Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms, and more cherry blossoms; it's a sea of cherry blossoms everywhere you look in japan this season. Sakura (桜 - cherry blossoms) have already bloomed in Tokyo, opening 12 days earlier than average. Now the trend is heading north.
Cherry blossoms bloom in a progression up the islands of Japan from south to north. We call it the cherry blossom front, or sakura zensen (前線), and it's a big event, reported as part of the special weather forecast. The forecasts inform Japanese citizens of the where and the when of the blooming, with regular updates about the percentage of blossoms opening.
Hordes of Japanese make travel plans to drink in the magnificent splendor at temples, mountains, public parks and castles. The progress of the zensen from south to north takes a month, so it's even possible to take a road trip to follow the blooms if time allows.
For those unable to make a major journey however, there are neighborhood parks for enjoying hanami (花見) - flower viewing - among friends and family. Many corporations make the occasion a company event, and it is the most junior employee's task to arrive as much as six hours in advance and stake out a bit of territory on the grass with a sheet of blue plastic tarpaulin. There's a real competition to get the "best spot" under the trees, where the drinking and feasting can commence!
Preparations include special obento and sake. Obento (お弁当) are handmade boxed lunches. Mimi's favorite is Makunouchi bento, which contains rice, fish or kara age (空揚げ - fried chicken), tamago yaki (卵焼き - rolled sweetened egg) and cooked vegetables like kinpira gobo (きんぴらごぼう - vinegar-soaked burdock root, which araiguma loves). Obento is such an interesting subject, it deserves a posting of its own!
Araiguma tells of when he first arrived in Japan, and spoke not a word of the language. Still, he was befriended by his neighbor Mr. Kawada, and invited to a hanami party where nobody spoke a word of English. A pretty Japanese housewife smiled and took him by the arm, then seated him among her family, where he was treated to a wonderful feast, including fuguzake (河豚酒- sake infused with the fins of the fugu blowfish). He says it is very bitter. By the end of the afternoon, he was humming along arm in arm with very drunken family members, as they sang songs in Japanese, of which he understood not a word!
Typically, many cherry trees line the city canals and riversides, lit by paper lanterns. Food stalls are erected offering the most delicious snack foods, such as takoyaki (蛸焼 - fried octopus), yakisoba (焼きそば - fried sweet noodles), okonomiyaki (お好み焼き - omelettes) and the like. Those who haven't prepared obento can enjoy these wonderful Japanese festival dishes.
Mimi says she loves to see the beautiful sakura, but the noisy drunken people sometimes block the path and disturb the beauty. Her favorite way to enjoy the sakura is by walking or jogging along the trees in the morning or in the night illumination. Since the blossoms have such short lifespans, we should enjoy every moment of them.
Sakura trees go to sleep in the fall, and the cold keeps them dormant until the warmth of spring awakes them into blooming. Since this February was terribly cold in Japan, the change in temperature was dramatic and led to an early bloom.
Please enjoy our sakura!