Viewing Flowers Through Beer-Colored Glasses

A lot of people are about to celebrate spring by getting really drunk.

The arrival of spring in Japan means the cherry blossom trees are about to bloom and the Japanese will get drunk and stupid for at least one night during Hanami, or the flower viewing festival.

I think this festival is so important because it marks the first day the Japanese can have a party outside without freezing. That said, it is still kind of an odd festival.

The truth is the plum blossoms have been blooming for a while and they are much more impressive than the cherry blossoms, most of which are old and are more of a pale pink that a vibrant pink. However, most years the weather is too cold for people to properly enjoy partying outside, especially when it’s only plum blossoms.

This is what it looks like from under the tree.

Cherry blossoms from a couple years ago. Cool, but kind of pale.

Also, a lot of events happen at once at the end of March: graduations, teacher transfers, company employee transfers and the end of the fiscal year. Everyone’s tired, has cabin fever and is ready to party.

This also leads to a form of competition. Young employees are sent to the most popular party spots (Ueno Park, Shinjuku park and Naka-Meguro) and told to claim a plot of land for their company. The weapon of choice for this claim is a blue tarp. The young employees then work shifts, including spending the night in the park, to keep the prime spot of land claimed.

Some people camp out for a week at time and neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor rival companies will keep them from their appointed plot. (Something like that.)

At the same time the Japanese news is filled with official forecasts of when the leaves will be in full bloom. The forecasts include color charts depicting the current level of bloom and the full bloom day in various cities. Forecasters can get in trouble if they are wrong.

Reporters are sent out the parks to interview earlier partiers and commiserate with the campers as the young reporters probably were the campers the year before.

Once the party starts, it’s basically a 24 hour drunken picnic. Thousands of people assemble on the tarps and thousands more walk around with drinks in hand. Places like Naka-Meguro (a river walk) are so crowded all you can do is walk (don’t stop, it’s too dangerous to stop) and photographers will nearly come to blows trying to get the best angles.

At that point the tabloid magazines send out their reporters and photographers to capture the revelry and as much debauchery as possible. Back after I moved to Tokyo, a group of us managed to find a spot in Ueno Park along with tens of thousands of other people. We were then invited to join another group.

At some point a tabloid photographer started stalking us, mostly to get pictures of drunken foreigners and, especially drunken foreign women. That tabloid shut down soon after that party, but there might accidentally be a picture of me out there.

Luckily, it will be pretty boring.

More cherry blossoms. Still kind of pale, though.

More cherry blossoms. Still kind of pale, though.

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  1. Pingback: There’s No Such Thing as a Free Beer | Mere Blather

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