Spring in Japan – day 5

Today was a bit of an “open day”.

We had plans to visit either Himeji, Koyasan or go back to Kyoto but after spending some time studying the various weather / Sakura forecasts we decided to change plans completely and head to Nara instead.

Nara, ancient capital of Japan is one of the locations I’ve visited on each trip to Japan so i was keen to see how it had changed with the arrival of the blossom season.

We reached Nara in good time and stepped out into brilliant sunshine and a much busier main street than usual.

Ive learned over this trip that if a location is busier than usual over Hanami it’s because the locals know there are lots of blossoms in the area, if it’s the same as usual, they know that there are no blossoms or there were but they have fallen already. The steady stream of new arrivals at the train station gave some confidence that we were in for a treat today!

It wasn’t long before we encountered our first sika deer casually walking along the side of the road, bowing to visitors and happily accepting food and posing for photos.

We continued on towards the kasuga-taisha shrine, where we’d experienced the end of winter festival last year, pausing for an ice cream on route to stave off the effects of the increasing temperature. By the time we reached the shade of the forest which surrounds the Shinto shrines it was already well over 20 degrees and rising.

There was little evidence of blossoms in the pine, maple and camphor trees of the forest, so we wandered around the main shrine for a while, photographing the few blossoms we could find before heading back through Nara Park towards Todai-ji.

The park was filled with visitors enjoying the fleeting blossoms which on closer inspection have already begun to lose some of their brilliant white and delicate pink hues while the piles of fallen leaves have started to accumulate around the bases of trees and in any hollow where the occasional breeze can’t move them on.

There were crowds everywhere but unlike Osaka castle, or even Expo 70 park, there were very few vendors selling food or drink, so it was a lot more peaceful and visitors were relaxing with picnics and drinks brought from home.

Another thing we noticed at Nara is the large number of photo shoots taking place. Either couples in traditional kimono or couples in what looked like wedding clothes. Most of the subjects looked and acted like professional models while the photographers were all clearly professional so i presume that they were professional photo shoots rather than real weddings but it was interesting to watch them being posed and lit in what must have been some difficult photo conditions with the crowds and the harsh midday sun.

Not to be outdone, i sneakily snapped a few images too, which I’ll share on my return to Scotland. 😉

I had brought my new f1.4 sigma art lens with me to Japan specifically for low light images inside Todai-ji temple so we headed in to the shaded interior to put it (and me!) to the test.

The lens seemed to handle well in the difficult conditions and I’m interested to see the final results when I get back home.

The plan was to then visit the garden of Yoshikien, which is another location I’ve been lucky to get to see in all four seasons but on the way we stumbled across a walled garden which I’ve always assumed to be a private residence but turns out it’s a Buddhist training school and the zen gardens are free to visit and photograph.

After a while relaxing in the garden we moved on to Yoshikien and then returned to the main town centre for a bite of lunch (beef steak curry and rice with a local beer) and some shopping.

Tired but happy we returned to Osaka planning on having a night out in the city but exhaustion coupled with an early start tomorrow changed our plans and we settled down for a quiet night in with some Japanese tv instead!

Early start tomorrow. Himeji castle and Mount Shosha planned. I’m looking forward to this trip as Himeji Castle is usually listed as one of the best places in all of Japan to see the cherry blossoms.

They are fading quickly now though so i hope they are still there when we arrive!

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