Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
Cherry blossoms cheer up Japan
The season is back and so is the nation’s obsession. The map of Japan has turned pink on TV, with anchors and weather forecasters speculating when the day will be.
The stores are filling up their shelves with pink products, ranging from stickers to salt. And soon, people will start lining up for hours to get the best spots, so that they can appreciate its ephemeral beauty while gorging on bento (box meals) and booze.
The cherry blossoms are about to bloom.
While there are some 300 varieties of cherry blossoms, called “sakura”in Japanese, the main three in Japan are the somei yoshino (often seen in parks and riverbanks), yamazakura (which means “mountain sakuras” and are planted in mountainous areas, and shidarezakura (often seen in temples).
The delicate, pink flowers have been around for centuries in Japan, and the ancient national obsession can be seen in poems and literature from more than one thousand years ago.
In recent years, the obsession has taken a more scientific route and every year, Japanese weather officials have been forecasting when the flowers will bloom.
Two years ago, the officials were left humbled after a computer glitch led to incorrect forecasts, and they were shown on the television bowing and apologising.
This year, the Japan Meteorological Agency has so far revised twice its forecast, first issued on March 4.
“This year, it is expected that the some northeastern areas, and various areas in eastern and western Japan, will see sakura bloom earlier than the regular years,” the JMA said on its most recent forecast, along with a map colouring Japan in various shades of pink.
It shows that in southern Japan, the sakuras are blooming already, while in Tokyo, it is expected to bloom around March 25 (though the national broadcaster NHK said in its evening news that one cherry blossom bud was opening up in Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine” on Thursday.)
Because sakura appear only briefly, it is said that they remind the Japanese of the shortness of life, but many use it as an excuse to party or shop.
Soon enough, we’ll start seeing in Tokyo people waiting for hours under cherry trees in parks, so that they can save the best spots to hold flower-viewing picnics. These parties, held among families, friends, or coworkers, often involve plentiful beer and sake.
Meanwhile, stop at many a shop and you will see a pinkish corner lined up with sakura-motifed goods, ranging from foods such as sakura tea and sakura salt to decoratives, such as sakura hair ties or sakura candles.
The sakura obsession also reaches the artistic world, and musicians are all singing their own sakura songs. A recent pop songs ranking shows the 10 most popular sakura-related melodies. The top four, which were released between 2003-2006, are all titled “Sakura”.
I am no stranger to this national obsession. I’ve already secured some sakura salt, and now I’ll go and decide where to have the flower-viewing picnic this year with my friends.
Photo credits: Cherry blossom season 2008: REUTERS/Toru Hanai and Yuriko Nakao; Japan Meteorological Agency forecast map