So, spring has officially sprung here in Japan, and that means that the streets are lined with pink. Now, seeing as one of my favorite colors is pink, this makes me a very happy human being. However, before I get into this pink season and its implications for Japanese people, allow me to share a short story.
So, despite the fact that it is spring, recent weather would imply that winter is trying to give us all one last kick before it goes on a several month hiatus. In summary really really cold wind that is so strong it almost made me fall off my bike a few times. So, strong and cold wind caused one of the more surprising bike rides I have had thus far. So, I had an interview for a Kawagoe newspaper last week at an “international center” about a 10 minute bike ride from my apartment. After the interview, the wind was really starting to pick up and it made riding home really really difficult. One block away from my apartment some people are moving into a newly built house and they happened to be moving in the big items on this particular day and this means a lot of big empty boxes. Cue a super strong wind to make these empty cardboard boxes fly from the home and attack an unsuspecting bike rider: me. After the box slammed into me, I was then surrounded by a slew of movers who were bowing to me over and over again with more すみません(sumimasen) “I’m so sorry”s than I can count.
Anyway, back to the pink. So, Japan has only a slight obsession with cherry blossoms (also known as sakura). In Japan cherry blossoms also symbolize clouds due to their nature of blooming en masse, besides being an enduring metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life, an aspect of Japanese cultural tradition that is often associated with Buddhistic influence, and which is embodied in the concept of mono no aware which roughtly translates to “an empathy toward things.” The transience of the blossoms, the extreme beauty and quick death, has often been associated with mortality and it is for this reason, cherry blossoms are richly symbolic, and have been utilized often in Japanese art, manga, anime, and film, as well as at musical performances for ambient effect – seriously, if anyone knows the anime X…lots and lots of cherry blossoms there. cherry blossoms are an omen of good fortune and is also an emblem of love, affection and represents spring. Cherry blossoms are an enduring metaphor for the fleeting nature of life. It might sound a little grotesque, but there is a myth that cherry blossoms get their pink color from the blood of dead bodies buried beneath them. Cherry blossoms are also engraved on Japanese 100 yen coins.
So, yeah, slight obsession. What this means is that once cherry blossoms begin to bloom in Japan, Japanese participate in something called 花見(hanami) which translates to “Flower Viewing. The blossom forecast (桜前線 sakurazensen, or cherry blossom front) is announced each year by the weather bureau, and is watched carefully by those planning hanami as the blossoms only last a week or two. In modern-day Japan, hanami mostly consists of having an outdoor party beneath the sakura during daytime or at night and always includes some alcohol. The proverb dumplings rather than flowers (花より団子 hana yori dango) hints at the real priorities for most cherry blossom viewers, meaning that people are more interested in the food and drinks that accompany a hanami party rather than actually viewing the flowers themselves.
Hanami at night is called yozakura and many parks put pink lanterns in the trees to create a glowing pink atmosphere.
All pictures used in this entry were taken by me when I did hanami with some of my foreign friends in Asakadai.