Monday, March 09, 2015

Three places to go when you need to see signs of spring...

I have never been a huge fan of flowers. Sure, they are pretty, and nice to look at. I'm allergic to a few (lotus, certain lilies) but I've never hated flowers. By enjoyment of flowers is somewhat slightly above lackluster, but since moving to Japan, I have found that I flock with other, more committed flower enthusiasts to various locations within a day's drive of Iwakuni. Maybe it is the fact that the Japanese seem to habitually visit famous locations at different seasons because of the flowers growing there at that moment. Maybe I just need an excuse to get off this tiny base, but whatever the reason is, I constantly find myself traveling to photograph flowers. This past week, my flower journeys were on full steam: I visited three different locations in Yamaguchi prefecture to check out several different types of flowers that are tough enough to bloom in 40-degree weather.

I have blogged about visiting here a couple of weeks ago, but the ume (plum blossom) flowers were not quite in bloom then. I met three of my English students, lovely Japanese women, who wanted to celebrate Girls Day (March 3 each year) with me. We met at Tenmangu Shrine, where the ume were about halfway bloomed. I really liked the way they draped around the Japanese lanterns.

Then went to the Mohri Family Former Residence and Gardens to see the historic Hina Doll items they had on display. Photogrpahs of the items were not allowed, so my students were kind enough to give me postcards from the museum.

 Finally, we at lunch at Douzodouzo, which was quite oishii (delicious).

My Girls Day gifts from my students:

If you are planning to go to the Mohri residence, here is the brochure in English:

Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture

Map of this trip  (works best from a computer)

This was a full 12-hour day, but we managed to fit a lot in to it!

First we stopped at the Hagi Sea Market to see the kawazu sakura, or early cherry blossom trees. This is a different variety of cherry blossom tree and its flowers are a brighter pink than the pale pink, almost white flowers seen around Iwakuni. This was an easy stop on our way to our original destination, which was the tsubaki (camellia) park about 15 minutes away.

The tsubaki park has a forest of large camellia trees with red flowers, and I think we may have been late in the season to enjoy them. However, off to the right from the parking lot is a garden with camellia bushes of different varieties. There is a map on the edge of the parking lot, so be sure to check it out. It takes about an hour to complete the entire path circuit through the forest. There are also only squatty (Japanese style) porta-potties for bathrooms, so be prepared.

We made an unplanned detour on the way back down the hill from the tsubaki park: Yuzuya, which features all sorts of orange and tangerine (yuzu and mikan) delights.

I bought orange juice and jelly... yummy!

The Viking King (buffet restaurant) was quite tasty and for 1,630 yen, it was all you could eat and drink. Including make-your-own cotton candy. And we definitely left full. 

This makeshift bassinet was provided by the employees of the restaurant. This worked quite well for baby Sofia. Helicopter parents relax... the chairs were too heavy to separate on their own.

Finally, we enjoyed the warm waters and fabulous view from the Hotel Yokikan onsen. For about 1,000 yen, we soaked our worries away (and enjoyed some amazing citrus shampoo and conditioner!) And yes, you do have to get naked with both friends and strangers of the same gender. Be brave.

Kanmuriyama Park, Hikari

I've been to Kanmuriyama Park three times now, and I finally made it for one of the seasons it is famous for: ume (plum blossom) season. I was invited by some friends to make the 1.5 hour drive over to the park, and because of my crazy schedule this time of year, they were kind enough to wait until late on a cloudy afternoon when I could go. Because of the terrible light, my photos don't really do the park justice, but I figured you might enjoy seeing a sampling of the thousands of ume trees that await you.

So now you have three day trips where you can go at the beginning of March to see the first blooms of color while you wait impatiently for spring. Dress in layers because we encountered temperatures ranging from freezing to about 55 degrees... it's an unpredictable time of year.

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