It’s that time of the season again. An ephemeral window of period where winter slowly melts into spring, letting us know the cold wind is no longer biting again. For a brief couple weeks in early April, the whole country rejoice over the overwhelming blooms of the cherry blossom. We have survived the freezing winter and we hold our breath to watch those little sakura buds eventually unfold. I tell myself, and my lovely Ren and Dragana, that it’s the moment we need to seize by treating ourselves a simple picnic under the blushing trees.
Sakura grow almost everywhere throughout Japan. Sometimes you find it leaning beside an old vending machine at the corner of Asakusa street, but it’s hard to turn your eyes off when they flock together and cloud you with a gorgeous canopy of pink petals.
With the highest flow of tourists around the time, it’s been a tricky business to find ourselves a spot that is far from the madding crowd, serene enough to leave us alone, and nothing less splendid for us to profoundly take joy in this passing beauty.
I never blame those people who have traveled thousands and thousands miles just to catch a glimpse of this otherworldly wonder, indeed it is a splendor I cannot deny. Yet perhaps if there is one thing I may propose as a defense to the breathtaking blooms is that they are more as a gift for us, rather than a mere phenomenon, or heaven forbid, an “attraction”.
I often ask myself, “how do we grasp the full meaning of the blooms, comprehend their purpose of existence, take part in the tranquil bliss they bring; without having gone (and survived) through the deadly winter?”. The cherry blossom are celebrated because they put an end to the dreary season. We had lived through the unforgiving coldness, and everyday we looked forward to this one day when the birds start singing again, and the leaves gently roll out from the parched branches. We understand the frost, and thus sakura is not just another beautiful flower for us. They are what we’ve been longing for so long. They are what speak to us that the hardest part is over.
I believe the Japanese take delight in “hanami” (花見, meaning “flower viewing”) not by simply throwing a cloth on the grass, cracking up some cold veers and taking selfies with sakura as the background. More than just sitting under the blooming tree, hanami is essentially an act of appreciation. A mindful expression of what Haruki Murakami echoes over and over again as “mujo”: an acceptance to the impermanence; that everything changes and will eventually come to an end. Winter finally winds up, but so do the flowers too, eventually.
Taking a moment to sit still below the astounding blossoms and admiring them quietly is an interpretation of embracing the transience. A humble attitude to accept the grandness of the universe. A posture of gratitude to the merciful warm wind that comes over at last to bring the nature to life again.
A hanami is not a lone activity detached from our life line and could be simplifiedly mimicked as “another must-do touristy experience”. A hanami is an inseparable affair of the Japanese life, a speckle of chance to feel relief from the fading frigid days, a crucial part to understand life as a whole unfinished story. It is an integral moment to realize that our days, although they vapor as quickly as the morning dew, are meaningful and worth to be lived fully, nevertheless.
A row of cherry blossom by the river is our personal definition of the spring solitary shell. That kind of scene is not difficult to find in this melancholic country, the hardest task is to spot one that is not overcrowded by people. I know then the only option is to aim far from the city center. We pick Tokyo’s western suburb area for our luck: Tachikawa. We find a stream that runs between Koushu kaido and Tama river, and nestles in a quiet neighborhood along the Tachikawa baseball stadium.
The moment we get there is perhaps the most surrealistic encounter I ever had with sakura. I stand on the bridge both speechless and euphoric, disbelieve of what I am witnessing. Extensive rows of gallant sakura trees, with their branches droop touching the tip of the stream, arching themselves to the damp sky and make the longest pink petals canopy I had never seen before.
We rush down near the water and unpack our things. Dragana then offer us some slices of baguette with her homemade Serbian spread. Ren gets himself busy brewing coffee with his new military equipment that can heat water just by cracking it (I still don’t have any idea how the thing works, or why he bought such a thing). Suddenly we are all set. We have our food, we have our quiet spot, we have the most gorgeous view, and we have each other. Now all we need is to immerse ourselves in the moment, and just be present. Because after all, we realize, that is all we need to take in this wondrous beauty, while it is slipping away.
A TWO CENTS’ WORTH
- Do your homework. Unless you live in a place with a field of sakura in your backyard, hanami will always be a battle, either with the flood of tourists, or with the Japanese. No one wants to miss the blooms. So if you wish to have a quality time with the flowers, do some research of “hanami spot” beforehand. Find out where are the less crowded sites, or when is the less crowded time. You can also check my favorite hanami spots in Tokyo here
- That being said, weekdays are always a better option than the weekend. But if you can’t avoid the weekend, try to get there as early as possible. By “early” I mean like before 10 AM. Some places I know like Ueno Park or Koganei Park would require you to catch your spot as early as 6 AM because they are highly popular. Getting there early will allow you to find a spot with the best view. None of us wants to sit at far from the cherry blossom and call it a hanami, right?
- Bring an extra plastic bag to collect your trash. A trash can is a rare treasure anywhere in Japan, so make sure you have an extra plastic bag to take home your trash with you and not leaving them at the park.