After our previous three and a half posts about the start of spring, sakura (cherry blossom) flavored cookies and actual cherry blossoms (or what was left of them) in Inokashira park, you might already have guessed that the duck and I had been majorly excited about experiencing spring in Japan (especially after the seemingly endless days of freezing), undeterred by our powerful antagonist: the villainous pollen – this year with an extra portion of evilness! Strangely, despite our recent focus on spring, we have not yet written about the Japanese’s favorite early spring pastime: hanami!
Hanami translates to ‘flower viewing’, but mainly refers to sakura specifically.
Duck? Were you even paying attention? I don’t see any cherry blossoms in your rose-colored bouquet of flowers (a kind gift from our dear house mate).
As soon as the first blossoms appear (or are estimated to appear, which turned out to be the doom of some of the bigger organized hanami parties – but I’m getting ahead of myself here) on those cherry trees that are scattered all over Japan you’ll find all major cherry blossom spots crowded with picnickers, casual strollers and all kinds of photographers! Well, the duck and I are pretty new to that whole cherry blossom business, so instead of telling you facts, we’ll give you a little account of what we have so far learned (and made up) about hanami and all those people who are super excited about it. In fact, on our stroll through Inokashira park last week, we got to experience some of those hanami enthusiasts first hand:
First of all, since Tokyo is a huge city with lots of people, of course all the famous and popular cherry blossom viewing spots will be insanely crowded throughout the week or so that sees half of the city bathed in pink.
If there is a company hanami, for example, the newest additions to the company staff (in Japan junior-senior relationships play an important role in all kinds of group settings, like school, sports clubs or offices) are most likely commissioned to secure and reserve – sometimes for hours – a big enough spot for the large, mostly blue, sheets that universally serve as picnic blankets for all sorts of outdoor festivities. If you’re too late you’ll have to make do with walking along the cherry tree-lined paths, watching all the
early birds determined early-morning-picnic-spot-reservers in jealousy while you’re pushed along by the crowds of walking sakura admirers around you. If the cherry blossoms are out (or if the forecast said they would be – bigger outings are often planned weeks in advance), there’s nothing keeping those happy picnic party people from enjoying snacks and drinks on their own little sheet among a sea of other sheets. Temperatures don’t matter.
In fact, most shops are selling all kinds of useful utensils for a successful hanami in all (weather) conditions, such as disposable body warmers, heat protection, foldable seat cushions, disposable tableware, and jumbo-sized (at least for Japanese standards) bags of snacks. For the fancy and spontaneous, there’s also the option to buy hanami bento (Japanese box lunch) before heading for the hanami spot of their choosing.
So, you’ll see lots of picnickers with lots of packaged food and disposable tableware. That sounds like a nightmare to clean up! Well, in many other places this would be, but you’re forgetting that we’re talking about Japan here which is by far the cleanest place I’ve been to, a place where it’s incredibly difficult to find any trashcans in the streets, except for, maybe, those for PET bottles and aluminum cans in proximity to one of Japan’s millions of vending machines. Because of that it’s common practice to just take any trash that you’ve accumulated throughout your day of adventuring home where you’ll sort and dispose of it like a good resident, following all the rules your ward or city has set up to make your life more organized (and complicated). And, in case you’re so drunk (because hanami usually includes lots of booze, more so than food, for those over 20) that you forget about not trashing the holy cherry blossom viewing spot you’ve taken hours to secure, lots of major places kindly remind you to take your trash with you when you’ve had enough of cherry blossoms (or pollen) for the day.
And, where there’s lots of alcohol, or other drinkable liquids, and thousands of people, the three to four (mostly surprisingly clean) bathroom stalls you’ll probably find within five minutes of wherever you are in Tokyo, might not be enough to please the fond-of-drinking crowds (I would have never imagined that I would, one day, walk past a dozen public toilets on a thirty-minute search for a trashcan in Shinjuku – after those thirty minutes I gave up and transported my empty bubble tea cup in my backpack to my local train station – because behind the gates is usually where you’ll find a line of marked trashcans for experienced instant-trash-sorters). Because of that, it’s not uncommon to find extra rows of color-coded porta potties in any location where large crowds of cherry blossom viewers are expected – weeks in advance.
As you can see from this little (ahem…) post, Tokyo (and I’m sure many other places) prepares well for the annual sakura rush so that everybody (who is lucky enough to not have to wear a mask which makes all prospects of a fun little picnic rather devastating) can enjoy pretty pink cherry blossoms, with a nice can of beer in one hand and a phone camera in the other, while surrounded by a nice group of family or friends and large crowds of nice strangers! Like many other Tokyoites the duck and I narrowed our hanami experience to walking up a mountain and around a park or two with my trusty camera, snapping some shots, in full-on mask gear!
We hope your spring is just as nice and educational as ours (and there’s no end in sight for us – gosh, there’s still so much we need to celebrate about spring)!
We hope to see you in our next post! Until then-