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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Springtime for Japan (and Hanami)

When it comes to hanami - it blows.

March 21, is the first day of Spring in Japan and other northern hemisphere countries … a time when a young man’s fancy turns to love… but truly it beats me what the hell he is doing the rest of the time.

With Spring, of course, comes warmer weather, which I suppose leads to a peeling off of layers of cold-weather clothing… exposing sun-deprived skin to the dark clouds blowing chilly winds.

In short, it’s still cool outside.

But, depending on where you are in Japan, it’s the beginning of Cherry Blossom viewing season… hanami (花見).

Hanami means, quite literally, flower-eye… but in Japan, it is a reference to cherry blossoms, and to a lesser extent, plum blossoms - the viewing of cherry blossoms.

Plum (ume) blossoms (reed, pink or white flowers), however, begin to bloom at the end of February... 

Even in the 21st century, the NEED to see blossoming cherry flowers consumes Japanese people - so much so that there is a competitive streak akin to cheering for soccer, sumo and baseball for the flower seekers, who send out employees to camp out and hold for their respective company what is considered to be the ideal hanami viewing area… 

Office parties ensue under a particular cherry tree, with plenty of food and booze for an evening’s revelries, all the while the wild and woolly wind blows the just-blossomed cherry (sakura) flowers all over the damn place.

Because I’m not Japanese, I found the whole experience irksome, as a stiff breeze would attempt to deposit an entire tree’s worth of cherry blossoms into my open container of beer or onto my plate of whatever the hell that is I’m eating.

Conceptually, the aspect of hanami is to enjoy the gentle wafting down of cheery blossoms as a slight zephyr blows around one… watching the white and pink petals weave around the air before landing gently upon the grass… calmness… beauty in death personified…

The blooming of the sakura/cherry trees in Japan is supposed to be a symbol of one’s human existence… and the beer and sushi helps. Especially the beer.

I observed a lot of drunken revelry… amongst everyone from 20-something up to 70-whatever… there might have been older and younger - and certainly there is when it’s a family hanami celebration, but I only know what I partook of.

To be fair, the Japanese tend to work many long hours at their jobs, so when it’s quittin’ time, or there’s a festival to partake in, they tend to let their hair down and have a great time.

It’s a wonderful experience to see the dichotomy of Japanese life - cherry blossoms be damned.

At a standard hanami, along with the food and drink and speeches by the bosses for a job well-done and the hopes to have a better upcoming year, there’s also poetry composed and read about ye old sakura, and songs… and jokes and all-around friendliness…

i can honestly say that there is not quite a love such as that found between one drunk for another.

If you are in Japan, or are visiting over the immediate future, you might want to head out to a park and observe the fun, or make sure you are included in your company’s hanami.

If you would like some advice about where to go, and when to expect hanami to become a thing, check out the following website for advice, based on data compiled over the past few years:

Yeah, I know it’s an Australian site, but in my opinion, no one does a party better than the Aussies. Maybe the New Zealanders are a close 1B.

Or... check out the site map here with dates around Japan showing the expected blossoming(s)... the earliest is supposed to be March 22 in the Fukuoka area. Click HERE.  

Andrew Joseph
PS: Sorry, but as I wrote the headline, all I could think about was the great song from The Producers: Springtime for Hitler (and Germany)


PPS: After watching the video, I feel like a stein of beer. Or two.
PPPS: The image at the top shows the blossoming cherry trees around Chidorigafuchi moat at Tokyo Imperial Palace, and was plucked from the public domain from a site on Cherry Blossoms.
PPPPS: I have reversed the order on the headline to make it sound more like the "song"in the rhyme scheme.


  1. " in death personified" -- that whole paragraph ... loved it. Plus your headline ending with the musical theatre video ... my friend -- you have an ineffable style of writing. I mean that in absolutely the best way possible!

    1. Thanks, FFF! You made my day. It sucks that so many of the people I like live so far away. It's going to be -11C (12.2FFF) on Wednesday. So no hanami here in Toronto for a few more days. It'll be 4C (39.2F) on Friday. One month ago, of course, it was 17.7C (~64F). Oh well, at least we know CO2 doesn't cause global warming in the U.S.
      Springtime for Hitler and Germany... I can't get the song out of my head!!!

    2. I think I'm turning Japanese since I am the last one to leave this office and all the guys apologized for leaving before me (hah--no they didn't but I really am the last one to leave most days). I did have Springtime for Hitler and Germany running through my head as well ... and it's YOUR fault. (I loved Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein and Zero Mostel in Fiddler on the Roof. Plus Mel Brooks is nuts. Funny ... but nuts.) Cheers!

    3. I'm a huge Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder fan, too. Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein! Oy! Zero Mostel - A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. Young Frankenstein was the inspiration for me to create Evil Scientist Quarterly ( a comic book) I wrote with my pal Steve Guzelis.