Letters From Japan ~ Vol III ~ Ohanami & Last Weekend


Introduction: I recently began writing letters to send to my friends and family regarding my experiences here in Japan. I've received some encouragement to release the letters net-wide and am doing so in the hopes of providing some entertainment and maybe even some useful information...

This is the first time I've been in Japan in the spring. This past week the cherry trees were in bloom, the time of ohanami. Japan seems to revolve around this week. Fiscal years start and end here. School year too. The first week of school is this week (summer vacation here is actually a break and does not separate the school year as it does in most other places). The newscasts track the front of blooming cherry trees as it heads north. Much has been written relating the Japanese psyche to the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossoms but I won't go that far.

The actual cherry tree blossoms only last a week or so but are very gorgeous while they last. In general, ohanami (lit. "flower viewing") is most any activity of which the central focus is the blossoming cherry trees. Such activities usually take the form of parties under the trees, or just strolling among them. Last Wednesday was mankai ("full bloom") in Tokyo so around noon six coworkers and myself bought some lunches and walked to the East Garden of the Imperial Palace, only a couple minute walk from the office. Since the garden is quite big, we found the closest place we could sit, eat and view the trees. There were only a few where we were but quite scenic nonetheless.

Saturday, I met up with my friend Kyomi in Omotesando at noon. Fortunately it wasn't raining (it had been raining the previous night) but it was breezy and chilly, much like Michigan around now or maybe in a week or two. In Omotesando, we ate in a French restaurant. Pretty good and pretty expensive. The most unusual item in the course was the "Greenpeace" soup which was a light green, and served chilled in a champagne glass. I'm not sure what it was made of but it had some similarity to split pea soup. After that we walked on to the Aoyama Reien (Cemetery).

The street running through the cemetery is lined with cherry trees and was still very pretty although mankai was a couple days past. Japanese cemeteries are different from American in that there is typically little or no grass. Each plot is about 2x2 meters, containing a monument, incense burner and maybe flower urns. In Aoyama Reien there is a section containing the graves of foreigners, all dating back to the middle of the 19th century. Their graves were more Western but still not any grass to speak of.

During our stroll, I was impressed by a beautiful flowering tree with bright red flowers that look like roses. Kyomi told me that it's a "tsubaki" but she wasn't too interested since they are quite "ordinary." The street was lined with food vendors selling the usual things that street vendors (in Japan) sell such as tako-yaki (octopus dumplings), yaki-soba (fried noodles), teriyaki (like shishkebob), etc. One thing that was interesting was that people were having their ohanami picnics in the cemetery, on the path or maybe on an empty plot! Kind of strange from a Western perspective but it seemed natural here given the general lack of space.

That evening I headed to visit my host family from two years ago. By train it takes about 1.5 hours to get to their house which is in Chiba- ken. Otoosan and Okaasan (honorable Father and Mother) picked me up at the station in their car and we headed right away to a public park in their city of Noda. There at the park were the same types of food vendors and very pretty cherry trees. The pathways were lighted by strings of red electric lanterns. The park was full of ohanami parties under way under the trees. Most parties consisted of groups of 6 or more people spread out on tarps and merrymaking with the help of beer and sake. Their daughter Yumi, 24, was working and their son Daisuke, 20, has his own apartment 40 minutes away so it was just the three of us.

On Sunday, Otoosan had a kekkon-hirooen (wedding reception) to attend so he left around 11 or 12 am. As an interesting side note, wedding receptions in Japan run a few hours in length, are quite formal and generally pretty boring from what I've read and what Yumi was telling me. The reception consists of long, boring speeches, a banquet (the best part, probably), and probably more which I'll tell you about if I ever attend one. All gifts are expected to be monetary (which certainly simplifies the process of choosing a gift!). The amount of money varies but I think at least 10,000 yen ($100) is normal. All guests are given gifts for attending. Otoosan came back with a gift-basket of food containing various delicacies including a big, whole dried fish and another box containing a set of dishware! In other words, the guests receive as nice a present as we normally give to the bride & groom in the U.S.! Of course presents in the U.S. rarely include whole, dried fish. :-)

In brief...
After Otoosan left, Okaasan and Yumi and I walked along the river banks near their house. The river was lined with blooming cherry trees and ohanami picnickers as well as the same types of food vendors. For lunch we went to an Indian restaurant, then afterwards, on Okaasan's whim, toured the model for some new condominiums that are being built nearby. Later we returned to their home for dinner, dog walking and more socializing and I headed back for home around 9.

Well, next weekend it's on to Hong Kong...

(C)opyright 1994 Mike Chachich

This material may be freely copied and distributed for non-commercial uses provided this copyright information remains intact. Commercial uses are strictly prohibited without prior written consent. All stated opinions are solely the author's and do not represent those of any other person or organization.

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Created: Apr 12, 1994
Last Updated: Mar 30, 2005