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Hearts of Cherry Blossoms (Japan)

Author: Habari
Date of Trip: March 2011

The most common phrase I heard my whole time in Japan was, “Arigato, gozai-mash-ta”. It means, “Thank you very much.” If I stopped some random person to ask for directions, he or she always took the time to help me out even if they didn’t completely understand what I was saying they would try their level best. I found the Japanese to be the warmest people I have ever encountered on my travels.

We happened to arrive in Japan pre-cherry blossom season. The weather was cold and the queues for tourist sights shorter. We arrived in Tokyo’s Haneda Airport just few days before the start of the 2011 Tokyo Marathon and I was all geared up to cheer along my husband, the sole marathoner from India. Just one man among 30,000 runners representing a country of a billion. The weather was perfect as opposed to last year’s rainy and windy day. There were 15,000 volunteers and everything was so well organized it allowed everyone to focus and have a good time. He finished with his personal best of three hours, three minutes qualifying him for Boston 2012. The day after the marathon we made our way on the Shinkansen to Kyoto. I had chosen to stay at a cute cottage by the Kamo river in northern Kyoto which allowed us to be close as possible to nature but also close enough to all the sights. We chose to visit Kinkakuji Temple, the Golden Pavilion and Ryoan-ji, The Temple of the Rock Garden in North Eastern Kyoto. Even in the rain the Golden Temple shined in superiority. The Rock Garden was more sublime and peaceful. The next day we chose to see the famous Kiyomizu Dera. The temple is situated on the top of a hill where you walk up narrow streets with little shops and restaurants on either side. The structure takes you to ancient Japan and is very majestic with its high stone walls and thick wooden pillars supporting wide curving roofs. Cherry blossom trees surround it. I could only imagine the sight of it in a month’s time.

The day we left Kyoto, it had snowed the night before and the mountains were covered in snow. It was an unforgettable sight and that is what I think of when I remember Kyoto. We dragged ourselves onto three trains and a ferry then a minibus to reach the world-renowned Benesse House Hotel on Naoshima Island. Tadao Ando, a well-known Japanese architect, designed it. The island is blotched with underground museums also designed by Ando, sculptures by various artists and little art house projects intermingled with resident’s houses. It is so small you can walk around the whole island in an hour. We spent most of our time absorbing the emanating awe of our home for one night, the Benesse House Park building. We only had two days left in Japan and so we headed on to our final destination, Osaka. On the way, our bus on its way from Uno to Okayama got its front mirror hit by a reversing truck and hence ended its journey en-route. Thanks to the help of our fellow passengers we found ourselves on a local bus, which took us to our destination at no additional cost. In Osaka, we stayed in Dotonburri. It is close to Namba, which is very commercial yet, social at the same time. It is made up of narrow covered arcades hosting all kinds of stores and restaurants. We gorged on the shopping and ended up with too many things to take back and nothing to take them in. So the morning before our flight we managed to stuff into our newly acquired bags as well as old ones the result of our shopping drunkenness. At the end of our Japan sojourn we left with the warmth of the people that had seeped into us, truly cherry blossom hearts.

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