Monday, April 16, 2007

Cherry Blossoms at Hiwada Park

One recurring question I receive from older Japanese folks is, “How many seasons do you have in America?” The enormous variety of climates and ecosystems throughout the USA often leaves me stumped when answering that question in a meaningful way. In the end, I tell them we have four seasons, just like Japan. At this point, they sometimes get irritated or disappointed with the answer. After all, only Japan has four seasons, doesn’t it?

While Japan may not be as unique as many Japanese people would like to think it is, they do have a nice way to mark the return of spring: watching cherry blossoms bloom. Yes folks, once again, it is time for hanami, the Japanese pastime of “cherry blossom viewing.”

Usually we don’t see any flowerings until the 3rd or 4th weekend of April in my city, but it looks as though this weekend is going to be it for Koriyama. When cherry blossoms bloom, Japanese custom dictates that everyone gather at the local park (usually the one with the best cherry blossoms), eat and drink to excess, and then stumble home in a bloated, drunken stupor. Parks that stand empty all year long are suddenly teeming with everyone and their inebriated brother.

People spread their blankets wherever they can, (preferably right beneath the biggest cherry tree) buy overpriced greasy food and drinks, and take pictures of the cherry blossoms with their ultra high-tech cell phones.

At Hiwada JHS, the teachers scheduled just such an event for the students during a monday afternoon (without the alcohol of course). Classes let out just after lunch and everyone ambled down to Hiwada parkThe kids brought bento (lunchboxes) and we all went to a nearby park to sit under and watch the cherry blossoms, which are just beginning to bloom. Due to the unseasonably warm winter, the flowers are about two weeks early.

In Japan and much of Asia, school children graduate in the middle of March, followed by a short spring vacation. So all my new students arrived here in April and I’m busy getting to know them all. I spent the afternoon with my new students playing volleyball, onigoko (A Japanese game roughly analogous to “tag”) and performing magic tricks for them (the old finger in the ear/tongue in the cheek trick from my dad). Guess who got to be "it" during tag? The weather was nearly flawless. Every afternoon should be like this.

Unfortunately, I forgot my camera that day, so you will have to suffice with pictures from last year’s hanami instead. Judging from the looks of the trees this year, you’re probably better off with last year’s photos anyway.

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