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Be Here Asia

Postcards from the Road — 019 — March 2019
As I type, Sakura (cherry blossoms) in Tokyo are starting to confetti the streets with their petals, some having already reached 100% bloom. It’s such a short, sweet moment and I understand why it creates such fervor. The beauty is so striking a change from the winter and so short lived. It’s the happiest I see the country collectively, sitting under trees on blue tarps drinking and eating to their heart’s content!
Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) at Kinuta Park, Tokyo

Last year at Sakura time I was in Yoshino, Nara, Japan. A place known for hillsides covered with thousands of Sakura. Yoshino is about two hours by train from Kyoto, deep in the mountains of the Wakayama Peninsula. This year’s sakura forecast says the blossoms will be peaking around April 6th till April 15th.

Visiting Yoshino during cherry blossom season means you’ll be in a rather dense crowd. That being said, it was fun to share in the collective revelry of the blossoms and to stroll the main shopping street leading up to Kinpusenji Temple, lined with kiosks selling local delicacies like hot sake, sweet mochi, and salmon or mackerel sushi. 
Beyond the blossoms, there is lots to do locally. Cedar has been at the center of the economy in Yoshino, and you can visit the workshops of the craftsman who process the trees into tables, roofing tiles, building materials, etc. The community takes pride in growing the trees, and also in what the trees become after cut down. The Yoshino Cedar House is a good example of that - all of the wood is from the region and bears the mark of the individual who grew it and cut it. The first night of our visit, we stayed at the Airbnb Cedar House, designed by Go Hasegawa. It is set along the banks of the Yoshino River and acts as both accommodation and community center. The large, sunken kitchen table is one of my favorite places to luxuriate over hot coffee and conversation.
The second night we went deeper into the mountains and stayed at an Airbnb which - given the opportunity - I would purchase in a heartbeat. It was just so charming. We cooked rice over firewood - which tasted far superior to what I make in the electric rice cooker at home, the toasted rice at the bottom of the bowl especially. 

The family that runs the home lives next door and delivers all the food you need for breakfast and dinner — they are absolute delights to chat with.
They explained to us that this town is actually the origination point of the Yoshino River and that the community has purchased the mountainside so they can protect the water source and make sure harmful chemicals and such do not end up in the water that they provide to others downstream. Since moving to Japan I’ve heard a bit more of this phenomena—taking responsibility for what happens downstream. The Yoshino community has a museum (all in Japanese) where you can learn more about their efforts for preservation. 

While Yoshino is accessible by train, and there are rental bikes that you can use to explore the area, I think it is best navigated by car—it just enables you to go deeper into the mountains. Take the train as far as you can outside the major city and then get a rental car from one of the smaller stations—Toyota Rental Car and Nippon Rental car are almost all over the country. 

I’m excited to go back down to the area and hike the Omine-Okugake Trail, which is a different trail to connect to the Kumano Sanzan area (Kumano Kodo) -- and is most frequented by Shugendo Monks

Sending big hugs from sakura paradise!
All my best, 

Elizabeth Mueller
Be Here Asia
Email sent lovingly from Tokyo, Japan.

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