Nagoya Castle: My First Spring in Japan

I’ll always look back on Nagoya as being a safe haven.

Last week was the 7th anniversary of the Tohoku Earthquake. The events that unfolded back on March 11, 2011 are just insane. An intense jolt in the ocean bed not only triggered a 9.0mag quake that shifted the Earth’s axis, but caused a 40m high tsunami, an endless string of powerful aftershocks, the meltdown of the coastal Fukushima nuclear power plant and the loss of tens of thousands of human and animal lives.

I’d moved to Japan only 4 weeks prior, and at the time of the quake, I was actually in Fukushima prefecture. It was a terrifying and highly stressful ordeal, but thankfully, being 70km inland, I was nowhere near the tsunami. The day after the quake, I was rescued by a colleague and took shelter at her home for a few days until the radiation crisis became a bit too real. A friend of my colleague agreed to use the last of his fuel to get us out of there. We were able to jump on a train a few hours south and continue to Tokyo and then finally Nagoya.

The English school company I was working for then was based out of Nagoya, so we stayed in company apartments used for new staff. We were put to work almost straight away, which in hindsight was probably good to get our minds off what had happened. Out of a dozen or so people, I ended up being the last one to leave the apartments.

Somewhere in that time, without even realizing, winter had left and spring had arrived.Nagoya castle

I remember one day we were walking to the office. We were tired and sick of being in a seemingly never-ending ‘temporary situation’. As if a sign from above, we turned the corner and were met with one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen! A tiny park dotted with these curious trees. They had no leaves but were covered with the prettiest white petals. I swear my mood instantly changed from gloomy to cheerful. There was something special about these flowers. The next week, more and more buds started popping open on trees here and there. It finally clicked. All of those bare trees we’d been walking past everyday were in fact cherry blossoms!

And that, folks, was how I met the famed sakura.

By the second week of April, the blossoms were everywhere. Nagoya was a completely transformed city. The weather was warm and things were looking brighter than ever… my outlook included. I found myself feeling excited to get out and explore!Nagoya castleNagoya castleNagoya castleNagoya castleNagoya castleNagoya Castle — one of the most famous places in Nagoya city — was an obvious choice. The current castle is a reconstructed version of the original one built in the 1610s. Up until WWII, it had been recognized as a special historical site and a lot had been done to preserve it. It had passed through the hands of warlords, the imperial family and the city. In 1945, a few bombs were dropped and 330 years worth of history went up in flames.

The castle as a whole was a show of wealth and power by Tokugawa Ieyasu, after his historical victory at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 promoted him to ruler of Japan. He ordered for two golden ‘dolphins’ to be placed on top of the pale green roof. They were made of wood and covered in gold! ‘Shachi’ are actually a mythical creature resembling a carp and supposedly protect buildings from fire by being able to bring the rain. The shachi have come to be one of the symbols of Nagoya and you’ll see it on ALL of the souvenirs!Nagoya castleNagoya castleNagoya castle

While it was my first visit to Nagoya Castle, it was what surrounded the castle that captured my imagination.

Sakura. Sakura. Sakura!

The huge moats were lined with sweeping cherry blossoms. Their branches enveloped the stone walls and I felt like I was in a cloud of pink and white. Whenever the wind blew, the petals would go dancing through the valley. It looked like it was snowing sakura! I have since experienced this natural wonder many times, but there is nothing quite like your first time seeing it. Hearing the breeze rustle through the trees. Seeing a gentle flickering of light and realizing it’s the sunlight bouncing off a million little petals. The ground absolutely covered in petals. You almost don’t want to take a step in any direction for fear of squishing these precious gems.

Nagoya castleNagoya castleNagoya castle

Nagoya had given me a reason to smile! Walking around the moat, under all of those cherry trees, I finally felt like I could breath again.

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39 thoughts on “Nagoya Castle: My First Spring in Japan

    1. Thank you :) I tried to find a clearing in the sakura to see the castle more clearly, but couldn’t and ended up really liking this one anyway!

