Sunday, 3 April 2011

Hanami season

It was a perfect spring day in Tokyo. We took advantage of the warmth & sunshine to wander around Ueno Park - with  a secondary motive of popping into Ameyoko for some coconut milk, palm sugar and tapioca.  Tokyo Metropolitan Government's request that people refrain from engaging in hanami -  picnics under the cherry blossoms - as a mark of respect to the earthquake victims seemed to have had some effect. The numbers in Ueno were definitely down, and it was remarkably quiet and peaceful.  Not really sombre, but not the loud parties that are often associated with Hanami. And electricity rationing means no evening light up of the cherry blossoms in the evening time.

Cherry blossoms have perhaps unique poignancy in Japanese culture -fleeting beauty symbolic of the transience of life.  It's a deep association that I understand but is not ingrained in my psyche the way it seems to be among Japanese.  Walking through Ueno Park Hiro remarked that despite the tsunami,  the cherry blossoms bloom, and like the people swept away by the tsunami, nature will also sweep away the blossoms: the fragility and impermanence of life...

Despite this, I can't agree with the Met. Govts. request to refrain from hanami.  For basic mental health, some sense of normal needs re-establishing.  Ueno Park had plenty of people who seem to agree. The economy is already reeling with blackouts and the effect on manufacturing, the massive drop in tourists - esp. tours from China and Korea. It doesn't mean forgetting about Tohoku, and actually with a positive spirit people are better able to help Tohoku.  It just doesn't seem constructive to take enjoyment from life merely as a symbol of solidarity.  It's a cultural difference. Hiro, puzzled at my consternation, was surprised when I said, in response to his question,  that NZ would be more likely to turn St Patrick's day into earthquake fundraising than they would cancel celebrations across New Zealand.

All that said though, I am not sure a visitor to Japan would notice the difference.  It is safe, the aftershocks are becoming smaller and fewer, there is food, people are out and about, there are people doing hanami.  Daily life is conducting itself pretty much as usual.  

This is an article that gives a much more expanded explanation of cherry blossoms, earthquakes and mortality.

Sakura at Ueno Park
Ueno park sakura

Ueno Park sakura

Ueno Park 

Dressing up for hanami
The cats were drawing more attention than the sakura

Thinner crowds

Manhole cover in Ueno Park
Posters celebrating the return of pandas to Ueno Zoo.
The last one died in 2008 - their unveiling was postponed
two weeks to the first of April due to the earthquake.  

On the first day of opening, they brought in people
from evacuation centres in Tokyo to visit the zoo.


Theresa said...

LOVE the kittycat hanami!

Anonymous said...

I like the cats in the tree.