My first winter in Japan was a test of survival. Although not exactly comparable to a Jack London short story, I had never been so cold in my life. Taking the old man’s advice, I traveled with friends to one or two snowy places. And, just when I thought I would never thaw, I saw spring at the end of the tunnel.
Spring did not spring upon us. Rather, it came slowly with occasional glimmers of happiness and sunshine followed by pea coats and sadness. However, eventually, after some prolonged begging, spring arrived bringing with it the lovely さくら, “sakura,” Japanese for “cherry blossoms.”
I must state the obvious by saying that the blossoms were absolutely breathtaking. If you have ever been to Washington D.C. in March, then you have seen the beauty of Japanese cherry blossoms. However, in Japan, cherry blossom trees are everywhere. If a super advanced satellite took a picture of Japan on the last day of March, it would depict four island-shaped blobs about the same color as Bubblicious bubblegum.
The cherry blossom trees line the streets and cover the mountains. They surround schools, shrines and castles. They even come in plastic form at the 100-yen store and are used as decoration in train stations, restaurants and cafes. The latter blossoms border on tacky, but the point is that Japan becomes enamored by and in the spirit of sakura season.
This “sakura spirit” is by far the most beautiful aspect of spring. People, even those who are usually too busy working from dawn until dusk or shinking (my official gerund form of taking the shinkansen) from Okayama to Osaka, stop, even if only for a moment, to admire the cherry blossoms. For a solid week, cherry blossoms are the talk of the town. Those who can make time take part in はなみ, “hanami,” which I will translate to “a cherry blossom viewing picnic with numerous foods and beverages.”
Finding myself in the spirit, some friends and I embarked on a two hour walk from Fukuyama to Kannabe in order to enjoy the cherry blossom trees on Yoshino Mountain. After the long walk, we loaded up on snacks and drinks prior to hiking up the mountain. Then, after a lunch of fried chicken, grapefruit and Oreos (I know, weird cravings… whatever) we spent the day chatting, napping and enjoying the beautiful weather.
Although all the cherry blossoms have now fallen, my springtime spirit is still very much intact and I am looking forward to the new Japanese school year which began in April, as well as new experiences in Japan.