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Beneath the cherry blossom


It’s been more than ten years since I last set foot in the Japanese islands, but they continue to occupy a special place in my mind as the setting for some of my fondest travel memories. I’ll never forget learning to ski in the soft powder of Hokkaido, making snow angels when we fell, laughing, into a deep white cushion. Christmas Eve in Sapporo meant a bowl of steaming, spicy ramen in a tiny restaurant down a back street as the snowflakes drifted silently outside.

Fortuitous timing on two Easter trips meant that we witnessed the fleeting beauty of the sakura, first on the island of Kyushu and then in Kansai several years later.

In Kyoto we strolled along the Philosopher’s Walk, beneath a multitude of delicate stars suspended in a sea of petals. We followed the cobbled, winding streets of Higashiyama to reach Kiyomizu-dera, the ‘Clear Water Temple’ perched on a forested slope high above the city. Here I savoured the cool sensation of pure mountain water as we ladled it over our hands from the ritual spring. From Osaka we took a day trip to Himeji to visit its famous ‘Castle of the White Egret’, one of Japan’s few medieval fortresses that still remain to this day. Standing in the castle grounds, in view of the majestic keep surrounded by the splendour of cherry blossom, I breathed in the crisp spring air and fulfilled a childhood wish.


Arashiyama, on the outskirts of Kyoto


Philosopher’s Walk and the Silver Pavilion


Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion


Cherry blossom season


The Torii at Kyoto’s Hirano Shrine


Higashi-Ōte-mon, the east gate of Nijo Castle


Nijo Castle’s moat and a garden at Kiyomizu-dera


At Tōdai-ji, Nara’s ‘Great Eastern Temple’


The Great Buddha Hall at Tōdai-ji, one of the world’s largest wooden structures


The moat at Himeji Castle


Himeji-jo, the ‘Castle of the White Egret’


At the foot of the tenshukaku – the main keep


A daimyo’s view over Himeji

66 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on Light Up The World.

    March 24, 2013
  2. Gina #

    Breath-taking photos!

    March 24, 2013
  3. Achingly beautiful, James. If I die without seeing Japan, I will be SO pissed.

    March 24, 2013
    • I dug up these old photos a while back… and instantly knew they had to go up on the blog. Japan is every bit as beautiful as they say it is – fingers crossed I’ll be going back next year for the cherry blossom. Let’s hope I’m third time lucky!

      March 24, 2013
  4. Wow, those cherry blossoms are stunningly beautiful. I’m enjoying them in Korea right now too, but nowhere can beat Japan when it comes to cherry blossoms. Thank you for sharing these great photos.

    March 24, 2013
    • You’re welcome Tali. I’ve heard great things about Korea this time of year – hope you get a lot of good weather before the monsoon rains set in!

      March 24, 2013
  5. Our blossoms are late this year in Italy. We have had awful weather. I would love to visit Japan one day soon.

    March 24, 2013
    • Knowing your love for art, food and all things beautiful, Japan could easily become a new favourite. Shame it isn’t on the Kangaroo route back to Australia…

      March 24, 2013
  6. These places look absolutely beautiful!! 🙂

    March 24, 2013
    • Indeed Sophie, most (if not all) of them are also recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 🙂

      March 24, 2013
  7. Must be beautiful to be there!

    March 24, 2013
    • It was magical Bente, I would go back in a heartbeat if I could!

      March 25, 2013
  8. These photos are unbelievably beautiful!! I hope to see the beauty of Japan that you’ve stunningly captured!

    March 25, 2013
    • Perhaps you’ll see it sooner than you think! Thanks for the comment. 🙂

      March 25, 2013
  9. Oh, I love them, your photos from Japan. I’m sitting here alone now, musing by the computer. This morning I saw my children (21 and 23…) off for Japan. They seem to have hit exactly the cherry blossom time, so I’m looking forward to stunning photos from them too! I don’t have to say I’m envious…

    March 25, 2013
    • What a coincidence! Their timing could not be more perfect – I’ve heard that a spell of warmer weather has brought the season two weeks early this year.

      March 25, 2013
  10. Reblogged this on The Story Store.

