Kamezaki Shiohi Festival

I sat on a lawn facing a man-made beach. I had takoyaki in a plastic container and a small bottle of Coke. I wished I brought a book to read while I waited for the event to start. It was 19 degrees Celsius on a windy day in Kamezaki. Sometimes the sun would show up, sometimes it would hide behind the clouds. I still had 45 minutes to wait before the event started.

It was the 4th of May and the last day of Shiohimatsuri in Handa City, Aichi. I was waiting for the five parade floats that would be drawn to the beach. Each float has intricate sculptures and embroidered curtains.  According to a legend, the Shiohi beach is the area where the first emperor of Japan set foot on from the ocean. The tradition of the Kamezaki Shiohimatsuri has been passed on for more than 300 years.

I heard chanting from afar which was a signal for me to get up from my waiting spot and head on to where most people had been standing.  I saw men in traditional garment.  This is actually an all-male festival.  I noticed that almost all of them were wearing the jika-tabi footwear. On top of the floats, there were some children aboard. It took a long time before all the floats came together.  When all five were in view, the main event started.

The drawing of the floats to the beach was the main attraction. The men assigned to each float started pulling it to the beach. At one point, the men couldn’t get it to the sea border as the bottom part of the float got stuck deep into the wet sand.  The other groups rushed to the rescue. The crowd cheered when the float successfully made it.

The shiohimatsuri floats have been considered a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. The unity the men showed drawing the floats to the beach was an attractive sight.  Most of my travels would usually focus on sightseeing, but this time I kind of missed watching Japanese festivals and seeing the locals in action. Witnessing this kind of festival gives me a deeper look at Japan’s traditional culture.

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Spring Blossoms

“Is pink and red a strange combination,” I wondered.  I’d been getting a lot of stares from people I passed by while finding my way out from the Mizuhokuyakusho subway station.  When I was walking along the Yamazaki River, there was a middle-aged couple walking in the opposite direction. The woman was looking at me. “Why can’t they just focus their gaze on the sakura?” I complained to myself. Her husband had not even walked past me yet when he uttered “おしゃれ です ね.”

It’s already springtime and I missed my bright colored outfits that had been kept in the closet for four months. I was wearing a pink jacket and red palazzo pants with floral print. I didn’t plan my clothes to be in theme with the season. I just felt like it.  In the last week of March, the sakura trees in the city where I live had already blossomed. I had to wait for the weekend to travel to one of the best cherry blossom viewing sites in the nearby prefecture since I still had work.  Traveling by train after office hours would be inconvenient because it’s rush hour and I would probably not have enough time admiring the flowers. It rained most of the week and the only thing in my mind was for the sakura petals to cling to their receptacle.

I was walking a long stretch of the river lined with cherry blossom trees.  The place was teeming with the whiteness of the Somei Yoshino flowers. On a closer look, almost all the trees I saw had the combination of the flowers and leaves already. My heart, which was initially filled with excitement, was disappointed. The presence of the leaves signify one thing — the cherry blossoms were past their prime.

It was my last hanami and I wanted to capture the flowers in their most beautiful state. But nature is unpredictable. You’re the one who’s supposed to adjust if you want something from it. I kept walking onwards, stopping most of the time to get some good shots.

It was probably because of the disappointment I was feeling that my mind wasn’t thinking properly. Even though I was already tired of walking, I still went on. I didn’t give it a thought that I had to walk the same distance to get myself back to the subway station.  The number of people was dwindling as I walked further on the bridge along the Yamazaki River. Most of the people were going opposite my direction.

After quite a while, I noticed something. There was a change in the trees. The leaves were nonexistent.  I realized that the last few meters of the river were lined with cherry blossom trees which were still in their perfect glory. It was an unexpected turn of event but I was happy.

