Did you know that until last year, public dancing in Japan was against the law unless you went to a venue with a special dance license? Or that they grow square watermelons in Japan to allow farmers to store them and stack them more easily? Well, now you know. But did you also know that Spring is the ideal time of year to visit Japan because of the unique and wonderful events that take place? Just Love Travel is here to provide not only the wacky facts you don’t need to know, but the useful travel information that you do need to know.
If you’re lucky enough to visit Japan in the Spring, you’re likely to be able to see the cherry blossoms, known in Japan as sakura, which are only in full bloom for around one week. After this week, small, round shaped flowers start to flutter gracefully from their trees and the spectacle is said to be the most beautiful in this final stage, as the white and pink petals gently float to the ground. For the Japanese people, these cherry blossoms symbolises human life, nobleness and transience. They love to celebrate the cherry blossoms in Japan, with many ‘flower watching’ parties being held all over the country, known as hanami parties. It is definitely worth travelling to Japan during the Spring to witness and appreciate the beauty of the sakura and experiencing a hanami party for yourself! Ueno-onshi-koen Park in Tokyo is a great place to enjoy the views of the cherry blossoms, and can be particularly crowded in early April. The park is close to Tokyo Station and highly recommended by the Just Love Travel team!
Another reason to make spring the time to visit Japan is the availability of the Seishun 18 rail ticket, making it easier and cheaper for visitors to see more of the country and have a greater chance of catching the blossoms at their peak. The ticket is intended for young travelers, but anyone can use it. Each ticket is valid for 5 days of unlimited travel on Japan Railways, whose lines run the length and breadth of the country. Travelling around different parts of Japan is a great idea in the Spring, as the weather in most parts becomes milder, whereas the conditions in the north are still suitable for winter sports, so it allows you to experience different and contrasting parts of the country and its culture.
Japanese cuisine is highly seasonal, and the arrival of spring means that bamboo shoots, locally called takenoko, pop up on menus around the country. Usually steamed with rice, these tender shoots are delicious and not to be missed. Other spring vegetables to look out for during your visit are fukinoto (butterbur buds), which are often served in tempura, and warabi (fiddlehead fern). To experience Japan’s true food culture, head to one of Tokyo’s many farmers markets to see what these vegetables look like fresh, and try something completely new!
The temple Jindai-ji celebrates the start of spring every year with a Daruma Fair, at the beginning of March. Daruma dolls, made of paper mâché and painted bright red, are a national symbol of luck and perseverance. They are sold at the fair without eyes coloured in; tradition dictates that you colour in the first one once you have set a goal, and then colour in the second one once that goal has been achieved. You can browse the stalls of hundreds of doll vendors, choosing the one that inspires you the most. Each doll is made with a weighted bottom so that when it is knocked down, it always comes back up. Something to think about.
If you’ve ever seen a movie with religious monks or meditation involved, you’ve probably watched brave monks walking on fire, and thought there’s no way that can be real. You can see it for yourself by visiting Yakuo-in, a Buddhist temple located on the Western outskirts of Tokyo. Every March, the temple holds a fascinating purification ritual, called Hiwatari-sai, meaning the ‘fire-walking festival‘. The event begins with a huge bonfire, and ends with monks walking across hot coals. Once the coals have cooled down a little, spectators are welcome to follow in their footsteps. For those who are scared by this idea, who can be said to have ‘cold feet’, can alternatively choose to attend one of Tokyo’s newest Spring events, Roppongi Art Night, an all-night annual celebration of the arts in downtown Roppongi. Colourful, large-scale installations are set up around the city and dance groups flood the streets. Galleries and museums host special programs and open their doors through the night, including the Mori Art Museum, on the 52nd floor of a skyscraper in Roppongi Hills.
Japan really is one-of-a-kind, and a beautiful place to visit. Although not much of a sightseeing country, Japan is a place to face challenges, whether it be tasting unfamiliar cuisine, experiencing strange customs and rituals, or attempting to learn to speak Japanese! It’s a place to admire some of the world’s most beautiful natural phenomena, and although it may be over 5000 miles from London, with the help of a Just Love Travel Asia specialist travel agent, it’s much closer than you think!