Sakurabito: 桜人/ An old word used since the 11th century, meaning a person enjoying cherry blossoms. This word is often used for haiku as a seasonal word expresses spring.
I could not wait for spring after the cold snowy winter in Sendai. I enjoyed my first winter in Japan by going to Yamadera, Rifu, Yonezawa and Tokyo. When it snowed for the first time around December, I remember I was at Kita-Sendai Station and I was thrilled. “I am so going to enjoy winter in Sendai!” I told myself.
In January, I went to Yamadera and saw one of the most picturesque views in my life. The following week, I “celebrated” snow with friends by going on a trip to Yonezawa on the coldest day with 5 layers of clothing on. Buying heat-tech inner wear from Uniqlo proved to be useful for I became inseparable with it throughout the winter. By the end of February, I longed for the warm spring. My hyaku yen (100 yen) gloves were already worn out, I was starting to hate my weird printed woollen hat and I did not understand how some of the Japanese women could wear such short skirts without their stockings on!
As the calendar approached the end of March, I noticed small changes that the spring brought. My daily walk from Kawauchi Campus to Aobamaya Campus suddenly become something I looked forward to. After parking my bike at Kawauchi, I would walk over the hillock towards Aobayama. Now, the air smells fresh, mingled with the scent of the aromatic flowers.
The grass has started to become green again. One can see flowers like Daffodils, Tulips, Narcissus, Pansies, Camellias, Dandelions, Bluebells, Gerberas, Petunias blooming happily. And the most awaited Sakura have bloomed too!
The Sakura is considered the epitome of beauty, frailty and life (also a national flower of Japan). Its arrival in spring is awaited, celebrated and enjoyed all over Japan – so much that the natives here even keep a close eye on when and where it blooms by watching the Sakura Front – a weather report for Sakura blooms!
The bloom starts from the Southernmost part of Japan around early March. It is common to go to Hanami then. “Hana” means flower and “mi” means to see. It is a Japanese tradition to enjoy the view of full blooming Sakura, accompanied by your close-ones with good food to eat and sake to drink, of course!
People usually take onigiri (rice balls), crackers, dango, fried chicken, meatballs, sushi – finger foods that are easy to handle and eat.
The sakura filled pictures on Social Networking sites (here is our Instagram feed by the way) made me want to go Hanami too. Last year I went to Ogawara so this time, I wanted to go somewhere new.
So much was my love for Spring (and food) that I ended up going to four different Hanami parties, with different groups each time – Ogawara, Nishi Koen and Tsutsujigaoka in Sendai and Hanamiyama in Fukushima.
I also got around and talked to the International students here at Tohoku University about their experience of Hanami. Let’s see what they have to tell about Sakura and Hanami!
“I found the bunches of flowers amazing! It was a quite dramatic experience, to be honest.” Danyal Ahmed, Pakistan
“It is very beautiful, serene and makes you feel peaceful. I also made new friends and would like to come here with my family.” Bilal Poplazi, Afghanistan
“I knew about Sakura and Hanami before coming to Japan. One of the things I like about the Japanese culture is that it takes the pleasure in enjoying the fleetingness. Events like Hanami, and Kouyou (Autumn colours of leaves) are I guess, a part of it. They find the beauty in something that will be gone soon and I find that enduring.” Audreay Stephanie, Indonesia
“I thought Hanami was hyped but when I realised it lasted only for few weeks, I thought it was awesome. The pink colours give you the feeling of warmth and make spring, spring!” Pratik Sahu, India.
I also talked with Mori members (an active volunteer group for International students at Tohoku University) who kindly took us to Ogawara.
“I like coming to Hanami with students because it deepens the bond and relationship among the new students. Today is my first time to come for Yozakura (night-time sakura viewing). I liked how all the students brought something to eat and the picnic spot was very scenic too! Ikumi Mori, Mori Group
“Although we say we come to see the flowers, for many, it is actually “Hana yori dango” (meaning “Dumplings over flowers” – people enjoy eating more than flowers)! Hanami is one of the very few events where you can drink sake outdoors. Since Sakura doesn’t last long, we might as enjoy it!” Kumakura Junko, Mori Group
I hope you’ve enjoyed your share of Hanami for this season. If you have not had Hanami yet, it is not too late! Some parts of northern Japan like Hokkaido, are still waiting for Sakura to bloom. I am yet again, going for Hanami this weekend (last Saturday of April) to Akita prefecture. When you work hard, you gotta party harder! Ciao until next month!
Photo Courtesy: Timmy Jim