Advertorial – The sweet scent of Cherry filled the air as we marched across the bridge and up to the giant gate of Osaka Castle. Hundreds of trees were dressed in an explosion of brilliant white and pink blossoms. The warm sun bathed the wandering gardens where several brides in traditional Uchikake kimonos were being photographed. This was such a fitting end to our tour of Japan.
Our journey had begun two weeks prior in Tokyo. Here, amid the rising steel and concrete we began to discover a contrast of antiquity and modernity along with a tradition-rich culture based on pride and respect. As we walked through the open park leading to the Imperial Palace, we couldn’t help but notice that there wasn’t a single piece of litter anywhere. It was a theme that continued throughout the country, despite the fact that a garbage can is seldom seen anywhere!
There is nothing quite like the sight of snow-capped Mount Fuji on a brilliantly sunny day with a flawless blue sky. The perfectly symmetrical volcanic cone rises majestically above the rolling hills below. Our first chance to photograph this icon was from the top of nearby Mount Komagatake after a cable-car ride took us up almost 2,000 feet. We then drove up Mount Fuji to the 4th Station where everyone had a chance to walk on the snow.
From there we headed to Lake Suwa for one of our most memorable experiences. There is no better way to appreciate the warm hospitality of Japan’s beautiful countryside, its exquisite cuisine and openhearted people, than to enjoy a stay in a traditional ryokan (inn). With its sliding paper walls, tatami straw mats and generous futons, the rooms bestow a quiet calming influence. Here we indulged in the freshest local fare prepared to the highest culinary standards, all tastefully arranged in many small bowls of delightfully crafted tableware. Dressed in our house kimonos and slippers, we then made our way to the intriguing communal baths. After a seated wash by bucket and shower, we slipped into the steaming hot spring-water. More than just a cleansing, the experience is meant to encourage harmony and relaxation.
The next day we headed through the mountains where we encountered small villages on our way to see one of the oldest castles in the country. Built in the 1500’s, Matsumoto Castle is a National Treasure. The impressive six story black and white building stands out boldly against the magnificent backdrop of the Japanese Alps. In the mountain village of Takayama we were treated to a living museum of rural homes at the Hida Folk Village. The following day was spent exploring the old streets and shops before enjoying a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony.
Our walk through Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa was highlighted by the dazzling dark pink plum blossoms that filled the lower section of the park. We concluded our time in Kanazawa with a visit to the fully restored Kanazawa Castle with its angular wooden beam construction. Boarding the express train we made the two hour journey to Kyoto, the magnificent former capital of Japan. The next several days were spent touring this city which served as the centre of Japanese culture for over a thousand years. Countless temples, shrines and historically priceless structures are found here. One of the most beautiful is the famed Kinkaku-ji or ‘Golden Pavilion’, with its brilliant gold leaf exterior shining above the tranquil reflecting pond. At the Todaiji Temple we entered the largest wooden building in the world to see a giant bronze Buddha before making our way to Heian-jingu Shrine where hundreds of blossoming cherry trees lined both sides of the canal.
Sadly, taking in such sights meant we were at the end of another great Craig Travel tour. It was time to take the bullet train back to Tokyo for our homeward flight. Everyone had enjoyed the early spring weather and the rich and varied experiences in the food, culture and history of Japan. There is no mistaking the fact that this was the best time of year to visit the region. The gorgeous burst of flowering colour was matched only by the contented smiles of our appreciative group.
Join the next Craig Travel journey to see the Sakura Cherry Blossoms of Japan March 23, 2020 by contacting one of Craig Travel’s Tour Specialists today. And learn how you can save $200pp* on this journey by booking early. Call 1-800-387-8890 or email us.
*Conditions apply. Book and deposit by Oct 31/19.
Photos courtesy of Craig Travel Group Escort Jon Gurr.