Hiraizumi & Kakunodate

27-28 April 2009

Late April/early May my parents came over from the Netherlands to travel (and see me) here in Japan. It was their second visit, so they didn't have to see Nikko and Kyoto etc anymore. We decided on spring time (the previous visit was in Autumn) so they would have seen the best 2 seasons here. Autumn is famous for the colored leafs, and spring for the cherry blossoms.

You may think late April/Early may is too late for cherry blossoms (generally about the first week of april around Tokyo), but in the north of Japan spring comes a few weeks later and there are several famous cherry blossom festivals in the "Golden Week" (holiday in the first week of May). Some of these festivals (especially Kakunodate and Hirosaki) are "world famous (in Japan)" and Hasegawa-san saw it on TV every year, but never went. She re-arranged her busy work and the four of us headed out for a week-long road trip by her car.

I try to keep track of the places I have been in Japan (in 2004 and now) and some famous spots where I still like to go. Here you can download a file with locations for Google Earth

The first major stop was Hiraizumi. Long, long ago his was a very important city because it was the base of the Fujiwara family (clan) who controlled a large part of Japan back then. There is also a lot of (historical) drama involved, as the Fujiwaras were brought down my the Minamoto family (clan) who were loyal to the Emperor in Kyoto.
ANYWAY, there are still many old buildings, sacred places and "holy grails" etc. The most famous place being the Chuusonji-temple and its surroundings.

Here you see why my father in the picture above is not just walking through the gate, but standing sideways. Actually, almost everyone who passes through gets a "shock of surprise". You see people pile stones at mountain tops and so, but not in Japanese gates... The question is still: "Y?"

[HDR] Noh (classical Japanese drama) stage of the Hakusan Shrine (at the Chuusonji complex)

[HDR] another little altar at the Chuusonji complex

[HDR] I had prepared all kinds of things for this trip and I had ffound out that the Chuusonji closes at 17.00 but that this "Takkoku-no-Iwaya Bishamon-dou" cave temple would only close at 18.00. So we backtracked a few kilometers and visited it before heading to the hotel.

The story goes that a buddha statue was "carved" out the rock just by shooting arrows from a horseback! Then some time ago an earthquake split the rock and now only the face of the buddha remains.

The hotel [JP] had a line with "koi-nobori" (koi-carp shaped streamers) hanging out for the celebration of Boys-day (May 5th). Especially in the north of Japan this custom of haning out the koi-nobori is still very much alive, and we even saw some windsocks along the highway that were replaced by koi-shaped ones.

Kitakami is a place a bit north of Hiraizumi and famous for cherry blossoms along the river (we were kind of late for that unfortunately) and also for the many koi-nobori they span over the river. The standard set is a black one representing the father, a red one representing the mother and a blue one representing the boy.

The next stop was Kakunodate, famous for it's samurai residences and cherry blossoms along the river. We visited one of the houses and got a short tour by the son of the house who spoke some English.

In Kakunodate we were just in time for the cherry blossoms. It was funny to notice that the part of the path along the river next to the big parking lot was very crowded, but that as soon as you walked on beyond the edge of the lot, there was almost no-one!

Then we went on --according to plan-- to Tamagawa-onsen. This place features Japan's most acid hot spring. It is also said to have light radio-active rocks which would be good for the treatment of certain illnesses.
Then --not according to plan-- it appeared that the road through the national park would be closed from 18.00... and we were not sure upto which point that would be... and whether, if we entered, we would be able to get out in time. Let alone whether we would hae time to take a bath... Finally we decided to go in, keep track of time to be able to get back to the gate where we entered in time, and when we made it to Tamagawa-onsen we asked some people and after a lot of back-and-forth and making certain, we would have time for a quick dip (40min or so including getting ready to enter and getting ready to leave again).
So we did not see the outside "pools" and healing rocks in the river-bed etc, but directly headed for the bath-house. We soaked (my father was suddenly kind of un-happy that he shaved that morning, as the acid water making it rather itchy) and we drank the water from the tap (you should delute 1:5 but we forgot) and it was very nice actually... like lemonade (but not sweet of course).

Then we rushed out of the park, we made it just in time: a few minutes left and the 4x4 of the gate-closer already waiting.

Then to Hirosaki, the destination for the day.

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