Hagi … Cherry Blossom Capital, Japan

Back out of the Inland Sea and into the Sea of Japan that has the decided it’s  been too kind for us.

I have spent all my life on, and in, the water … in boats from 12 feet to an aircraft carrier, and I’m  seasick for the first time ever. Damn, it was such a nice breakfast, too.

Quickly recovering, we arrive at Hagi. Now I’m  no travel agent, however put this place on your bucket list for when the cherry blossoms are blooming.

Apparently this is the best flowering for many years and we are here right at the peak of it.

Words cannot do these flowers justice, so I’ll  let the trees themselves do the talking in pictures, other than to say – visit Shuzuki Park, Hagi Castle, with between five and six hundred trees in full bloom.

We visit, too, the Samurai quarter, where Japan’s ancient revolution began.

But my mind can’t  go past the ‘chelly brossoms‘.

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HIROSHIMA

An evocative name in 20th century history.

The first atomic bomb obliterated this city. August 1945 changed the world, and wiped out thousands upon thousands of people in a few seconds. The blast, the enormous heat and destructive shock waves was a turning point in man’s history on this planet.

The Peace Park provides a sombre reminder, the museum details the orgy of destruction, while everything is hoping for a future without nuclear weapons.

An admirable  wish, shared by millions the world over, but seeming more unlikely by the day as more nations acquire the technology, and men with no thought for history – when will they ever learn – poise their fingers over nuclear buttons.

Buttons that can summon weapons hundreds of times more powerful that the two that finally halted the carnage of the Pacific war.

This blue white sign, in origami cranes, means “peace”

 

 

Sombre. That’s  the feeling Hiroshima left with me.

Yet the cherry blossoms still burst forth every spring for their 7 to 10 day life, while young families putter along their river in curious circular outboard powered boats. The word “boat” doesn’t seem to fit these strange craft.

By the way, pronunciation is optional. The Japanese alternatively use it with the accent on the “o” or on the “i”.

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Magnificent Miyajima (Itsukushima)

Still in the Inland Sea, we anchor off the tiny island of Miyajima, population about 15,000.29893621_754637861401186_86831860_o

A bit like Airlie Beach, the approaches are shallow so we Zodiac into a sandy beach at high tide, and walk along the foreshore.

Around a little headland we are presented with an absolutely beautiful little town, cherry blossoms blazing.

Its main feature is an open winding wooden structure built over the water (at high tide) used for functions, weddings, and just wandering around.

A traditional wedding is under way as we walk around.

At low tide fresh water bubbles up through the exposed sand, forming small ponds.

The gate leads to the Itsukushima shrine, so we climb up to this old structure and its incredibly detailed gardens.

The buildings are reminiscent of Bhuddist shrines in Tibet, and prayer wheels form central handrails to the stone steps.

Known as The Shrine Island, Miyajima boasts one of the three most beautiful views of Japan, the floating Tori Gate, dating back to the 6th century.

Built of camphor wood from huge trees, it presents a maintenance problem because every old camphor tree in Japan that’s  big enough for the job is separately heritage listed.

 

And the cherry blossoms…

Moji, Japan – Cherry Blossoms AND a Toilet Museum!

A calm run from Busan and we enter the country’s inland sea.

Our first stop is Moji, once an important international trading port – Korea, China and the outside world. Historic buildings line the waterfront, but our interest is the cherry blossoms, now peaking into full flower. This is why we came to Japan. We know we will see more in the coming days, but these specimens are fabulous.

 

We’re here to see stuff, so we make a beeline for Kokura Castle, originating from the 1600’s. And its renowned gardens.

Nobody does gardens like the Japanese, and when spring is sprung and the ‘chelly brossoms’ burst into flower it’s 100% visual beauty overload.29893810_754637038067935_1167899125_o

 

 

Then, the last thing you’d  expect to do, we go to the Toto toilet museum! As we all know, Japan creates the most ingenious toilets, things of wonder and not a little trepidation as you wonder what’s  going on down there. So we see a hundred years or so of toilets… riveting stuff, no?

I’ll  share with you my favourite, a must have for the Harley aficionados.

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Just like life, time runs too quickly and we are warmly sent on our way with a rousing number by the school band and a balloon release.

 

So,  farewell to Moji, its cherry blossoms and dunny museum.


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The Women Divers of Busan, South Korea

This is the home (we find this claim is made by a few different places) of the women divers who used to collect pearls, now abalone, octopus, sea urchins etc.

Thinking they are a thing of the past, as we learn that most are now in their seventies and older (what sweet young thing these days wants to take on such an arduous career) we are excited to see from the elevated walkway half a dozen of them, wetsuit-clad, towing floats and net bags, collecting abalone and octopus.

 

Beaches and hot-springs resorts may not be your first image of South Korea, but locals flock to Busan for just those things.

We visit Gamcheon… they call it Santorini of the east… tiny houses, close together, steep slopes, narrow streets.

We see some girls in traditional dress.

Carved parrots on rooftops, electric and other vehicles expertly driven in cramped and steep streets. Packed with people. How bigger vehicles manage it I don’t know.

Then to Songdo Beach, deserted in this cold air, but see pics of it with more people than grains of sand.

Gujke Markets cover several city blocks. Crowded, full of colour and sound, where you could buy anything. We resist it all, especially food vendors’ stalls. Doubtless tasty gear, but hard to get excited enough to sample it.

We leave Busan, and venture out once more into the Sea of Japan for the night cruise back to that country.

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Jeju Island, South Korea

A remarkably calm run across the Sea of Japan takes us to the South Korean holiday island of Jeju. Several weeks ago I checked sea conditions – it showed a 40 knot nor’wester blowing out of Siberia. We are lucky.

Expecting a small undeveloped island we arrive at a large island, some half a million people, huge modern waterfront facilities including an elevated promenade complete with see-through decking, ships and ferries everywhere, an obviously very busy airport with big jets landing one aft r the other. 50 million tourists a year!

The island is noted for its black stone carved statues, originally constructed to scare off potential invaders.

Obviously the sculptors had more in mind.. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from the pics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A visit to the Bonte museum, with works by Dali and Picasso as well as local artists.  And a wonderful room of mirrors and a changing kaleidescope of coloured lights.

Trams, Tulips and Temples

Tulips under cherry blossoms in Nagasaki attest to the Dutch trading influence of the Dutch East India Company.

Today, modern, energetic and one of Japan’s most important port cities boasting echoes of it’s foreign trade past, Nagasaki holds a fascinating role in Japan’s history, particularly the part it played in foreign trade during the country’s ‘period of isolation’ in the 17th century.

 

We visit a 1620’s built temple – Kofukuji is 5 minutes from Kokaido-Mae streetcar stop, and its timeless beauty makes it worth a visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They may be trams to me but to locals they are streetcars. Frequent, busy and efficient, a flat fee of of 120 yen per trip irrespective of distance simplifies the whole operation.

 

 

 

And, so it is ‘sayonara’ Nakasaki as we board our launch and set off into the rising sun and more of this incredible country.

 

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