April 3, 2014
March Madness strikes American basketball fans. It is nothing compared to Cherry Blossom madness in Japan. Hanami are cherry blossom viewing parties. One of the most famous sites lies near our hotel. We ventured there this morning. The Sakura or Cherry trees are clearly in blossom. They are obviously exquisite as they leave the tree showing no age. This quality endeared them to the noble and warrior classes long ago.
Today viewing is a lot more plebeian. People stake out blue tarps for their party long before the time. It reminds me of camping out front of stores waiting for the Black Friday sales. Guys in their suits and ties squated on their tarps like the more youthful who held their spot while playing video games.
When the parties actually start, I hope the rain stops, the Karaoke machines are cranked up. A fair amount of beer and sake are also consumed. Ever vigilant about trash, there are propositioned garbage bags labeled for cans, bottles, etc. There are even signs reminding partiers to be good and clean up after themselves.
It is also raining cats and dogs. Tarps on the ground are allowed but not easy ups or tents which would block views of the blossoms raining down. The Hanami advance teams patiently endure the downpour. It is quite insane to a Westerner. But then spending a week in a tent in front of a store waiting to buy a toy is also nuts.
We wandered around with our umbrellas and raincoats until we reached the Tokyo University and School of Music grounds. We reached the Tokyo National Museum before most of the tour buses. We toured the collection of Japanese National Treasures. Many of the pieces were on permanent loan from places we had visited earlier. I have to admit that I prefer viewing pieces in situ rather than in a museum. Sorry, Jen and Brian.
It seemed that cherry blossoms figured into almost every painting. There are centuries old paintings of courtiers out viewing and having a Hanami picnic. Every courtesan seems to want to pose under cherry blossoms. The Cherry blossom madness has a long pedigree.
The rain continued and it was lunch time. We succumbed to our own madness and ate at the Tokyo Hard Rock Cafe. Compared to the Japanese meals we have been eating, it was huge. May have a bowl of soup for dinner.
After a quick rest in the hotel we ventured out to Candy Store Alley which was the center of the post-WWII Black Market. It is pretty tame now despite its location under the Ueno Station train tracks. Lots of kitsch and knock offs were there.
The rain made it difficult to enjoy but we did our best. I found a bag to replace the one that has deteriorated over the last month. We now have room for more goodies. However, our shopping days may be over since we are meeting Peggy’s high school friend Reiko tomorrow in Atami City. They have three days to catch up on the last half century.