Though this is nearly a month late, I’m finally posting about what I got up to during Golden Week during early May. Golden Week is a nifty little period that encompasses the last weekend in April and the first in May; there’s a three-day weekend, followed by a three-day week, followed by a four-day weekend, which means that if you play your cards right, you can take off three days of work and actually get ten days in a row off. My GW this year wasn’t all that exciting compared to last year, when I went to Hong Kong. But there was relaxing time in spades, which was exactly what I needed to gear up for the dizzying carousel that was the last three weeks of May.
As I mentioned in this post, Japan is home to Hirosaki Castle Park, which is generally ranked as the top spot for cherry blossom viewing in the entire country. I wasn’t able to get out to the park last year, so it was a high priority for me this time around. Conveniently enough, the 桜 (sakura, cherry blossoms) usually bloom in Aomori during Golden Week, though this year the flowers’ blossoming was quite later than usual.
If the cherry blossoms themselves hadn’t been enough to lure me out of Aomori City, a large number of JETs would be gathering in the park. Since Aomori is pretty spacious (and lacking a good, extensive network of public transportation) when compared to other prefectures, I don’t get to see non-Aomori City JETs nearly as often as I’d like to. Though the weather was less than ideal during the morning, with chilly breezes and a few drizzles, that didn’t stop JETs from all over Aomori prefecture from getting together for a good old-fashioned picnic.
I love Japanese festivals simply because they’re generally just huge parties, and along with that genial atmosphere comes loads and loads of delicious food. Compared to other Asian countries, I wouldn’t say that Japan has the best street food – I still drool over the mere thought of Hong Kong’s amazing fishballs – but it’s still nothing to turn your nose up at. I ate till I was bursting full of white bean paste-filled pastries (Trust me, much more delicious than it sounds.), mini doughnut holes, fried chicken, and glutinous もち (mochi, rice cakes) studded with sesame seeds. And that was only my first passing graze of the dozens of food stalls.
It’s one thing to see the sakura that line the sides of my street in Aomori City and quite another to view them surrounding the stately castle in Hirosaki. It’s the kind of view that you can imagine hasn’t really changed during the past few decades, and it’s easy to see why the park attracts people from all over Japan when the flowers are blooming. They’re a sight to see, especially when viewed as a complement against the red of the bridge to the castle and the white of the castle itself. Though the view this year wasn’t as impressive as in years past (because of the unusually cold weather), it was still beautiful.
And if the castle wasn’t pretty enough, part of the park’s moat is also sectioned off as an area where people can rent paddle boats and carom around the water for an hour or so. Clouds of cotton candy-pink cherry blossoms completely surround the moat, and it’s understandable why there’s usually a long wait to get out on the water. I was content, though, to just lounge on the banks and watch people paddle themselves around (or, in the case of lots of teenage boys, splash each other to the point of soaking).
The sakura are beautiful at any time of day, but many people will tell you that when the sun starts setting, you’ll get the best light to view and photograph them. And when night falls completely, lanterns throughout Hirosaki Park ensure that you can still view the cherry blossoms. Since our picnic lasted until the sun had gone down, our walk out of the park was under dozens and dozens of illuminated cherry blossom trees.