15 October 2009

A weekend trip to the castle city: Okayama

Autumn is about to arrive in Japan in few days. I like this season the most. The fact that it comes immediately after the hot and humid Japanese summer makes autumn even more special. I just love the hazy mornings and the crisp, gentle breeze. The feeling of arriving autumn becomes even more prominent with the changing colors of leaves on the trees.

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 Okayama Castle)

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.

(The Sawa-no-ike pond inside the Korakuen garden)

The largest pond in the garden, Sawa-no-ike has many beautiful fishing places. The rest of the garden is carpeted with grass.

(A garden carpeted with grass: inside the korakuen garden)

Inside the garden, beautifully trimmed tea trees stand in rows. The variety of tea planted inside is an ancient one and has a slightly bitter flavor. There are few traditional style souvenir shops built in the outskirts of the garden. We had the taste of green tea at one of the restaurants/ souvenir shops. I captured the glimpse of green tea with my camera before drinking it. Well, I must say the taste was not as good as its appearance!

(The Japanese green tea served with sweet)

After spending some really good time there at Korakuen garden, we went for the lunch. Around 3 PM, we resumed our trip. Our next destination was a large Shinto shrine located in the Sanyo district called Kibitsu Jinja. The place is famous for its main buildings registered by the Japanese government as national treasures for its religious ritual known as Narukama.

(The Kibtsu Jinja: a famous Shinto shrine)

It was already getting dark when we reached to our last spot of the day: the famous Saijo Inari shrine. It is one of the three most renowned Inari shrines in the country, and is a noted Buddhist shrine for prayer. The shrine was built around 1200 years ago by a famous Buddhist priest Hoon Daishi in the outskirts of Okayama.

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)

(The Saijo Inari shrine)

One interesting thing that I noted there was the unique tower gate which is built in the Indian style of architecture. The gate was built in 1958. There are statues of two white foxes on each side of the gate.

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.

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badri on October 16, 2009 at 6:30 AM said...

very interesting! thanks for the sharing..
also thanks for very nice photographs..

Lukmanul Hakim on October 16, 2009 at 8:03 AM said...

Thanks for the nice post. Now i know that Okayama is one of the place to visit. :-) Nice photos you've put here. Great!

Alok said...

Thanks for sharing such a nice trip with great pictures! The narration is lovely to read as usual. It's really good for us to know about different places and people. cheers!

gufgaf.com on October 17, 2009 at 11:58 AM said...

Thanks a lot dai for sharing such wonderful moments !! I wish I coud visit Japan too......

Dilip Acharya on October 17, 2009 at 12:26 PM said...

I also feel autumn is the best season, where-ever I go. The snaps you have posted here reveals the beauty of the place. You might have enjoyed it very much.

Happy Deepawali !!!

Sujan Sharma on October 18, 2009 at 2:43 PM said...

Nice narration!Thanks for lovely picture & thanks for sharing too.

Prajwol on October 19, 2009 at 7:25 PM said...

I like autumn too, not too hot, not too cold :D

The castle looks good, I wish that was mine :)

Anonymous said...

I was very happy to read and listen the article those which you wrote, amazing! I`m interested to read and visit your blog to check your writing, so interesting. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for reading the post and leaving your comments. glad that you found my travelogue interesting.

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