TOKYO, March 29 — Arguably the most important two weeks on the Japanese calendar, cherry blossom season is about to break across the nation.
After a long and unseasonably wet and grey winter, the blooming of these small and delicate flowers that herald the arrival of spring is eagerly anticipated here. Those desperate to banish the winter blues may have to wait a little longer than usual, however, as the cold weather appears to have delayed the blooming of a flower that is synonymous with this country.
Nevertheless, portable karaoke machines are being dusted off at companies across Japan and new recruits are being instructed by the superiors of the importance of reserving the best spot for the company’s annual “hanami” revelries — a ritual that can trace its roots back to the samurai of the 12th-century Kamakura Period.
University friends, school groups, neighbourhood associations and families will be preparing picnics, drinks and the ubiquitous blue tarpaulin to lay out beneath the delicate pink flowers.
Few things are as quintessentially Japanese as cherry blossom — these flowers are up there with Mount Fuji and geisha as indisputable motifs of the nation — and the progress of the opening of the blooms is followed with near-religious zeal. Newspapers and television news programmes carefully chart the northwards advance of the arrival of the blooms on maps, with commentators expounding on the significance of the early or late arrival of the blossoms.
The first to bloom will be “somei yoshino” variety, which is so pale that it is almost white, followed by the “shidarezakura” and finally the deeper pink of the “yaezakura.”
For the first two weeks of April — if the weather is kind and the trees can retain their flowers — several of the biggest public parks in and around Tokyo, plus the grounds of shrines and even graveyards, will be the scenes of large-scale overindulgence that ushers out the long winter and welcomes the new business and school years.
And then, when the last flower has gone, Japan goes back to business-as-usual. The public letting down of hair is as brief as the passage of the cherry blossoms themselves.
Some of the best places in Tokyo to see cherry blossoms: Ueno Park, Chidorigafuchi
Yoyogi Park, Hamariktu Gardens, Chinzan-so Rikugien Gardens, Koishikawa Botanical Gardens, Meguro River, Inokashira Park, Ikegami Honmon Temple.
The Japan National Tourism Organisation also has a map and list of cities in Japan with the expected dates for this year’s first blooms and full blooms at http://www.jnto.go.jp/sakura/eng/index.php. —AFP-Relaxnews