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    1. Since this experience I’ve really come to believe the phrase ‘Everything will be ok’. Anytime I’m having a hard time, I remember something good is just around the corner. :)

      Liked by 1 person

  1. What a beautiful castle! The sakura and blossoms look like a sight to behold too. Looks like its a place popular with locals too, especially the Shachi. That encounter with the earthquake sounded so scary. Glad you and your colleagues were safe. As Jo said, you had a lovely ending and continuation in Japan, which comes as such a resilient country through the challenging times.

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    1. Thanks, Mabel. I’m glad we all got out of there unscathed too. 7 years on, it’s hard to believe that was how my living in Japan journey began. But you’re right – it’s a resilient country. Probably the best example is its recovery after WWII. I can’t believe Tokyo was flattened and now it’s one of the largest cities in the world! It’s a good message for everyone to never give up!

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  2. 東北大震災を乗り越えて、やがて春がやってきて、近所で咲き始めた桜のつぼみを見つけた時は、さぞ心がはずんだことでしょう。その後、毎春お花見を楽しめることはとても幸せですね。咲き誇った桜の枝から垣間(かいま)見る美しい名古屋城の写真が、とても好きです。今春は名古屋でお花見をしますか。

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    1. 人生の初花見は綺麗な名古屋城でよかったです!今までもこの日をよく覚えています。いつかまた行けたら嬉しいですね〜 

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    1. Thank you :) It’s always nice to get that birds eye perspective. I’m liking the latest trend of taking photos with drones – though many places in Japan have banned them.

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  3. From a tragedy to being saved by the beautiful flowers is such a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing the photos. I remember my time in Japan and seeing the cherry blossoms for the first time too and it is was an indescribably emotional reaction I had. They just are beautiful and everything else around it disappears for a moment, like your eyes have to adjust and the background fills in again. They certainly take center stage the moment you see them. Thank you for bringing those memories to the surface again.

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    1. Glad it brought back some good memories! The sakura seem to have a magical power that captivates anyone and everyone who lays eyes on them. And not just for the first time! They are just beginning to bloom again in Tokyo and we are all so excited!

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  4. I have heard several Japanese people talk of their special sakura moment or experience and yours, although bitter-sweet, is poignant. Nagoya was your refuge and your photograph of the castle shot through the blossoming tree branches seems a fitting symbol of a place of safety and recovery. Thanks for sharing this story again and adding meaning to the sakura story. Take care.
    John

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    1. Thank you, John :) It definitely makes for a good talking point – our ‘sakura moment’ – as everyone’s is unique yet we can all relate. How about you, any special experience??

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      1. What you say about relating is absolutely correct. Whenever I hear people talk of their “sakura moment” I’m always impressed by how they seem to be transported back to that time and place. Unfortunately I can’t claim to have my own moment yet. However, being able to witness hanami around Kyoto allowed me to better understand what is is all about. Those little blooms generate vast happiness. Enjoy the season Celia.

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  5. What an experience! Beginning with that terrifying earthquake, which eventually brought you to Nagoya, where you saw sakura for the first time. Life is good for those who can appreciate the small things, those little beauties that bring colors and joy to the world. So glad this all ends in a very positive note, Celia.

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    1. Thanks Jennifer :)
      This year is your chance! Have they started blooming down there yet? Quickly approaching full bloom already in Tokyo – event though we had snow today!!

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  6. Celia, that opening captures is astoundingly beautiful! What an amazing story about your being there during the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. I definitely remember how frightening I thought it was when I was reading about it.

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    1. Thank you so much, Tina :) It’s definitely so frightening to experience something dangerous that is completely out of your control. Not knowing what’s coming next may be the scariest part.

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  7. An incredible time to be in newly in Japan… Your photos are truly wonderful and beautiful. Your words describing that wonderful time wandering amid the blossoms is magical indeed… and I have learned a new word… Sakura.

    Liked by 2 people

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