In Taiwan, April 5 is a public holiday to celebrate the traditional Chinese festival of Qingming, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day. This year the holiday fell on a Tuesday, which gave us a four-day long weekend. Like many families, we swept the tomb a week early so we could take advantage of the 4 day holiday to go abroad.
Qingming also coincides with the cherry blossom season in Japan so we squeezed ourselves into the low-cost carrier Peach airline, and headed to Osaka. At Kansai International Airport (KIX), we grabbed our Japan Rail Pass, and hopped on the Haruka Express to New Osaka Station. We had two destinations in mind for cherry blossom viewing: Himeji Castle and Kyoto.
Himeji is a 50 minute train ride from Osaka. Himeji Castle dates back to 1333 when a fort was built on the hill by the samarai Akamatsu Norimura. It had several transformations and expansions in its history, and has been the home of notable historical personages including Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Ikeda Terumasa. It’s current form dates back to the 1600s, and it has been renovated several times since then. It is considered to be the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture. It’s expansive grounds include gardens, a moat, and a zoo. The castle was one of the first sites to earn World Heritage Status in Japan.
Thousands of international tourists joined the Japanese to enjoy this years cherry blossoms. According to Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO), international visitor arrivals in April are up 43.3% over last year. Everywhere we went this was in evidence and we were always surrounded by people from all corners of the earth.