28 MARCH 2007

It was not just the blossom that would have caught the king and queen's attention on Wednesday's outing, but also the famous Gohyaku Rakan Statues, 540 stone impressions of the disciples of Buddha - each with its own facial expression - in the temple grounds.

The castle town of Kawagoe provided an evocative backdrop to the couple's first state visit since 1980. Nicknamed 'Little Edo' after Tokyo's former name, it is a nostalgic vision of centuries past. It is also home to Kashiya Yokocho, or 'sweet store alley', a thoroughfare lined with stores selling traditional Japanese treats.

While the Swedish royals' schedule involves several business and charitable symposiums, there has been time to enjoy Tokyo's famously serene Happoen gardens and teahouse. There, Queen Silvia echoed the floral surroundings with her choice of vibrant chrysanthemum-style headpiece. The gardens are especially stunning during cherry blossom season and a haven of peace in the buzzing metropolis.

The week-long trip draws to a close on Thursday with a visit to Nagasaki where the Swedish monarch and his wife will visit the Atomic Bomb museum, the Peace Park and the Nagasaki City Museum of History and Folklore.

Photo: AFP
Queen Silvia, accompanied by the Empress and a Buddhist monk, takes a stroll in the picturesque, blossom-filled grounds of Kitain Temple in the city of Kawagoe
Photo: Getty Images
The Swedish monarch and his wife also got to experience Toyko's famous cherry blossoms during a visit to a traditional garden
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