Friday, April 6, 2012


There are several customs in Japan about admiring the changing of seasons. One of the biggest celebrations around this motif is cherry blossoms. As it is the flower that symbolizes Japan, my people are very serious about viewing and appreciating the beautiful trees that tell us the beginning of things.

Spring (April to be specific) is the beginning of school year. Most businesses also run their fiscal year from April to March and welcome in new recruits in April. With the budding of flowers, we celebrate new beginnings. March, on the other hand is the end of a cycle. Graduations happen then and as some cherry trees start to bloom, we associate the falling pink petals with the bittersweet feeling of saying good byes to our friends. Super poetic and melancholy. I can't tell you how many songs have been written with this theme (see below video as one example).

Then there is the HANAMI tradition. The word HANAMI translates to "flower viewing" and it is thought to be a very peaceful custom of having a nice picnic and and enjoy the blossoms. Lovely. You'd think that. Until you see the complete mayhem that is, actually, the friggin' "flower drinking." I will preface by saying that this may just be in Tokyo--for that is a city which will change your concept of "crowded." Japanese people by nature are raised to follow the trend and be like everyone else. This flower viewing thing is something you just do no matter what the cost. Please take a moment to picture in your head the hundreds and thousands of people who shove each other without any mercy on subways fighting to get the best spot under trees in parks. If companies decide to do an outing around this event, the newest employees are sent out HOURS ahead with a tarp to secure a good spot. Then they are chastised if they fail. If that's not bad enough, people bring so much booze it turns into a complete nightmare. It does not matter whether there are children around. Business men and women with their suits disheveled are stumbling around the park in broad day light. Attractive.

So.Very. Crowded.

I, fortunately, did not experience much of this as I grew up because I had parents who did not feed into this kind of shenanigans. I spoke to my father just yesterday and he said he might ask a friend out to go to this restaurant that has a garden with cherry trees and they apparently serve special meals around this time of year. They even light up the tress in the evening and you can have a nice quiet dinner looking at the blossoms. Now THAT, I approve. He went on to say how much cherry blossoms there are in Tokyo and you don't realize it until they bloom. He spoke with a lot of excitement in his voice about how beautiful it is right now. In the same conversation, he also mentioned that this year commemorates the centennial celebration of Japan's 3,000 cherry trees that were given to the US in Washington DC. "What a perfect gift we gave," he said proudly. My heart warmed to hear that spring had arrived to my father, who lost his companion last year, and that he was noticing and enjoying it.

Mayhem aside, I have to say I do appreciate that my culture puts a great deal of importance on nature's beauty. Just today, there were five posts on Facebook from my childhood friends in Japan as they photographed their nearby cherry blossoms, and I imagine more will trickle in. Those photos have reminded me that it's something to take notice for my people. Our neighbor has three cherry trees in front of her house and every year I look out the window and think of my graduations past and get a little nostalgic.

I leave you with a song that was made popular almost 10 years ago called,
Sakura (cherry blossom) by a singer song writer, Naotaro Moriyama. The song (as you will see in the subtitle) expresses the feelings of graduation as I mentioned above. He is backed by a high school choir from Miyagi, where the earthquake hit hast year. Their collaboration makes the song even more meaningful, and the images shown here are when it's not crazy--as it's intended.

I wish you happy Spring.