Japan is famous for its cherry blossom or Sakura, which usually takes place at the end of March and early April. The forecast for this years’ best Sakura day (i.e. the full bloom) in Osaka was the 2nd April, this Thursday. My plan was that on Thursday I would take the children and go and have a picnic under a cherry tree at Osaka Castle. My husband being currently in England means that he will experience this year’s Sakura only by reading this blog post.
The plan changed today (Tuesday) when I saw the weather forecast. The forecast predicted heavy rain for tomorrow. Because the cherry blossom like rain as much as the swimmers in Amity Island like sharks, we had to change our plan. You see, if it rains tomorrow, the Sakura season is over even before it reaches the full bloom on the 2nd April as the raindrops wash the delicate petals to the ground.
Yes, Sakura is precious that way. It only blooms for about a week and the first rain puts a stop to it for another year. Some people think that such short-lived beauty is not worth it – that sakura it is a bit like stuffing your face with caviar, truffles and champagne for one week of the year and only having porridge and water the remaining 51 weeks of the year. I won’t tell you what to think but when you get to the photos of the sakura below, I hope you agree that porridge and water is not that bad 51 weeks a year if you get one week of sakura.
Anyway, in a state of panic I left work early today to visit Kouzu Gu Shrine, a temple close to our apartment. Along the way, I popped in at home to see if the children were there, so that I could take them with me, but they weren’t – our au pair had taken them elsewhere to see the sakura (presumably, also in a state of panic).
I was slightly disappointed that I couldn’t take my children with me, but I can’t deny that when I left my apartment without the kids and headed towards the shrine on my own I felt like Nina Simone when she sings I’m Feeling Good. Not having the kids with me meant that I could enjoy the sakura without any incidents of nosebleeds, bumps on heads or anyone associated with me attempting to climb the cherry trees or whining (a) ‘Can we go home already? or (b) ‘Can we play big bad T-rexes?’ So yeah, I got over not having my kids there pretty quickly. If you have children (and even if you didn’t) you probably know what I am talking about – even if your intentions are good, doing an activity that doesn’t really interest children is usually as enjoyable as brushing your teeth with your dog’s toothbrush (it doesn’t kill you but you can’t say it was the best experience you’ve had).
When I got to the shrine, I was like 007 eyeballing a Bond girl’s bosom. It was beautiful! See photos above and below.
The only thing that ruined the tranquility a bit for me was the fact that there were quite a few stalls outside the shrine area in which they sold toys, live little fish, and had old-fashioned fairground games. Presumably these were there for the benefit of the children whose parents had taken them along (and also for the benefit of the parents). There were also food stalls, which were catering for the people viewing the cherry blossom.
Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) is a popular sakura activity. Families, friends and work colleagues get together and make a beeline towards their favourite cherry blossom spot with picnic food and a little tipple – or actually not just a little tipple, more like a Niagara Falls of a tipple.
I was there admiring the trees, and taking photos on my own, without any food or drink, when I hear ‘Herro!’ ‘Herro!’ A group of elderly drunken Japanese hanami goers sitting on the ground signal for me to join their party. And I joined them! Before you think I am crazy, I should perhaps say a couple of words of defence. First, I used to live in Brighton, where joining random people’s parties is nothing unheard of. Second, this happened around 6 o’clock in the evening, in daylight. Third, there were a couple of hundred people around us. So, I reckoned I would be safe and to be honest I was a little lonely there on my own.
I was offered beer, sushi, sausages, jellied meat, and other foods. The group was very friendly, and tried their hardest to speak English. I was friendly, tried their food, had a glass of the beer that they offered, and tried my hardest to speak Japanese. It was actually the first time ever for me to really try using Japanese (outside my Japanese classes, that is). And we had a nice (rudimentary) chat about work, Finland, Japan and of course the sakura. It somehow felt easier to talk to a group of giggling 60-year olds who had had way too much alcohol for one hanami session, than try to use Japanese at my work. I think for the benefit of my Japanese language skills, from hereafter I will have to seek the company of drunken groups of Japanese pensioners.
In any case, I loved the sakura. I loved the group of Japanese cherry blossom viewers, and I loved going back home to my children after having had a couple of hours of my own sakura time.