Saturday, 27 March 2010


From mid January to early May, the bloom of the cherry blossoms occur in Japan. Starting in the south, the appearance of the sakura works it's way up north finishing in the northern island of Hokkaido around May. This year, they arrived in Tokyo around the 20th March, and we are now currently entering our second week of cherry blossoms. While this itself is no particular Japanese speciality (after all, the cherry trees blossom in any country in which they grow), the ensuing "hanami"celebrations are. Hanami literally translates as "flower watch", and this is basically what it is.

Go to any park or open public space during the blossoming period and you will see countless groups of friends huddled together under the pink trees drinking beer, eating snacks, and generally having a "rad" time. What is striking about this is the sheer quantity of people taking part in the celebration. I had my first experience of "hanami" yesterday in Ueno park, and the atmosphere and quantity of people was akin to the music festivals that I have been to. There were long queues outside the toilets, temporary food stalls, huge bins erected specifically for the occasion, and barely a single blade of grass visible due to the blue tarpaulins laid down by different groups of people there taking in the various pink and white shades of the petals.

The weather was buy no means perfect - it was cold and the sky was threatening to rain the whole time I was there, but it was still a thoroughly enjoyable experience. We arrived at around 4pm and met with some friends who already had a decent spot with a large blue tarpaulin in place surrounded by other people on blue tarpaulins (blue seemed to be the only accepted colour of tarpaulin for hanami celebrating). There were plenty of drinks and snacks, and we were soon able to befriend everyone who was there, discussing all manner of things including the delights of beans on toast and marmite. I had gone with Steve, Ramses, and a couple of Japanese friends, and not soon after we had sat down and started enjoying the atmosphere, we were approached by a film crew from "Nihon Television" who wanted to find out what we foreigners made of the whole "Hanami" celebration. The three of us made reasonable efforts to give coherent answers in Japanese to the questions we were asked, and I think we came across as fairly decent speakers... although I'm not sure when it will be shown on TV. I have to say though, that while we were doing just as everyone else in the park seemed to be doing with regards to drinking, talking, and having a good time, there was very little actual "flower watching". I got the impression somewhat that under the pretence enjoying the bloom of the cherry blossom, it was simply another good opportunity for the Japanese to be able to gather together and have a good time.

The bloom will last for another two weeks(ish), and the moment near the end when the petals slowly fall from the trees is said to be the most beautiful. As this is the case, and I still have 2 more weeks of holiday (3 months has been a seriously long time) I hope to have many more opportunities to partake in this activity.

In other news, Ramses and I have successfully made the move into our new apartment and have grown accustomed to truly "living" in Japan. The freedom provided by not having a curfew, along with the decent location of the pad has certainly allowed us to relax somewhat and enjoy our time here more thoroughly. On Monday night we plan to throw a little house warming to show off the place, and hopefully this will be the first of many gatherings to be had.

For Naoko's birthday, we have also decided (her and I) to go to Sapporo which is the fifth largest city in Japan, and lies on the island of Hokkaido in the north. The place is famous for dairy products, crabs, and the Sapporo brewery - so I hope to get my fill of those things while we are there. We'll be going the weekend before the start of the second semester, which fits in nicely as I will have already taken my Japanese placement test the previous week on the 6th of April.

So that's about it really. I survived my first few earthquake experiences last month, although I think they were relatively small as the room barely shook at all.

I'll try and get another entry done on my return from Hokkaido, but going on my current run of updates, I wouldn't hold your breath. Take care, and hopefully speak to you soon.



Here's the photo from my interview!

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