Ohayu gosaimasu! Good Morning!
I don’t think I’ve ever said those words so many times before, but the welcome we received when we arrived in Hitachinaka this morning was second to none and the whole town seemed to have turned out to greet us. It was the first time a ship like ours had docked in this harbour.
We returned from our breakfast and stopped to listen to the band playing on the harbourside, thinking we’d gather our things for the day and come and spend more time listening to their programme.
They really were very good.
There was a kind of fairground on the quayside with small stands promoting local goods and companies and families who seemed to have just come to look at the ship and enjoy the sunshine.
We couldn’t wait to get down there and see what was going on, but first, we had to collect our tickets…
We konnichiwa’ed our way through the lines of people holding banners and waving flags (I find it hard to take photos of all of that at such close quarters) and jumped on our bus, greeted by our excellent and utterly charming guide Nobuka. We drove for around three quarters of an hour through paddy fields, noticing the large traffic jam on the other side. Nobuka explained that it’s a holiday week here, the run up to the Emperor’s abdication next week and many families are out and about enjoying the fine weather. Here, there is the Hitachinaki Seaside Park a popular place to visit and the traffic jam was a queue for admission. It seemed to go on for miles. (We learned later that this is the peak season for the blue Nemophilas flowers - currently in full bloom)
We were headed for the Kairakuen Gardens, where the last Shogun had played as a child, we learned.
Once again, the receiving lines were there to greet us, banners held aloft. The Misses Plum Blossom looked lovely in their kimonos too.
It took me no time at all to spot the stamp table…
Once in the garden, we realised that we’d probably refer to it as a park. Nobuka had explained the Shogun’s intent when naming the garden “For everyone to enjoy” and perhaps this might have given us a clue. Rather than the elaborate planting and landscaping of Kenrokuen the other day, here we enjoyed the open space and the wide views over the lake.
The azaleas were in full bloom and looking spectacular!
Map in hand and armed with clear instructions of when and where to meet, we went off into the cedar woods where it was cool and quiet.
Our goal was the twin cedars, above, and the natural spring just beyond.
The claim was that the water here had restorative effects for eyesight, but rather than test that, we simply enjoyed the cool, quiet ambiance.
The route back was through the bamboo forest and surely on a more breezy day, this might have been quite noisy. Today however, peace reigned.
Every plant around the garden was clearly named, for those who understand such things.
But the speciality here is the collection of plum trees and when they are in blossom, during February, this is an incredibly popular place to visit requiring much diligence in getting hold of tickets. Of course, the blossom is long finished, though we did get one little bonus nearby.
Sorry, I failed to take note of the label with the name on, so captivated was I by the colour against that deep blue sky, so I have no idea what it is.
With a last look at the azaleas on the way back to the bus, it was time to move on to our next stop.
The small town of Kasama had turned out for us as well, it seemed, and the flag waving, banner holding welcome party was there on the pavement. How lovely! We responded with another round of Ohayo gosaimasus and konnichiwas, taking more care with our bows now that Nobuka had explained the etiquette of bowing whilst we were on the bus.
We learned that Kasama is renowned for porcelain and the small shops along the street had an interesting offering in that line. Some of us were taking notice of more mundane things like the manhole covers, however!
The entrance to the shrine was just a short walk along the street and the azaleas were blooming nicely there too.
Just inside the gateway, there was yet another welcome party. Could these people do any more to make us feel at home? Their smiles and offers of help were so appreciated - most spoke excellent English and were eager to explain or interpret whatever we wished.
As usual, we were happy to potter about, to notice things and to simply be here.
I was, of course, happy I’d brought my little concertina book with me, so the calligrapher could inscribe the latest shuin for me. What a fantastic job she did, too.
The shrine itself was a little dark inside, but outside the sun was shining and it was a glorious day.
The wisteria is beginning to bloom and the pale lilac flowers looked lovely against the deep maroon framework.
The sunshine glinted on the golden prayer papers, tied to two conical shapes in the forecourt of the shrine.
The mystery of why there was a basket of small dog-shaped trinkets to purchase and tie to another line was solved as we spotted the statues of a canine symbol, presumably that associated with this shrine (more research needed!)
With a last look at the beautiful striped azaleas in the courtyard, we thought we’d return to the small street for a closer look on the way back to the bus.
That’s how I come to have a photo of a greengrocers shop in my pictures today.
and another one of a rather curious tissue box - mildly amusing unless one lives under the threat of an active volcano I think!
On the return drive, we spotted the cute road works paraphernalia - Japan is a great source of everything kawaii!
Once back on the harbourside, the party was still going on. Rather than rush back for a late lunch, we decided to stay out, take a closer look and maybe have a chat to some of the people who were there.
We were overwhelmed by the level of interest and the kindness of the individual people there, many of whom were keen to chat, to find our more about where we’d come from and what we thought of their town.
Local companies - Hitachi and Komatsu - had brought some of their products to display and these were proving popular with both locals and our fellow passengers alike.
The local police were there too, offering a chance for youngsters to try their motorcycle for size!
There’s no doubt however, that the star of the show was the sleek white ship berthed alongside.
How lucky we are to be able to climb on board and return to our lovely suite.