Sunday, April 9, 2023

Cherry Blossoms and Castle Keeps - Springtime in Japan

 -- Susan, every other Sunday

Two weeks ago, some friends from the United States and I took a trip to Kyushu--Japan's southernmost major island--to visit some famous sites and enjoy some tasty regional food. As it happened, we also caught Kyushu's sakura (cherry blossoms) at the peak of their very short bloom, which turned an already-fantastic trip into something truly special.

Sakura are loved in Japan, not only as a sign of spring's return but also because their delicacy and very short lives remind us of the short, bittersweet nature of all beauty, and of life itself. 

That message takes on another level of depth when the sakura you're enjoying are blooming around the seven "hells" of Beppu (a set of seven natural volcanic springs, each with very unique characteristics) and the magnificent castles and gardens where samurai once walked. 

Sakura near Umi Jigoku (the Ocean Hell)

I've written about Beppu's famous hells before, but since my previous visit was in winter, I had no idea that beautiful blossoms were lurking behind the steam. 

Sakura at Umi Jigoku

After visiting five of the seven famous hells - all but one of which had sakura blooming in the surrounding trees, one of my friends said, "You know, hell suddenly doesn't seem all that scary anymore." (Particularly apt, seeing as this post goes up on Easter Sunday...)

The bubbling clay pools at Oniishibozu Jigoku (the hell of monks' heads, named because the bubbles emerging from the clay look a bit like the bald, round heads of Buddhist monks) reflected the trees in a way that drew a lot of blossom-watchers.

Cherry blossoms reflected in the pits of hell...

After visiting all seven hells, we paid a visit to Beppu Park, where dozens of enormous cherry blossom trees were all in bloom.

Sakura at Beppu Park

Up close and personal with spring

Beppu Park

Our trip also involved a stop in Kyoto where, to our surprise, the cherry blossoms were still blooming.

Cherry blossoms at Tenryu-ji, a Buddhist temple in Kyoto

More sakura at Tenryuji

Although there were a lot more tourists in Kyoto, too, the beautiful spring weather and cherry blossoms made it difficult to feel anything but thoroughly happy and alive.

Sakura by the train tracks in Kyoto's Arashiyama ward.

That said, my favorite cherry blossoms of the trip were the ones we found near Kumamoto Castle, in Kumamoto (Kyushu). 

Sakura at Kumamoto Castle

Another view of the castle with cherry blossoms

When my friends and I planned the trip, we thought the blossoms wouldn't be in bloom for another 2-3 weeks--it's difficult to plan a trip months in advance and ensure it coincides with the blossom season, because the sakura often bloom and die within a week (or sometimes less).

I feel truly fortunate that the weather (although unsettlingly warm for the end of March) gave us the chance to see so many blossoms in full bloom. The earth is awakening after the cold of winter, and the blossoms are an excellent reminder to enjoy, and make the most of, every day.


  1. Stunning Susan. Absolutely stunning. And the blossoms aren't so bad either. :)

  2. It's all so beautiful! (I looked up the previous 'hell' pics and while those were awesome/ striking I'd never have guessed it could look like this!)