As you may have already experienced, your Japanese colleagues and friends will never, ever, ever, EVER stop telling you that springtime is the nicest season in this nation of maddeningly fluctuating climactic conditions. For a start, it is that brief moment of the year in which you can comfortably wear jeans and a t-shirt without either freezing your tits or sweating your bollocks off. Hmmm, it’s strange how different weather affects the anatomy, isn’t it? But now we’re digressing. Where were we?
Ah yes, springtime in Japan. A beautiful time in which the guys go back to wearing childish ankle socks and, to the dismay of most of us gents, the women put away the Streetwalkers ‘R’ Us thigh-high boots. It is also time for sakura blossom season, the annual period of celebration when the cherry blossoms quite literally explode onto the scene.
And they do explode, suddenly carpeting the nation with delicate shades of pinks and purples, dusting even the most mundane and functional of places with their ethereal glory. Sewage works, shady back streets, even *shudder* Ikeda Koen, suddenly take on the image of postcard perfect views recalling ancient times of geisha and samurai, the latter of whom often adopted the flower as their emblem, symbolizing as it does, the sumptuous though transient beauty that is life.
So every spring, Japan just goes nuts for the sakura. But how can you as a mere gaijin with little to no understanding of this centuries old celebration get involved in the revelry? Well, your first port of call is a hanami party, where you can see(mi) the flowers(hana).
The Japanese are a busy people, and rarely have an opportunity to revel in the outstanding beauty of their natural milieu, but the hanami party is a time when the community comes together to enjoy their stunning surroundings. The original reason for the hanami party was to celebrate and view the various stages of blossom pollination. Well, that boils down to a clever metaphor for sex really. (And you thought Japanese perversion began with hentai and bukkake.) But, as the sun rises, Japanese everywhere load up their kids and their cars, and head to the nearest park to gaze at the sakura blossoms, and (yes, you guessed it) get absolutely twatted. Come nightfall, every park in the city will be full to the brim with people, staggering and sunburnt, having taken in the sight of the petals and the taste of their booze in near equal measures (and no prizes for guessing on which side of the equation the greater ratio falls).
Nagoya has many great places in which to celebrate hanami. Meijo Koen, in the shadow of Nagoya Castle, is the place to go for natural beauty, and during the evenings you have the opportunity to promenade the duskily lit castle grounds, a more evocative and romantic setting you will not find in our beautiful city; a truly magnificent scene.
Think the concrete slab of Nagoya’s figurehead a little dull? Not enough trees for you? Well get yourself over to Heiwa Koen. At over 2000, there are more trees than you can shake a blossom endowed stick at, which makes them perfect places to hide behind once the big, heavily tattooed husband of the girl you have been chatting up quite reasonably takes offense at your continued and inebriated presence.
Yamazaki river also boasts some incredible scenery, but if the likelihood of a drunken, unwanted swim puts you off, and you really want to get your lash on, its off to Tsurumai park you should go. Whilst it doesn’t have quite the aesthetic beauty of the other locations, it is most certainly the party central of the Nagoya hanami scene, going late into the night and including many a spontaneous karaoke sing-along. Just remember, drunkenly shimmying up lampposts or blossom trees is not impressive and it’s not clever. But it is quite fun…until you fall.
So, you’ve picked your spot. Now, what should you bring? Well, your order of business will be to locate a huge sheet of blue tarpaulin (not to be confused with the British intellectual and poet Tom Paulin, of course). Yes, ever wondered from where the unfortunate souls who live in the parks around the city have obtained their uniform tarpaulin abodes? Well, that would be after hanami, because every square centimeter of greenery in the park will be covered in the stuff, lest anyone commits the gross sin of getting grass stains on their bum.
Next, it’s that most important social lubricant of Japanese society. Could it be a bit of witty banter and a ready smile? No, don’t be daft. It’ll be booze. Yes, hanami is an alcohol soaked event of abandon, and if you want to stick with tradition, you should be purchasing bottles of sake as large as a salary man’s porn collection. Also, if you are not so uncouth as to drink straight from the bottle, you should be using the wooden box-shaped masu rather than the plastic disposable cup you had intended. But let’s face it, you are that uncouth, aren’t you?
Not so keen on the sake? Well pop over to the conbini where you will be faced with a wide array of sakura-styled products. Amongst the aisles heavily laden with garish plastic blossom decorations you will find all kinds of weird and wonderful treats with which to satiate your thirst. Beer cans, ordinarily sober silvers and grim grays, are now pretty in pink. And, smattered as they are in delicate designs of sakura petals, its the kind of thing that would have your average English lager lout spluttering something homophobic before replacing it on the shelf.
For the designated driver (as if you didn’t already have enough on your plate, you poor bastards) there is a wide selection of sakura flavored soft-drinks should you get the urge and, if you are peckish, there are pink chocolates and deserts aplenty, all proudly (though how accurately is up for debate) claiming the perfumed pink petal taste.
Once loaded up on booze and snacks it’s back to the party. And there, wherever you may be, you will find the ubiquitous fried food stalls selling a wide array of dirty delicacies. Now, you know as well as we do, that these stalls which (we hasten to add) most definitely have nothing to do with any kind of Yakuza money laundering, are hotbeds of the worst kinds of unsanitary disease. However, in your ‘refreshed’ state you will find them oh-so-tempting as you clumsily stagger around like an infant on a unicycle.
But what the hell! Dive in! Dysentery ain’t too bad and, like the sakura themselves, life is as beautiful as it is fleeting. Just enjoy the party while you can.