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Tue Apr 11 2017: Riding Beneath Cherry Blossom Skies

The fog has turned to rain as we pack our stuff onto the bikes to leave Oabama-cho. We could stay another day, but the clock is ticking on our motorcycle rentals and we're only half-way through our travels across Japan.

Neda surveys the light drizzle from the shelter of our warm and dry hotel :(

Our route today will take us out of Nagasaki Prefecture, north to the neighbouring Saga Prefecture. Due to the rain and fog, there aren't many pictures of our wet ride up.

In just over an hour, we arrive in the town of Kashima. And cherry blossoms are everywhere!!! :)

Of course we have to stop and take lots of pictures

Getting ready to suit up again, we spy a Miko walking down the street

A miko is a shrine maiden, which means there must be an Inari shrine nearby

Riding around Kashima beneath a wonderfully pale pink cherry blossom sky

Despite the cold and wet weather, Neda is absolutely loving the cherry blossoms!

We find the shrine and the parking lot is covered with a welcome mat of pink petals. Arigato-gozaimasu!

Before we hit the shrine, we walk around the manicured gardens

Cherry blossom season is regretfully short. It takes one week for the flowers to bloom and then another week for them to fall from the branches

A light wind is already taking some of the petals off the trees and scattering them on the ground. The short sakura season is such a spiritual time for the Japanese, it symbolizes the ephemeral nature of life - brief and fleeting. During WWII, Kamikazi pilots painted sakura flowers on the side of their planes, the falling petals mirroring their own suicidal dives - the young pilot's lives just as brief and fleeting.

Everywhere we walk, there is a carpet of pink petals underfoot

Walking underneath the torii gates and up towards the temple

Yutoku Inari Shrine across a narrow river

The most striking feature about the Yutoku Inari Shrine is the lattice-work of crimson beams supporting the main building

Tourists come from all over Japan (and the world) to see the shrine

While some may need shelter from the falling rain, others need no shelter from the falling sakura petals

Inside the Yutoku Inari Shrine

Walking around taking lots of pictures

We don't often time our travels very well. Snow and ice chased us out of Alaska and we spent a year and a half following the rainy season through Latin America. But our timing through Japan is impeccable. Cherry blossom season is #1 on Neda's list of things to see and we've now reached the beginning of the season right at the southern end of Japan. Although sakuras may only bloom over two weeks, we're going to slowly follow the blossoming season as the warm weather travels north. We'll definitely get more than two weeks of cherry blossoms!

We walk around Yutoku Inari Shrine with petals in our hair. When we get back to our bikes, they too are covered in pale pink snow

At least the rain has stopped as we climb back on our bikes. We've only got another hour's ride north to the city of Fukuoka, but as luck would have it, shortly after we leave Kashima, the sky opens up cold rain on our helmets. At least we've kept our rainsuits on as we brave through the elements.

As we reach the outskirts of Fukuoka and I spy the welcome orange-and-black sign of our favorite fast food place: Yoshinoya. I tap on the communicator and ask Neda if she wants to get out of the rain and get some warm Japanese food inside of us. It's a rhetorical question, of course...

Ugh! So miserable...

We burst into the restaurant like wet dogs dripping water all over the place. At least the place is empty because it's mid-day, right in between the lunch and dinner crowds, so we don't cause too much of a commotion as we slip off all of our wet layers and hang them on various chairs and tables around us to dry. We feel so un-Japanese, making such a mess. The staff, in response, are typically Japanese, very gracious and accommodating and trying not to make us feel self-conscious. Which makes us even more self-conscious...

We feel we deserve an extra-special treat today, so we both order the extra-large bowl of Unagi (BBQ eel) rice!
Aaaahhh! So yummy!

Normally unagi is much more expensive where we're from, but here in Japan, they're surprisingly moderately priced so we don't feel so guilty getting the extra portions of eel.

We savour our hot meal inside the warm and dry restaurant, watching and waiting for the rains to subside.

Which it doesn't.

So back on the bikes in the pouring rain to go look for a place to sleep tonight

We've been staying at hotels and guest houses the entire time in Japan. Some of the places have tatami rooms, so we get the flavour of sleeping in Japanese-style accommodations. But none of them have been true "ryokans", which is a traditional Japanese Inn, where the entire building is wood and tatami mats everywhere. Until now!

First thing you do in any Japanese building is swap out your outside shoes for inside slippers
The Japanese are fastidious about dirt, and keeping it out of the living area. There are outside shoes, inside slippers and even toilet slippers. When you enter any washroom, you leave your inside slippers out in the hallway and don special toilet slippers:

We are really looking forward to a nice, hot onsen bath! This ryokan we've found is a budget inn. Most of the ones I found online were very fancy and expensive, which we can't afford. But this one is right in our price-range, which means we have to be prepared for basic and no-frills accommodations. But it does have an onsen onsite - which, saying this out loud, makes for a nice alliterative marketing slogan... for gaijin.

So maybe not...

*shrug* heh heh... wuz a little bored, I guess...

After checking into our very basic and no-frills tatami room (which had a very strong grassy smell from the mats), we each went off to our separate onsens. I think we spent more time in the hot baths than we did riding to get here! :)

As mentioned, our tatami room is very basic and no-frills

But it did look better with the lights out. A nice touch with the backlit paper cutout shadows!

Hopefully tomorrow it will be less wet outside.

Oyasuminasai! (Good night in Japanese)

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