The ground is covered with a patchwork of tarps and blankets, each full with groups of family or friends. As we walk past one area, there is a circle of friends holding a bottle of wine up to a young lady’s mouth while she chugs. Next to them, another circle watches as a guy leans over on hands and knees and retches into a paper bag. We continue walking, passing another area with 7-8 people laughing, chatting, and enjoying their bento boxes. This is the tradition called hanami, or cherry blossom viewing.
By my unoffocial estimation, this is the most popular time of the year for Japanese. The sakura, or cherry blossoms, are breath-taking, but they only last a week or two, and the Japanese are serious about taking advantage of this opportunity to enjoy the wonders of nature. Tokyo is a large prefecture and every park will be full of people. Today, my friends and I are visiting a park that surrounds a small lake (ok, maybe it’s a pond) encircled by sakura, or cherry blossoms. Unfortunately, the trees are not fully in bloom yet, but they have started so the celebrations have started. It is also one of the first few warm days we’ve had after a more severe than usual winter.
We sit by the water and unpack our chu-his (corbonated wine coolers), edamami, chips and dip, cheese sandwiches, and rice crackers. The friendly group next to us takes the opportunity to practice their English. We discover that one of them lived in North Carolina for 11 years and speaks English with a perfect American accent. Eventually, we all return to our own people and our own spreads. On the lake, children, couples, parents and offspring, move around the water in paddle boats and row boats, floating between the trees for close-up views of the blossoms. As we watch, we chat about baseball, boys and books. We’re all tired from a busy week, but we’ve made ourselves come out for this picnic because, although the trees are not in their full glory, we all leave for spring break next weekend and we can’t miss this spring tradition. It turns out that there’s nothing better than fresh air, flowers, a little girl talk to help unwind.