First Snow

There had been a forecast for snow on Monday for a few days, but every time I looked at the weather predictions, it seemed like it would be mostly rain, with just a few hours just barely edging into snow. I hadn’t changed my car over to my winter tires yet, but I figured if it snowed then rained right after, I would be fine driving to and from work.

snow feet

I was wrong! Right after I got to work on Monday, it started to snow… and kept going… and kept snowing…

By when it was time for me to go home, I had given up on the idea of driving home on my summer tires- I wasn’t sure if I could make it out of the parking lot.

snow car

 

So, I hitched a ride home with another teacher who had been more prepared than I was, and had a lovely walk to school the next morning.

snow walk 1

snow walk 2

This was an early snow, for sure, and now all that remains is a few piles lingering in the shadows.

remaining snow

But it snowed again yesterday, and lingered part of the day, so I’m optimistic that winter is coming soon.

 

 

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Helicopter Rides Over the Town

Last Sunday I spent my day at the Shibazakura Park, helping out at the information desk with the people who were visiting Takinoue. It was a lot of fun, I got to meet so many people!

helicopter 4
My view from the information desk last Sunday- and my cute nametag! 

One of the really interesting and fun things offered at the Park are helicopter rides over the town and park- and in a rare quiet moment, I snuck off to see what it was about!

helicopter

I had never ridden in a helicopter before, and was surprised at how smooth the takeoff and landing were. In the air was really peaceful and calm- although standing outside the helicopter is really loud, inside is quiet. But I think I was so excited that I wouldn’t have even noticed if it was loud!

helicopter 2
The Shibazakura Park from above

The helicopter ride lasts about 3-5 minutes, which seems short but is totally worth it! Adults are 5,000¥, children are 4,000¥, and up to 5 people can ride together at one time. Come check it out!

helicopter 3
My beautiful town!

Springtime Flowers!

This past week spring has hit full force here in Takinoue! Here’s a sampling of some of the flowers I’ve come across while walking around town in this lovely warm weather.

First, I took a trip to the shrine to check out, of course, the cherry blossoms!

These pictures were taken mostly at the Takinoue shrine, which is beautiful even without the sakura blooming!

daffodil

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photo by Matthew Jones

Of course, the daffodils and tulips are gorgeous right now!

This white flowering tree is called kobushi, and it’s the first time in 10 years it has bloomed! They only bloom when we have a mild winter, so it’s very lucky to be able to see them this year!

ezo

These are called ezoengosaku. They bloom very low to the ground, and I really love them.

There’s still a lot blooming, and this is only the start of spring! The shibazakura have started, too- I can’t wait for them to come in fully!

The Story of the Shibazakura Park

 

Takinoue’s shibazakura park is one of the most famous in Japan, and people come from all over to see it. The creation of the park began back in the Taisho era, with Takinoue’s aspirations to be known as the most flowered city of Japan.

 

The origins of the park started with a horse shoe maker named Kataoka Heiji. He was originally from Kochi-ken, but with the development happening in Hokkaido he decided to move to Takinoue with his wife. He was initially worried about the move to Hokkaido, but his wife had a fondness for the flowers of Hokkaido. She thought it was a beautiful area, and was looking forward to moving there. So, he agreed to come for her sake, and they moved to Takinoue in the 1920s. With their move, their shared dream of making Takinoue the most famous location for flowers in Japan also was created.

When they arrived, Kataoka intially continued his work with horse shoeing. He and his wife noticed the bad smell of the horse shoeing area, and they decided to plant flowers to mask the smell of it. His wife began to tend to the flowers there, and they often talked about them.

It was in 1919 that the development of what is now the shibazakura park started. In 1922, the townspeople of Takinoue purchased 1,000 sakura trees and planted them on the hillside. Takinoue started to become famous as a sakura-viewing place in Hokkaido. During this time, Kataoka became the caretaker of the sakura trees and the park, a job he took very seriously.

However, in 1938 Kataoka’s wife died. He felt like he hadn’t kept his promise to her about making Takinoue famous Japan-wide for the beautify of its flowers. He was very depressed, and struggled with it until the start of World War 2, during which time he was unable to care for the trees in the park. When the war was finished, Kataoka resumed his care of Takinoue’s flower park. In 1950 Takinoue began to hold an annual sakura festival, and people were coming from far and wide to view the blooming flowers.

There were soon two setbacks that occurred in that time. The first was an abnormally large gypsy moth infestation. They ate many of the plants and trees in Takinoue at that time, and the problem was so serious that soon the town resorted to burning trees in order to kill the moths. With the fires and burning insects, Takinoue began to lose some of its appeal as a fragrant-flower town. During this time is when Asakura Yoshie, another man from Kochi-prefecture, began to work with Kataoka. Together, with Asakura working with the local and Hokkaido goverment, they decided to renew Takinoue’s dream of becoming a flower-town.

 

In 1954, though, there came the second problem. A terrible typhoon, called the Toyamaru typhoon, hit Hokkaido. This typhoon caused island-wide destruction, and in Takinoue it knocked over about half of the sakura trees in the park. With this, Kataoka and Asakura decided to cease trying to raise sakura trees. They were both discouraged by their setbacks, but when Kataoka thought about his wife he decided to give it another go, and convinced Asakura to keep trying.

During 1956 Kataoka was out and noticed small pink flowers in a nearby garden. He was struck by how vibrant their color was and their beautiful fragrance, and decided that this was how Takinoue would take its place as flower-capital of Japan. Kataoka gathered up wooden orange-box of the flowers, and took them to Asakura to show him what he had found. The flowers couldn’t be killed by the insects or typhoons, so they decided to try it out.

Around this time, Asakura decided to run for mayor of Takinoue and announced his candidacy. Kataoka told Asakura that he would support Asakura in his election if, in return, Asakura would pledge to help him with his creation of Takinoue as a flower-city. Asakura agreed, and went on to win the election and become mayor of Takinoue. He immediately started development on the shibazakura park.

 

From 1959-1966 Takinoue expanded the area of its park by 5 hectares every year. By this point, Kataoka was getting older, and he died in 1968. Asakura and the townspeople of Takinoue carried on the spirit of Kataoka Heiji by continuing to expand the Takinoue Shibazakura Park, and it eventually reached 7-times the original size. Now, Takinoue has the most vibrantly pink flower garden in all of Japan.