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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Cherry Cloud Bliss: My Tokyo Hanami Extravaganza

The air crackled with anticipation as I joined the throngs of people headed towards Araiyakushi Park in Nakano City. It was finally happening – my supposed to be first ever hanami, Japan's legendary cherry blossom viewing party! Unfortunately, the iconic trees are not in bloom yet. I can only imagine, how their delicate pink petals would have started forming a canopy overhead like a soft, fragrant cloud.

Despite the unfortunate delay of the Sakura Blossom, a lot of people still showed up at the park according to schedule. Finding a spot in the maddening crowd proved to be an impossible feat. There are plenty of vendors selling potatoes, hotdogs, cotton candy and other feast. Bento boxes are overflowing with colorful delights, fluffy onigiri rice balls, and of course, sakura mochi – sweet rice cakes filled with red bean paste, a special hanami treat – were all available for sale at the park to tempt your taste buds.

The park was a vibrant tapestry of activity. There is a dance presentation. The dancers were consist of several older ladies and a young child. Families and their friends picnicked under the weeping cherry trees with not a single bloom in sight. Yet, you can see friends laughed and chatted, and couples strolled hand-in-hand, taking in the fleeting beauty of the weather that day. Music drifted from portable speakers, and the air was filled with the excited chatter of children chasing each other.

As we tried to scout the food stalls to choose our lunch, a sense of serenity washed over me. I was imagining delicate petals fluttered down like pink snow, creating a magical atmosphere. The beauty of the blossoms would have been fantastic have they bloom according to the prediction of the weather bureau of Japan.

With no bloom in sight, my brother, his girlfriend and I were really disappointed. We paid a premium room rate for our home stay. The owner Annie Cheng justified the rates as just for the season. Of course she enticed us about the 2 kilometers stretch of Cherry Blossoms she said was there because it was supposed to be the height of Cherry Blossoms.

Her accommodation is just around 2 to 3 minutes walk to Araiyukushi-Mae station. We stayed there for 7 nights. So imagine our disappointment when not a single blossom appeared.  All we can do is sigh. The first 3 nights, we find it weird that there is no heater during night time until morning. I complained it to the owner to no avail. So, on our third night with still no heater, I was fed up and would like a reimbursement so we can change to another accommodation with heater.

The only redeeming factor for choosing that area is seeing how hanami was done. I was bowled over by the sense of community by the Japanese people. 

I was in awe with their shared appreciation for nature despite the absence of ephemeral display of the cherry trees.  It made our very first hanami so special.

Spring evening would have been perfect with yozakura, the nighttime cherry blossom viewing according to my research. The trees were supposed to be illuminated by soft lanterns, casting an ethereal glow on the scene. The atmosphere was supposed to be more subdued, with an air of quiet contemplation. It would have been a perfect way to end the day, reflecting on the beauty I could have witnessed.

My first hanami experience was more than just a picnic under the no show weeping cherry trees. It was a glimpse into Japanese culture, a celebration of the fleeting beauty of spring, and a reminder to slow down and appreciate the simple things in life. I can't wait to experience the real deal next year, maybe under a canopy of a fully bloom cherry blossoms in a serene Kyoto garden, or perhaps amidst the lively crowds of Ueno Park.

Have you ever experienced hanami? What are your favorite traditions or memories? Share your thoughts in the comments below!



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