It is that time of the year. In the U.S. we rejoice that it is spring and that warm weather is approaching. Easter, which has come and past, is a huge deal, and is one of the signature parts of springtime. However, in Japan, despite having a small stand filled with Easter items, geared toward children since they are all sweets, actually have something that means a bit more to them.
This time of the year is hanami season. If you break down the word, hana meaning flower and mi which is the conjugated form of miru meaning to see, it literally means seeing flowers, aka flower viewing. But they are not just looking at any flower. It is specifically cherry blossoms, which are called sakura which has been incorporated into the English vocabulary in the area of California I’m from. These lovely trees only bloom for a short period of time, but when they are in full bloom, their beauty takes the breath away. According to my Japanese professor, the weather forecast on TV does not only tell you the weather predictions for the week, but also have a sakura forecast to predict when they will be in bloom. I have asked my Japanese friend why the Japanese love sakura so much, and he admitted he didn’t know why but said that they are everywhere and that it is the country’s flower. In an in-class viewing of a documentary on the 3/11 tsunami, the interviewees said that these flowers give a feeling of hope because even though everything was destroyed, the trees survived and bloomed despite the tragedy that had occurred. They compared it to Japanese resilience, that if the sakura could continue to bloom then so could the Japanese. This might be a romanticized view but it certainly is a touching one. There is a sense of wonderment when looking at them because they are so frail and delicate, but I think it is because they only last a few days, that people appreciate them as much as they do.
My Japanese friend and I went to Shinjuku Gyoen, which is a massive garden/park, that I had said that I had wanted to go to. The aesthetics are so peaceful and wonderful, but made even better because of the flowers in bloom. There were blankets spread all over the place, with people reclining on them as they chatted or observed the surroundings. In the U.S. picnics have fallen out of fashion, and I don’t think many of us would consider sitting around looking at flowers blooming as a good recreational activity. I think you actually have to try it out before realizing how soothing it can be. I feel as though back in America, I am always doing activities that are high stimulus because that is the norm, but hanami is fun in its own way. You can appreciate natural beauty while reconnecting with people and meeting new ones. In Shinjuku Gyoen, they have a 200yen entrance fee and check your bags, most likely because of its popularity and to maintain upkeep, but if you’d like to avoid the hassle and don’t want to pay (I recommend visiting it regardless), there are other places like Yoyogi Park. From what friends have said, there is much more mingling, and next thing you know, you have met an entirely new assortment of people!