Spring is a busy but exciting time here in Japan. For businesses, it marks the end of one fiscal year and the start of the next, which means lots of yearly reports and auditing to do. Companies are saying farewell to retirees, and hiring new recruits ripe from University, while students are starting their next school year. And in terms of weather, the frigid winds of Winter have finally come to pass, allowing people to escape their homes and enjoy going for a walk or bike ride under the warm sun – before the Summer’s humidity sets in.
The newspapers may report when Spring has officially arrived, but no one really believes it until they see the cherry blossoms in bloom. The sakura seem to be the symbol of Spring, a sign in Japan that life is beginning anew.
How do Japanese celebrate this festive moment of the year? By drinking!
Friends often gather for hanami, which directly translates as “flower viewing.” Much like a picnic, people gather in a park filled with sakura trees, lay out a tarp, and feast on snacks and chug down beer and other alcoholic beverages, all within the beautiful view of the cherry blossoms. But since the sakura only stay in bloom for a week or two, the parks can get pretty crowded – even on weekdays. If the hanamiis organized by a company, usually they hand one of the new recruits their first assignment – sit on a tarp in the park all day, holding their spot.
If you can’t find a descent space among the noisy crowds, you may want instead to have a yozakura party, which literally translates as “evening sakura,” a hanami party in the evening. Maybe it’s a bit harder to appreciate the view of cherry blossoms in the dark, but hey, as long as there’s beer…
But is drinking really that much more important than the sakura themselves?
For some, sure. And there’s even a Japanese proverb to describe such people: “hana yori dango,” which translates as “dumplings over flowers,” meaning such individuals care more about the eating and drinking than the event of admiring the cherry blossoms themselves.
But whether you’re there to view the flowers or simply drink with your buddies, having a good time is always the priority.
written by Damon Finos