Tuesday, June 03, 2014

HAJIMEMASHITE, NIHON: SAKURA here, there & everywhere

A great time to be in Japan is during spring, as this is the time of the cherry blossom season. For a bit of background, the cherry blossom ("sakura") is Japan's unofficial national flower.  There are many varieties; and as a general rule, they bloom for only a short period each year - typically around one week. For Japan's major tourist cities, such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, it is usually during end March to early April. 

For the locals, this time of the year is a totally big deal, and they celebrate by holding picnics and parties ("hanami") right underneath the blooming trees. Personally, i find it a bit strange to party underneath a tree; but for the Japanese, the short blooming season symbolizes the ephemeral nature of life.

As Chef Homaro Cantu wrote in the Huffington Post last year:

"The significance of the cherry blossom tree in Japanese culture goes back hundreds of years. In their country, the cherry blossom represents the fragility and the beauty of life. It's a reminder that life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful but that it is also tragically short. When the cherry blossom trees bloom for a short time each year in brilliant force, they serve as a visual reminder of how precious and how precarious life is."

Deep, huh? 

We were rather fortunate to catch the tail end of the season. Some selective sightings, such as this one below - at the grounds of Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto.

Of course, sakura-flavored food items are never far behind. This cherry blossom cream puff (found along the shopping road going to Kiyomizu Temple) was a winner! :D

Upon first bite, i tasted its light, strawberry-like flavor. The cool, refreshing filling contrasted well with the crunchy crust, and i gobbled it up in no time at all.

Here's a scoop of sakura ice cream i tasted in Tokyo. Not quite as flavourful as the cream puff, but it provided a welcome respite from the burning noontime sun.

The well-known chocolatier Lindt has a cafe in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, just a few steps away from the famed Shibuya scramble crossing.  We went there twice for their signature hot chocolate drinks, and i ordered this sakura macaroon once.

 Pretty expensive at 258 Yen, but it was good. 

 Ah, going back to the cherry blossoms. Here's a tip: In Osaka, the Mint Bureau opens its garden (with more than 300 cherry trees, mostly of the later-blooming varieties) for free public viewing for one week each year.

After our sushi breakfast at Tsukiji Market (check my previous blog post), i decided to go to the Imperial Palace Gardens and see if there were still any sakura to be found. 

Fortunately, yes! This photo below shows locals, most of whom seemed to be working folks, enjoying their noon time break underneath the cherry trees.

Here's a closer view of one of the few remaining sakura in bloom:

Lovely, isn't it? Just sitting and taking in the view and chatting with friends and watching the world go by. Why not?

And here's a close-up view of this Japanese salary man, who has truly taken to heart the ephemeral nature of life and has chosen to appreciate the sakura in the best way possible. Watashi wa suki des! :D

(Check www.japan-guide.com for their published Cherry Blossom Reports)

1 comment:

Koryn said...

Lucky you!!! We were short two weeks when we went there last year.

And yes, didn't realize there was a deeper meaning to the hanami.