The weather gods, or Mother Nature, or fate: they're all in a bad mood due to global warming or possibly Japan's obsession with concrete …
It's been estimated that Japan pours 490 cubic meters of concrete per square kilometer, compared with 40 cubic meters in the USA and 310 in China. Not for nothing is Japan known as the construction state.*
Anyway. Whatever the reason, the 2016 cherry blossom season has been one of the worst since I arrived in this mortared matrix ten years ago: it remains overcast, chilly and drizzly. Early April is seldom perfect, but this year's been extra dismal.
While others might bewail a lost opportunity to get blotto under the blossoms, I'm in a strop because it's nigh impossible to take decent photos when soft pink blossoms disappear against a grey sky.
Most of my plans were scuppered, but I stubbornly followed two: to go to Kamakura (which I did last Friday) and to walk along the Meguro River (this morning), both for the first time in cherry blossom season.
Kamakura's blossoms don't rival Tokyo's, methinks, but it was good to revisit the town after a long absence and to go hiking in its hills again. I also discovered, purely by chance, the prettiest peony garden I've yet seen. Sometimes when you take off in a panic to escape tourist hordes, you end up in a tiny paradise.
Dear gods. I don't mind tourists per se, but when they're disgorged from hundreds of package tour buses, that's when I develop anthropophobia, claustrophobia and enochlophobia. I got a fairly bad attack at Tsurugaoka Hachimangū (鶴岡八幡宮), fled down a flight of steps and along the perimeter of the complex, and saw a sign that said "peony garden". It promised a refuge. I paid ¥500, which is slightly expensive but worth every yen. Once I was inside, where it was blessedly quiet compared to the main shrine, I remembered that I'd read about this garden. I can now confirm that it's justifiably famous. What makes it extra beautiful is the backdrop of cherry blossoms, which I haven't seen in any other peony garden.
My main reason for choosing Tsurugaoka Hachimangū was to see the avenue of cherry trees leading up to the shrine, but that was a blah anti-climax. The avenue has recently been reconstructed and planted with new trees, and I'm afraid it's lost its ambience. It will be more beautiful when the trees are bigger, but right now it's cold grey concrete, very neat, very precise, very artificial. Also hopelessly crowded. I arrived early, as per usual; heaven or rather hell knows what it's like during peak times. Not to worry, though: the peony garden and the hike in Kamakura's hills were compensation for all other trials, tribulations and ill tempers.
I also popped into Kenchō-ji (建長寺), an old Zen temple that has a short avenue of cherry trees. Short but very pretty. Photos below.
PS: I went for an early-morning walk along the famous Meguro River this morning. I thought it would be quiet because it was raining, but it was getting quite busy towards 9 am. I ran away again. More later.
* Windows on Japan: A Walk Through Place and Perception by Bruce Roscoe, page 103