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Published: August 9th 2007
Japan in the springtime is like stepping into Heaven. All over Japan cherry blossoms (sakura) are on display. As you wander the streets sakura petals fall from above. The bitter cold from winter has abated and people take to the streets and parks to meet with friends and admire the blossoms. The Japanese take full advantage of this magical time of year. Businesses, families, and friends participate in an activity called Hanami. This is sitting under the cherry trees and picnicking, usually washed down with a special spring brew or sake. It is by far my favorite time of year and the best time to visit Japan. Of course, the temples all over Japan are amazing by themselves, but when framed with cherry trees it is the icing on the cake. In addition to amazing sights, the Japanese people are in a better mood (probably because they are all drunk) and wandering the streets- always a fun spectacle.
The sakura season only lasts for about 2 weeks, which means Japanese people waste no time when it comes to cherry blossom viewing. It is all about getting the best location under the cherry trees for their Hanami party. People wake up
at dawn to put out their tarp claiming their area for the afternoon festivities. Since this time of year is so important for the entire country, there are weather teams that predict when the sakura will bloom. This year was a huge fiasco because the weather team was wrong. It looked like it was going to be an early spring, but at the last minute there was a huge cold front, bringing snow until late March. This threw the whole country off. Stores were decked out in sakura decorations- only with no sakura to be found outside. Businesses had planned work parties months in advance for Hanami, only to be surrounded by sakura buds. In an attempt to make up for their failure to predict Mother Nature, the weather teams made an apology on national television, saying over and over again how they were sorry and so embarrassed by their mistake, followed by incessant bowing. Despite the late bloom of the sakura- they did not cease to disappoint when in full bloom. Party-goers still camped out under the trees for hours with beer in one hand, chopsticks in the other.
This year I stayed in Hiroshima for the Hanami.
At the train station they have lists where the blossoms ar blooming- this is serious stuff!
At the train station they have lists where the blossoms ar blooming- this is serious stuff! Last year I went to Kyoto which was unbelievable! Although Hiroshima is not famous for its sakura like Kyoto- it has plenty of trees for me to seek respite under while sipping a nice cold beer. I took full advantage of the nice weather and beautiful surroundings.
The first weekend of Hanami I met up with the local hiking club. My couchsurfer Ronja and I woke up early Sunday morning for a day hike covering most of the mountains between Brian’s house and Hiroshima Station. A very fun Japanese experience to say the least. My fellow hiking friends were decked out in the latest hiking gear, ready to take on such peaks as Fuji-san. Aside from a few Indian people, we were the only foreigners. The hiking was great- good dirt trails scattered throughout the mountains. It was a good thing that Hiro-san, the organizer, was there to guide us otherwise I would have been very lost! Many of the hikers spoke English and enjoyed practicing it with me. The views from the top of the mountains were superb! Cherry trees dotted most
of our trails.
At the end of the hike we met up in a park near the station for some Hanami action- my first Hanami Party this year. Their English teacher Dave was waiting for us at the park. He opted out of the 4-hour hike that morning, but didn’t want to miss the Hanami party. Having lived in Hiroshima for over 20 years and drinking as one of his favorite pastimes, Dave new all about Hanami parties. Upon arriving he had huge tarps set up with coolers of beer calling our names. Everyone brought food to share. Many of their other friends showed up for the afternoon festivities. The park was teeming with people enjoying the first weekend of the blossoms. I was impressed with how organized Dave was with his party-planning, but it was nothing in comparison to others. Many parties had kegs, grills, tables, chairs, and food to feed an army. Just next to our party was a group of young guys grilling all sorts of meat and fish. One of my new Japanese friends who I call “soba-man” since he is famous for making soba, was feeling pretty good after guzzling too much of his
homemade sake, went up to the young grillers in hunt of some freshly grilled beef. Soba-man liked me and decided it would be a good idea for me to meet these young and single Japanese boys- probably thinking one of them could be my boyfriend. Chopsticks in hand I meandered over and snagged some tasty beef and a big portion of their miso-salmon. I left gastronomically satisfied, without a marriage proposal or phone number. It started to rain, but that was not a problem for Dave! He came prepared with extra tarps that we attached to trees and made into a roof. It’s good to have friends that know what they are doing! A great way to kickoff Hanami season!
The following weekend I met up with some friends for a small Hanami party in the Peace Park. As the night progressed and we were out of beer, we very easily made friends with the large party next to us. Being a foreign female who can speak a little Japanese, I all of a sudden became their new best friend. Marc and I wandered the park making friends everywhere we went. I would have to say the best part
of the night took place at dinner. I admit, I had one too many sakes under the cherry trees. As Marc and I were exiting, I noticed a foreigner in a Stanfurd shirt. Marc, spotting this soon-to-be-harassed Stanfurd alumn warned him that I was en route, drunk and an avid bear fan. Indeed I gave him a piece of my well educated Berkeley mind and he fought right back. I think I even started chanting “Take off that red shirt.” A great end to the already fabulous day.
So yes, a big part of the cherry blossoms is drinking! For Japanese people Hanami is why they like spring so much. This has been a bit of a problem for Japanese in other countries. In Washington DC there are numerous cherry trees. During springtime Japanese people will try to have Hanami parties under them. This is a problem because you are not allowed to drink outside in America. Talk about cultural differences! The Hanami parties are a very fun and a cultural experience. But for me, my favorite part of springtime is wandering around Kabe or the Peace Park, admiring the pink flowers. It vaguely reminds me of the almond
blossoms in Chico. Take a look at my photos- it doesn’t get much prettier than that.
I have also included some photos from my new hobby- touch rugby! Team Hookers and Dummies has done quite well at all the tournaments we have gone to. These are photos from the AJET Tokushima Tournament. My aggressive nature and soccer background makes me a decent player. It has been a fun experience during my last few months in Japan.
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