    March 25, 2013
  11. Reblogged this on lizziedun.

    March 25, 2013
  12. Beautiful photos! I absolutely love cherry blossoms, and they look so pretty next to the Japanese castles.

    March 25, 2013
    • It was like being in a fantasy world – I wouldn’t mind going back and experiencing the blossoms a third time!

      March 25, 2013
  13. What beautiful pictures of the cherry blossom James! Even years ago you had already had this ‘photographer’s eyes’ in your blood. 🙂 Honestly, no picture of Japan has evoked me so much than yours.

    March 25, 2013
    • That’s very flattering Bama. 🙂 The credit should really go to my father – he was the one who taught me how to use a camera at an early age.

      March 25, 2013
  14. Ysa Soriano #

    Reblogged this on Silent~Water.

    March 25, 2013
  15. Gorgeous pictures! I’m ready for spring! 😀

    March 25, 2013
    • So am I Rachel, conditions have been very wet and gloomy this week… perhaps it’s time for another trip to warmer climes!

      March 25, 2013
  16. Wow. Even back then you really knew how to take breathtaking pictures James. And you were just what? 14 yrs old at that time? 🙂 Are the photos on film?

    March 25, 2013
    • You’re spot on James, I was 14 when I took these photos. All were recorded on film – sometimes I miss the suspense of not knowing the results until the entire batch is developed. Thanks too for the kind words. 🙂

      March 25, 2013
  17. Beautiful post and photos James.The view over Himeji is just amazing! I never expected to like Japan as much as I did. I will certainly return, with hubby in tow, and in time for Sakura 🙂

    March 26, 2013
    • Thank you, Madhu! Sadly Himeji Castle is now in the middle of a large-scale renovation… I hear the scaffolding isn’t going to come down until spring 2015. I just hope R isn’t prone to “temple fatigue” in Kyoto! 🙂

      March 26, 2013
  18. Beautiful photos! I miss the days of getting photos developed with orange date stamps on them 🙂

    March 26, 2013
    • I do too Lydia – back then you could actually hold each photo in your palm. Now we just have the habit of uploading them straight onto our PCs! 😛

      March 26, 2013
  19. How lovely. I’m not sure which part of Canada you’re from, but Vancouver has the strongest Asia-Pacific Rim feel as a city because of high % of Asian descent folks ….and the profusion of cherry trees. It is Canada’s warmest area and since it gets lots of rain, the buds, blossoms and foliage are more luxuriant.

    I will be going back very soon to enjoy the blossoms like you are in Japan right now.
    It’s a huge deal here, James since there is an international haiku competition and events. Toronto has some blossoms but not with the great abundance. So if you want to experience cherry blossoms among soaring old growth trees in temperate rainforest region..

    (Washington DC would also. …But Asian feel in spirit would be Vancouver and actually with all the people around you. )

    March 27, 2013
    • Thanks for the info, Jean. 🙂 My dad’s side are mostly in the Toronto area but I haven’t really lived there for an extended period. I’ve only been in Vancouver during summer and winter, so it sounds like I missed out on a beautiful sight – I never knew it was such a great place to view the cherry blossoms. Your photos are gorgeous!

      March 28, 2013
  20. QQ #

    Love the photos. Japan also holds a special place in my wandering heart. I absolutely fell in love with Kyoto.

    So jealous you were able to catch cherry blossom season at its peak… didn’t work out that well for me though. Better luck next time I hope.

    March 30, 2013
    • Thanks for that – I always wanted to visit Kyoto as a kid and the place went far beyond my expectations. It was pure magic with the cherry blossom in bloom!

      March 30, 2013
  21. I am absolutely drooling over these film photos.
    I can’t believe that you remember all of that from 10 years ago! I barely remember what I did when I was there 6 months ago. I finally made it to Arashiyama last fall and was able to see the end of the autumn leaves. I love how the mood can change so much from having cherry blossoms vs the red leaves mixed in with the rest of the scenery. Lastly, your family must be full of intense travelers. I can’t believe you were able to cover so much ground in the middle of peak tourist season!

