Take one cup of ancient Japanese castle ruins, mix it with three cups of blooming sakura and a dash of gorgeous weather, and what do you have? The Last Samurai 2? No. A PBS version of Kill Bill? Nope. One of my best experiences in Japan thus far? Bingo! And all for the low low price of zero dollars. Wow! Now that’s value!

This past Friday Dan, Divina and I, free from the stifling confines of our respective offices, loaded up the old Daihatsu Mira and set off to the neighboring prefecture of Oita, home of the ruins of Oka Castle. Rumor has it that Oka Castle was once the most impenetrable castles in all of Asia. I don’t know how much truth there is to that, but I’d hate to have been in the army sent to find out. Very little of the castle actually remains intact; more than likely it was consumed by fire, or rocked by an earthquake—Japan has had no shortage of neither over the years. Still, the relics that have been preserved—massive stone walls, ancient sakura trees, various statues—are impressive in their own right.

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The drive to Oita was relatively smooth if uneventful, and we managed to arrive within a couple of hours. Along the way, Dan blasted some tunes from a group called “The Beastie Boys.” Ever heard of them? Yeah, me neither. But I’m not the guy who invented ghetto fishin (see previous posts), so what do I know? Entrance to the ruins was free of charge. This caused me no small amount of elation because, well, I’m a cheap bastard. The parking lot was dotted with sakura trees, their branches nearly brushing our heads (Japanese trees are not designed to accommodate tall westerners), and I couldn’t resist snapping pictures of the their perfectly pink petals. And then I saw a bee. I began to chase it when Dan kindly reminded me that we didn’t come all the way to Oita to take pictures of bees in a parking lot. Sufficiently reprimanded, I composed myself and the three of us entered the ruins of Oka Castle.

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Once inside we stumbled across these curious hats made from straw. How could we resist taking pictures in them? Answer: we couldn’t. The terrifying results are displayed for you below in vivid detail. To be honest, I think we look rather smashing in our straw hats, but then again, that’s just me. I like bees; you can’t trust the taste of a guy that’s fond of bees. And speaking of wonderfully cool insects, I found this butterfly relaxing on a nearby flower, and of course, I couldn’t resist snapping away. Perhaps I missed my true calling as an insect nerd—ahem, I mean “scientist.” Or maybe this is all part of my diabolical plan to take over the world? I guess you’ll just have to wait and see, won’t you? Muwahaha

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But I digress—back to the blog post! As we worked our way deeper into the castle ruins, we were greeted by an army of sakura trees in full bloom. A breathtaking experience, I assure you; and I rarely consider anything to be breathtaking other than my own reflection. It was as though we had been whisked away to some pastel-colored wonderland; heaven, you might say. Well, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch. But it was really pretty! (See for yourself below and be amazed!) Sakura make for great pictures, and according to Japanese legend, if you eat 3,333 sakura petals you’ll inherit eternal youth and beauty. Sign me up!

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Lest you write Oka Castle off as a retirement home for sissified cherry blossoms, let it be known that it also has manly walls stretching hundred of feet into the air, not to mention brooding statues (which we climbed on like wild monkeys), and a stage for ritualistic martial arts demonstrations—for the Gods. Yours truly, along with Sir Daniel of Ottawa, gave such a demonstration and I daresay it was the finest display of martial arts prowess ever witnessed by mortal or immortal eyes. I shall leave final judgment up to you, my faithful and loyal readers.

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After a bit more wandering we decided to seek sustenance at a nearby restaurant, but not before being verbally assaulted by what is quite possibly the most irritating child on earth. I don’t have photographic evidence, but take my word for it, he was annoying. As was his mother. An annoying family by all accounts. I know we’re foreigners, kid, and you were probably excited to see us, but did you really need to shout “Hello!” for the better part of an hour? No, you didn’t, but because you’re annoying you did anyway. And hey lady, how about controlling your kids, huh? How about that! Surely that makes more sense than asking me if I can use chopsticks. As you can see, I’ve been unable to let this go. Time to book an appointment with the shrink.

Oka Castle, ladies and gentlemen! Don’t let the Kumamoto Castle hype fool you: Oka is where it’s at.

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