Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hanami 2012

In case you didn't know, it's sakura (cherry blossom) season in Japan - i.e., that amazing time of year when the country is covered in a sea of pink/white and hanami parties are all the rage.  During this time of year, cherry blossom flavored/themed products are all over the place - lotions, perfume, sake, wine, desserts, tea, etc.  The literal meaning of hanami is "flower viewing," and over time it has come to refer specifically to the Japanese tradition of enjoying the beauty of cherry blossoms.  These days, it also means getting together with your friends in a park or other scenic place (with sakura trees) to eat, drink and be merry.  I wrote a guest blog post on sakura season on the blog Fun, Food & Travel and it can be found here: Springtime In Japan Is A Fabulous Time To Visit .  How good sakura season is and whether you can actually partake in sakura/hanami festivities is all about timing and weather.  From the time the flowers reach full bloom, they only last about a week.  If there's bad weather near the blossoming time, that can also affect the timing and length the sakura are around - for example, last Tuesday we had a typhoon, which could easily have ruined sakura season this year (but it didn't). 

Last Friday I happened to be in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo with my friend.  Yoyogi Park, which is one of the largest parks in Tokyo, has approximately 600 sakura trees throughout. It was still early in the day (not quite noon) but it was great because I got to observe a private hanami party firsthand (and not the crazy loud partying type with tons of people) - I saw a small group of people look for a spot, pick their spot and then set up their blue tarp (during sakura season, the blue tarp is a necessity).  They were dressed in work attire so I'm assuming they were using their lunch break to have a hanami party...it was very endearing! While there are certainly other more scenic spots and spots that have more trees, Yoyogi Park is nonetheless an extremely popular place to have a hanami party. Apparently several thousand people were at Yoyogi Park over the weekend (people were even bussed in).
My other friends and I had also made plans to have an informal hanami party this past Sunday.  We didn't feel like going all the way to Tokyo, so we stayed in the Yokohama area.  We got lucky because it was a beautiful day to have a hanami party - even though it was still in the mid 50s, the sun was shining so it made it feel warmer.  We got off the train and walked through a popular sakura path along a river to get to the subway station in order to catch the train we needed to get to our final destiination.  There were people everywhere and food vendors lining the path...it was almost like a carnival or a fair without any rides (although there were stands which had games for kids).  At first we walked along without buying any food, but as we went along, we just couldn't resist.  It started with someone buying candied strawberries, which then led to the cream filled pancakes, which led to grilled chicken skin, then it was yakisoba, then it was takoyaki (well, you get the point).  By the time we reached the end of the path, we were well stocked with food.

After a short subway ride, we reached our intended park/destination. Again, there were people and blue tarps everywhere (seriously, I think the whole country comes out for sakura season).  I think we were all really hungry because we picked the first open spot we saw, which was on somewhat of a steep incline - but no matter, we ate our lunch and loved it.  After we were done, a chu-hi run was in order, as there was a convenience store right across the street (that's kind of a silly statement since 9 tines out of 10 there will be a convenience store right across the street).  With chu-his in hand, we took a stroll around the park -  there were children playing on the jungle gyms, people flying kites, playing baseball, jumping rope, and generally having a good time.  There was so much energy and laugher everywhere that you really couldn't help but have fun.  We came relatively unprepared, but thanks to our friend Mio who had just met up with us, we were able to set up camp with our own blue tarp. Mio brought more food and I brought some sweets, so we sat down for Round 2.  When it started getting chilly, we packed up and headed for the Taproom, one of our favorite hangouts.  Even though we were all still stuffed from Rounds 1 and 2, the Taproom has awesome beer, barbeque and the best pecan pie....needless to say, we sat down for Round 3.

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