ultramarinus – beyond the sea

DAY 1 – HANAMI, Mount Yoshino (1 of 2), Japan

After some light sleep on a 4-hour red-eye flight, we landed at Kansai International Airport at 6:30am on a Saturday morning.  Our vacation officially kicked off.  As we stepped out of the plane, we took a deep breath of the cool and refreshing air which reminded us of a familiar smell of the North American spring.  At the airport, it took us over an hour dealing with all the business related to train passes (Haruka & ICOCA, JR West Wide Area Pass, and Hanshin Tourist Pass).  At last, we hopped onto a Haruka Express and headed towards Tennoji Station in Osaka. A promising weather forecast for the afternoon prompted us to make up our mind on our first destination of the trip – a leisure stroll among the famous Mount Yoshino’s (吉野山) cherry blossoms.  After dropping off our luggage at our hotel, we walked over to Abenobashi Station hoping to purchase tickets for a limited express train to Yoshino.  Unfortunately, the staff of Kintetsu, the private corporation that runs exclusive train services to Yoshino, told us that all the morning limited express train tickets for the entire weekend had been sold out.  Not a surprise to us as hanami (flower viewing) is very popular among the locals.  We had no choice but to take the slower express train departing in 20 minutes.  We rushed into a convenient store in the station and grabbed several onigiri (seaweed wrapped rice balls with a variety of salty fillings) and a can of hot coffee. The train ride took about 1 hour and 45 minutes.  We arrived at Yoshino Station at around 12:30pm.  The station and its forecourt were packed with visitors and food vendors.  Two options laid in front of us, either queuing for the short cable car ride or stepping on the paved path that meandered all the way from Shimo Senbon section (Lower Thousand Trees) at the base, to Naka Senbon (Mid Thousand Trees), and up to Kami Senbon (Upper Thousand Trees) and Oku Senbon (Top Thousand Trees) near the top.  We chose to walk.  Along the way, cherry blossoms were everywhere, both along the footpath or upon mountain slopes across the valley.  Despite the peak of blossoms were already over by about a week at Shimo Senbon and Naka Senbon, thanks to the cooler micro-climate, the upper sections of Kami Senbon and Oku Senbon were still at their peak.  Souvenir shops, food vendors, restaurants, and ryokan, along with religious shrines and Buddhist temples lined up the uphill route.  This unique combination of cherry blossoms, historical temples, and handmade local delicacies made Mount Yoshino a worthy destination inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List. 1Loads of visitors arrived at Yoshino Station from cities all over Kansai. 2Mount Yoshino has the country’s oldest surviving aerial lift. 3After a night of rain, much of the remaining cherry blossoms at Shimo Senbon (Lower Thousand Trees) had fallen. 4.1Some cherry blossoms still managed to cling onto the branches at Shimo Senbon (Lower Thousand Trees). 4The gateway signified the entrance into Shimo Senbon’s main street, where vendors lined up along the way uphill. 5Kinpusenji Temple contains Japan’s second largest timber structure.  We were fortunate to enter the main hall and have a glimpse of the three gigantic Zao gongen statues. 7.5Clear sky finally arrived at about 3pm. 7As we approached Kami Senbon (Upper Thousand Trees), more lookouts allowed visitors to enjoy the panoramic views of cherry blossoms across the valley. 8The beauty of Mount Yoshino came from the multi-layering of blossom colours. 11Local Japanese, be it a group of family members, a couple or a solo visitor, usually take their time sitting under the cherry blossom to eat, drink and chat. 12A photographer set up a platform next to a tea pavilion offering free photo shooting for visitors at the top of the Hami Sendon section. When posing, most of the locals invariably made a “V” sign with their fingers. The owner of a tea house set up an outdoor patio in an open area where visitors could dine under tree canopies. This also turned out to be a perfect lookout for an unobstructed view towards the valley.  All visitors were required to take off their shoes before stepping onto the patio’s bamboo mat. There were many small wooden pavilions designed as resting areas on Mount Yoshino. They were thoughtfully designed with low walls and large openings that serve like picture frames, capturing the beauty of mountainous landscape. There were many street vendors selling beverage and snack but this one was the most special among all. The vendor had his little stall set up at an lookout point. The vendor furnished the open area with bright red chairs, floor mats and paper umbrella. We bought a sakura flavored ice-cream and sat down to rest a bit. 16Sun break.  Finally, near sunset.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka

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