March 27:

I noticed yesterday that the buds of the cherry trees on my way home are now visibly pink. Took a walk around the castle this morning to see how they’re progressing, and they look ready to burst open at any moment. The forecast for the somei-yoshino, the representative breed of cherry blossom, is that they’ll bloom in Matsue starting March 30. I already saw an early blooming mountain variety in Yasugi on March 15, next to a plum blossom tree in full bloom. There are still some hearty plum blossoms in bloom in town today, but they’re on their last breaths. In these final days of blooming they give off the strongest fragrance, but their petals are already dotting the grass, moss, and sidewalks.

Though cherry blossoms are known for their sentimental scattering, no flowers fall quite as dramatically as the camellia. Like the plum blossoms, they’ve mostly enjoyed their glory for this year, and the bright green, post-early-spring-rain around the Matsue Castle grounds is dotted with trees surrounded by fallen blossoms. They don’t scattered their bright magenta petals like the similar sazanka flowers do, instead they fall with a pottori sound. The sight and sound of a fallen camellia pulls more of my heartstrings than any amount of scattering cherry blossoms can. The stone steps on the western slope of the castle hill are green with moss, fresh grass, and lush new leaves, but they are also decorated with bright fallen camellia heads.

I can’t say I enjoyed them in silence, however, because birds of all sizes are varieties are chattering in large numbers this morning. It’s a wonder how some old trees don’t fall over with that many blue herons sitting at the top branches.

Up by the castle tower, the cherry blossoms take center stage, and while they are almost ready for their spotlight, they are only that–almost.

March 28:

23 degrees this morning, and it felt amazing! The sun poked through, and the dew on the grass was very noticeable.
Some of the somei-yoshino cherry blossoms are starting to peak through their covers.

However, some cold weather varieties are already in full bloom, like the large white oshimazakura at Suetsugu Park. Not only is it full of blossoms, but it has young leaves and fragrance.

Across the street from this tree, several people were lined up in suits outside of the main entrance of city hall, applauded from someone I couldn’t see making their exit. It’s almost the end of the Japanese fiscal year and many people are about to retire or be transferred somewhere completely different. This is a sending-off for some such person, but I don’t know whom.

March 29:

The cats are prowling in the neighborhood–looks like everyone is shaking off winter laziness. A lot of cherry blossoms here have already opened and it’s warm enough to need to open a window. My poor kimono practice partner has a terrible case of allergies and has been doing her best not to sneeze on the silk.

March 30:

The rain was loud all night, but it’s just a light rain this morning. Today at Matsue Castle–where the 3/30 forecast seems fairly accurate–I heard an uguisu–that semi-officially means it’s spring! A stark contrast from the continual rubbery honking of the herons up at the tree tops, but everyone morning has been filled with the sounds and songs of quite a variety of birds. I’ve woken up most mornings lately to sunshine and a chirping chorus.

While we’ve had ducks and other aquatic birds hanging out in mass numbers in our waterways all winter, today the ducks in the castle moat are looking more frisky than usual. I wonder how soon we’ll see turtles families again?

March 31:

Ah-ha, so this is the bird that’s been doing all the screeching! There were a few of them by the southwest turrets of the castle today building nests, sticking their faces in flowers, and happily screeching.

The blue crested herons are still just as busy. Today most of them were heading towards the nests carrying branches; quite industrious on this sunny day. Many have already been sitting in nests for a few days, frequently visited by their partners who they pestered for branches and food, likely.

At work, we’ve had many people coming to say their formal good-byes, and we had a sending off at our own entrance today.

April 1:

Foggy weather this morning, but it soon cleared up into perfect flower-viewing weather, especially considering most of the blossoms are open now. The somei-yoshino are pillowy and white, but I am more attracted to the pink varieties, like this cherry tree planted in honor of the Sister City relationship between Matsue and Onomichi.

Not all the camellia are down for the count. This large pink variety right outside my office is a late-bloomer.

April 2:

The cranes were arguing about something this morning. Despite nesting in such close proximity, which multiple nests at one treetop, they can still be a little territorial.

I finally remembered my sunglasses–it feels like I haven’t touched them in ages (though I’m perhaps one of the few people here who uses them without trying to make a fashion statement). In any case, the sunshine feels great.

The bring green grass and clover patches are making their return in the park, but they’re already dotted with scattered cherry blossoms. I wonder how much longer until their dramatic exit? It’s forecast to rain tomorrow…

The good-byes have switched to self-introductions as seasoned workers and young recruits are taking their new posts. It’s also the season for welcome dinners instead of just good-bye parties, and I came across a long train of excited new young employees, split into a few groups as the traffic light separated them on the way to hotels with ballrooms large enough to host them all. Thankfully my division-only party was small enough to talk with everyone and still hear yourself as you scoot along the tatami floors, pour drinks, and get to know each other better.

