This post is late.
About two weeks late.
Here I am, finally telling you about sakura season and it's already over. Gone! I'm so sorry, but you see, during this time, I wasn't able to tell you about sakura because I was outside looking at the sakura. I'm sure you understand.
Wait, let me back up, and begin at the beginning.
Near the beginning of April, I began to hear whispers of hanami and sakura. People were fluttering on about parties and dates and weekends and something called a "bloom watch." I mean, I knew that Japan had cherry trees, and the blossoms were supposed to be beautiful. I didn't really think much of it. I've seen cherry blossoms, and they are quite pretty. That's all I thought of them: quite pretty. I wasn't so sure what all the fuss was about. People sit in a park to watch flowers? All day? There's a nightly update on the news to follow the blossoms? I naïvely thought that, perhaps, the Japanese needed some more excitement in their lives. Cherry blossoms certainly couldn't warrant this much attention, for crying out loud. I mean, they even had a special word for it: hanami. Hana means flower and mi means to watch. All day flower watching parties. Really?
Surprise, surprise, was I wrong. On so many levels. (Isn't this how most expat stories go? I had an idea, and it was wrong.)
A friend aptly summed it up this way: You think its going to be so dumb, sitting around in a park, under cherry trees, looking at flowers all day. But it's not dumb. It is awesome.
When the sakura bloom people take to the parks and the canals. (Sakura means cherry blossoms, did you catch that? Sorry, my Japanese is just so advanced these days!) They bring bright blue tarps to put on the ground; they bring little tiny tables to set extensive and delicious lunches. They bring stoves and wine glasses, large bottles of sake, birru, wain, tea. I even saw a man with jamon and it's own carving station. In suits and in sundresses and tights, as the Japanese are not one to underdress, they will remove their shoes, sit on the tarps, and commence eating, drinking, and being, decidedly, merry. It's festive, a national holiday of sorts where everyone gets outside and soaks up the sunshine, the sakura, the friendship, the alcohol.
It is awesome.
Hanami is the only time I've seen it be socially acceptable for businessmen leave the office before 10PM (this is Japan; there are not many businesswomen, though more than there used to be). They would fill up the park, sitting in their expertly tailored suits, drinking and eating and clapping (clapping signifies the end of a party, or the end of this party and the chance to go to the next party). In more popular hanami areas, lanterns are hung in the trees, so at night, there is a festive, pink glow and the party can continue. (I apologize for the crap iPhone photos, from the bottom of my SLR forgetting little heart.)
During the next week, there was a big rain. Then wind. The air was full of pale, pale pink leaves, looking like snow circling and then softly falling, filling up the street gutters. The blooms are almost all gone now, a scant twelve days after their bloom. Sakura come and quickly go, and you must be willing to stop right when they show up and celebrate them. Blink and you'll miss it.
Perhaps that's why the cherry blossoms over here are the most beautiful I've seen. They seem to be a lighter pink, the very lightest pink before white, and they look like snow covered clouds, suspended in air between thick, evergreen trees. Ethereal is the best word I can use to describe them. They look like heaven, like a bit of it somehow ended up down here, and you finally notice how beautiful they are because you are invited to pause your life, sit down, grab a sip or two of sake, and watch.