Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sakura Madness - はなみ (hanami)

We were invited to ride in a small boat that was much like a wooden canoe. There was a community group that was offering rides and Logan was thrilled to take a ride. He was bouncing up and down and almost jumped into the shallow river before we had our turn to ride. When the boat did dock it was our turn to climb down to the landing platform. We climbed down the three steps so we would be level with the boat. We climbed aboard and moved to the far forward of the boat. Logan and Jenny were handed a canoe paddle as about two more families climbed aboard. Men wearing hip waders walked next to the boat to guide it up and down the knee-deep stream. Logan had a fantastic time paddling his oar in the water. He felt like such a big boy to be able to make the boat go. We rowed in the boat between two bridges, turned around in our seats and rowed back to the landing dock. It does not seem like much, but it really was a lot of fun.

After the boat ride we resumed our walk down the sakura-lined lane. It was not long before we received another invitation. This time it was less of an invite and more of a command. There was a middle-aged woman who was urging us rather forcefully to enter an old school that was being used as an art gallery. She stood there on the sidewalk and moved us rather gracefully to the entrance gate, showed us a photo of the painting she created, and told us to go look at the real thing. We did just that. It was nice to go in and see all the art. We saw paintings, sculptures, quilts, and lots of other types of art. I think that the most interesting was being able to see the very old, if not antique, school building. The halls with their wooden floors creaked as we trod quietly on them. Windows that looked out onto the barren playground and were flanked by blossoming cherry trees. We were surprised to be here, but it was a pleasant opportunity to see something that we did not expect.

We walked throughout the city looking at all there was to see. We saw more flowers and people than we ever thought we would see in the course of one day. But still it was nice as the walk brought into neighborhoods we had not yet visited. We walked along a small stream that ran parallel to the Kiyamachi-dori Street. We then had to walk back to our starting point to find our way to the next location for awesome cherry sights. This time instead of retracing our steps along the stream we moved about two blocks east and walked along the Kano-gawa River. There is a walkway that is at river level and this day it was filled with people and some booths selling various goods. These were not the usual fare. This day there were new things including a Middle Eastern food booth selling kebabs and other Middle Eastern fare. The nice thing was that the whole thing was being run by and eco-friendly company and not only were there trash receptacles everywhere but they also were recycling much of the garbage. That is an amazing feat because most of the time when we have trash to pitch in the dust bin there is not one around to use.

We walked along the bank of the river and admired the city that stood around us as we walked to the Gion district. We were looking for another little river only in a different area of town. The Gion area is the entertainment district. And by entertainment I mean the old-fashioned entertainment of Geisha and small drinking bars not movies and Broadway Musicals. We decided that this would be a great place to see the blossoms and who knows what else. So we headed off to find the little stream that feeds into the Kamo-gawa.

We found it with little problem. It was not hard to see the large group of people congregating in the area. It was difficult to make our way into the space because it was so full of people. We wandered along the river looking at all the pale pink blossoms and the colorful people. We even saw a couple of ladies who were dressed up to look like geisha. It is very rare to see an actual geisha; they are usually hidden away for very high paying clients. As a result most of the time when you see a geisha on the streets they are just a regular person who has paid money to be made up to look like one. We also saw what I thought was a really cool sight. We saw a man, a chef I think, standing on some very high stilt like geta sandals. There he was standing down an alleyway about two feet in the air on his single riser sandals. I had just enough time to zoom in with my camera and snap a few pictures.

We wandered around the Gion area for a while. We took time to appreciate the small shrines tucked away and almost hidden from view. We saw ancient looking houses and modern ones too. We wandered throughout this area trying to take it all in without getting to lost in the process. We eventually made our return to the place where we started and we decided to head off for some dinner.

We walked for a while before we found a place to eat. Once long ago we had seen a restaurant that looked like it would be a great place to eat. We decided to hunt it down. We wandered the city streets and eventually found it. We ordered dinner and ate our food when it came. We also happened to run into some of the other people who live in our area. They were getting ready for a big party later in the evening.

After dinner we headed back to the little river where we had taken the boat ride earlier in the afternoon. We did stop at a cake shop for a desert and a coffee first. Last year a confectionery had temporarily shut down due to using day old ingredients in its pastries. It was a giant scandal and we thought it would be fun to eat at one of the recently reopened shops. After our after dinner treat we walked though the now darkened streets viewing the now illuminated trees. While we were doing some night viewing we ran into our neighbor Justin. He was also on his way to the big party and we walked with him as he found his way there.

We had seen many flowers and fascinating sights for one day and the next would be more of the same. The cherry blossoms season is short and sweet. We have to see them while they bloom and before they fall. Last chance.

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