April 3:

Still sunny this morning!

And not only that, but the somei-yoshino all throughout town–and especially at the castle–have burst into full bloom. A couple unexpected detours in the afternoon led me to some quieter spots around town, such as Cherry Road, which is lined with cherry trees and overlooks the Sea of Japan. Another less famous spot, however, had low-hanging branches that almost looked heavy with fluffy white blossoms, and the shaded grass around the trees was a home for wild flowers that looked down the hill on some cultivated, deep green bushes. The sunlight glittered down upon the whole scene. That was well and good, but then the wind came and the blossoms began scattering–and that, dear Readers, was the mysterious cherry blossom viewing in Japan as I had always pictured it.

April 4:

I woke up to thunder, howling wind, and water crashing around my roof and walls.

Well. The cherry blossoms were nice while they lasted.

April 9:

Hold on–those blossoms are still hanging on! It seems conditions here were perfect for more flower viewing while I was anxious about tornado warnings out in Tokyo.

April 10:

One of the Go-mei (seasonal names for your tea scoop in the tea ceremony) for April is 花吹雪 (hanafubuki, “flower blizzard”). Even the light wind today is making that apparent, as cherry blossom petals don’t need much force to carry them away.

April 11:

The somei-yoshino had looked fluffy and white from far away, but they’re starting to look like deep shades of orange highlighted with spots of blossoms now. The fresh young leaves start with this rustic color, but they’ll turn green by summer and blend in with all the other trees.

Some later varieties are all fluffy yet heavy-looking with yae style blossoms–layers of petals all piled together rather than the iconic five-petaled blossom.

April 13:

On my usual Sunday morning route cutting between the Shimane Prefecture Office and Chidori Bridge–the little getaway route the feudal lord would have used to escape from his residence to Matsue Castle in case of an attack which never happened–I committed the sin of ignoring my surroundings and checking my phone. While consumed in the virtual world held in my hand, a fluttering cherry blossom flicked me in the ear, turning my attention to the last buds clinging to the branches, as well as though among the grass, water, or air that had given up the struggle. The blossom that hit me seemed to say, “I’m still here–look at me now!”

Cherry blossoms are perhaps less known for their grace as they are for their ethereal evanescence–you have to make it a point to view them, because they disappear so soon.

Following the blossoms in the trees, however, “cherry blossom grass” (sakurasou–technically Japanese primrose) tends to stick around for a while. I’m a big fan of brightly colored coverage like this, be it some variety of sakurasou or baby blue rurisou (nemophila), and some areas in Japan are famous for planting entire hilly areas in colors other than green. The wild collection of green plants covering the ground together also have their own rustic appeal, such as the excitement of finding yomogi (Japanese mugwort) which can be ground up and added to rice cakes to makes them green and give them a spring-like aroma. However, if you are more attune to food than to seasons, you might grind up the little leaves in your hand and have the smell remind you of mochi instead of the other way around.


April 15:

Although the bigger cherry blossom tend to hold on longer, the little walkway behind my office is now lined with big white blossoms, though the tree still looks plenty covered as well. It’s very, very sunny today, but the wind is still a little cold. Big waves on Lake Shinji today. We might be getting cloudier weather tomorrow.

April 21:

The turtles are back in all sizes again–I spied some twenty turtles out for a swim or sun bath in the castle moat. Although the hill Matsue Castle sits on is called Jozan (Castle Mountain) now, it used to be called Kamedazan (Turtle Mountain).

14420-turtles

My spring fever had been wearing off until I was interpreting for a group of educators from Thailand, and when we brought them up to Mt. Makuragi for a view of Lake Nakaumi, they were all much more excited by the somei-yoshino cherry tree that was still mostly in full bloom. What luck to see cherry blossoms while in Japan, though true cherry blossom season is mostly over. There are many other varieties in mostly full bloom now, including fluffy pink blossoms that bunch together like pockets of pillows, and green tinted blossoms that at a close view have stripes of pink, but from a distance they trick you–“Ha! You only thought I was leaves, but I’ll bet you’ve never seen leaves in such a soft green tint!”

The group continued to ooh and ahh at all the flowers, very different from the tropical varieties they are accustomed to, and it seem it’s already too hot for many of them. The flower beds throughout the city planted by community volunteers are at their most cheerful right now, and the peonies at Yuushien Garden are just now beginning to wake up. While there are always enough peonies to make a visit just for them, most of the garden seems green compared to my first memories there from May of last year, but the buds are big and ready to take over the garden in an array of bright colors.

We took a brief visit to Izumo Taisha as well–this being my 11th visit there, so perhaps I am somewhat jaded to grandeur of the shrine. However, upon arrival, there was a garden of pink-tinted cherry blossoms that stood out against the familiar green mountains of Izumo, and all of a sudden Izumo Taisha felt new and exciting to me again.

Spring has a way of doing that.

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