Mar 30, 2004

Spring Done Sprung

Which means it's cherry blossom viewing season, at least in this corner of Japan.

The northern regions still have to wait. But for Tokyoites, the time is ripe for a cherished national pastime. O-hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, is a big deal for many people - big enough indeed that they stake out their hanami claims well in advance. That's what's going on in the pic to the right. In the more popular hanami sites, groups will typically send out at least one representative who remains stationed until others can join.

Once the festivities begin, hanami grounds resemble the party zone on the left. Groups bring food, drink, sometimes music, and occasionally even their own power sources and electric cooking and heating devices. But vendors may be on hand too, just to ensure a steady supply of tasty grub and blossom-worthy booze. Revelries can last well into the night, and customarily a handful of aesthetes in each park will toast the blossoms with... well, they lose their lunch.

On a certain level, I can understand the sakura craze. I mean, the blossoms are beautiful. There are many different types of cherry trees (pics with unrelated Washington article here), and their flowers can range in color from white to pink/flecked to hot pink. And in Japan, the view of a cherry tree can often be obscured - or enhanced - by juxtaposition between old and new.

But to truly grok the cherry blossom phenomenon, sadly, you must be full-blooded Japanese. From what I gather, the flowers are admired for their vibrant transience - blooms last about 10 days at any given spot - as much as for their beauty. For many people I've met, the sakura ranks up there with the cicada in this respect.

With a viewing season this short, you're bound to miss something important unless you know precisely when it starts. Enter this poor guy at the Tokyo District Meteorological Observatory, and other official inspectors like him throughout the country, whose assignment is to verify that the "benchmark" trees are in bloom before the Meteorogical Agency can make its official announcement. You may think you see cherry blossoms before then... but they're brushed off as being in some fractional state of bloom.

Incidentally, the article states that this year's blossoms arrived in Tokyo 10 days earlier than average, and the second earliest in history, after 2002.

How's that climate change coming along?


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