Last week, I received a mail from my Japanese host family asking whether I am free during the weekend to go for a drive. As I didn't have anything significant to do, I agreed. We decided to meet at 9:30 in the morning on Sunday. It was a hazy morning and I had slept a bit late last night; yet I had to wake up around 8:30. I probably could have gone back to sleep for at least another hour or so. But, I knew Japanese are very precise about time, they are always punctual. I could barely prepare myself for the trip on time.
A couple of minutes before 9:30, my host family arrived at my residence to pick up me. I was going to meet my host family after a gap of almost ten months; so was excited about it. After greeting them I got into the car. Inside the car, my host mother (okaasan) introduced me to the new member of the family. She hails from Madagascar and is currently a student at Hiroshima University. My host father (otosan), who was driving, proposed, 'shall we go to Okayama today? It's about 150km from here'. I had seen Okayama city only through the window of bullet trains (shinkasen) so thought it was a good plan. We all agreed.
After almost 2 hrs, we reached our destination. Okayama, a castle city, is located about halfway between Hiroshima and Osaka on the main island of Honshu.The first place we visited was the famous 'Okayama castle'. Okayama Castle is often nicknamed 'the crow' for its dark and baleful appearance. It is one of only two black castles in entire Japan while the rest being white.
The next place we visited was the Korakuen Garden. In fact, the main attraction of Okayama is the Korakuen garden which is among Japan’s three most famous landscape gardens and a unique cultural heritage site. Located against the backdrop of the Okayama Castle, the garden continues to attract people for more than three centuries. It took us a little over two hours to walk around the garden and we were delighted to discover several hidden little shrines, ponds and waterfalls inside.
There is an interesting story associated with the priest Hoon Daishi. Born in 718, Daishi entered the priesthood at the age of 15 and used to live in the nearby mountains. Once the emperor fell seriously ill and people had lost all the hope. Daishi was asked to pray for the emperor's recovery. He sat in a cave for 21 days and kept praying for the emperor. At the down of 21st day he had a vision of Saijoi-kyoo-Daibosatsu, the highest bodhisattva, coming down through the auspicious clouds on the back of a white fox. Soon after the emperor recovered from his illness. Daishi was given the title of the highest rank for a Buddhist priest who later founded the Saijo Inari shrine. (source: a booklet published by the Saijo Inari shrine trust)
With this visit, our trip had come to an end. It was a long and tiring trip but, a memorable one. We reached back to Higashi Hiroshima (Saijo) around 9 PM. We had our dinner together and finally it was the time to say good bye. I thanked my host family for the wonderful trip and also Nirina (the new family member from Madagascar) for the company. Finally, I thank you all, the readers, for coming all the way to this point. I hope you have enjoyed reading this long post.