The definition of the Japanese term Hanami is “flower viewing”. Usually, it is in reference to Cherry Blossoms (Sakura). I had the amazing privilege on a recent business trip to Tokyo to experience the peak of the blossoming flowers. Usually only lasting a week or two, it is a huge and wildly popular Japanese tradition (it’s kind of a big deal, is basically what I’m trying to say).
I spent all of Saturday, March 29th visiting three sites where the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. I visited Ueno Park, Asakusa, and a park near Kudanshita station on the Hibiya line. Ueno park was an incredible experience because there were tons of friends and families having picnics underneath a very long path of cherry blossoms. The cherry blossoms were incredibly impressive, but the aspect that caught me off guard was the setup each group was using to enjoy the surroundings. Each group brought a tarp, food, a bunch of alcohol. Coming from the US where drinking in public is not allowed and frowned upon, I was amazed to see the Japanese singing a little louder from what I thought was a little alcohol buzz. The other thing that blew me away was the fact that the area was teeming with Japanese people. There were a handful of ex-pats there walking in amazement, but the sheer amount of Japanese people enjoying the experience was impressive. If I were to view the flowers in Hanami again next year, I would considering coming back to Ueno Park with a tarp, a bunch of Asahi super “dry”, and some friends.
The next stop on the Hanami tour was Asakusa, northeast of the Imperial Palace at the end of the Ginza line on the Tokyo Metro. This park wasn’t as busy, but the distinguishing characteristic was the multiple street vendors selling goodies ranging from chocolate covered bananas to fish on a stick. I don’t see the Fish-on-a-stick concept catching fire here in Boston, but the bananas dipped in chocolate seem like a pretty good idea. Here’s also a picture of the locals enjoying their picnic on a tarp. I can’t describe how ubiquitous this is – I would run around Tokyo at night after work and find groups of co-workers and friends sitting on tarps in small gardens around the city being loud and boisterous.
The last stop on the Hanami tour was Yasukuni shrine and Kitanomaru parknear the Kudanshita station on the Hibiya line. This was definitely the highlight of the day. Even though the park it didn’t have picnickers enjoying the flowers, it was the most picturesque and had that indescribable “wow” factor. The flowers hang over a beautiful path that is next to a moat. You’re able to rent boats and row around the moat, but I didn’t have time at the end of the day. I had dinner reservations at a great sushi restaurant, and had to hustle back to my hotel so I made it to dinner on time. Along the way to the shrine there was a path filled with street vendors that reminded me of a carnival. There were games you could play to win prizes, and there was corn on the cob as well as fish on a stick. I doubt that combination is coming to the county fair anytime soon, though. The park (and the shrine) were perfect ways to cap off such an amazing day. If you’d like to see the rest of my photos, click here to view them.