What do badminton, beer, and cherry trees have in common? The answer is hana-mi. Hana-mi is the distinctly Japanese act of going to the park to view the absolutely awe-inspiring blooming of sakura, or cherry blossoms. Quick Japanese lesson: “Hana” means flower and “mi” means to view.
Cherry blossoms bloom for about three weeks in the springtime, and when it happens it seems as if all of Japan comes outside for a national picnic. Waves of people flock to city parks, oases of green amid the gray and boxy landscape of Japanese cities, and the atmosphere is just like an outdoor concert. Any grassy knoll under a cherry tree will be covered with a handy tarp or blanket, shoes will be respectfully removed at the edge, and everyone from businessmen in suits to mothers with a handful of little ones will break out the bento boxes and the beer and have a merry little lunch. It is reminiscent of Virginia Beach at the height of tourist season, with folks snoozing on blankets, couples snuggling and holding hands as they stroll among the pink, and friends tossing a frisbee back and forth or playing badminton (a highly underrated sport in my opinion).
Japanese people even break out a little. Jose and I watched a drunken Japanese man climb a tree while his friends cheered him on. I saw a woman in heels play badminton, and a little girl riding a unicycle. A few folks brought along guitars. As you stroll along, you can smell the delightful aromas of food chased by the smell of alcohol. Sounds of kids playing soccer mingle with laughter and music from small personal radios. Kids, parents, and dogs run about, and every which way you look people are snapping photos with cell phones and cameras of all sizes (obviously myself included).
I’ve often pondered the differences between the Western world and Japan, and one that has struck me is the difference in the way we share our lives with friends. In Japan, it is rare to entertain in one’s home. Nobody has holiday parties or cookouts at their house – it’s not practical. Homes and apartments are too small to hold more than a family (and not necessarily comfortably at that) and no one has much of a yard to cook out in if they have one at all. Instead, friends gather in restaurants and in the gorgeous springtime, in parks to share food and talk and spend time together. Sakura time represents a chance to recharge, to catch up, to slow down and appreciate nature. It’s a seasonal appreciation of the beauty and pride of Japan encapsulated in these delicate, fluttering blossoms. And Japan has so many things to be proud of.