Today's return to red, wind-chapped hands stiffly clenched around the umbrella handle seemed fitting, as Edward and I wandered the deserted park that's looking a bit the way I imagine Times Square might on New Year's Day--forlorn, with evidence of the midnight celebrations still scattered about, lingering confetti glinting from the sidewalks, on building walls, and adorning the odd mail box--minus the shards of broken beer bottles. And replace the confetti with sodden little pink petals, millions of them.
For Tokyo, it is unofficially the end of sakura season, that greatly anticipated, elusive week or so in spring when thousands of cherry blossom trees all over town seem to explode into massive frothy-pink afros overnight. Sakura spells spring madness for the Japanese, who will drop everything to gather with loved ones for some pretty impressive impromptu picnicing beneath the sakura trees at full bloom, otherwise known as hanami (flower viewing).
Planning a hanami is serious business that requires precision timing and skilled coordination among friends and family because as soon as the first signs of pink start peeking through, the clock starts ticking. Cherry blossoms seem to start falling almost as soon as they bloom, while a sudden rain storm could easily snatch a tree bald. It is this sudden and fleeting nature of sakura season that probably makes hanami an experience few non-Japan residents get to enjoy, unless they're the spur-of-the-moment traveling type. Even regular working people in Japan probably only get one weekend to sigh at the dazzling pink canopy overhead whilst becoming totally sloshed.
Even for those who have seen a cherry blossom tree, it's not quite the same as standing in the middle of an entire park of them, where the whole world has turned a ghostly white-pink, or walking along a sakura-lined river and gazing at the uninterrupted arch of flowers stretching endlessly ahead. For someone who's never been in Japan during sakura season, it's difficult to comprehend just how much the Japanese love their sakura and just how many trees flourish in this country because of that love.
Even more impossible to describe is the strange wonder of hanami. Yesterday, as I entered the park to meet a group of friends for our own hanami party, I couldn't help but gape, at the sheer number of human beings sprawled out on the ground, reveling in the midst of a fierce pink blizzard.
Years ago, as I was strolling through downtown Montreal on an unusually fine sunny afternoon, it suddenly began to snow. It was the most exhilarating sight: millions of snow flakes swirling through the air under a blue sky.
Hanami is a bit like that. The dreamlike sensation of walking through a warm, dry snow storm. All around you, peppering the air, carpeting the ground, building up in drifts are these pink-tinged snow flakes that never melt into slush or sting your exposed skin. You sit on your ubiquitous blue tarp (because in Japan, the ground of parks is invariably damp brown earth, not green grass), you eat picnic foods seasoned with petals, you laugh and drink as flower stamens collect in your hair, and the pink snow keeps falling, endlessly.