Tuesday, April 19, 2011

In the Time of Sakura

When I came to Japan, I made a list of things I would need to do while I'm here. Some are location-specific activities like go scuba diving in Okinawa, or visit the Sapporo factory in Hokkaido. A few aren't travel related at all and can be done anywhere (like finish the One Piece series in Japanese). I have others, though, that can be done only during certain times of year, such as visiting a shrine in Japan on New Year’s. However, there is one activity that I've wanted to do well before I made this list: "Drink underneath the cherry blossoms."

I can't remember where I read about it, but I do remember what it described. Every year, the blooming sakura represents the first sign of spring. Japan's cherry blossoms starts in the south and work their way northward as the weather gets warmer. When it reaches an area, everyone goes outside to celebrate the end of winter. It includes picnics, parties, BBQ's, games, singing, and drinking. The article continued to mention that this is the one chance a year for the usually reserved Japanese to completely relax and have a good time. People can drop all pretexts and fronts, and a sort of "anything goes" mentality takes over.

At the time I read about it, I was hooked. I knew then that I had to do this. It became one of the reasons why I came to Japan.

Lunch break outside Kokura Castle

I wasn't disappointed. It was everything that I had hoped it would be. But as cliché as sounds, it's hard to describe in words. (In my defense, many Japanese poets spend years trying to describe the beauty of 桜.) What I can say is that I was stunned by the sheer number of blossoms. At its peak, it was spectacular. It was simply an unparalleled experience.

To be honest, I actually missed the start of the cherry blossoms because I was in Taipei. That's not to say I didn't make up for it later... I think I did 花見 around 5 or 6 times. (Notice it isn’t an exact number. That week was kind of a blur.) We sat under the trees during our lunch break when we were at the office. (Just bento... I mean, drinking would have been irresponsible.) At night, I went with a few others for a cheeky チューハイ after Japanese class. The day before school, we had a proper picnic as we fired up the grill and celebrated our last day of Spring Vacation.
 Yaki Niku
Notice the limited-edition 花見 can

Each time was different too. As I mentioned before, anything goes. Things that wouldn't be necessarily appropriate normally was now perfectly acceptable (or at least, overlooked). Japanese men passed out under trees… before noon? Sure, it’s hanami. A grandpa drunkenly making out with his wife… in front of children? Meh, the kids are playing anyway... maybe they won't notice. Calling over and sharing food and drinks with strangers… just because you notice they are foreigners?

New Friends?
Yeah... don't really remember taking this picture...

Good food, good company, good times, and all it all, it was just good fun. I can understand why it's such a longstanding tradition--what better way to celebrate the coming of spring than 花見? So even though I had, "Drink underneath the cherry blossoms," only once on my list, you'll definitely see me out there again next year.


1 comment:

  1. Hanami is really bringing peace here... I feel you man, can't wait til next year (cause right now its hella raining in Sendai, so I dont know if its gonna happen haha).