Somber start to Japan cherry blossom season

04/05/2011
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Yakatabune during cherry blossom season in Japan

TOKYO (majirox news) – Japan’s favorite rites of spring opened in Tokyo on Saturday, but the cherry blossom parties were low key because of the quake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.

Normally, groups of friends and company employees gather in parks, along river banks, or anywhere else the sakura (cherry) trees bloom and sit on blue plastic tarpaulins eating, drinking, singing, and chatting. Some even look at the blossoms.

The media announced that people should subdue the festivities this year. Some parties were cancelled for the first time in respect to the victims of the disaster that left nearly 28,000 dead and missing. The o-hanami parties began after World War II.

In other parts of Japan, the Ujigawa Sakura Masturi festival near the Byodoin temple in Uji, Kyoto prefecture was canceled. One reason was the truck that usually delivers the water for the tea ceremony wasn’t available as it was being used in the disaster areas.

At some park entrances there are notices saying, “Please refrain from holding cherry blossom viewing parties.” Some ask visitors to leave the park earlier than usual.

It’s also having an impact on vendors, including the yakatabune. Many Japanese rent yakatabune, the flat bottomed party boats that ply the sakura tree lined banks of the Sumida River. Yakatabune means “roof-shaped boat” and they have been cruising the rivers for centuries. As the boat’s chef prepares tempura, or sashimi, yakitori, or other delectables the happy passengers toast the sakura blossoms, each other, and just about everything as they enjoy their sake and beer.

While the parks along the Sumida on Sunday were packed with o-hanami parties, the yakatabune were like ghost ships. Most all of them held only a handful of people as they made their way along the gray-green waters. The government has advised people to curtail such festivities in light of the Tohoku tragedy. This, on top of Japan’s recent economic woes, has taken a sadly severe toll on the boat operators.

Tokyo resident Tomoko Hayashi said we should be helping these boat operators and others who depend on these festivities.

“I believe we also need to celebrate to help raise the spirits of the Japanese people,” she said. “We need to move forward.”

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2 Responses to Somber start to Japan cherry blossom season

  1. Casper on 04/05/2011 at 9:41 pm

    I agree with Tomoko Hayashi, this affected not only the Japanese in those areas hit by the earthquake and tsunamis. It affected all of us who live in Japan. Cherry blossoms remind us how beautiful Japan is, and gives us all something to look forward to.

  2. Kintaro Bob on 04/14/2011 at 6:25 am

    Greetings from snowy Montana Japanese friends.

    Take heart and do not cease to celebrate Sakura season. You know all those innocents would be taking great joy at this time if it were not for this sad tragedy.

    In their honor then, continue the wonderful tradition of sitting with loved ones and friends as you look up and embrace the joy of Sakura.

    This did not just affect Japan but, all those who know and love you special people. I have been visiting since 1990 and consider those on the Izu peninsula my relatives.

    Be brave and do not lose your joy

    Bushi Noichi Gau

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