arrival time already passed, but no bus came.  I decided to sit on a bench near the bus stop while I drank Coke.  An old Japanese lady sat on the same bench.  After a few minutes, I asked her if she could tell me how to read the kanji characters on the bus schedule.  In the process, I asked her if a shuttle bus was coming on that day.  She wasn’t sure.  Even her companions who arrived a few minutes later didn’t know.  So, I just told them that I’d probably wait and off they went.  Sometimes it frustrates me how Japanese aren’t so straightforward.  The bus schedule was written near the bus stop and all they could do was tell me if a bus was coming or not based on the written schedule.  I would have appreciated it if they just said no. Instead, they lingered on whether the bus would come or not. Or maybe they just didn’t want to disappoint me. Or the schedule was just too complicated to understand even for a Japanese.

I was disheartened that I didn’t see what I came for.  I didn’t want to leave without seeing anything, so I walked in the area near the beach.  There was a cemented path that I decided to follow.  After a few minutes, I was surprised to see the Cape Irago lighthouse.  The lighthouse is also a popular tourist attraction in the area.  I wasn’t planning on going there because I thought it was somewhere far.  So it was really unexpected, but I was glad I decided to take a walk or else I would have missed the place which is considered a ‘sacred ground` for lovers.

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When I finally got on the bus home, I noticed the rapeseed blossoms on the roadside. I could have just gone there because it was also beautiful. Although not as wide as the garden where I wanted to go, the rapeseed blossom occupied a big part of land along the road.  I was too preoccupied on going to my destination that I failed to look at the beauty that was just there along the way.

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Shikizakura (Cherry Blossoms in Autumn)

I saw cherry blossoms blooming in November of last year.  It was rare.  I think it defied seasons.  Tourists go all over Japan in autumn to see the beauty of maple leaves in deep red and crimson orange or the gingko leaves in brilliant yellow.  How did I even manage to get a glimpse of cherry blossoms when spring was like five months away?

It took almost an hour and two train transfers before I reached Toyotashi Station.  I had to wait for another hour before the bus bound to Kaminigi arrived.   Just before I boarded the bus, one of the ladies from a very noisy tourist group asked me something in her own native language.  I didn’t understand her question, of course, but told her the bus was going to Kaminigi.  Her group joined in and all throughout the ride, I was trying to decipher what Asian language she was using.  I thought the group was also going to see the cherry blossoms, but they got off at a different place.  I was supposed to alight at Obara Fureai Park, but I missed it.  The kind bus driver recommended another place where I could view the cherry blossoms, and that was how I ended up in Senmi Shikizakura no Sato.

Senmi Shikizakura no Sato is somehow like a park with a number of Shikizakura trees.  You have to climb a hill to see the trees up close.  It was steep that I still tried to rest for a few seconds before I continued my ascent.  Many of the visitors were old Japanese people, and there were some foreign tourists, too.  There were food stalls in the area but only a limited number of benches where you could stop to take a rest.  There was also a bus schedule posted near the entrance, so you wouldn’t miss the last bus home.

At Senmi Shikizakura no Sato , you can find shikizakura which refers to cherry blossoms that bloom in two seasons—spring and autumn.  Shikizakura in Toyotashi can be seen from October to early December.  The best viewing season is around late November.  Based on what I’ve noticed, the flowers of Shikizakura are much smaller than the cherry blossoms that grow in spring.  They somehow remind me of ‘ume’ or the Japanese plum blossoms. The view of Shikizakura and maple trees in Senmi Shikizakura no Sato is like combining spring and autumn into one season.

Seeing the cherry blossoms in autumn was a surprising thing.  It gives tourists an opportunity to see the sakura in case they missed it in spring.  For those who love nature and flowers, Shikizakura is such a beautiful wonder.

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How To Go There:

From Nagoya, you can take the Nagoya City Subway Higashiyama Line for Fujigaoka and get off at Fushimi Station.  From Fushimi Station, you can ride the Nagoya City Subway Tsurumai Line for Toyotashi and alight at Akaike.  From Akaike Station, take the Meitetsu Toyota Line for Toyotashi and get off at Toyotashi Station.  The over-all cost is 760 yen, and it takes 53 minutes.  From Toyotashi, ride a bus bound for Kaminigi.  You can tell the driver to drop you off at Senmi Shikizakura no Sato. There are actually many routes that you can take from Nagoya.  The one I mentioned is just one of the possible routes that you can follow.