Every year in Japan, the blossoming of the Sakura, the Japanese cherry trees, marks a sort of rebirth after the harsh winter months. This event is probably amongst the most important in the Japanese calendar and people never fail to gather amongst family or friends, in order to admire the delicate white and pink flowers and of course, to enjoy some yakitori with a rather large sip of sake. This year, more than any other, this feeling of renewal is palpable everywhere. Last year, the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and the nuclear disaster that they caused, had greatly undermined the festivities but one year later, people are now ready once again to enjoy the small pleasures of life such as Hanami. After a year of mourning and restrain, it is now considered alright to go out and elect in an innocent hedonism.
After a few weeks of bad weather, this particular weekend was not to be missed. All the newspapers and TV stations had warned us, Sunday the 8th of Mai would be the moment or never for the Tokyoites if they wanted to admire the Sakura in all their glory, for it is a very ephemeral pleasure. This fragile beauty contributes largely to the taste of the Japanese for these delicate, five petalled flowers that have become, since the Edo peiord, real symbols of the country.
Since I recently moved to Yotsuya, I took this opportunity to go for a walk in the direction of the imperial palace, and then to Yasukuni shrine via the Nippon Budokan. This weekend was also the start of the academic year and a ceremony was being held at the Budokan for the new students of Tokyo University.
I tis only once I got to the Yasukuni sanctuary that the true festivities started. Numerous stands had been setup in the central alley that leads to the shrine and all of them had something tasty to sell, juicy yakitori, rich takoyaki and of course, fresh beer on tap. The atmosphere was very relaxed and casual, people were sharing foods and laughs while seating on straw mats or tables that had been judiciously placed near the stands.
Within the sanctuary, things were much quieter and cultural displays had been organized such as a traditional tea ceremony. The combination of white flowers and old wooden buidling was a wonder for the eye. They both seemed so complementary that one had to keep reminding oneself that this perfect symbiosis was far from usual, and that it would be only there to see for one or two weeks at most.
While petals are already starting to fall off, one tries to take in as much of this wonderful sight as possible, enough to wait until next year. Once this spectacle is over, and with it, the spring softness, the hot summer will take the relay, and bring its own brand of livelier and noisier Matsuri (festivals).