Last Thursday, May 5th, was the final day of Golden Week. Even though we were a bit tired from the trip to Tokyo and just wanted to stay at home, we rallied. Taking advantage of a holiday together, we pushed ourselves out the door and on our way through the Japanese countryside.
As I have mentioned before, Karl a part of the JET program. There is a great lady in charge of helping out the JET ALTs (assistant language teachers) within our prefecture of Saitama. She sends out a “Memo Random” (haha) every couple months full of useful information and articles. In the most recent volume there was a list of things to do and festivals to see during Golden Week and this is what I found:
● Shibazakura Festival (芝桜まつり, Shiba-zakura Matsuri) Now through May 8 at Hitsuji- yama Park in Chichibu-shi. If you‘ve been in Saitama for five minutes or longer, you‘ve seen photos of the expansive hillsides covered in bright shades of mountain phlox. Grab your camera, take in the sights, and check out some of Chichibu‘s other locales as well. Some matsuri events will still take place . Access: 1.5 km from Chichibu (秩父) and Hanabatake (花畑) stations on the Chichibu Tetsudō (秩父鉄道) line. Open 8:00-17:00, admittance free. More Info at http://navi.city.chichibu.lg.jp/flower/shibazakura/ index.html (Japanese, but automatic translator button can be used at your own risk/ amusement).
So we hopped on the train and headed to Chichibu. (To my musical friends: notice that Chichibu was the original setting for Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. Cool!) It’s roughly an hour away. We had one transfer and even though we ended up having to wait for a half an hour for the next train, we had fun waiting. There was an うどんとそば (udon and soba) shop right there on out train platform. So we shared a bowl of 天ぷらうどん(tempura udon). It was delicious!
When we arrived in Chichibu, we got off the train and simply followed the crowd. (We didn’t know exactly how to get there, but figured we would find our way somehow.) Most people walked to the park right from the train station. We picked up a free map and off we went.
This event is basically another 花見 (like the sakura events) viewing festival. People brought picnics, there were food vendors, farmers selling their goods, a little petting zoo… It was lovely. Although we had already eaten udon at the train station, we partook in some Japanese fair food. We bought sweet potato fries. Tasty!
Japanese fair food is every bit as unhealthy as American fair food-but completely different. Instead of fried candy bar/cheese/hot dogs on sticks, there are squids and whole fish on sticks. Instead of cheese curds, there is takoyaki (fried balls of octopus) and yaki soba (fried noodles with pickled ginger). It is definitely an experience to be had.
As we munched on our sweet potato fries, we wandered about the field of flowers taking in their beauty. The air was gently scented with their delicate perfume-just strong enough to be noticed. The flowers stretched out in a little valley. Although we were there towards the end of the season and the flowers were a bit sparse in places, it was still an incredible sight to behold.
The park is nestled at the foot of a big mountain. It was a hazy day; the top of the mountain was shrouded in mist. Although the sky was threatening, it did not rain.
When we had had our fill of 花見, we slowly made our way back to the train station. We were very happy we had dragged ourselves out of the apartment for the day. How fortunate we were to be surrounded by such beauty in the midst of such turbulent times.
Japan is an incredibly beautiful country.