Tokyo’s cherry blossom season is nearing its end. The heavy rain, wind, and warming temperatures urge the blushing petals to wither and fall. Such is the nature and the appeal of the cherry blossoms: ephemeral and delicate, just like our funny little lives on earth. Life and beauty is transient, immortalized in poetry and our collective memory. The week of cherry blossom viewing (otherwise known as hanami, 花見) reminds us of these greater truths.
At least, that is the purported meaning behind the flower. How romantic.
Now, let’s be frank. In Japan, this appreciation of life manifests itself in a much more rowdy fashion: drink sake. All day.
Maybe someone is writing a haiku somewhere, but everyone else is cross-legged on a blue tarp under the cherry blossoms. There are groups comprised of old grandpas, businessmen, foreigners, mothers, students, and every other demographic that exists in Japan. We pass around the bottles, we play card games, and someone kisses a random Japanese guy from the neighboring tarp. (True story.)
My group went to one of the most popular parks, Yoyogi, and when we arrived at 11am, other people had already claimed their space and started drinking. People stay long after the sun has gone down, by which point there is an impressive amount of trash—mostly bottles and cans. Similar to the piles of garbage in Shibuya at 5am, this all magically disappears before the arrival of picnickers the next morning. These activities go on for at least a week, even in chilly or overcast weather.
Along the Meguro River, there are signs that explicitly say you are not allowed to lay out blankets and have a picnic party. Japanese people rarely go against written rules or even norms, so most comply and just walk through, pausing to take photos of the trees. However, these signs did not deter everyone—especially after sundown. Apparently, the custom of eating and drinking under the blossoms is too strong.
The avid traveler can find cherry blossoms everywhere in Tokyo, but there are a few spots that are particularly well-known for the number of trees or their neighboring landmarks. Along with Yoyogi Park and the Meguro River, I went to Ueno Park, Asakusa, Shiba Park, and the Yasukuni shrine. Yasukuni was probably my favorite location, for the koi fish that swim under the layer of fallen petals.
It’s a bit melancholy to remember that the falling petals mark the end of the cherry blossoms. However, in that moment, when the confetti of dainty petals flutter around you and children reach their arms out to catch one, it’s perfect.