Wednesday, April 13, 2005

It's Sakura Time!

The sakura are finally here - hurrah! Time for the obligatory photos of cherry trees!

For months now, the weather forecasters have been trying to predict the exact time that cherry blossoms (sakura) will appear across Japan: the first blooms appear in the far south in March, then head northward over the next couple of months until the season finishes in late May in Hokkaido. For the past few weeks it's all everyone's been talking about in the newspapers and on TV, and at first I really couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. I mean, it's just a few flowers, isn't it?

But then the sakura arrived in Fukui, and suddenly I realised why everyone gets so excited about it. We have cherry trees in England, but you'd be forgiven for not noticing them - they tend to be poorly looked after specimens which are usually planted in new housing estates, most often just so the developers can give a new road a quaint and idyllic-sounding name, such as "Cherry Tree Walk" or "Sakura Way". (In fact, I know a "Cherry Tree Walk" that only has one cherry tree on it - bloody lazy housing developers...)

However, in Japan the coming of the cherry blossom seems to change everything. For one thing, there are thousands of cherry trees all over the place, and when they all come into bloom at the same time it looks spectacular. The mood of an incredibly drab, concrete-lined street can be entirely changed when the sakura arrives. It's a lot like waking up to the first snows of winter: suddenly everything is covered in a blanket of white, and everyone feels a bit cheerier.

The cherry blossom festivals may also be the reason that everyone feels a bit cheerier - the coming of the sakura, coupled with the spring weather, is the perfect excuse to go and sit under trees and get drunk, all in the name of "cherry blossom viewing". Judging by the state of some of the people I saw on Sunday though, they were long past the "viewing" stage and were well onto the "staring at the ground in an effort to make the trees stop spinning stage".

Unfortunately, the blooms only last a couple of weeks, so I'm planning to get out this weekend and do some serious "viewing" before they all go. Kanpai!


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