Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cherry blossom festival

On April 18th, Hubby and I went to see Cherry blossom festival at Seishi park in Nikaho city and at Honjo park in Yurihonjo city of Akita prefecture. Hanami (flower viewing) is the traditional Japanese custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers, usually cherry blossoms (sakura) or Japanese plum blossoms (ume). Sakura bloom in Japan from late January (in Okinawa) to early May (Hokkaido). These blossoms last only a week or two. The custom of enjoying hanami flowers is said to have started during the Nara period (710–794) due to the influence of Chinese Tang dynasty in Japan. Though it was ume blossoms that people admired in the beginning, by the Heian period (794-1185), sakura came to attract more attention. Sakura originally was used to announce the harvest of the year as well as the beginning of the rice-planting season. Emperor Saga of the Heian period started the practice of holding flower-viewing parties with sake and feasts underneath the cherry blossom trees in the imperial court in Kyoto. The custom was originally limited to the aristocratic people of the imperial court, but soon spread to samurai society, and by the Edo period, to the common people as well. In modern-day Japan, hanami mostly consists of having an outdoor party beneath the sakura during daytime or at night.

The day we went for sakura viewing was a clear day with very fine weather. So hubby was in a mood for a long drive. We started from our home at about twelve noon. First we went to see the sakura blossoms in Seishi park in Nikaho city. Hubby took a long way around and it took us almost an hour to reach the park from our home. On our way, we got a beautiful view of Mt. Chokai and many windmills in Nikaho city.
Mt. Chokai


Hubby also showed me the golf course in Nikaho city where he usually practices his swings on alternate weekends.
Golf course

Near Seishi park, we saw funny looking lamp posts in the shape of ship anchor.
Anchor shaped lamp posts

Sakura festival in Seishi park
Seishi park surrounds a lake and is ringed with cherry trees, which were in full bloom. There was festival mood everywhere in the park. Lots of families, groups of friends, and even groups from companies sat under the fully open cherry blossoms and were having a picnic celebration.
Sakura festival

People having picnic in the park

There were about one thousand fully bloomed cherry blossoms in the park overlooking Mt. Chokai, which created a phenomenal view.

View in the park

Many people were leisurely taking a walk on the pedestrian road surrounded by sakura blossom. It was a superb view.

Road surrounded by Sakura trees

Almost all the sakura were of the variety called somei yoshino. Its flowers are nearly pure white, tinged with the palest pink, especially near the stem. They bloom and usually fall within a week, before the leaves come out. Therefore, the trees look nearly white from top to bottom.

Few photos of blooming sakura trees

Close up view of sakura blossoms

Hubby took a few photos of me with the sakura blossoms.

Me posing with sakura blossoms

I also took several photos of hubby while he strolled in the park.

Hubby posing with sakura blossoms

Sakura festival in Honjo park
After enjoying the hanami in Seishi park, we returned to Yurihonjo. In Yurihonjo, we went to Honjo park to enjoy the sakura festival. Honjo park also surrounds a lake and is ringed with cherry trees, which were in full bloom. There was festival mood everywhere and many people were enjoying snacks at several stalls near the entrance of the park.
Entrance of Honjo park sakura festival

Food stalls in the park

Hubby and I took a leisurely walk in the park and enjoyed viewing the sakura blossoms.

Honjo park sakura blossoms

View from top of a bridge in the park

In this park also, almost all the sakura trees were of the variety somei yoshino with pure white flowers. However, we noticed another variety called yaezakura, which had relatively large flowers, thick with rich pink petals. It was so beautiful.

Somei yoshino sakura


Hubby took a few photos of me in the park.

Me posing with sakura blossoms

I also took a few photos of hubby walking and enjoying the sakura blossoms.

