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Saturday, April 4

Hanami Time!

Back home, I always lived for fall. I loved the bold, warm, earthy colors decorating the trees; the smell of crisp leaves newly blanketing the ground; bundling into my favorite sweaters as the nights grew cooler; and football returning to my Sunday and Monday television viewing. In the part of Japan that I live in, the world doesn’t quite turn those brilliant shades from my Northeast falls. A few leaves fall to the ground, but barely enough to make that grand jumping pile. The fashion goes from light, loose summery clothes instantly into heavy puffy and furry coats topped with scarves wadded thick around everyone’s neck, leaving no chance for my wardrobe full of light jackets that barely have seen the light of day in three years. And of course… no football. Don’t get me started there.

I’ve had to turn my sights onto other seasons to rekindle that love of nature. If you are going to pick a season to love in Japan, only one makes any sense. Winter is too cold and dry. Summer in too intensely hot and humid. But spring, like Goldilocks said, is just right.

Typically our weekends are low key. KH has worked a long week and the last thing he wants to do is run around on his two short days off. I typically grant him his peace because he is the sole wage earner in the house and he deserves some peace. However, last weekend, I was not content to let him sit idly in the house. It is sakura (cherry blossom) time here in Japan! To get myself in the mood, I have already bought plenty of sakura paraphernalia and spread it throughout the house. We have cherry blossoms stuck to the windows. A whole array of cherry blossom dishware. Cherry blossom soap in the bathrooms and shower room, including cherry blossom lotion as the days are still a bit dry. Cherry blossom mochi to snack on. Cherry blossom incense burning. Pretty much anything with a cherry blossom printed onto the product or even simply the product's package… I have a hard time walking away without it. And this is just inside our house! Walk out our front door or back door and be instantly greeted with cherry blossoms on several trees either in neighboring yards or on the mountains in front of the house. Indoors or outdoors, everyone in Japan loves themselves a cherry blossom. It’s, in my humble opinion, the loudest signal that a new and beautiful season is upon us, ready to drag us back out of doors to soak up all the glorious pinkness in the world. The best way to do this… hanami.

Hanami is one big old party. To enjoy hanami, you gather your closest friends and head to the park that boasts the most trees and perhaps even nighttime viewing possibilities… if you plan to make it a day long party. We chose Sankeien Garden in Yokohama, a dazzling Japanese garden only minutes off the highway. We didn’t know it at the time, but Sankeien has many little food and drink shops to make for easier partying. We, however, had already stopped at the conbini and filled our coolers with sandwiches, snacks, sweets, water and chu-his. Only after I finished my first chu-hi did I realize that we bought the “strong” instead of the normal. In my wimpy postnatal ways, apparently it only takes one now. Whew! I digress. We spread our blanket and chairs, which looked more than a little American against the backdrop of blue plastic tarps that every Japanese person uses, and then spent the hours either lounging and snacking or meandering around the garden snapping pictures. We were slightly early for the blooms last weekend, at least in Yokohama, as most sakura trees were just starting to break their buds open to full on pinkness. Still the garden had plenty of other blooming trees and plants to take in. And the best part is really to watch the people around you enjoying their hanami. This isn’t rude and even has a name… kenbutsu-suru… so I felt comfortable staring at the four person group behind us who were getting seriously intoxicated. At one point, I almost felt compelled to help the one woman to the bathroom, but instead stuck with my vantage point and watched her stagger away. Now don’t go thinking I was being rude with my voyeurism. They watched us as much as we watched them. And when our Japanese friends had wandered off for a stroll, they even talked about us more loudly than they probably thought they were. Little did they know that an American friend in our midst is perfectly fluent in Japanese.

And so went our wonderful afternoon.

This week, the blossoms are more fully engaged, leaving me unable to resist another day and another hanami invite with a different group of friends this afternoon. This time, with the right kind of drinks packed, hence I will remember the afternoon with less of a wacky chu-hi high.