Sakura is Japanese for cherry tree and is also the name of the Shinkansen that brought us to Osaka.

A tram brought us to Suizenji Koen, a strolling garden in Kumamoto. It is landscape to represent the 53 stations of the Tokaido Road, including a reduced size (but easily recognisable) Mount Fuji. It’s quite a lovely garden for a stroll, with bridges, ponds, shrines and a tea house. Alex thought that it was good for running around chasing birds.

There were families sitting on the ubiquitous blue tarpaulins under the cherry trees, the petals falling like snow in the wind. I cannot get bored of watching the sakuras in bloom and it is a national obsession here, complete with forecasts from the weather agency.

Sadly, we didn’t have all day to lie around and relax under the trees. The decision on our next destination was only made as we collected our bags from the hotel and walked to the train station. I wanted Takamatsu, on the island of Shikoku, home to the beautiful Ritsuen Gardens and with an easily bookable (and locatable Toyoko Inn). B wanted something more permanent for the final three days. So Osaka it was.

The Shinkansen line all the way from Kagoshima in the south of Kyushu to Hakata was only completed on March 12 this year. Previously there was a break from Shin-Yatsuhiro to Hakata (when we caught it in 2009). Now it’s possible to catch Shinkansen all the way from Kagoshima to Aomori at the northern tip of Honshu.

Our train, the Sakura Shinkansen ran direct from Kagoshima to Shin-Osaka, so we didn’t have to change trains at all during our 3 hour 20 minute trip. Alex was a real handful, constantly demanding to go to the train toilet, but only so he could play with the door and taps. Lucky the train has no lifts and the vending machines were in a different carriage. He has invented a kind of song “Bags coming out of the X-ray machine. Bottle coming out of the vending machine. Tickets coming out of the ticket machine.”

Accommodation seems hard to come by in Osaka and Kyoto at the moment. I had booked a room at a brand new Toyoko Inn near Shin Osaka station, well away from the action of the city. Unfortunately, I didn’t save a map and because it was so new it wasn’t listed on anyone else, not even in the Toyoko Inn brochure.

Out of desperation we walked into the cold, dark evening to the two other adjacent Toyoko Inns that were visible from the station. They had no suitable rooms, but we managed to find something nice enough at a nearby Washington Hotel.

This spot is dead, really dead apart from the busy station. At least we should be able to quickly strike out to other destinations around the place.I still want to take Alex on the Ampanman train…

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