Well, I hadn’t planned on posting this entry until at least next week, but some very strange weather patterns this year have resulted in a very early cherry blossom season. It appears that spring is officially here!
Perhaps the most popular thing to do during cherry blossom season is to attend a hanami party. Hanami comes from the Japanese words hana (flower) and miru (to look) and has long been a part of Japanese culture. Poets and courtiers in feudal Japan once spent cherry blossom season picnicking under pink petals and waxing philosophical on the transitory nature of the blooms. You’ll find endless haiku on the subject of these delicate flowers. I even wrote one myself a few years ago, as part of an article for a Japan-based magazine:
Cameras flash, no room to move
Peace? Zen? Unlikely
If you couldn’t tell from my lovely poem, today’s hanami parties have become a bit less existential, with free flowing alcohol and portable karaoke machines replacing other more contemplative pursuits. Park paths brim with thousands of flower fanatics, all jostling to capture the perfect shot. Stands selling grilled yakitori and weekend performances add to the overall street-fair atmosphere. Still, you can’t say you’ve done Japan in the springtime until you’ve mingled with the masses and tilted back a glass of sake under what are arguably the most photographed flowers in the world.
Nationally popular viewing spots in Japan include Tokyo’s Ueno Park; the tree-lined Philospher’s Walk in Kyoto; Hirosaki Castle in Aoyama Prefecture, and the grounds of picture-perfect Himeji Castle. My current favorite? The main street right outside my apartment building here in Kumamoto. A veritable snowstorm of blooms appeared seemingly overnight and runs for a few kilometers. It’s not exactly the best place to picnic but what a beautiful sight!