It is Hanami time in Tokyo. Hanami in Japanese literally means “flower viewing,” and in Japan it usually means “viewing” the beautiful Sakura (cherry) blossoms in the spring. Lots of places – and I can name several in the US – are known for beautiful cherry blossoms in the spring, but in Japan, it is a much anticipated and enjoyed time of year. The dates of peak bloom are predicted weeks and months in advance, and the Japanese plan parties and get-togethers to enjoy this event.
As I have talked about before, the Japanese are very attuned to nature, and have a great respect and appreciation for nature, and beautiful things in nature. It isn’t just the Sakura… any blooming flowers or beautiful scenery is appreciated by them – for instance, the much loved views of Mt. Fuji (Fuji-san) – but there are so many Sakura trees planted throughout Japan, that the whole country is seemingly swallowed by a wave of pink blossoms, moving from south to north with the spring temperatures.
At peak bloom time – and even before the peak – Hanami parties appear in all the parks. The Japanese people spread tarps – sometimes edge to edge – under the trees, and bring in low tables and all sorts of picnic food and drinks. Some bring in small table top grills for cooking yakitori under the trees. Others just stop at the nearby convenience store (“conbini”) or a local carry-out restaurant for bento boxes and already-prepared picnic food. Wine, sake, beer, canned “highball” drinks – or bottled water and green teas are all available as well – and “let the party begin!”
As at home, the shoes come off “at the door” and are neatly lined up along the edges of the blue tarps. They sit eating and drinking, laughing and gazing up at the beautiful pale pink blossoms. Camera phones come out, and everyone takes “selfies” under the trees, and photos of the blossoms.
There are some areas in Tokyo, that are especially nice for Hanami “strolling.” Long avenues lined with Sakura trees, and people walk along under the trees, stopping everywhere for that perfect Sakura photo. The sidewalks can become very crowded during Sakura time… long lines of people walking, jogging, and strolling clog the sidewalks.
Some areas – like the Meguro Kawa area – make the event into a moving party, with street vendors selling food and drinks along the way. Sakura-themed drinks (anything pink!) are sold everywhere – sparkling pink wine (with or without strawberries), mulled wine, and Pink Zima (a new version of the Zima we used to drink sometimes in the US), and pink cocktails. All the wonderful Japanese street foods are there, and spring-colored mochi candy too! Meguro River has a paved walkway along the walled sides of the river. The banks are lined with cherry trees that hang down over the water, and also provide a canopy over the people walking along the the path.
As peak bloom time wanes, and the blossoms begin to shatter and fall, this “falling” is celebrated as well. The rivers and canals become a sea of pink, and the blossoms fall like snow as you pass under the trees. In fact, that is exactly how they refer to it… as “the snowing of the Sakura.” It is considered to be good luck to catch the petals as they fall around you. Drifts of pale pink and white blossoms pile up under the trees and on the sidewalks, and the wind whips them up into a blizzard of petals.
It is a beautiful time in Japan. Springtime in Japan — and the new leaves and flowers are a symbol of renewal… and hope for the future.