Monday 30 April 2012


I got up early today to try (again) to see the famous weeping cherry. (The things I do for this blog!) I got there at 8:30 am and had only a 20 minute wait for the car park. Cloudy sky so pictures (below) not as good as the other day. When I first came to this area many years ago you just pulled up in the car right next to the tree. This was the first time I'd battled the crowds in the new set up and I was amazed. There are two huge car parks, a tunnel connecting them to the site, a 300 yen entrance fee and a paved approach, lined with local farmers and nurseries selling their wares, to rival a Kyoto temple. The tree itself was in full flower at the top (mankai 満開)but further down the leaves were beginning to appear (hazakura 葉桜).  Wish I could have seen it floodlit. Tonight is the last night. In the night pictures it really does look like its namesake, a waterfall. Maybe I'll make that next year's project.

Then on for coffee at Aoitsuki. Lovely house looking out onto woods, calming. Speciality of the house - home made cake and pumpkin creme caramel. The proprietor gives readings of Miyazawa Kenji stories once a month. Like me, she's used writing as a means to come to terms with the nuclear accident. Check out the blog (Japanese only). And if you want to visit, be warned it's very difficult to find. Print out a map before you set off.

Next stop, the Tofu Cafe in Miharu no Sato near the lake. This is run by local tofu maker Oh-hataya, famous for their thick triangles of fried tofu. But you can get anything there: quiche (made with okara and soy milk) 1,050 yen, fried tofu pizza 680 yen, or a big lunch plate of assorted tofu goodies with rice, soup, dessert and coffee for 1,250 yen.

And finally, back to Koriyama and one of my favourite places, the Sato Sakura Museum. It was built a few years ago by a prosperous local car dealer to house his collection of post war Nihonga, Japanese style paintings. The pigments are made through mixing ground coloured stone with deer hide glue to give a mellow, textured finish but it's the scale of these paintings that surprise. The owner commissioned five paintings of the Miharu Takizakura from different artists and each painting is in four sections, each section the size of a tatami mat! The gallery, as usual, was empty of visitors which is a great pity. The huge pictures of tigers and elephants, cats and monkeys would stop a child in its tracks. The museum has opened a branch in Tokyo, in Naka Meguro so you can see one of the Takizakura pictures there. (Tel: 03-3496-1771)

So the season is over. The cherry blossom in town has gone, the Takizakura will soon be green and look more like a weeping willow than a cherry. This year there were only two days, Tuesday and Wednesday last week, when the flowers were out and the weather warm enough for picnics (hanami 花見). The petals fall like snow (hanafubuki 花吹雪)and it's gone. That's what it's all about: catch it while you can. I was once in England when the cherries were in flower but come rain or wind the cherries (admittedly they were double cherries) seemed to stick on the trees for weeks. Here the Somei Yoshino variety is fragile and symbolises the  uncertainty, transiency, impermanence of things - or as they say here, mujo 無常. Yes, in this country of earthquakes, tsunami and volcanoes, when you never know what's round the corner, the sakura are very special. Enjoy the moment.
The 1,000 year old Takizakura (Waterfall Cherry) in Miharu
9.5 metres round the trunk. Lots of support for the old dear.
A little shrine at the foot of the tree. I was surprised to see people bowing their heads in prayer.
Shinto in action? (The national religion that believes there is a spirit in every living thing.)
I was once told off for taking a photo from this angle! (The tree is supposed
 to be seen from the front like ikebana.) But who cares?
Aoitsuki cafe
The Tofu Cafe in Miharu no Sato
Three paintings of the Takizakura in Sato Sakura Museum.
Detail of painting by Hayashi Junichi.

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