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Broken hearts go to Japan in spring

How cherry blossoms taught me the beauty of the fleeting

By Zandra Estallo Published Mar 30, 2024 7:35 pm

I arrived in Japan in the last week of March last year, determined to see the spots that I have always wanted to revisit—this time, hopefully, with someone I love. It was not meant to happen in 2023, but maybe this year it might.

Recovering from a missed connection, I was allowed to be at peace with being alone amidst the falling cherry blossoms. When you get your heart broken a little, best to have it in a place where you can at least have good photos—and write about it later on.

For a country called the "Land of the Rising Sun," Japan can give its visitors spectacular sunsets. It was April 2nd and spring was in full bloom. I was aboard the Hiroshima Sightseeing Bus—buses that run along the tourist routes—when I happened to see a sunset that can make tears pause.

Sunset at Hiroshima

Hiroshima is a must for first-timers. It is a beautiful city, with depth and calm that is just quintessentially Japan. From the Memorial Peace Park and Hiroshima Castle to Miyajima, there are a lot of places to visit in this city in southwestern Japan.

There were a lot of times during the trip when I just wanted to pause and think. One particular instance was when I was walking along Chuo Park. So I bought a 7/11 coffee, brought it to the park overlooking the river, and marvelled at the beauty of Hiroshima. It was a breathtaking blend of pink, green, orange, and blue.

At Chuo Park in Hiroshima

Immerse in Tokyo

It was the crowd that invited me in. The Shibuya Crossing is one of the most famous crossroads in the world. Thousands of people cross this iconic pedestrian at a given time.

How is it possible to feel lonely among thousands?

On the first night of my stay in Tokyo, I went to Akihabara. It was bright, colorful, and alive. As a big fan of anime, this district in central Tokyo has hundreds of shops and stalls offering electronics and otaku merch options. Choices are aplenty here.

It was raining when I visited the Tokyo Imperial Palace, which made my 15-minute walk on the grounds even more memorable. Rain splashing on pink and white flowers made for a melancholic sight.

There's something beautifully cathartic just watching cherry blossoms at Ueno Park. Families, couples, friends are seated on mats enjoying the time of the year when the temperature is perfect and the mood is cozy.

Admiring the sakura at Ueno Park

The Ueno Zoological Gardens housed pandas Xiao Xiao and Lei Lei, the biggest stars in the zoo, when I visited. Their laid back charm made it easier to smile. No surprise why visitors leave happy.

Eat in Osaka—or anywhere in Japan

McDonald’s in Japan is undoubtedly fun, but it was time to enjoy Japanese food where it's meant to be enjoyed. Aboard the Shinkansen, I went to Japan’s Kitchen. This is a foodie’s haven.

On my first day in Osaka, I dropped by Starbucks near Osaka Castle and the barista wrote “Smile.” It felt like a command from the universe, and so I did.

Osaka is where visitors come to eat. Dotonbori, with its huge signages and billboards as well as bright lights, is lined with stalls and restaurants where you can feed your appetite. From yakisoba, takoyaki, and gyoza, to okonomiyaki and katsu dishes, Japanese food could really warm a cold heart.

A beautiful day at Dotonbori

Pause in Kyoto

While walking around Kyoto, I happened upon the Nijo Castle with quite a long queue, which often indicates good things in Japan’s tourists attractions. It was the annual interactive art exhibition from NAKED, Inc.

A world heritage site, Nijo Castle, on its own, is already a fascinating place to explore. With the Naked Flowers activity lighting up the 421-year-old castle, the place was stunning.

Kyoto is most people’s favorite place to visit for a reason, moreso during spring. I spent five days in Kyoto. It was not enough. Kyoto wants you take it slow.

Slow nights in Kyoto

The Arashiyama District, with its splendid mountains, bridges, and parks, already demanded a whole day from me and I still want to return this year.

I wrote a lot on my journal while staying in coffee shops, just near temples and shrines. Kyoto allowed me to romanticize life while walking around the Kyoto Imperial Palace, Kinkakuji, and Ginkakuji.

The Philosopher’s Path that connects a few of these destinations will remain my favorite place in all of Japan. The Tetsugaku noi michi is a 30-minute walk that made me want to continue journeying on because the next stop is even more beautiful than the last.

Quick trip to Nara

So many deer, so many tourists. There are places in Nara that just wanted me to stay still. With the hanami dating back to Nara, it’s expected that beautiful cherry blossoms can be seen here.

A perfect day for a stroll in Nara

According to a website I have read while doing this story, the charm of the cherry blossom "lies in its ephemeral aspect—beauty doesn’t last forever." More often than not, so does love.