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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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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Atomic Bomb and Cherry Blossoms

Nagasaki. What an emotive name. Steeped in history as Japan’s only gateway to the outside world during this nation’s closed period, this delightful city – by local standards small (nearly half a million) – surrounds a beautiful deep water and protected harbour, ringed by steep hills.

After the dramatic high speed journey of the bullet train, we emerge next morning to a beautiful but cold day.

Our accommodation is perfectly located near the rail station and trams right outside. After breakfast we set out to walk “only 15 minutes” along the wharf precinct to check out the boats and visit the Prefectural art museum.

We listen carefully to a tourist lady as she earnestly gives detailed directions… turn right, then reft, the two turns right. So off we go! An hour later, no water, industrial area, so retrace our steps.

Moral – when setting off with clear turn directions, you gotta make sure you’re facing the right way when you start!

Anyway, eventually we get there, great waterscape, much shipping. A square rigged paddle steamer does a harbour cruise as we sit at lunch, watching from inside – still coolish outside.

Next day we catch a tram (learning now) to the Atomic Bomb Hypocentre.

73 years on, but the memory clearly still raw.

We check out the whole site which includes exhibits, statues, from many countries in memory of those who suffered.

(A few images taken at the peace memorial)

 

 

 

 

 

The Australian contribution adds reference to the effects in our country of the British nuclear tests at Maralinga.

with the survivor of the blast referred to above

After a sombre few hours we jump on a tram, back for lunch and a cold Kirin.

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Cherry Blossom Time!

Tokyo …  cold, drizzling rain, completely grey.  I thought this was the Land of the Rising Sun?

We braved the rain for a shivering walk through the Imperial Palace gardens. Immaculate and oh-so-ordered, huge stone walls reminiscent of Inca ruins, cherry blossoms just beginning their yearly ritual.

 

 

 

However, our stay in Tokyo at this leg of the journey is brief …

Buffeted by the “whump” of northbound bullet trains our Shinkansen Nozomi streaks southwards from Tokyo.

Hard to believe we’re doing over 200 kph. But yes, we get to Hakata, some 1100 k’s, in five hours including about half a dozen brief stops.

Barely an hour into the  journey we race through a light snowfall as the weather outside our cosy bullet cocoon deteriorates.

 

 

 

 

Time for lunch!  We delicately open our ikebana bento boxes – ikeben – almost too perfect in their fantastic packaging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Change trains at Hakata, then the relatively sedate Limited Express delivers us to Nagasaki after dark.

We walk to our hotel and look forward to what tomorrow may bring.

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