When one has an opportunity to travel and to explore, one should not miss it. Soon after we invited our host family to watch our Japanese traditional dance performance, we were invited by them to go for Hanami at Kakunodate, Akita Prefecture. After excitedly going to four different Hanamis, this was our fifth and last Hanami for this year. We showed no signs of “Sakura – zukare” (meaning tired of looking at too many Sakura blossoms). Rather, we prepared different meals – this time, Bikash showed off his culinary skills by making a Nepali achaar, grilled chicken and chana masala.
We started our trip early. By 6:30 AM, Mama and Papa (that is what we call our host mom and dad) had already arrived to receive us in front of our dormitory. After the usual ohayogozaimasu’s and konnichiwa’s, we chatted happily about almost everything under the sun, occasionally petting the attention-seeking- yet-extremely-cute Harry (our host family’s dog).
From their granddaughter to Tim’s prospective girlfriend we talked for 3 hours straight. We crossed the highways, neatly arranged fields, small cute houses with tiny vegetable patches and several rivers such as Tamagawa and Kitakamigawa. By the time we reached Tamagawa, the weather was turning chilly and was cold. Mama was worried about the weather and we hoped it wouldn’t rain there.
Light drizzle welcomed us at Kakunodate. Mama had kindly prepared an umbrella for each of us. With Harry in the bag, we started to explore.
Kakunodate’s Cherry Blossom Festival is apparently one of the biggest annual cherry blossom festivals in the Tohoku region. Despite the cold, forbidding weather, there were many visitors. As expected, beautiful weeping Sakura trees hung around the premises with modesty.
The rain had created a beautiful ambience – different to what we had experienced at other Hanami sites. Unlike the other parks we have been to, this place evoked a different feeling – as if we were walking somewhere back in time. Walking through the paths of the huge weeping cherry trees around since the Edo period, small souvenir shops, sporadic sightings of rickshaw pullers and ancient samurai residences stirred something in our hearts; like it was yesterday once more – even for someone who hadn’t spent a considerable amount of time here in Japan.
It was raining by the time we reached the most popular Hanami spot – along the banks of Hikonikai river. The owners of the stalls selling food looked forlorn as the customers decreased due to rain, although naturally, udon and ramen sellers were looking busy! Something about the combination of rain and the cherry trees along the river banks of Hikonikai river looked rather melancholic – like bittersweet memories flooding from the past.
The significance of the cherry blossom tree in Japanese culture goes back hundreds of years. In their country, the cherry blossom represents the fragility and the beauty of life. It’s a reminder that life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful but that it is also tragically short.
– Homaro Cantu
It was lunch time. We ushered ourselves inside the mini caravan which brought us to this serene place. Inside it was warm and homely. Soon, we were helping ourselves to the delicious snacks our hosts had made for us, while they happily tasted our food. Bikash’s grilled chicken was a hit and so was Tim’s prawn tomatoes. After we finished eating, mama expertly packed the leftovers for us – our food for them and their food for us! We were amazed to see Harry patiently waiting for us to finish lunch. I compared him to our pet dog back at home – what a vast difference it was! This one was well-mannered and had etiquette too! (sincerely hoping my sister will read this article and teach Johnny some manners!)
After leaving Kakunodate, Mama took us to a local market that only opens on weekends. She excitedly showed us around telling us that they sell plenty of weird stuff apart from the groceries. She was right; we did see some strange things. From beautiful but old looking Kimonos to Yamaha guitars (Bikash insisted we buy one), a huge live octopus, strange exotic mountain herbs, antiquities and huge pet goldfish tied in one plastic bags, each worth 10K – this market had it all! We enjoyed strolling around and ended up buying our groceries for the next week (we did not end up buy the guitar though).
It is already too late for Hanami this year. However, next year, I hope you will include Kakunodate as one of your “to-go” lists for Hanami! We have more recommendations regarding places to go, activities to do and food to eat at Tohoku. Keep reading and stay positive. Namaste for now!
Photo Courtesy: Tim Jim (Text photo) & Bikash Shilpakar (Cover photo)