Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Cherry blossoms come rain, shine or rocket launch

April 13, 2009

Nothing can get in the way of a cherry blossom party in Japan, not even North Korea’s test-launch of a rocket.

A couple weeks ago I blogged about Japan’s cherry blossom season and how the sakura-crazy nation was preparing to pop open the sake and party.

The blossoms were in full bloom in Tokyo about a week ago – right around the time North Korea planned a rocket launch over Japan.


The launch dominated the headlines and kept people on edge, but it did not get between people and their party plans, including those of Japan’s military.

The army’s Camp Asaka boasts about 2,000 cherry trees and attracts around 7,000 visitors to its annual sakura-viewing event.

But this year’s festivities on April 4 were in danger of being cancelled after a anti-missile battery was stationed there to intercept any debris that may fall towards Japanese territory.

“If we were viewing flowers at such a moment, that would be a distraction,” a Camp Asaka spokesman told me by telephone. 

The camp considered calling off the event but eventually decided to carry on as usual, and around 1,400 blossom watchers turned up.

Pyongyang’s rocket flew over Japan the following day.

One of Tokyo’s sakura landmarks is Yasukuni shrine, controversial for its commemoration of World War Two war criminals but home to 600 cherry trees — including one that the meteorological agency uses as a benchmark to determine if the flowers have fully bloomed in the capital.

“North Korea launched a missile, but we’re here,” Ryoto Kato, a 30-year-old event planner, said two days after the launch, as he sipped sake with his friends under one of the trees at the shrine.

After working all night, Kato arrived early in the morning to get a good spot. He and his three friends had enjoyed at least three bottles of sake and several cans of beer by noon.JAPAN-CHERRIES/

Many Japanese say the brief appearance of the cherry blossoms each spring — they’re typically in bloom for only a week or two — reminds them of the shortness of life.

“We saw it on television and thought of coming here. If we don’t come now, we might not be around long enough!” laughed 78-year-old Yasuko Okamoto, who was also at Yasukuni shrine with her friends.

The three of them, all wearing hats, sat in the shade and chatted as they watched the delicate pink petals float down in the air.

“I’m so lucky to be born in Japan,” she said.

Photo credits: REUTERS/Kim-Kyung-Hoon

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