Sakura

Sakura, Akashi Park
Sakura, Akashi Park

Sakura! Cherry blossoms! The most beautiful trees in the world! I’m back after a long, long hiatus from writing. I decided that, rather than upload my accounts in chronological order, I’m going to focus on the present and get caught up along the way.

Japanese cherry blossom trees are famous all over the world. Locals and tourists alike are known to weep over their glorious, fleeting beauty. I live in the middle part of Honshu where the cherry blossoms start blooming at the beginning of April. This year they were a bit late but the added suspense only made their arrival more stunning.

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Takeda Castle Ruins

 

View from Takeda Castle
View of Takeda Castle

Takeda Castle was once a giant mountain top castle in the town of Asago, a remote area of central Hyogo.  Like many of Japan’s traditional castles, Takeda was destroyed several hundred years ago.  The ruins remain as a series of rock walls and earthen formations on the top of the mountain.

 

Takeda used to be a completely unknown location.  JETs living in the area tell stories of driving up to the ruins for lunch and sitting on the edge of the cliff, feet dangling while enjoying a picnic.  Then, about eight months ago, a Japanese tourism television show featured the hidden ruins and suddenly thousands of tourists were flocking to the ruins every weekend.  Takeda is now known as “The Castle in the Sky” and this amazing shot of the ruins rising out of the morning clouds made for a great advertising campaign.  The mountain top location creates the perfect effect with low fog and misty morning air.

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Shimanami Kaido

 

Putting foot to pedal!
Putting foot to pedal!

The Shimanami Kaido – 70 milometers, 45 miles, seven bridges, and 6 islands!  This is what I had to look forward to when I signed up to tackle the famed cycling circuit.  The event was organized by a group of JETs from Okayama prefecture.  The Kaido is legendary for its easy access and gorgeous scenery along the Seto Inland Sea.  Taking full advantage of the superb event planning by the Okayama JETs, several friends and I drove south from Hyogo to join up with over fifty JETs, all determined to tackle the intense ride.

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Yakushima

Views from Taikoiwa Rock
Views from Taikoiwa Rock

Yakushima is a small, circular island off the coast of Kagoshima.  Kagoshima is a prefecture of Japan, located on Kyushu, the most southern of Japan’s four main islands.  Yakushima is known for its beautiful and challenging hiking trails.  Hikers often spend days trekking through the dense rainforest on the island, some spending the night in isolated cabins while others sleep under the stars.  Yakushima’s main attractions are the island’s ancient cedar trees, with over a dozen dated to be older than 1,000 years.  The island’s natural landscape was also the inspiration for the famous Miyazaki film, “Princess Mononoke”.

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Taiwan III: Maokong

 

Close-up of the incense stand
Close-up of the incense stand

For our final day trip from Taipei we visited the tiny mountain village of Maokong.  Maokong was originally a religious retreat destination and the mountain is dotted with many temples.  Recently, Maokong has evolved into a popular escape from the busy city for tourists and locals alike.  To assist the flow of travelers, Taipei’s tourism agency built a giant suspended gondola track that carries people high above the hills to the mountain’s summit.

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