Disclaimer: I don't claim to be an expert, but having read about sakura on wikipedia, I'm as close to one as a person can be.
The sakura, or cherry blossom tree, is a national symbol of Japan. So much that it's on the back of the 100 yen coin, and was painted on planes during WWII. Though, much like many treasured traditions, Japan's love for Sakura can be traced back to China. It is there where people first took up hanami, or flower-viewing. This tradition has since blossomed (pun intended) into a Japanese past-time.
Coincidentally, the sakura blossom in April which is not only when spring arrives but when the new school or work year begins. Therefore, celebrations such as hanami parties and sakura matsuri (festivals) are only fitting.
Many schools, public buildings, are parks across Japan are outfitted with the native tree. They first blossom in March in the warmer southern regions and continue through April/May up to Hokkaido (the northern main island). "The Cherry blossom is 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, and as such are frequently depicted in art." Also, prior to WWII, Japan bestowed America with thousands of sakura trees which can be viewed in New York and Washington DC, and have rightfully so become tourist destinations. For more information on sakura please check out the 100% accurate wikipedia page.
Hirosaki Park is one giant collection of rolling grasses and features an original 17th century castle. Free to the public (castle grounds: 300 yen), it's a splendid place for a quaint stroll, or for carrying your dog (oddly the Japanese prefer to carry them as opposed to walking). The park is especially scenic during Cherry Blossom season as its 2,600 sakura trees put on their Sunday's best. While I may be in disbelief over the 'majesty' of these blossoms, it truly was a visual treat.
Pretty in the Park
. Hanami Time! Blue tarps are for sitting, snacking, and evening hangovers.
. Feast the Beauty
. Adorning the Castle Cherry Blossoms make the perfect castle jewelry.
Though the elegance of Hirosaki's Park's sakura trees delighted the senses, the secret weapon was the carnival. Yes folks, that's right, for the very first time I entered Japan's version of this familiar realm. I was honestly stunned at the plethora of food vendors, games, and circus-style attractions. More importantly, I give it up to the Japanese for romping around in the chilly 50 degree weather. I traversed the artificial alleyways several times and snacked on a strawberry-chocolate covered banana and deliciously skewered karaage (fried chicken).
International Maze of Mystery
. A Haunted House (of sorts)
. Taste the Rainbow ...of chocolate covered bananas. These dudes don't look like the type to peel and dip bananas.
. Stick It Easy to devour edibles. The fish in the center is actually quite divine.
It only took 8 minutes for me to better understand the magic of the Cherry Blossom. For it lies not within the natural beauty of the virgin white pedals, but rather in togetherness.
I happen to live in Sukaragawa, which I only recently learned means "Cherry Blossom River." This computes to a long winding road blanketed in Sakura trees. Consequently, today from 4pm to 8pm there was an official Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival). Though I was content on vacationing my butt cheeks on the chair, and had already witnessed the splendor of Hirosaki's magnificent Sakura collection, I figured why not take a chance and check it out. My intentions were simple and honest: be an active member of the neighborhood, snap some shots, spy some eye candy, and as always just place myself in a social situation where anything can happen. Well...nothing did...except simplicity. The splendor of simplicity.
This wasn't your ordinary festival. For me, outdoor celebrations had typically been exclusive to summer, where townspeople could easily frolick about in shorts and sandals. Though, as my wrinkled fingers crept into my jacket pockets I was introduced into an unfamiliar yet comfortable world. It is this feeling that I now affectionately refer to as 'festive cold.' It reminds me of those chilling Halloween nights, where there is no rational reason to be out at night other than to relish the amusement with others. This felt like a new Halloween. Rather than one last attempt to hold on to a final breath of warmth, the Cherry Blossom Festival is like cuddling the final sigh of cold before spring dusts off its colorful blankets.
Even with the red lanterns, it was difficult to truly view the serenity of the sakura, instead they presented an excuse for people to celebrate with eachother. They brought their loved ones and went for a stroll sampling noodles, chicken, octopus or listening to local musicians audibly share their craft. But all of this for a blossoming tree? See, what I learned tonight is that it matters not why you are celerbrating, but rather that you are celebrating; partaking in a social experiment where one joins many to search for harmony.
For me, I successfully completed my goals and pleasantly ran into (literally) students. Of course it warmed my ego and it amazes me how efficiently they have learned to pronounce Cravak. Though I enjoy being noticed, I prefer to stroll in isolation at my own leisure. Just before I walked away a bubbly stoic girl uttered a charmingly heart-felt "hello." She was so cute I wanted to copy and paste her to into a Toys'R'Us shelf.
While only 8 minutes of my life, they were well spent in the moment and as an enabler of internal happiness which is often diluted by society's sinful distractions. Thank you Cherry Blossom Festival!
It's Saturday night. Following a festive all-you-can-drink Karaoke session, a contigent of friends have gathered for a post-op meeting. While conversing on the sidewalk, a taxi slows itself to a stop. A circus of hip Japanese college kids emerge. One girl in particular, goes behind the taxi and squats. Perhaps she was tired? But after she scurries off to the bar, something comes into view; a liquid donation in the form of a puddle. Wow!
Back in Florida my buddy Neal had an encounter with the Midnight Pisser: a yet to be identified humanoid who gloriously urinated next to his patio. We always knew the MP would resurface, but in Japan of all places? I can't believe it, but damn did it get me hot!
Though I'll tell you this, that's the last time I eat food off of the ground.