For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to visit Japan during cherry blossom season. Every year, from February to early May, parts of the country explode with pink as the native cherry trees start to blossom. My imagination captured by the evocative fairy tale images of this natural event, I finally got the chance to visit Japan last year, when I organised a trip during Easter, to see the cherry trees in full bloom.
I flew into Osaka, Japan’s second largest city and home to over 19 million people. This would be my base for the next few days, while I explored the city and some of the many sights surrounding it.
Osaka is a city with its own character, and over the years has been transformed into an economic powerhouse with a proud tradition of trading. Positioned relatively close to mainland Asia, the city became a gateway for goods flowing to and from Japan, and thanks to the wealth generated by their mercantilism, the city’s inhabitants quickly developed a taste for the finer things in life.
I spent much of my time wandering around the city and soaking up the atmosphere of Osaka. With its bustling streets, there is always something to catch your eye, from the futuristic glass skyscrapers and the colourful signs hanging off the buildings, to the little temples which form little oasis’ of peace amongst the city’s hive of activity.
Water plays a big part in the structure of Osaka, with several rivers flowing through it. The Yodo River is an especially nice place to walk along, and it was along the river bank that I caught my first glimpse of the pink cherry blossoms hanging over the footpaths. The area around Osaka Bay is also a nice place to explore, and one of the city’s major attractions. While plenty of reminders of the area’s history as an industrial port remain, these now sit alongside modern glass buildings, museums, and even a giant Ferris Wheel.
Osaka is also home to one of Japan’s most famous landmarks and popular tourist attractions, Osaka Castle. It’s a very special piece of Japanese history, and therefore a must-visit, in my opinion. The views from the top of the castle are spectacular. But be warned, getting to the top involves climbing a lot of steps.
Japan is a densely populated country, with a large number of people inhabiting a relatively small island. This area of the country is particularly packed, and many large cities can be found within an hour of each other. This, along with Japan’s advanced transport system means it is very easy to travel between cities, especially if you want to take day trips to places of interest. I decided to take a day trip and visit the historically important city of Nara.
I highly recommend a visit to Nara if you want to enjoy Japan’s famous cherry trees in full blossom. Within the city limits is Nara Park, which is one of the oldest parks in Japan, situated at the bottom of a picturesque mountain. Nara Park is also home to around 1,200 wild sika deer. It took me around forty minutes to reach Nara Park, and immediately I was blown away by its beauty. From a photography perspective, it is extremely photogenic – the lovely natural landscape being a perfect background to the temple complexes, and together they made an extremely Japanese scene. Of course the cherry blossom was everywhere, and I will never forget the sight of all the trees covered in light pink foliage.
You can’t visit Nara without exploring Todai-ji Temple. Practically every Japanese municipality has at least one temple, and Todai-Ji should definitely be high up on your must-see list. This incredibly beautiful ancient temple is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. In fact, photographs rarely do it justice. It’s huge, and home to the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world.
In Nara, I also had time to visit Kasuga-taisha, the city’s most celebrated shrine, which dates back to 768 AD. It’s probably most famous for the beautiful stone lanterns that line the entrance to the shrine.
After an enjoyable day exploring Nara, we continued our journey to Kyoto, which is renowned for being one of the best places in the country for cherry blossom sightings. In Kyoto, we also had the opportunity to enjoy more of what Japan had to offer.
Japan remains one of my favourite countries in the world to visit. I adore its unique culture and mix of high-tech modernity with ancient traditions. From the flashing lights and tall buildings of the capital, to the centuries old temples – where ceremonies dated back even further are still performed – Japan is a country of contrasts.
Its culture has also developed independently, thanks to their island geography and inward looking nature. To this day, the Japanese have stubbornly refused to be swayed by the outside world, making the country deeply fascinating and quite unlike anywhere else in the world.
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