Thursday, March 08, 2007

From Snow in Nagano to flowers in Ibaraki

The plan for today was to head out to Mito in neighbouring Ibaraki prefecture and pay a visit (my second, Yoshiko's first) to Kairakuen, one of Japan's three most renowned gardens. It's claim to fame is the hundreds of plum trees which are planted throughout the vast grounds of the garden. I visited last year on my birthday with Scotto. In an interesting coincidence, Scott just visited Kenrokuen, one of Japan's other 2 famous gardens, in Kanazawa on Monday.

Opting to drive instead of taking the train, we left Utsunomiya around 9AM, with Yoshi planning to meet us there around 11. The drive down was nice, and the weather was fantastic. Blue skies and sun, which made for a great backdrop for the light coloured plum blossoms. While stopped at a light, I managed to snap this quick shot of a tiny little train doing the milk run on a small local line in Ibaraki.


Our destination, Kairakuen, was reached pretty much at 11:00 and we did a bit of walking while waiting for Yoshi. I happened to snap two photos of the area which I thought went well together so I stitched them up. The exposure was not exactly the same, since I wasn't planning to do this, but it shows the large number of plum trees well. Kairakuen is on the right up the hill and the field to the left is a separate park.


While crossing over the bridge heading back towards the garden, we heard some commotion on the roadway below in the form of honking. You NEVER here cars honk their horns here, so it was quite out of the ordinary. The reason for this soon became clear when looking at the "intersection" where the problem occurred. Seems some truck got confused and headed down the wrong lane, I wonder how that could happen? From what I can understand, you've got a number of lanes of traffic converging and spinning around here. Notice the truck and car on the right... almost in the same location on the street but heading in opposite directions.


After scratching our heads over Mito's city planning, we met up with Master Yoshi and headed on in to the garden. I believe I went a little more into detail when I posted about this last year... but Kairakuen was built in the 1800s by one the lords of Mito, a Tokugawa I believe. It was built to serve some different purposes, including entertainment for the locals, the lords and a refuge for the Emperor in case of fire at the main palace. The grounds were laid out beautifully of course, with Kobun-tei in the center.


Kobun-tei served as the main party pad, complete with a waiting room for the Lord's samurai bodyguards to use while their master was doing his thing with the ladies upstairs. As Scott says, no doubt large amounts of sushi was eaten off the body of countless young ladies within the walls of Kobun-tei.


While the plum blossoms weren't quite ready yet across the board, they are a fickle thing and hard to plan for, many of the trees had blooms.


I like this shot with a different tree (azalea?) providing the background...


We paid our 190Yen entrance fee to Kobun-tei (the only thing one must pay for when visiting here by the way, a nice change from most tourist traps) and headed on in.


The grounds immediately surrounding the building are quite nice.


We then made our way down the hill to a lower area of the garden where a huge stone was placed to serve as a spout for a spring. The water from here was used for the tea ceremonies held up above.


After a week of thinking there was a magical plum tree with yellow blossoms, I was set right, these are mizuki, no idea what it is in English... not a plum tree... but here we are.


After walking around a bit more, we decided to grab a bite to eat from the many food stalls which lie just outside the gate. We started out with some yaki-tori from this guy... it was quite tasty! We also got some oconomiyaki and ate on the grass under the blue skies, much as Scott and I did almost a year ago.


After dropping off young Yosh at the station, we headed on back home where we were greeted with the following lovely sunset. A lovely end to a lovely day.

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