I was beginning to worry that the whole Sakura (cherry blossom) thing was a myth, a ploy to get tourists to Japan, sort of a version of the Loch Ness Monster to lure foreign visitors. For four weeks we traveled hundreds of miles in Japan, only to be told at each stop that we had either just missed the blossoms or that it was too early for the bloom. The continued elusiveness aroused my suspicions.
In Kyoto and Lake Biwa early this week, we finally struck gold (or more appropriately pink). While strolling down the Path of Philosophy in Kyoto, flowering trees greeted us at every turn, and fallen petals sailed down the canal in a regatta of pink. Later that night, we attended a special nighttime viewing of the sakura at Niji Castle, the lighted flowers shining like pink stars in the night. When the wind picked up, a rain of petals swirled around us.
Hitoshi-san brought us to a splendid viewing sight on the shores of Lake Biwa, where we walked in the rain under a canopy of sakura, the pink blossoms heightened in color by the grey day.
Also at Lake Biwa we visited Hikone Castle, the castle of castles in Japan. Shad finally got to explore the world of the samurai. Up and up we walked, and ascended stairs at nearly a 90 degree angle to reach the top of the castle tower (think of the golden staircase on Half Dome). Our reward—a sweeping panoramic view of the area, the landscape dotted with the heads of pink sakura.
My thanks to Hitoshi for being such an excellent guide and friend!