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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hanami in Tokyo: watch that cherry blossom!

新宿御苑 花見

Last Sunday, April 10, was a sunny, temperate day in Tokyo, and the cherry and plum blossoms were in full bloom.

I went to Shinjuku Gyoen Park with a few friends to celebrate hanami, literally “flower viewing,” translated more accurately, perhaps, as “blossom viewing.” Even with the troubles that have affected Japan in the past few weeks, hanami is a celebration of beauty’s brevity that no one would consider skipping if at all possible.

Shinjuku Gyoen is a pay-to-enter (200 yen) park, and the consumption of alcohol and smoking are forbidden; so after paying for your ticket you had to line up, airport security-style, for a very cursory bag check.

We got there about 2pm, and, once in, somehow found an untaken patch of lawn close to a blossoming tree.

The park was thronged with thousands and thousands of flower viewers. However, the point is not so much to view blossoms as to have a picnic, sitting in a circle eating and drinking.

Hanami without alcohol can hardly be called hanami, and, in spite of the ban, before long we noticed around us any number of suspiciously red faces, a sure sign of alcohol being present in Japan, where the instant red-face reaction to alcohol consumption is a common one.

One other thing we quickly noticed was the predominance of groups where women were either completely absent, or present as a lone face amongst a group of male friends. The gaydar had confirmed that, indeed, a great number of the blossom admirers were gay - perhaps not surprising in light of Shinjuku Gyoen being only a couple of hundred meters from Shinjuku Ni-Chome, Tokyo’s main gay nightlife area.

The park closed at 4.30, and we left to search out a cafe for a goodbye cup of something, but everywhere we went in east Shinjuku was chockablock, so we said our goodbyes and went home, stopping on the way at the Imperial Palace to admire the cherry blossoms surrounding the moat.

Read more about cherry blossom in Shinjuku Gyoen Park

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