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Weeping Plum Blossoms

I love the different flowers that grow in Japan every spring. They don’t exist in my tropical country. More than that, there’s always a wide area or field where you get to see a bunch of those flowering plants.    To mark the start of the season, ‘ume’ or plum blossom is probably the first type of spring flower that you can see blooming. And for me, it means it’s time to visit a garden or a flower field again. Well, who wouldn’t get excited after the long cold dark winter? For this flower viewing, I opted to see the weeping plum blossoms at the Nagoya Agricultural Center.

To avoid the crowd, I woke up early but not early enough to make it in time for the train schedule I was aiming for. So, I took a taxi to the nearest station in my city which costed me around 1,000 yen. After that, I was off to Hirabari station which was the nearest station to the Nagoya Agricultural Center. From there, you can walk for 18 minutes to the area.  I decided to take the bus. I believed it was the right bus because a bus driver pointed me to that particular bus stop when I inquired. I usually make sure I got my transportation info right, but it’s been a few months since I traveled. My planning skills must have gone rusty. While aboard the bus, I kept checking my distance to the Agricultural Center through Google map but I seemed to be getting farther.  The walking distance extended to almost an hour.  I decided to get off and rode another bus back to where I came from.  Unfortunately, I took another wrong bus.  I wasted two hours riding multiple wrong buses when I could have just walked to the area for 18 minutes.  I got so frustrated because my encounter as a lost person was not positive. The first person to whom I sought help was not helpful and I didn’t think he was trying to understand me.  The second one was kind and his information led me to a turning point! He pointed me to the bus station where I was supposed to ride. I was thankful that the bus driver was nice.  He even called me out when the bus reached the bus station where I needed to ride another bus. It was exhausting being in the wrong places!

My spirit was already down when I returned to Hirabari Station. But I wanted to try again given that I already traveled far from my place just to see the flowers. So I went to the same bus stop again. But this time there was a station employee guiding local tourists who wanted to see the plum blossoms. I guess I must have arrived way early awhile ago. I found out the first trip to the Center was after 9 am. I arrived some time 8:30. The queue was now long but I patiently waited because I was pretty sure that I’d be getting on the right bus with the other tourists headed to the same place.  The trip took 10 minutes.  There were already a lot of people in the Agricultural Center. Well, it was almost noon. The taxi ride that I took from home just so I could wander around with less crowd was all for nothing. Well, not entirely.  I managed to take a few good pictures. The place was filled with weeping plum blossom trees.  There were families who had set-up their blankets on the ground to have a picnic.  Different food stalls were scattered selling traditional Japanese sweets, fruits and vegetables, and other international food like Tacos and American burgers. Probably my biggest regret in that place was buying lemonade for 400 yen. Quite expensive, don’t you think? Or does lemon cost that much now?

So if ever you get into a situation wherein you’re not sure of the bus you have to take, better go on foot instead if it’s just within reach in a matter of 30 minutes.  You’ll lose more time and money wandering around in the wrong places.

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How To Go There:

The nearest station is Hirabari station. If you are coming from Nagoya, take the Nagoya City Subway Higashiyama Line  for FUJIGAOKA and get off at Fushimi (Aichi).  It takes 3 minutes.  From Fushimi (Aichi) station, ride the Nagoya City Subway Tsurumai Line  for AKAIKE and get off at Hirabari Station. It takes 22 minutes.  The total cost is 300 yen. If you go to the Nagoya Agricultural Center during the plum blossom season, there’s actually a specific schedule that they post at the bus stop. And usually, there’s a station staff near the bus stop to guide the influx of tourists. But if you’re way too early like before 9 am, they may not be there, yet.  The bus stop going to the place is the bus stop farther away, not the one near the station exit. If you decide to walk, it’ll take 18 minutes according to Google Map. Here’s the address: Nagoya Agricultural Center, 平針黒石-2872番地-3 天白町 Tenpaku Ward, Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture 468-0021. Also, make sure to check when the flowers are in bloom. This year, I went in the middle of March and they were just perfect.

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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