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Spring has come, and the big event of the early spring is the cherry blossom viewing festival, hanami. These are the arrangements at 9am this morning in Inokashira park, Tokyo. All the blue mats are a spot someone has reserved for their viewing party, and the people sitting on the mats are likely junior members of a company or club, who have been sent to guard a spot (basho tori) until evening. Partying under the flowers is a serious business, involving a lot of alcohol, possibly a grill or bbq, and a wide range of foods and snacks. If you look carefully you can see that the people on the mats have left their shoes at the edge: this is an important consideration in these parties. All the major parks in Tokyo will have arrangements like those pictured above, and many also lay out rubbish bins and entertainment (Inokashira park has signs up asking us to take our rubbish home, so is going for a “zero rubbish” approach to partying). The flowers we’ll be looking at are like this:

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Typically one has several hanami: one with family, one with friends, one with any circle or club of which one is a member, and one with work. I am probably going to do four: two with my partner on Saturday (one in the park shown here); one with my university, on Monday, at which we will also welcome the new students; and one on Friday next week with my partner, when we head North to Ikaho to enjoy their famous cherry blossom scenes. If I had a role-playing group of longer standing, I would also be doing a hanami party with them, but we don’t seem to be planning any.

Early April is a really nice time in Japan, because everything renews: spring has come, the cherry blossoms are out, new businesses open and all the “freshmen” enter companies and universities. It has a strong feeling of renewal and energy that’s very nice. The strong party atmosphere of the hanami season really serves to reinforce the feeling of new beginnings, and it’s a famous part of Japanese culture, reflecting a strong (and some say unique) Japanese sense of the impernanence of all things. Japanese life is characterized by seasonal festivals, and the main stages of a Japanese year are not marked by fixed historical or religious dates (like Christmas or Anzac Day) but by fluid, seasonal events: the cherry blossoms, the summer fireworks, the Autumn leaves, and finally the winter equinox. It’s at these times that one is reminded both of the strong role ritual continues to play in everyday Japanese life, and the continuing connection that Japanese culture has to paganism.

It’s also at times like this that one gets outrageously drunk with random strangers, and eats too much. Wish me luck toasting the impernanence of my sobriety …

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