Japan; Himeji-jo and Hanami.
Every year thousands of locals descend on Hemiji-jo castle during Hanami week, when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, usually in mid-April. It is difficult to anticipate the precise dates, so many are last minute visitors, or just lucky tourists wandering through Kansai Airport on the way to somewhere else, like me. The rest of the year the castle is deserted most days, like the first time I was there, and the contrast is dramatic. Himeji is the only surviving all-wood castle in Japan, most having been restored as concrete structures. It's a fast train ride from Osaka Station, which is connected by monorail to the airport. You exit the train station in the little town and walk up an elegant boulevard with the castle on a hill at the other end. I stopped and had chicken katsu-don and beer on the way, picking it out of a plastic window display. The 500-year-old castle barely survived WWII American bombing that leveled the nearby town, with one bomb falling into the top floor that failed to explode. On my second visit the castle was undergoing major repairs from a massive steel tower built over the moat. I went inside on my first visit, but skipped that treat on my second because of huge lines waiting to get in. Walking in the twisting paths and roads on the hill around the castle, surrounded by those lovely flowering trees, is one of the great sights of Japan.Read More