Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Ultimate Hanami

It's safe to say that I completely "get" the sakura thing now that I've seen it. Yes, the cherry trees in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens are very pretty, and yes I'm sure the ones in Washington DC are nice. In Japan, though, the trees are everywhere. Your eye simply hops from one patch of pink to another, clear up into the mountains where the original, wild mountain cherries are blooming. There is a steady stream of pink confetti which, on a clear day, acts like a prism, refracting light so everything glitters. Everyone stops to admire the beauty--kids who ask, "Is this what mankai (full bloom) looks like?", men in suits snapping photos on overpasses, couples, teenagers . . . everyone. Aside from the obvious fact that there isn't some sort of hang up that admiring a beautiful tree might be seen as something prissy . . . sakura mankai is also associated with a great opportunity to eat and drink. And drink. And drink.

Pop stars release songs about cherry trees, food invariably includes cherry blossoms. Clothing is covered with cherry blossoms. Train stations are decorated with fake pink petals. And why not? The eruption of flowers is stunning and I understand now why people keep using terms like "tidal wave" and "froth" and "clouds" to try to get the point across.

The Sunday after arriving in Japan, we went to Himeji castle, often considered the most beautiful of all castles. It also was not destroyed during the war and therefore retains original lines and building material. Fortunately for us, Himeji was enjoying mankai, or full bloom.

Isao and Nono had researched all the classic spots from which to take the best photos of Himeji with blossoms. One even required us to go through the Children's Zoo. Once we arrived at each spot, we found that other more serious photographers were already there.

Himeji, blossoms and moat.

So, obviously you can see who was in charge of photos that day.

While Isao and Nono watched over base camp (an activity which included a nap for reasons which will become clear in a moment), Gordon and I climbed to the top of the castle. Midway up, we were able to see the uppermost part of the structure clearly.

Before going to Japan, a professional photographer friend of Gordon's said that he liked to take pictures in Japan because: "The Japanese have taken care of contrast for you. To get good composition, all you have to do is point and shoot."

Part way up to the top, Gordon took a photo from a window. You can see the sea of pink below. The cluster around the castle was quite thick, but the pink color blurred all the way from the castle grounds to the hills beyond.

Another photo from the very top, with one of the dolphins "guarding" the castle against fire on the edge of an eave.

Back down at the base.

Scott and I missed Himeji when we were there in the summertime, but I think springtime would be a much better time to visit! Great photos!
Summer is really tough to navigate. Even walking through Tokyo (which wasn't THAT hot the summer went) was a challenge, and Gordon said to me, "This is much easier this time."
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