Spring has sprung here in Fukui: my car's windshield is ice-free in the mornings (yippee!); I no longer see my breath indoors while walking through the hallways at school; and, perhaps most importantly, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
Happy, happy times.
The Japanese are serious about their sakura (cherry blossoms). This shouldn't come as a surprise: the Japanese are serious about nature in general. Remember my tale about the teacher who drove 7 hours to see fall leaves? Add to that dedication to nature the fact that the sakura blossoms last only a week or two, and you have an all-out sakura hysteria. The Japanese say that the brevity of the sakura is what makes them most beautiful.
Each year, the Japanese weather service issues a blossom forecast (桜前線) which shows when the sakura blossom "front" will start in the south of Japan (in late March) and move up to the northern parts (by early May). This forecast allows folks to plan hanami (flower viewing) parties, which involve packing a picnic, setting up a tarp under the blossoming trees, and drinking lots and lots and lots of sake.
On Friday, I went to school, proudly announcing to my colleagues that I would be doing "hasami" on Saturday. I felt so cool. I thought they'd be happy to learn that I was participating in something so Japanese. Instead, my little proclamation was met with stifled laughter and confused stares.
Hasami (with an 's') means 'scissors' in Japanese. Doh!
Turns out my hanami experience was as botched as my attempts to pronounce it. I had planned to meet two friends at the castle here in town, which, conveniently, is surrounded by cherry trees. Unfortunately, Saturday, in true Fukui fashion, turned out to be overcast and rainy. The raindrops pelted away some of the blossoms in the morning, leaving a soggy, cold mess at our designated afternoon hanami time. We met at the castle anyway, accepted a couple of beers from a few die-hard fellow hanami-ers, took a few half-hearted pictures (the picture above is actually from earlier last week, taken in Fukui City while I was walking to my car...), shivered for about 10 minutes, and then called it a day. Oh well.
So my hanami was as short-lived as the blossoms themselves. Hanami, hasami. Let's call the whole thing off.