One of the many reasons why I chose to travel to Japan in the spring was to see the “sakura” (cherry blossom) trees in bloom. I believe they’re an asset that really define the beauty of the country. Growing up in Hawaii where seasons are practically nonexistent, I was lucky enough to experience cherry blossom trees every spring at the University of Washington. But there was something distinctly different about experiencing cherry blossom trees in Japan.
For one, these fragrant, white-and-pink blossoms are native to Asia and hold a special meaning to Japan as a symbol of human life. Sure, Washington D.C. beckons thousands of tourists each spring for its amazing tree sightings, but when you think about the history of cherry blossom trees in the states, Japan has a much lengthier one than North America. After all, the planting of the trees was a gift from Japan in the early 1900s as a symbol of its friendship with the U.S.
About a week prior to my departure to Japan, I read an article on CNN.com reporting that sakura were blooming earlier than normal this year due to unusually warm weather. Yes, disappointment was a bit of an understatement to say the least, but I was pretty confident that our tour would be able to catch at least the tail end of sakura season.
A sakura blossom in Japan.
Sure enough, March 29 came around and sakura were everywhere in sight from the Narita airport all the way to our hotel in Tokyo. They were absolutely gorgeous! But it wasn’t until Monday, April 1 when I noticed that the sakura were especially breathtaking. That’s when we arrived in Nagoya, home of the historic Nagoya Castle — in which my mom and I were fortunate enough to have a perfect view of from the hotel room.
The view from my hotel room of the sun rising behind Nagoya Castle.
Our tour guide Hiro waiting for the group as he stands next to a Nagoya Castle map.
On Tuesday, our first stop of the day was to the Nagoya Castle — located in the heart of the city and directly across from our hotel — to peruse the sakura trees surrounding the castle as well as the interior of the building itself. I can’t possibly begin to describe how breathtaking the scene was other than to say that if Merriam-Webster included photos, this one would fall under the definition of “beautiful.”
The tour group taking in the sights of the sakura trees.
As we took our time walking towards the castle, we took photos and simply enjoyed the tiny petals falling softly on our hair like light snow.
Proof that I actually witnessed the sakura trees for myself!
Weeping cherry blossom trees.
Touring the castle itself was a different, more historical experience. According to the Nagoya Castle official website, the structure was first constructed during the Edo period in 1612, under the orders of Tokugawa Ieyasu to ward off attacks coming from Osaka. However, in May 1945, during World War II, most the original castle was burned down as a result of air raids on Nagoya. Since the late 1950s, efforts have been made to reconstruct the castle to what we see today.
A sakura tree fronts the historic Nagoya Castle.
The best-known symbol of the castle is the “shachihoko,” or golden orcas that adorn the roof of its castle tower.
A giant shachihoko inside the castle.
Browsing the castle was, of course, an eye-opening and excellent learning experience for me. But I was starting to get hungry and it was time to board the bus. That’s where we provided with delicious “obento” (box lunches) while continuing to enjoy the views of the sakura trees before heading off to Toyota City to visit the Toyota Motor Corporation factory.