Since for the last few days at Yuigahama, the famous Pacific Ocean beach just on the edge of Kamakura city to the south west of Tokyo, there’s been a rather unusual algal bloom, a phenomena known as akashio (赤潮) in Japan and often called “red tide” in English. It is a natural occurring phenomena when concentrations in plankton grow rapidly and has nothing to do with tide nor is it often very red. Sometimes these algal blooms are associated with a kind of plankton that can glow with a bluish light in the dark but there hasn’t been any reported bioluminescence so far this time at Yuigahama, although I have heard that there were some two nights ago in Enoshima, further down the coast to the west of Kamakura but I am not sure how correct those observations were. If you live in the area, tonight might be the best night of the year for a midnight walk along the beach!
I was a little disappointed with bloom, as it looks a little bit and could be poisonous I was in no mood for swimming so instead I decided to head as far as possible to the east along the beach. I got quite far when another very interesting natural phenomena occured, a kaimu, or ocean mist. For a few minutes there were white wisps of smoke blowing in over the water, as if there were many small fires further out in the ocean. The sun was still blazing though, but in a few minutes a thick wall of mist rolled in from the ocean, completely obscuring the sun and turning midday into early evening in a few minutes. It reminded me of the solar eclipse we had a couple of years ago. Visibility was very bad in mist and the water level rose very quickly, which sent quite a few beach goers scrambling to get their stuff out of the rising water. The silence was also erie, sounds being muffled and nothing much being visible. Quite an experience! The mist last about an hour but even as it passed it left a strangely muted sky much of it remained until nightfall, all over the city of Kamakura.
All in all, it was an interesting day at the beach. I tried to look out for dead marine life but didn’t find anything out of the ordinary, the odd dried up blowfish or carp. As I always do, I also gathered a full plastic bag of plastic garbage that had drifted in from the ocean or been blown out on the beach by careless beach goers. If everyone picked just one piece of garbage every time they visited a beach the world would be a cleaner place in no time!
Unlike last year my timing for this year’s flower viewing has been terrible. Work has kept me busy and my free days have seen nothing but bitterly cold rain, winds and even snow (in northern Tochigi prefecture)! Not ideal in terms of cherry blossom photography. But one early morning I managed to go out and take these in Tokyo’s Gaien district.
The last photo shows The National Diet Building (国会議事堂 Kokkai-gijidō) in the center of Tokyo. A diet is a deliberative assembly associated mostly with countries having an emperor as opposed to a president or a king. The term comes from the latin dieta which means parliamentary assembly and daily allowance, and through a bit of linguistic mutation it has evolved into the Diet of Japan and the tag in the Reichstag of Germany and the Riksdag of Sweden. Interesting stuff, etymology! The only reason I add this is because many tourists often wonder what a “diet” actually is. As did this blogger when he first arrived in Japan.
Although the Tokyo official sakura season is still not declared there are a few early bloomers here and there around the capital. I walked through Hibiya Park which is about as downtown as you can get in central Tokyo and found that spring was already coming along nicely probably a week or two earlier than the rest of the city. Cherry trees were blooming, lots of other flowers as well, and the wildlife was coming back to the ponds and wetlands in the park. I saw newts, lizards, turtles and even a couple of egrets hunting for food!
What today is Hibiya park started out as the private gardens of several different feudal lords. When the Emperor took control of the country in the 1860s, the old feudal lords were ordered to leave the capital and the area around Hibiya park was mostly abandoned. In 1871 the military moved in and placed barracks and gunpowder storage in the old gardens. The military eventually left and the government started planning a new kind of park in the location of the old parade grounds. Before the end of the century the new Japanese government had sent out hundreds of young scholars around the world to study hard and bring home the latest in all art and sciences, on of these men was Honda Seiroku who had studied landscaping in Germany and was placed on the design committee of one of the first western style parks in the country. Hibiya Park was officially declared open in 1903.
The park has seen quite a lot of the modern history of Japan, it has been the base of a military mutiny, riots and demonstrations, it has been turned into a refugee shelter and temporary burial ground after earthquakes and during the war all of the flower beds were turned over to growing potatoes and the metal in the park railing and statues were confiscated for military use. After the war some of the buildings were occupied by the US Navy as headquarters. Today it is surrounded by the head offices of several banks and newspapers as well as three government ministries. When people in Japan think about park, it is usually the Hibiya Park that comes to mind!
One of the more interesting buildings in the park is the old park management office built in 1910 in the German Bungalow style. Right next to it is a more recent restaurant building in a slightly similar manner.
Headline says it all: I took this close up of the buds at the official sakura (cherry) tree at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine a few hours ago. When this tree blooms, the sakura season is officially opened. While I was there earlier today I met a few television crews hoping to catch the first blooms. It looks like they will have to wait a little longer. What say you, gardening experts? The weather forecast right now says it will be partially cloudy with temperatures between 6 (in the morning) and 21 (at noon) until Friday this week. In other words, more or less perfect sakura weather! Moderate to strong winds (not so good) but no rain and a humidity of 20 to 40%.