It’s approaching the cherry blossom season in Japan and if you’re planning a visit you’ll know that catching them in full bloom can be tricky. I planned my whole trip to Japan last year around the cherry trees and the hours spent tracking weather patterns paid off when I managed to photograph the beautiful blossoms in most of the cities I visited. I’ve condensed all my knowledge into this short 4 step guide just for you.
1. As a general rule, the blossoms start in the South and sweep towards the North
Due to the shape of the islands, imagine the trees blooming in the South West first and the North East last.
2. Cherry blossoms start around March and end around May
The cherry blossom season changes every year – it depends on all sorts of factors like how cold winter was and how early spring starts. Generally the blossoms begin blooming in March and end around May in the North.
3. You don’t need to catch them in full bloom
Full bloom is the most beautiful, but it’s not essential. I saw the trees at various stages of their blooming and it was always exciting to find them. Plus… trees in the same town will be at different stages too, so one might be half blooming but then you’ll find another in full bloom and one that hasn’t even begun yet.
4. Keep an eye on Japan Guide’s Forecast
Japan-Guide.com has an excellent cherry blossom forecast every year (which you can find here) but also quite handily they have cherry blossom reports from previous years, allowing you to see which years had exceptionally early or late blooms.
Based on these 4 factors I planned my 2013 trip as follows:
Yesterday I experienced my first problem with being nomadic and not having a RTW flight ticket – Jetstar refused to check me into my flight to Taipei because I didn’t have a visa or a flight out of Taiwan arranged.
I explained that as a British citizen I can stay in Taiwan for 3 months without a visa, and that I have proof of funds to support myself and leave when my time is up.
Three staff members spent (wasted) 15 precious minutes at a computer reading information that confirmed I don’t need a visa, then told me that they would still refuse me unless I booked another flight immediately.
Thus began my first moment of stress so far – a mad panic to get my computer to connect to wifi (it wouldn’t for ages), hastily book a flight to Hong Kong then run back to check in before it closed. I didn’t even want a bloody flight, I wanted to go to Hong Kong by ferry which I can’t book yet.
Jetstar wrongly informed me I had to leave Taiwan within 30 days. Having done my research I knew they were wrong but they wouldn’t listen, so the flight I was forced to book is for sooner than I wanted to leave and I’ll have to pay $50 to cancel it. I was later stamped into Taiwan by immigration visa exempt for 90 days, no questions asked, no proof of flight needed.
I was too optimistic in thinking the staff would have knowledge and common sense (but I hear there’s a big fine for them if they wrongly allow someone to travel). The whole thing pissed me off greatly but I learnt a lesson – next time I go anywhere I’ll book a refundable flight out beforehand then cancel it as soon as I land. There’s a game to play in this travelling business and I’m learning the rules fast.
The last few days have been spent on buses, trains, ferries and then in bed getting over a cold passed onto me by a sneezy commuter, so I’ve had a lot of time to read (I’m on my 21st book of 2013) and think.
Ever since Hiroshima weeks ago I’ve been thinking about the busker I saw, and about the awesome hammered dulcimer. I’ve been collecting musical instruments for years, always looking for ‘the one’ – the one that I’ll fall in love with and that will keep me interested for longer than a whim. I’m sure I’ve found it this time with this instrument I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.
It’s so versatile that it’s all my favourite instruments in one. I no longer need my banjo or ukulele or piano or guitar, and my dreams of playing the harp can be channeled into the dulcimer – it’s all of them in one.
It got me thinking – is it possible to learn a completely new musical instrument without being able to touch it or go near one? And in this case, without knowing what it feels like to strike the strings, without hearing how the strings react to different hammers or techniques, without knowing how different sizes and numbers of strings affect what you can play? I have a feeling it’s possible.
So here’s my challenge to myself: learn how to play the hammered dulcimer using the internet alone, well enough to be able to play scales, chords and simple tunes by the time I get home. Watch this space.
In other news, I’m currently sitting in Kansai Osaka Airport awaiting a flight to Taipei which I’m very excited about! New adventures and challenges lie ahead.
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When the rain finally came I dashed back to the tram and spent a warm hour or two in a dockside cafe reading and staring out to sea.
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Instead I explored Shibuya which was a half hour walk down the road from the embassy. A Shibuya map I picked up listed a few record stores and I headed off to a world music specialist. I couldn’t find it, but instead found an interesting temple guarded by two wolf statues.
My home for the day was Tower Records Shibuya, where I ended up for five hours, perusing the artwork on the CD cases and listening to album after album of new music, old music and weird eclectic music I’ve never heard of.
I realised that music has been missing from my life for the last two months. On long journeys I’ve been reading or sleeping and in the daytime I like to listen to the sounds of what’s around me rather than blocking it all out with earphones which is what I’d usually do.
Since I have no way of playing CDs I didn’t buy any, but I had such a great day out that I went and spent my money in the cafe instead.