When the cherry blossoms bloom

When I was thinking about Japan, long time before my first visit, I had cherry blossoms in front of my eyes. I read a lot about hanami 花 見 (custom of admiring flowers). I knew Japanese celebrate it by spending time with friends and families under the trees. I spontaneously decided to go to Japan after my graduation, in November 2013 (Japanese winter). When I was leaving Japan after three months, I was thinking that I have to come back soon. When once again I held one way ticket in my hand, I did not know how long I was going to stay in Japan. Despite my love for Japan, I wanted to come back as soon as possible, because it was really hard for me to be away from Jakub. But it was him who persuaded me to stay longer and wait for cherry blossoms (sakura 櫻 in Japanese). ‘You always wanted to see them’.

And so I stayed. I spent one month in Hitachinaka, with my Japanese family. When forecasts for cherry blossoms appeared I bought a return ticket, and planned to go to Tokyo a week prior to my departure. To enjoy my last days in Japan under cherry blossom trees. Sakura bloom early in Okinawa, gradually blossoming along the entire length of Japan, it bloom in Hokkaido at the latest. I would like to go for a trip to chase sakura from south to north someday :} There are more than 200 types of cherry, the most popular type is called  Somei Yoshino. Their petals are pale pink and they bloom shortly, for about a week and that’s another reason why they are unique.

I arrived to Tokyo on Friday, March 27, when cherries were not in full bloom yet. That day I went to Ueno Park. There were some sakura blooming and big, big crowds. I was a little upset because I had imagined my first hanami as enjoying the beautiful views in peace and company of tourists with selfie sticks destroyed that picture (some of them pulled branches towards themselves, tearing the flowers!). I said to myself that maybe they were hit by some insane excitement. It happens to me as well sometimes, but never to such an extent.

When it was full bloom, 満 開 mankai, I went on my first picnic to the park by the Sumida river. It was Sunday and it was difficult to find a place, but after a while we found free spot. My friend Ryoji had some plastic cloths to sit on, he left me there and went to buy a “hanami kit”. He came back with beers and snacks like octopus, dried fish, sausages, chips with shrimp flavor and many more. Sipping my favorite Japanese beer Yebisu I looked around. It was just as I imagined. Beautiful cherry blossom, cheerful Japanese and… alcohol. There was something that I hadn’t taken into account before. Everyone drank (except teenagers and parents with children)! When we were leaving in the evening everyone was drunk. Yes, Hanami is nothing but a big drinking party.

I have nothing against it. Japanese even after several rounds behave calmly. I admit, they become a little louder, they sing, talk more (even with gaijin!). But that’s it. They don’t fight and they don’t leave any mess. On the contrary they clean up thoroughly after themselves. They just enjoy special time with a bit of something stronger. Simple as that.

I was spending my hanami time enjoying picnics in Yoyogi and Ueno Park, and one in Kawagoe on Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival). We were buying necessary articles before in konbini (the convienence store, usually several sake boxes for 250 yen each), but there were times when we had to buy more and special food&beverages booths placed in parks because of hanami came in handy.

During hanami I met many new people. We were playing card games together (Babanuki- very interesting game), making toasts (Kampai!), there were invitations of going out to karaoke, or they were just coming to ask where we are from. On the day of departure I was able to spend a little time under sakuras. Petals were already falling and floating in the air. The atmosphere was really friendly, weather was perfect and I was mentally getting ready to come back, feeling grateful for the time that was given me in Japan.

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14 thoughts on “When the cherry blossoms bloom

  1. I’ve never heard of this term hanami before but I’m now obsessed with it! This is going to be my new life motto… The tree’s of course are spectacular! What an awesome experience. My husbands little cousin is studying near Japan next year I’m def going to try to make it out there to see the trees in bloom!

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  2. I’ve seen cherry blossoms only in the US (Washington DC and Seattle). The trees full of flowers looked like decorations from fairy tales. As far as I remember, in DC there was a cherry blossom festival, but nothing like you describe about Japan.

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  3. These flowers are really beautiful! I want to see these in Japan. We went on a road trip to the South of Catalonia a few days ago, and saw the almond trees with all the beautiful white flowers, it was also awesome!

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  4. I didn’t know they only stay in bloom for a week! Wow! The rush must have been exciting. We have a few trees here in Toronto and I am in love with the pale pink of the petals. It is definitely both a local and tourist attraction!

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  5. I have always loved the sakura season and it’s in my top 10 on my bucket list. Didn’t know it was a drinking party, but it kind of makes sense somehow. Love your photos!

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  6. We visited Tokyo in autumn and although that was amazing I really would like to go back to Japan to see the blossoms and more of the country, it looks dream like! Great pics!

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