After a very long, very cold winter in a country where energy is too expensive to invest in central heating so everyone huddles under kotatsu (heated tables), take steaming hot baths, and rely on gas heaters- Spring has finally arrived in Japan.
Setsubun and Hinamatsuri have come and gone, but it's only now in April that it has truly begun to feel like Spring. College graduates have gone through the infamous shūkatsu (job hunt) process and those that have succeeded prepare to enter their new company on April 1st, around the time the new school year begins all over Japan. The subways and streets become crowded with schoolchildren in their uniforms heading to and from school after a long, two month vacation. However, nothing announces the arrival of spring better than the bright, beautiful pink of sakura blossoms.
Sakura (also known as a Cherry Blossom) is a beautiful, distinctly Japanese pink flower with many varieties. From big to small, pink to white, the many types of sakura are at their prettiest as a solid, colorful mass whose petals blow gently in the breeze. The weather forecast predicts the short, bittersweet period the sakura bloom months in advance as castles and parks all over Japan advertise themselves as the ideal hanami spot.
The process of appreciating the sakura evolved into a tradition known as hanami, where people typically gather under the sakura to hold gatherings where they can eat, drink, and bask in the beauty of nature. While many tend to drink themselves into a stupor, Japanese people young and old can be seen sniffing, touching, and marveling at the delicate beauty of sakura blossoms. Sakura trees are typically surrounded by people using their smart phones to take pictures or selfies while the base of the tree is covered in two or three blankets as families, couples, friends, and colleagues enjoy a picnic.
Sakura are a beloved part of Japanese culture as evidenced by the countless haiku, drawings, and references in various media. Internationally, flavors and scents claiming to be sakura and extremely Japanese (honestly just raspberry, though) also testify to sakura's international recognition. Although I have seen the famous sakura festival in Washington DC, nothing quite compares to being in Japan in time to see the beloved sakura and to understand why they have become such an important part of Japanese culture.
My family lives near Nagoya Castle where the sakura are particularly beautiful, but my most memorable hanami experiences have been going to Higashiyama Zoo's botanical garden with my fellow study abroad friends and going on walks around the neighborhood with my host parents. The botanical garden hosted a huge variety of sakura that were absolutely stunning to look at, but my walks around the neighborhood was towards the end of the blossming period when sakura trees tend to sprout green leaves until the blossoms become a duller, nearly gray pink and eventually fall off. Nevertheless, there is truly something poetic and nostalgic about the short, beautiful lives of sakura blossoms.
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<p>My name is Naomi Wolfe and I am a Japanese major and Sociology minor studying in Japan for the 2016-2017 academic year in the hopes of understanding Japanese culture, people, and society. I studied in the Tokyo Language & Culture Program for the fall semester and cannot wait to see what else I can learn in the Nagoya Direct Enrollment Program in the spring semester!</p>