April 16th (was that really nearly a month ago?), my friend Gale and I went to see the most famous cherry blossom viewing spot in Japan, Mt. Yoshino. It is written about in many Japanese poems, including the poems of Japan's most celebrated poet, Basho (who's hometown is near my city of Nabari, by the way). Thousands of people come to see it every year. Why? Because there is a temple there, and traditionally people dedicated cherry saplings to the temple for loved ones who died. They've been doing it for over one thousands years, so there are over ten thousand tress scattered throughout the slopes. There are over one hundred varieties, each blooming at a different time, which means that Mt. Yoshino also has the longest blooming season of any cherry blossom spot in Japan.
With the huge crowds, we had some trouble finding each other. While I waited for Gale to arrive, I couldn't resist the sakura (cherry blossom) flavored ice cream. It tasted like cherry, only milder, with a floral smell. I don't like cherry flavor, but I like sakura flavor! Interesting.
You can ride to the top of the mountain on a gondola, but there was a long line and it cost 600 yen per person, so we just walked. It was a beautiful hike. Here are some pictures we took along the way:
Here's a view from the top:
At the summit, they were having a "sakura symphony," which is why I decided to go that particular day, but I was dissapointed to find that it wasn't really a symphony. It was just a bunch of groups from all over. Here's the taiko drum couple, from my view own prefecture of Mie:
Yes, the man is wearing traditional taiko dress. Don't worry, he's probably not cold. He actually sweating. Nowadays they usually wear a team uniform, but men almost always perform bear-chested (they dance and carry shrines that way too, for some reason). Sometimes girls and women wear strips of cloth or tape across their chests and stomach when they do those things, (maybe traditional?) but you don't see that so much anymore. Nowadays they wear the same uniform as the men, except with the over shirt closed instead of open. In the last video there was a woman on the other side drumming with the man, but you can't see her. Here she is in this video:
They were pretty good, but you can tell the guy was out of shape. He was lacking in the energy taiko usually has.
After that there was some ugly bald dude with giant yellow sunglasses and the most awful, growly voice I ever heard. We stuck around because we saw a choir and a really pretty singer and thought they might be next. Here we are with the singer:
But when they got up on stage, they just joined the ugly dude! His singing was so loud and awful, he covered up the choir or the girl! Talk about a bad musician. Why does Japan like all the weird, bad ones (Lady Gaga being another example) and couldn't care less about people who can actually sing?
After that offense to the ears, we took a different route down, and saw some beautiful blossoms around a pagoda. Here it is at a distance:
And up close:
On the way down, we saw some beautiful sakura snow, or "sakura fubuki." You can probably guess from the video what it is:
The streets were also lined with seasonal shops. They must make a killing on all the tourists for that one month sakura season. Here's them cutting some mochi that Gale bought. Mochi are rice cakes. Supposed to be good for your "cho" or intestines. These are rolled in some kind of sugary flour:
I bought way too much, natural foods locally grown, a beautiful sakura towel, an umbrella, and sakura jam. It was all stuff I needed to buy anyway, so I didn't feel so bad, and they weren't so overpriced. For dinner we bought from the festival venders: fried bamboo shoots on a stick, sweet potatoes fries, chicken and vegetables dipped in barbecue sauce (on a stick) and hazelnut ice cream. Goodness, I love Japan. It's going to be hard to leave.
Until next time, keep praying and loving, no matter what the cost,