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.”