Hasselt

I’m quite keen on most things Japanese, so I jumped at the chance to go and visit the Japanse tuin in Hasselt, supposedly the largest authentic Japanese garden in Europe, a result of its twinning with the town of Itami in Japan. After a 45-minute drive east of Brussels we parked and bought our tickets, and immediately realised that it probably wasn’t the best time of year to visit. Apart from the fact that the Belgian “summer” had taken its toll on many of the plants, if we’d have come earlier in the year we could have seen the cherry blossoms, or visited during the organised activities of Children’s Day, or even seen it by lantern during the annual evening opening. Oh well, as it turned out there was enought to occupy us for almost an hour (although 15 minutes of that was spent sheltering from a rain shower).

Once you’re inside the carp will zoom across their pond to greet you.

They will then start to crowd around rather menacingly, thrashing the water and making you eager to move on to the rather more relaxing stream. The stream is fast-moving but very shallow, creating an hypnotic ripple effect.

And here we are at the pavilion. Nothing much to see inside, although you can peek through the doorways at tatami mats and laquered cabinets if you like.

I love this display. Worth a closer look.

We actually saw one of these in the streets in the centre of Hasselt later that day, so it’s not specific to the Japanese garden, apparently.

Looking back the way we came.

The pond in front of the pavilion is also, naturally, full of monster carp. Hey, let’s place a small child in the middle of them and take photos!

“It’s ok, they won’t hurt you! Just stay still while I get a few more shots”.

Some of the trees require a little support to help them grow into the desired shape.

Some cute and unusual plants. No idea what any of the names are, sorry.

As small shrine off to the side of the pavilion.

I was about to help myself to a nibble of raw tiny fish and uncooked rice when I remembered that these were offerings, but not for me. Apologies, honourable ancestors!

And after a walk around and across the waterfall, we were done.

Kinkaku-ji it isn’t, but as I said, a return visit in the spring would make more sense.

Having had our fill of Japano-Flemish tranquility, we walked into the centre of Hasselt. Well, we tried to. What actually happened was that every time we came close to the centre we were blocked by huge crowds of people gathered to watch a procession. The event? The Virga Jesse festival. Apparently this celebration in honour of the Virgin Mary only happens every seven years, so we were really lucky (if that’s the word I’m looking for) to catch it. Various groups of people in colourful robes trudged slowly along the streets, singing haunting, mournful dirges. It all reminded me of a slightly greyer, more sedate version of the Semana Santa celebrations we saw in Andalucia a few years back.

There were also various versions of the statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus dotted around the streets, always for some reason with bushes and pot plants placed in front of it as part of the display.

But we’d got there too late to have a good view of the proceedings, even if we had fully understood what was going on, so after a few minutes of peering over people’s shoulders we retreated to a nearby bar for some refreshment. My glass of Corsendonk was just what the doctor ordered…but wait. Who’s this, staring back at me from the front of my glass?