I never knew of Kashihara until seeing the festival listed on the online version of the Kansai Scene magazine. Situated in Nara, it takes just under an hour to reach there from from downtown Osaka, inclusive of transfer to the Kintetsu Line. After some browsing, I learnt that the 3 scared mountains of Yamato are located in Kashihara, while the first Emperor of Japan. Jimmu, is enshrined at 橿原神宮 Kashihara Shrine.
The shrine grounds was not too far from the station, and the neighborhood was all quiet while those heading in the same direction were far and few despite this being a big festival. Indeed this was a small town. I was relieved to see a fair number of people milling about in an open area where various booths were set up selling various food and local products.
As there was still ample time before the parade, I headed into towards the main hall but stopped in my tracks and detoured towards a huge picturesque pond. Ducks!
I never pass up any opportunity to interact with birds, cats or any other animals that do not pose danger to life and limb (with the exception of Nara deer) There's a flock of them and they were always alert to the occasional visitor who came with bread while pigeons too swooped in to have a share.
The cherry blossoms were blooming splendidly, and it was an idyllic experience to immerse oneself in the serene landscape while having a leisurely walk or eating bento by the Fukata Pond, nestled in the lush forest sanctuary at the base of Mt Unebi.
Standing at the 拝殿 front shrine, one can view the main hall from a distance. Occasionally. the stillness of the vast grounds and empty corridors was interrupted by the appearance of a shrine maiden. The main hall was donated by Emperor Meiji when the shrine was being constructed. While one may not be surprised by such a generous gesture given the donor's stature, it takes quite some imagination as to how two buildings were donated from Kyoto Imperial Palace.
The parade looked just like what I had seen on Youtube - an interesting assortment of vehicles which include motorbikes, sports cars and even the local fire brigade.
Various performing groups and sports teams were also featured in the parade.
Rain came pouring down midway through the parade. While some spectators made their way to shelter, the participants had no such option. The loudest applause was reserved for young children giving their all despite the rain while their teachers rallied them.
The hour long parade ended slightly after 2.30 pm, leaving me with a couple of hours to explore Kashihara before the evening event. I decided to venture to 藤原宮跡 Fujiwara Palace ruins, as it featured prominently on the locality map just outside the train station.
It took about 40 minutes to reach there on foot, but it was an enjoyable walk in the cool weather and being able to see the rustic charm of Kashihara. (There's a community bus, but don't expect multiple trips every hour.) I was fortunate to pass by a sakura spot which was just right at a bus-stop. Actually, nice sakura spots can be found in in ordinary neighbourhoods - I often remarked to myself what a great spot I've seen in a fleeting moment as the train zipped past.
The Imperial Palace was situated in Kashihara for 16 years during the reign of Empress Jito, the 41st monarch of Japan. Today only ruins remain but it continues to be a preserved site as excavations are ongoing to learn more about that era. Fujiwara Palace was the first palace in Japanese history to have incorporated the Chinese capital system of having streets built in a grid pattern.
I was kind of disappointed upon reaching the ruins - while not expecting to see the grandeur of the palace that was no longer existent, wasn't this site an all year attraction with various blooms? It looked simply like a barren grassland marked with red pillars where excavation works had revealed foundation supports.
Multiple tourist information sites can't be wrong, so I decided to explore the vicinity further. Just after crossing another street about 5 minutes away and I was rewarded with the sight of a vast expanse of golden yellow a distance away.
While there was an urge to sprint over there right away, the cherry blossoms lining the path towards the rapeseed field were a pretty fine sight to behold. Even the most amateur of a photographer will have ample time to compose and take multiple shots. There were no other foreigners in sight, while only a few locals were spotted taking a leisurely stroll.
Here's just a short stretch or about 200 m perhaps, and surely there are more splendid tunnel paths of sakura such as the one along Yodogawa River, but nonetheless an enjoyable stroll without having to jostle with crowds.
It was refreshing to see the vibrant hue of of rapeseed, which made good contrast with the sakura in the background. This is truly an unique sakura spot which I'd hope to visit again.
I returned to Kashihara Shrine at 6.30 pm, while those who had tickets were admitted into the seating area in an orderly fashion. I'd suppose most of the crowd that had gathered were aged 35 and above, and they probably decided to attend the Spring Festival that day instead of the day after for the same reason - 相川七瀬.
The concert began just after nightfall and visibility wasn't great for those of us standing behind the seated area. In fact, it was difficult to recognize Aikawa Nanase from her voice too as the first few numbers were quite mellow compared to her signature rock. But when she started belting out some of her hit singles there was no doubt that she was the 本物, the real deal. It then began to rain, but the concert went on for the full duration.
The crowd dispersed after the concert and it seemed that the all activities had come to an end for the day. I was expecting to see another highlight of the Spring Festival, which was a projection event where moving images could be seen on the roof of the haiden. It would probably be held the next evening, so I had content myself with watching a Youtube clip instead.
I'd say that while it may be difficult to fit Kashihara Spring Festival into a tourist itinerary, it should be a worthwhile visit for those who are staying in Kansai for an extended period for work or study.