Oh they were so beautiful. And they were everywhere in Kyoto and Kanazawa and everyplace in between. We first noticed them in Kanazawa as we rounded a corner and there they were. We screamed with excitement for we just couldn’t believe our eyes seeing such natural awesome beauty.
Soon, we calmed down as we enjoyed the glory of those pink cherry blossoms in parks and gardens, alongside rivers and roads and many places in between in Japan. Those famous cherry blossoms provided us glorious beauty every minute for 8 days as we toured Kanazawa, Kyoto and Tokyo on the Tauck World Discovery tour.
Sharon and I just had to experience the blossoms up close and personal. So one day in Kyoto, the former imperial city, we enjoyed a rickshaw ride among the blossoms for 90 minutes dressed in a traditional kimono. It was just outstanding and so much fun as we connected with people enjoying the blossoms everywhere we went. While we were touring around Kyoto, we saw a geisha girl escorting her guest among the cherry blossoms. It was a famous Japanese icon touring a famous Japanese icon.
The experience began with getting dressed into a kimono. I never knew there were so many layers to a kimono. There was an under slip and another slip and then a garment that reduces the waist size. The two dressers pulled the strings so tight, I begged for relief and air because I had trouble breathing.
What relief it was when they loosened the strings a little. The kimono was wrapped last with the wide cummerbund added and pulled tight again.
Our hair was styled next and flowers and leaves were added to complete the total kimono look. Socks that worked with the sandals were donned and we were ready for our public debut.
We first met our tour guide, Armin Geiger and our national Japanese guide, Mickey-son. They couldn’t believe our transformation and yes, we had to have our photo made with them. Waiting for us at the hotel entrance was our private rickshaws and the petite drivers. Now we were ready to tour Kyoto’s cherry blossoms and tour we did.
Every year those cherry blossoms pop open in late March or early April but no one knows exactly when. So thousands of Japanese stage a vigil under the trees and wait for hours until just the moment the blooms pop open.
This sacred vigil tradition has been going on for thousands of years. We rode among the trees when the blooms were in full bloom and the pedals were beginning to fall.
It was like a light pink pedal rain adding to the ambience of the ride. It was the 9th of April.
They call it Sakura which means cherry blossom time. The moment the cherry blossom opens is a major festival in Japan that began in the Nara Period 710-794 A.D. Blooms happen February to May from south Okinawa to north Hokkaido, Japan.
It is a sacred time because it signals the beginning of rice planting. And thousands and thousands gather to eat and drink and be merry at this Hanami, blossom viewing because it is party time.
Climate conditions control the exact second the blossoms open. If it is a cold winter, the blossoms may not open until later. If it is a mild winter, the blossoms may open sooner. And if it is a rainy winter, the petals start to drop sooner. Because of these variables, the people watch the forecast and the blossoms by the minute. This year, the blossoms were later because it had been a colder winter.
Everything is about cherry blossoms during this time. Special foods and drinks are made for Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing parties, for this most loved festival. There is Hanami beer, Kit Kat candy bars, dumplings, crisps, sweet alcoholic canned drinks and even Starbucks Latte.
I ate an18-carat gold leaf ice cream cone in the Kenrokuen Gardens in Kanazawa. It was delicious and I didn’t get sick and I am still alive.
At night, lighted lanterns under the trees shined their soft glow so the blossoms could be seen, making for a beautiful romantic and relaxing atmosphere for the night beneath the pink glow of those blossoms. And thousands came to view the beauty.
But there was more of this dreamy tour of Japan to come. And it was the onsen known as naked communion. Japanese have enjoyed hot spring onsens as an integral part of their culture forever because it breaks down barriers between others as they soak in the natural hot springs.
This Tauck tour included an onsen bath for every guest, But I was not certain I would enjoy one as I had been to Japan three times before and passed on one each time when I learned I had to do it NAKED. Swim suits were not allowed. I wasn’t sure I could take a bath nude along with other people in the nude. But this tour could be my last tour of Japan and if I was going to do one, I better do it now, I reasoned. So, I grieved and grieved over doing the onsen for days. But now the final chance had come to do it or not.
To check out one, I went to the onsen for a tour to see what it was like as we were staying in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. I learned that the Japanese have separate men and women onsens which helped my decision somewhat. And I learned I had to take a bath before I used the onsen. Bathers could not get the spring water dirty and could not use a towel.
Only a small cloth approximately 10×12 inches could be used to dry off and to cover any body parts getting in and out of the onsen. And when in the hot springs, the cloth was kept on the head so as not to dirty the water. That was it.
Now that I had seen the onsen, I decided to try it when everyone was at dinner. Then there would not be anyone using the onsen, I reasoned. After eating an early dinner, it was off to the onsen and there was no one there.
Hurriedly, I showered by the onsen and then made it into the hot spring. It was nice and not too hot. To my surprise, I floated and could not stay below the water but the water was warm and wonderful. After 10 minutes, it was time for my adventure to end.
After dressing, I made my way back to my room pleased that I had experienced a centuries old tradition of a Japanese onsen in cherry blossom time. And I was even
more pleased and happy that we experienced so many more adventures and things. It was 2 weeks of heaven in Japan at cherry blossom time.
And I was pleased that I had enjoyed Kyoto, Japan riding in a rickshaw dressed in a kimono while enjoying the people along the way who were also enjoying the enchanting and glorious cherry blossoms.
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