Tsuwano, the “Little Kyoto” of Shimane

At the far west of Shimane prefecture there is a small town called Tsuwano. It is very popular with tourists. There are some beautiful old buildings and some interesting museums. On Sunday I went there to see one of the most famous festivals in Shimane. It is called Yabusame and it features men on horseback, shooting arrows at targets. The crowd is all cheering for the riders. People are very happy when a rider hits all three targets.

After we saw the festival, we climbed up endless stairs to a shrine. The view was good but unfortunately the weather was not great today.

But the highlight of the day was taking a lift to the top of another mountain where Tsuwano castle stood until it was burned down. My kids loved this. I thought it was excellent too! If you go to Tsuwano, please try it. It costs 450 yen for the return trip. It gets a bit scary at the top. If you don’t like heights, don’t go!

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On Sunday my family and I went for a drive. We stopped at Ebi Dani Sakura because it was on the way to Tsuwano. Look at the tree. I hope it will survive

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Cherry blossom viewing

Cherry blossom viewing

April in Japan is the start of Spring, and nothing announces the start of Spring more than the cherry blossoms. Winter in many parts of Japan can be very harsh. Everything looks grey. The grass is yellow-grey, the trees are grey, and the sky is always cloudy. Then suddenly one day pretty pink flowers appear everywhere. There are cherry blossoms at most schools, public buildings, and parks. Many places are famous for their trees. Sometimes even individual trees are famous!Ohira cherry blossom taken last week, before it bloomedIn this city there are two famous trees. One is Ohira sakura. Ohira is the name of the family whose land the tree stands upon. It is over 600 years old. There is a festival on Saturdays and Sundays when the trees bloom. Local people perform traditional music and dance. The spectators can sit down near the tree and watch while drinking a beer or two, and eating freshly cooked snacks like grilled octopus!   Another famous tree is Ebi Dani Sakura. Literally this means Shrimp Valley Cherry Blossom. On the first of April, I went to see it with my family. We were in for a shock. Until last year, this tree was not well known. But it is 300 years old and looked very beautiful. The local government decided to promote it as a tourist spot. They spent so much money widening a little farm road, making a car park, building a rain shelter, and caring for the tree. Until last year, the tree was huge but did not flower so much. They gave it special nutrients to feed it and make it flower more. Last year the blossoms were breath-taking. But for a cherry blossom to flower, it needs to take a lot of water into its trunk, the main part of the tree. Last Tuesday, there was a lot of rain. Ebi Dani Sakura soaked up a lot of water. The  branches became too heavy and the tree cracked and fell, half broken down the hill.              When my family arrived, many elderly local residents were standing looking at the tree. Some were tearful.  It looked so sad. But there is a positive note here. A crane pulled the tree up. The tree surgeons cut off the damaged branches, and Ebi Dani Sakura is in bloom. I gave a little money to help care for the tree and the local residents’ committee gave me a small branch of the tree. As I type this, a little bit of Ebi Dani Sakura is in my hall, and its flowers are beautiful.  If you know of a good place to go flower- viewing in Shimane or your hometown, please write a comment!