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.
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 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!
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 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.