Hubby posing with sakura blossoms

Hubby watching something on a sakura tree

It was a bird on the sakura tree

It started to get dark as hubby and I strolled through Honjo park. After some time we returned back home very happy and peaceful. It was really a wonderful day for us as we immensely enjoyed viewing the sakura blossoms. Now the sakura bloom has already fallen in Akita prefecture and fresh green leaves adorn the sakura trees, which is also very pleasing to the eyes.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Oriwatari one thousand jizo

On 4th of April, hubby and I went to see one thousand jizo (sentai jizo in Japanese) on Oriwatari hill in Ouchi town of Akita prefecture. Jizo bosatsu (bodhisattva in Sanskrit/Hindi) is one of the most beloved of all Japanese divinities. Traditionally jizo bosatsu is the guardian of children who died before their parents. However, in modern Japan (since the 1980s), jizo is worshipped as the guardian of the souls of stillborn, miscarried or aborted fetuses. Jizo bosatsu also serves the customary and traditional roles as patron saint of expectant mothers, children, firemen, travelers, pilgrims, and the protector of all beings caught in the six realms of reincarnation. Jizo statues are a common sight in Japan, especially by roadsides and in graveyards. Jizo bosatsu incorporate attributes from both Buddhist traditions as well as from Shinto beliefs.
Although jizo bosatsu is of Indian origin, jizo is revered more widely in Japan, Korea, and China than in India. Jizo bosatsu is known as Kṣhitigarbha in Sanskrit/Hindi, which means ‘womb of the earth’. It is also often translated as ‘earth treasury’ or ‘earth store’. Kshitigarbha is one of the four principal bodhisattvas in East Asian Mahayana Buddhism. In Japan, Jizo bosatsu first appeared in records of the Nara period (710 to 794 AD), and then spread throughout Japan via the Tendai and Shingon sects.

Oriwatari jizo in Ouchi town is about fifteen minutes car drive from our home. It is on the Iwaya-Iwaki prefectural road. The original Oriwatari enmei (longevity) jizo was built by priest Zezan about two hundred years back. Priest Zezan also built the giant indoor statue of standing Buddha in Akata town, which is only a few kilometers away from Oriwatari jizo. I have written about the giant Buddha of Akata in an earlier post. The original Oriwatari jizo temple is located under a Japanese cedar (sugi in Japanese) tree on a hill in Oriwatari. Another name of this jizo is Ibotori jizo. Hubby and I prayed in front of the jizo for the safety of children and traffic.
Hubby standing at the entrance of Oriwatari enmei jizo temple

Oriwatari enmei jizo temple

Adjacent to the Oriwatari jizo temple was a bell of peace (yasuragi no kane). Kane bell is a huge hemispherical bell, which is struck on the outside with a mallet.
Bell of peace

Next, we climbed up the Oriwatari hill to see the one thousand stone statues of jizo called sentai jizo. These jizo statues lined the entire route up the hill. The statues were erected over a two year period from 1989 to 1990. These statues wore a red bib, representing jizo. It was really nice to see so many cute jizo statues lining the hill.
Hubby standing at the starting point of our climb up the hill

Many jizo statues lined the entire route up the hill

Hubby posing with jizo statues

The hill was rather steep. I was very tired after climbing up about two thirds of the hill.
I am just at the beginning of the climb up the hill. We can see that the hill was very steep.

Somehow we made it to the top of the hill after about 30 minutes of climbing. At the hill top, there was a peace pole called kokyu heiwa kinen no tou. ‘Praying forever for peace’ was written on the pole. Many jizo statues were lined in the front as well as on either side of the peace pole. Hubby and I enjoyed a spectacular view of the nature from the top of the hill.
Peace pole and jizo statues at the top of the hill

Many jizo statues were lined up at the top of the hill

Beautiful scenic view from the top of the hill

After enjoying the panoramic view for several minutes, hubby and I started climbing down the hill. As the hill was very steep, we were very tired by the time we reached half way down the hill. In addition, we were surrounded by very large Japanese cedar sugi trees. During spring season, these trees produce large amounts of pollen, which is known to be a major cause of a type of hay fever called ‘kafunsho’. That day we realized that my hubby is allergic to the sugi tree pollen as his nose started running, and eyes became red and itchy. Hubby literally ran down the hill to avoid the sugi pollen.
We were surrounded by Japanese cedar sugi trees

A close up view of the sugi leaves and ripe female cones

Hubby tired and suffering from kafunsho

By the time I reached down the hill, I saw hubby sitting peacefully on the steps of the place where the bell of peace was installed.
Hubby sitting peacefully on the steps of the bell of peace

On our way back, I saw a very huge advertisement board on the roadside near our home. Next, to this board was a peace pole on which was written ‘may peace prevail on earth’. Hubby was rather amused and jokingly told me that we got a lot of advice about peace within several hours :)
Peace pole next to an advertisement board

Although, hubby was a bit tired due to the hay fever allergy, we both enjoyed our visit to Oriwatari sentai jizo.