Cherry blossom season is regretfully short. It takes one week for the flowers to bloom and then another week for them to fall from the branches
A light wind is already taking some of the petals off the trees and scattering them on the ground. The short sakura season is such a spiritual time for the Japanese, it symbolizes the ephemeral nature of life - brief and fleeting. During WWII, Kamikazi pilots painted sakura flowers on the side of their planes, the falling petals mirroring their own suicidal dives - the young pilot's lives just as brief and fleeting.
Walking underneath the torii gates and up towards the temple
We don't often time our travels very well. Snow and ice chased us out of Alaska and we spent a year and a half following the rainy season through Latin America. But our timing through Japan is impeccable. Cherry blossom season is #1 on Neda's list of things to see and we've now reached the beginning of the season right at the southern end of Japan. Although sakuras may only bloom over two weeks, we're going to slowly follow the blossoming season as the warm weather travels north. We'll definitely get more than two weeks of cherry blossoms!
At least the rain has stopped as we climb back on our bikes. We've only got another hour's ride north to the city of Fukuoka, but as luck would have it, shortly after we leave Kashima, the sky opens up cold rain on our helmets. At least we've kept our rainsuits on as we brave through the elements.
As we reach the outskirts of Fukuoka and I spy the welcome orange-and-black sign of our favorite fast food place: Yoshinoya. I tap on the communicator and ask Neda if she wants to get out of the rain and get some warm Japanese food inside of us. It's a rhetorical question, of course...
Ugh! So miserable...
We burst into the restaurant like wet dogs dripping water all over the place. At least the place is empty because it's mid-day, right in between the lunch and dinner crowds, so we don't cause too much of a commotion as we slip off all of our wet layers and hang them on various chairs and tables around us to dry. We feel so un-Japanese, making such a mess. The staff, in response, are typically Japanese, very gracious and accommodating and trying not to make us feel self-conscious. Which makes us even more self-conscious...
We feel we deserve an extra-special treat today, so we both order the extra-large bowl of Unagi (BBQ eel) rice!
Aaaahhh! So yummy!
Normally unagi is much more expensive where we're from, but here in Japan, they're surprisingly moderately priced so we don't feel so guilty getting the extra portions of eel.
We savour our hot meal inside the warm and dry restaurant, watching and waiting for the rains to subside.
So back on the bikes in the pouring rain to go look for a place to sleep tonight
We've been staying at hotels and guest houses the entire time in Japan. Some of the places have tatami rooms, so we get the flavour of sleeping in Japanese-style accommodations. But none of them have been true "ryokans", which is a traditional Japanese Inn, where the entire building is wood and tatami mats everywhere. Until now!
First thing you do in any Japanese building is swap out your outside shoes for inside slippers
The Japanese are fastidious about dirt, and keeping it out of the living area. There are outside shoes, inside slippers and even toilet slippers. When you enter any washroom, you leave your inside slippers out in the hallway and don special toilet slippers.
We are really looking forward to a nice, hot onsen bath! This ryokan we've found is a budget inn. Most of the ones I found online were very fancy and expensive, which we can't afford. But this one is right in our price-range, which means we have to be prepared for basic and no-frills accommodations. But it does have an onsen onsite - which, saying this out loud, makes for a nice alliterative marketing slogan... for gaijin. So maybe not...
*shrug* Wuz a little bored, I guess...
After checking into our very basic and no-frills tatami room (which had a very strong grassy smell from the mats), we each went off to our separate onsens. I think we spent more time in the hot baths than we did riding to get here!
As mentioned, our tatami room is very basic and no-frills
But it did look better with the lights out. A nice touch with the backlit paper cutout shadows!