Flash mobbing towards serenity

My fourth cherry blossom season.  How time flies, indeed.

This year’s destination was the famous Yoyogi Park, across the road from the ultra-hip Harajuku and next door to the ultra-traditional Meiji Shrine.  As soon as you get off at Meiji-jingu-mae Station, prepare to be sucked into a vortex of jubilant picnickers, overjoyed that the cold weather is (mostly) over.

As far as vortexes go, it’s a pretty good one to be in.

I can easily go a whole week without seeing another Westerner, so I’ve become used to being a bit of a novelty around town.  In Yoyogi Park, however, I can feel any cachet I once had drain away as soon as I step foot inside.  Every foreigner in Tokyo must have assembled there, called by some mystic western hemisphere pheromones, mucking up the place with their conspicuous internationality.  Still, if a place is this crowded, you know it’s good and will put up even with reduced cultural curiosity.

Now then, to business!  Bentos, beer and… basically that’s it.  Tarps are the order of the day.  Not a blanket to be seen:

The shame of it all is that by the next weekend, these inspiring fluffy petal formations will be all but gone.  It’s glorious yet tragic, perhaps even worthy of a traditional, highly structured poem of some kind.

Other than the flowers, the thing I love most about hanami (flower-viewing) is seeing office workers, black suit clad by weekday, getting out and about, letting their hair down, wearing horse heads:

Ahh, spring.  Aww, spring:

Someone in our group (hey there!) had an excellent legal drug-pushing contact, resulting in a veritable bathtub of cheap beer.  Unfortunately, he had appeared to invite the most teatotaling group of people in Tokyo, leaving him with excess supply and seriously considering starting a temporary street vending business.

More photos after the break…

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Drinking under the light of the silvery bloom

Well, just when I thought I had run out of things to say about glorious cherry blossoms, along comes a new flavour.  Night cherry blossoms!

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A friend very kindly invited me along to his Friday night work-do which involved sitting under the cherry blossoms and drinking large amounts of alcohol.  I’ve executive-ly summarised the agenda for you in the following photograph:

Cherry blossoms by night, Tokyo

Something a little confusing is that the Japanese word for going to view cherry blossoms during the day is hanami, which literally means “flower viewing”.  However, if you go and look at cherry blossoms at night, it’s not called “night flower viewing” – it’s called yozakura, “night cherry blossoms”.  A small distinction, but unless you know that’s specific word, you’ll forever being saying things like: “So what time shall we leave the the flower viewing that occurs at night?”.

Also, I’m hazy as to if this actually occurred, but I think I mistakenly called the event yozakana on several occasions.  Yozakana, however, is not actually a word that exists in the Japanese language.  Upon consideration, I can only imagine people were translating it as “night fish”.  Luckily, I was never asked what manner of entity a night fish might be.

Cherry blossoms by night, Tokyo

Cherry blossoms by night, Tokyo

The park in question was right next to Tokyo Tower too:

Cherry blossoms by night, Tokyo

If you’re in Tokyo in late March / early April, definitely try to wangle yourself a yozakura invite, and preferably with a big group – the parks are overflowing with people over the cherry blossom season, and there’s power in numbers!

The springing of spring

Finally, the slightly bitter Tokyo winter is almost over! Spring in Tokyo is a big deal, like I’m guessing is the case in most places that have some semblance of distinguishable seasons. Of course, one of the special reasons to look forward to it in Tokyo is the annual blooming of the cherry blossoms (sakura). There’s lots of parties where people go and sit under the trees and drink beer, so it’s a time of year where your social calendar can involve quite a bit of that. The blooming is spectacular, but only lasts for two short weeks.

Not wanting to waste a beautiful spring day indoors, I had a chance to visit Shinjuku Central Park this weekend.  A green oasis in the middle of the concrete jungle of Tokyo, it’s a welcome and refreshing change of pace. The crowds had already started to enjoy the spring weather, laying out tarps and enjoying packed lunches and beer in the big open spaces around the trees.   As popular as it was, my friend told me the place would just about be packed to overflowing by next weekend when the trees lit up in their vivid whites and pinks.

Even though we were there a bit early, there was at least one early bloomer getting some attention:

Nearby, a group of people had started a game of jump rope.  Others started to join in from neighboring groups, and there was a really relaxed, party vibe happening. Given Japan’s general reserve and incredible work ethic (more on that later), there was something especially joyous about seeing strangers joining in and enjoying the simple pleasures of jumping over a rope holding a can of beer or blowing their lungs out on a whistle like it was Mardi Gras time in Rio:

Hanami (flower-watching) season is also particularly significant to me, because it marks the anniversary of my arrival to Japan. More on that later, though…

Sakura and timing

Well as it turns out, my timing to arrive in Tokyo was excellent – the cherry blossoms (sakura) were in bloom, which they only do for one week in the year. I was lucky enough to be taken out to see them, and I understand why it’s such a big event on the Japanese calendar.  They are breathtaking, but disappear very quickly, so it’s all a bit poetic too.  I took these pictures of the trees loaded with blossoms on a Sunday, and was told that by Monday or Tuesday, they’ll be gone.

As well as being extremely beautiful, they are also extremely popular:

Not only is it a chance to see stunning foliage, but it’s also a great reason to go and sit under the trees with beers and sake.  Which, as I can now testify, is excellent.