unallersimple: (japan poster)
sakura = cherry blossom
hanami = "flower viewing"
having a picnic under blossom filled trees whilst appreciating and admiring their beauty


Normally at this time of year Spring and cherry blossom would be starting to creep out round about now, but Shimane has had one of the worst winters in 50 years and it's still snowing over there! As graduation time approaches though, I still have a bit of that "sakura season" feeling. Even if nature is a little whited out, I know cherry blossom flavoured food and drink are available to buy and that shops are stacked with plastic sheeting and disposable plates and chopsticks ready for when those picnics start.

Last year I enjoyed hanami at Matsue castle for the first time (my plans to picnic there were rained off in 2009). Throughout Japan castle grounds and parks are surrounded by cherry blossom trees, and when the blossom is fully open and at its best, food stalls and decorations are set up which creates such a wonderful atmosphere. You can reserve a place to sit, get there really early or be disappointed, the free space goes fast! It's great to sit out in the sun all afternoon, eating and drinking whilst petals fall all around you. As the light fades, lanterns get turned on, blankets are wrapped round and more drinks are cracked open. It's a good party, and a really nice way for people who normally work all the time to spend some together. Often the other spaces are occupied by people you know, and friends or co-workers wonder round from picnic to picnic saying hi to everyone and pinching a bit of their food. It may be crowded, but whether you know them or not everyone is enjoying it and experiencing it together.


^Matsue castle and the lanterns put up for hanami.


^Trees seen by the side of the lake.

For me the blossom is really meaningful in a way that is tied in with the school year. You have a few weeks of this beautiful blossom, then it falls away and you're really sad it's gone, but then Spring comes in and all this new life appears. It's like having the graduation ceremony where you appreciate how far the students have come and how much they've grown, followed by the sadness of saying goodbye to them all. After, the cycle begins again and all this new life appears in the form of 100 or so terrified first years!

...

I've just had one of those "I think like a Japanese person more that I realised" moments. I just re-read 2009's cherry blossom related post and it was nowhere near as lovey-dovey as this one. Staying a second year must make a huge difference! It's really interesting and weird to see how my thoughts and feelings have changed over time.

There's more info, pics and a video of cherry blossom rain in the 2009 post here.

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unallersimple: (rainbow walking)
While I can appreciate the beauty of cherry blossom, or sakura in Japanese, my feelings for trees are completely lame when compared to the Japanese. They go absolutely sakura crazy.

The bloom begins early in the year in the most southern islands of Japan and make their way to the mainland around the end of March and the beginning of April. People don't take their eyes off the special sakura forecast on tv, which follows the wave of blossom as it goes across the county. They eagerly watch to find out when the flowers will bloom each year and when they will be at their fullest and most beautiful. Finding this information out is important because sadly, the cherry blossom doesn't stick around for long. It only lasts around one or two weeks until it's gone for another year.

Japanese people have a strong connection to cherry blossom. The tradition of viewing the flowers goes back to over 1000 years ago. It represents good fortune and it's a symbol of love. Also it's short existence each year also reflects the nature of our own short lives. And of course, let's not forget it's so darn pretty!

They play a huge part in Japanese culture. You can find sakura everywhere from crockery to clothing, manga to artwork, stationary to films, theatre and tv shows. It can also be seen on the back of the 100 yen coin. At the start of all the speeches I've heard recently (And with all these opening ceromonies, there's been a lot!) the beauty of sakura is always mentioned. It's also a symbol of spring. For some areas of Japan, the timing is the same for when people start their new jobs and schools. A lot of food in Japan such as tofu and soba noodles often has sakura added to into it too. While this tastes really nice, it also means the food is given an alarming bright pink colour. Mmmmm pink tofu.


So, what do people do when the cherry blossom is in full bloom? They hanami!
Hanami means viewing the flowers. It's the custom of celebrating and appreciating the sakura by taking loads of friends, family, food and drink to have a picnic under the trees. It's a great chance for people to chillax and enjoy the view. The shops become full of picnic and hanami related items.

I had a hanami recently with some friends in a small town near Matsue. The town is well known in the area for having beautul rows of cherry blossom along the river. During the drive there my friends were the perfect example of sakura loving Japanese people. They pointed out nearly every single tree with cries of "Look at that!" and "Kirei!" (which means beautiful).



It's a very popular place this time of year, full of people eating and photographing the sakura.



Of course I joined in and took dozens of photos! (While my friends continued to point out every single tree with cries of "Look at that!" and "Kirei!".)






While I really enjoyed the hanami, the most enjoyable thing for me was experiencing cherry blosom rain. As the blossom doesn't last long, the petals fall off the trees really quickly like raindrops. Hundreds upon hundreds of petals fall, especially when it's windy. Sometimes this petal rain lasts for a really long time. If you walk near a cherry blossom tree during this time it feels amazing. The petals all float through the air and land everywhere. Everything gets carpeted in pink.

I took a video of it (and Bryan!) in front of my school one day.
Before I got my camera out me and Bryan grabbed handfuls of petals and flung them in the air. The effect of them flying in the wind was beautiful, but as you can see it didn't really work in the video! For some unfathomable reason, I also decided to engage in some dodgy breathy laughing. I also didn't seem to have anything to say except from randomly blurting "It's pretty!" and "Sakura!" every few minutes, but never mind, my mind was clearly lost to the joy of experiencing sakura rain. So cool! :D!





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