    March 30, 2013
    • Actually it was your amazing photos of cherry blossom that got me thinking about uploading these to the blog. 😉

      There is something hugely evocative and nostalgic about film photos… sometimes I wonder if they’re better at conveying the feel and atmosphere of a moment. I would so love to see Kyoto in the fall! We sort of travelled the Japanese way back then, my entire family on my mom’s side was there – grandparents, cousins, aunts/uncles and all – so we pretty much took up a whole tour bus!

      March 30, 2013
      • Aw, thank you! I’m glad my posts kind of gave you that push to do so, because there are amazing. I love how to softness of the film really makes the cherry blossoms stand out while softening the other objects so they don’t take away from the flowers.

        Aha! Now I see how you covered so much ground- it was probably a great method for such a large group with children!

        I read through some of the comments after I posted my own and I can’t believe you took them when you were 14! Obviously you have always had a knack for things like this. 🙂

        Did I tell you I just got a film camera? Yup- bringing it back!! Only… I’ve been so lazy about taking it somewhere to get it processed! The one side to film. Or being lazy.

        March 31, 2013
  22. Beautiful pictures!

    April 1, 2013
    • Glad you liked them. 🙂

      April 9, 2013
  23. beautiful pictures.

    April 3, 2013
  24. Nin #

    Nice memories, great pictures. Thank you for sharing…

    April 6, 2013
    • You’re more than welcome, Nin.

      April 9, 2013
  25. theinspiringneighbor #

    Just found your blog, it’s enchanting! Fantastic pictures…and very good writing. 🙂

    April 9, 2013
    • Thanks for the comment – hopefully you’ll also enjoy my upcoming series on Taiwan. 🙂

      April 9, 2013
  26. Beautiful!!!

    May 19, 2013
  27. ow, i wish i saw these cherry blossom scenes

    May 31, 2013
  28. amazing…

    June 1, 2013
  29. My goal is to visit Mt. Yoshino. Sakuranomiya in Osaka and the Mint Bureau is also a great place to see Sakura.

    June 5, 2013
  30. i love your pictures and points of views! greetings from vienna!

    July 7, 2013
  31. Simply GREAT PHOTOS!!!
    I love Japan. I wrote ad article about the Golden Pavilion on my blog:
    I hope you like it 🙂

    September 12, 2013
  32. Kyushu Local #

    Come over and read my blog ( about Kyush in Japan. Photos on your blog are amazing. Did you take them yourself? They look like photos taken by professionals.

    March 30, 2014
  33. This blog just makes me want to jump in an airplane and head back to Japan. Definetly one of my favourite countries. Check out this blog post about Japan made with tons of love&admiration.

    October 31, 2014
  34. Amazing pictures. Gives an excellent idea of what the cherry blossom season is like.

    March 19, 2015
  35. Beautiful beautiful photos! I have been living in Japan for over a year now but I haven been to Osaka ugh! Bummer. Hopefully will get to visit Osaka this year 😉 Love your blog!

    April 20, 2015
    • Thank you Ada, I haven’t been back to Japan in a very long time! Hopefully next year… 🙂

      April 21, 2015
  36. Shane Kharene #

    aww ❤ I really LOVE Japan! I want to visit Japan soon 🙂
    Thank you for this blog! 🙂

    March 29, 2016
    • You’re welcome. 🙂 The timing of your comment is spot on – it’s cherry blossom season right now in Japan.

      March 30, 2016
  37. Jtazan #

    Stunning, stunning photos! I was very fortunate to visit Japan twice this year and got to see the sakuras the first time. There’s just no sight like it!

    December 12, 2016
    • Thank you! And I completely agree about the sakuras – they are just sublime in their fleeting beauty. I’ll never forget how they draped either side of the Philosopher’s Walk in Kyoto.

      December 12, 2016
      • Jtazan #

        Jealous! I saw the autumn foilage in Kyoto a couple of weeks but I’m hoping to see the sakuras there too one day. So many reasons to return.

        December 12, 2016

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Under Cherry Blossom Skies | Serendipity 13
  2. Kyoto revisited | Plus Ultra

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