Cherry Blossoms by night (yozakura) – and then by day -night again!
By Avi Landau
The cherry blossoms snuck up on the Tsukuba area this spring, catching us (and the Meterorological Agency) off guard as they burst into a near full bloom on the morning of March 27th – a few days earlier than expected. Since the weather around here is a bit cooler than Tokyo, sakura trees usually bloom a few day later than they do in the capital. So when we heard it announced that the famous trees in Ueno Park were near full bloom on Monday the 26th, we felt we had a few days to prepare – both our minds and our schedule books – so that we could fully (and properly) enjoy the fleetingly brief HANAMI season.
So on Tuesday morning, when I set out to the Onabake Shrine for it`s annual potted plant market, I pictured its expansive grounds as still being a dull gray and brown, with its numerous cherry trees budding, at most. When we pulled into the shrine`s parking lot though, we all let out a gasp of surprise and delight – at the explosion of color!
As we walked around the shrine grounds with all the others who had come for the market my friend wondered why no one was doing Hanami, that is, sitting under the trees and eating. At that time my only response was that everyone had come on that day for the market and not the cherries and that was why they were not paying much attention to the trees – but later I realized it was something else: the people there, including myself, were just not emotionally prepared for that very sudden blooming!
After leaving Onabake, I headed for Niihari Tsuchiura, where I had planned to visit the old Ho-un ji (法雲寺) temple – and found it`s magnificent “weeping cherry” (SHIDARE ZAKURA) in full bloom. But busy with interviews and a busy schedule for the rest of the day, all I could do with the sakura was snap a few pictures and admire them as I rushed by. I also began to get what I a syndrome which I have named “cherry-blossom stress”.
The reason HANAMI can be stressfull is that the full-bloom of the trees is so brief (a few days at the most, depending on the weather) – and that is why we depend on the weathermen and women to help us make our schedules. So with this year`s blooming beginning at the beginning of the work-week, I felt, along with millions of others, that perhaps there would be no time for a proper HANAMI.
That`s why, when I got got back home at night, I got my family together, told them to put their jackets on, and took them to the BENTO (boxed meal) shop. After our orders were ready (and it took about 30 minutes) we drove to the old Sakura City Office, and sat in the dark, under the impressive tall cherry trees they have there – a veritable forest of them.
It was a warm night and we could actually take off our jackets beneath the whitish glow of the petals which seemed to rise up to the heavens – where the moon shone brightly. I felt the pollen of the blossoms in the air (at least that`s what it seemed like) filling it like a spring “pixie dust” spreading fertility throughout the land.
Memories of HANAMI past, came flooding back.
The next day, yesterday Wednesday the 28th, I didn`t waste any time either. I wanted to see the old trees at the Manabe Elementary School in Tsuchiura while they were in full bloom. I was not disappointed. There are five giants there, more than a hundred years old each… something very rare to find in one spot … anywhere in Japan, and the mood there is solemn and one of awe (as oppossed to the raucous and ribald atmosphere you will find in Ueno Park Tokyo)
From there we rushed to a convenience store for some BENTOs and tried to find a place to sit along the Shinkawa River – lined with cherries on both side – but couldn`t find one!
Change of plan – the Soramachi Park near Tsukuba U. We arrived there, packed with families and students. It`s a perfect day… but I have no time… work!
At night once again, bentos and YOZAKURA (night cherries)…. I already feel the HANATSUKARE (花疲れ）- cherry blossom exhaustion – setting in!!!!
This morning I heard good news though, from the TV weaterman – there`s no need to panic (like I`ve been doing). Its going to be a beautiful next few days. Take your time and enjoy – if not full bloom, then cherry-blossom blizzards (HANAFUBUKI) and cherry blossom rafts (HANA IKADA) that will appear in ponds, puddles and anywhere else there is water!
And remember,in Japan it`S HANA YORI DANGO (the dumplings are more important than the flowers!) so I`ve this article about the most appropriate snacks to go with your hanami.