Spring (haru) has come to Tokyo. I saw it looking from my balcony over the Kanda River lined with cherry trees flushing red, almost ready to blossom, for the first time this year. I felt it for the first in the clear, almost fragrant, air cycling to work this morning; and I felt it, I think, in being unusually hungry all day.
Even last weekend, I got an invitation to a blossom viewing party (hanami) at Shinjuku Gyoen Park, although the cherry blossoms (sakura) was barely out, unlike the dark pink plum blossom (ume) which has been out for weeks now.
Hanami is probably the spring tradition in Japan: the most famous chance to get friends and family together, sit under the emerging pinkish white blossom, eat lunchboxes (o-bento) and get raucously drunk on sake (AKA nihonshu) and beer (biiru). Hanami, by the way, simply means "flower (hana) viewing (mi)."
Parks (koen) are obviously the most common venue for hanami, and the most famous hanami parks in Tokyo are the above-mentioned Shinjuku Gyoen, as well as Yoyogi Koen, and Ueno Koen. Outside of Tokyo, the most famous hanami spot that comes to mind is Miyajima just south of Hiroshima.
Even if you can't make it out to under the actual trees, public spaces all over the city (including the foyer of the local gym) are hung with scores of photos of famous sakura trees from all over Japan, and there is no end of tacky imitation cherry blossom boughs adorning shop fronts and stalls.
The photo above is a photo of a photo of a particularly gnarled old specimen of a cherry tree, a very famous one from Yamagata prefecture, called Yamagata no Jindaizakura, and believed to be 2,000 years old!
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Thursday, April 02, 2009