Kagawa and its Gem, Ritsurin Garden
We took a break from the pilgrimmage circuit on our 3rd day to drive out to the neighbouring prefecture north-west of Tokushima, Kagawa 香川. It was a decision that did not sit well with the mister when he finally realised the distance involved. After a lot of argument (on my part, that I submitted the itinerary to him for perusal way ahead of the trip and it was his fault for not scrutinising), I got my way. Yay!
I understand his concern (after all, he wasn’t the one driving and yet vehemently opposed to the idea) – it was a total of 3hrs involved, to and fro. That was on top of the distance I would have already driven to get to the few temples we visited in the morning. In any case, this scenario would never happen again, because he forewarned me that he is going to comb through my future itineraries in minute detail. 😆
Since it was a long drive, we made a pit stop shortly after we entered Kagawa prefecture to stretch our legs. And found the thing that I was specifically looking for – Oiri Soft Cream おいりソフトクリーム. It’s basically a soft serve with the pretty pastel-coloured balls made from rice. These candy balls are a tradition of Kagawa, distributed by a bride’s family to neighbours and friends to share the good news. This is why they are also stylised as 嫁いり.
Ritsurin Garden 栗林公園 in Takamatsu 高松 – the singular reason why I insisted on driving all the way to Kagawa. While not considered one of the ‘three most beautiful landscaped gardens of Japan”, Ritsurin Garden is a famous historical garden widely regarded to deserve a spot alongside Kenrokuen 兼六園 in Kanazawa 金沢, Kairakuen 偕楽園 in Mito 水戸, and Korakuen 後楽園 in Okayama 岡山. We’ve only visited Kenrokuen and Ritsurin Garden so I can’t say if I agree with the list or not at this point. Perhaps we can give a more informed opinion after visiting all four.
We found ourselves in Takamatsu on a Saturday. That’s bad enough in terms of road traffic and parking spaces, it was in addition the only weekend the locals were going to see sakura in full bloom. To round up the driving experience – nightmare. Due to its close proximity to Honshu, Takamatsu felt a lot busier and crowded compared to Tokushima. And since we weren’t familiar with the area, we daren’t venture too far away to find a parking lot, opting to wait in line near the south entrance to the garden. Fortunately for us, the wait wasn’t too long.
Wandered around a little aimlessly in the garden, not entirely certain what we were looking for, till we came across this tree with a signage. Ooh, this is a very important tree indeed. The arrival of cherry blossom season in Kagawa is based on the blossom process of this tree. Cool, isn’t it?
It being the weekend, many locals were out and about; some with family and their young children, some with friends, and some with colleagues. Hanami 花見 is probably a spring tradition closely tied with the Japanese although it could also be practised in other countries with cherry blossoms. At first glance, it might appear to be rather pointless just picnicking under a blossoming tree. But it’s actually really fun! I’m now a convert!
Ritsurin Garden was built at the beginning of the Edo Period by feudal lords and was finally completed over the span of more than a century. There are several manmade knolls all around the garden and make for fantastic viewpoints to appreciate its beauty. In particular, Hirai-ho Hill 飛来峰 that looks towards the South Pond 南湖, with the very recognisable Crescent Moon Bridge 偃月橋 at the forefront and Moon Pavilion 掬月亭 in the background. It is an absolutely stunning view, but with that comes a long queue of visitors wanting to capture it at the most optimum angle. A little patience here goes a long way.
Like many other gardens, parks and castles all over Japan, selected sections of Ritsurin Garden are lit up at night during the sakura season. We chose this spot near the south entrance of the garden, hung around for a bit till nightfall, and sat on a bench while people-watching (were unprepared for a hanami party so we left our mats in the car, and didn’t prepare food).
Waited till my favourite blue hour to start shooting so I could capture that intense blue hue of the sky. Unfortunately it was a cloudy day so nothing could be done with the colour of the sky. I would also have preferred a different breed of sakura blooms (more pinkish rather than white, fluffy) so they would show up better in pictures but we could only make do with these. No matter, we’ll need to return to Kagawa again on our 4th and final leg of the Shikoku Henro. Won’t be that difficult planning another visit to Ritsurin Garden; I just need to ensure that it coincides with sakura season again.
The crowd became progressively larger as night fell. It felt like there were equal numbers of visitors sitting down on mats having hanami parties versus those walking around, contented to be soaking in the atmosphere while admiring the blooms. Personally I found it awfully challenging taking night shots of sakura; felt terribly impaired without my DSLR and trusty lenses.
In view of the long drive back to Tokushima, we left slightly before 2000hrs. As we neared the carpark to pick up the car, we were quite taken aback to find a long queue of cars waiting for parked cars to vacate lots. We seemed to have completely underestimated the appeal of Sakura-Viewing Festivals 花見祭り. Despite travelling to Japan often, we still have so much to learn about the ways of the Japanese.