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Sakura, or cherry blossom, is one of the most iconic images of Japan. It's such a big part of their culture that they have parties about it like we westerners celebrate New Years. Why is it such a big deal?
- Its beautiful: Just look at it. Petals of soft, creamy pink are just so lovely and rarely seen in nature. So why not celebrate it? It's beauty is emphasized even more by the fact that its appearance is fleeting. The Sakura blooms for a week or two in spring and then its gone....Just dust in the wind, dude. Dust. Wind. Dude.
- It's mysterious: Old folklore tells of how the Japanese version of Romeo and Juliet died and were buried under a white blossom tree, but the tree took up their blood and became a pink color. Is this strange vampire plant really the origin of the beloved blossom or is it just the romantic tale that pulls at people's hearts? Because a lot of people would have had to die with seeds to make all these cherry blossoms.
- It's Japanese: If there is one thing that is guaranteed to make a Japanese person like something, then its it being Japanese. Seriously. Japan is one of the few countries where imported food is cheaper because Japanese will pay more for their own products. The Japanese have certainly made the Sakura their national symbol. No where else will you find so many cherry blossoms and they will tell you that at any given opportunity.
When the Sakura comes out people flock to every park, river and locale to have their Hanami. 'Hana' means "flower" and 'mi' is "look" so it is a flower viewing party. Essentially it is a picnic. And a great excuse to get drunk. Friends and families, students and teachers, workmates and companies, they will all arrange a Hanami and enjoy eating and drinking under the pink blossom. A common sight there is the blue plastic mat. People reserve their spot hours, perhaps days in advance by putting down their blue sheet for their party. Often junior members of companies, or whatever group, are chosen to do this because no one likes waiting around for so long and they are at their bosses' mercy. When it finally comes though, its a lot of fun and not quiet at all. In fact, you have to wonder if people are looking at the flowers because so much attention is paid to the food preparation, so much drink is had and often there is live music or music playing through a tannoy. It's a full on party. I mean, party on, dudes.
Of course, such activity is dependent on the weather, and it is notoriously unpredictable this time of year, especially lately. So many people have eyes on the weather reports, which also offer a forecast of expected dates for the cherry blossoms to bloom in different regions of Japan. It begins in the west of Japan (Fukuoka, Hiroshima) around the end of March, early April, and then the wave of pink moves across the country, hitting the far north of Hokkaido in May. Here in Sendai we get the cherry blossoms in the middle of April and so the Sakura Panda Tea Time crew headed out to our local park to join in the festivities.
It's a great tradition, one that people fight to take part in around work or school commitments. It's also a great bonding experience for friends, as who doesn't love a party or a picnic or nature... Or pink?! Or bananas? I can't guarantee bananas, but sometimes.....