Saturday, April 03, 2010

Hello Japan! April mini-challenge: a celebration of spring and sakura

Hello Japan!
Hello Japan! is a monthly mini-challenge focusing on Japanese literature and culture. Each month there will be a new task which relates to some aspect of life in Japan. Anyone is welcome to join in any time. You can post about the task on your blog. Or if you don't have a blog, you can leave a comment on the Hello Japan! post for the month. Everyone who completes the task will then be included in the drawing for that month's prize. For more information, just click on the Hello Japan! button above, or if you have any questions please feel free to email me at inspringthedawn AT gmail DOT com.
April's Topic

The end of March to early April is a much anticipated time of year in Japan.  Spring is making itself felt, at last, but most importantly it's sakura season, when the thousands of cherry trees all over Japan begin to blossom.  Cherry blossom viewing, or hanami, is an important ritual to welcome spring that everyone looks forward to each year. The weather channels watch closely and predict the optimum days for viewing. Websites track the progress of the cherry blossoms from the southern islands of Japan up to the northernmost tip.  Nowadays you can even install free iPhone apps that tell you the condition of the cherry blossoms, and the weather, at numerous well-known sakura viewing spots around the country.  People stock up on food and drink.  Parties are planned.  The lowest ranking, or newest, members of a company department are responsible for guarding a choice patch of earth underneath a flowering pink tree, sometimes all night!  Then for a few precious days when the blossoms are at their best, pretty much wherever you go, you'll see people of all ages eating, drinking, laughing, singing, playing and generally enjoying themselves under the canopy of fragile pink blossoms.

hanami parties at Showa Kinen Koen
photo taken this afternoon (April 3rd, 2010)

To say that Japan has a bit of a love affair with the sakura, is to put it mildly, but there's something about the sakura blossoms that seems to resonate with the Japanese more than any other flowering trees.  This is linked to the Japanese sensibility of mono no aware, and the fleeting nature of the cherry blossoms themselves.  Poets have long revered the delicate beauty of the sakura, as they are also tinged with inevitable melancholy.  After a glorious burst of pale pink blossoms, before you know it the last petals have fallen, and you must wait a whole year to see them again.  A metaphor for the transience of life.  The poetry of nature.  And a perfect excuse to party!


April's Task

This month's task is to celebrate spring, in particular the beloved sakura.  You could share photos of cherry blossoms, have a picnic, or your own hanami party, under a cherry tree, or eat some sakura-flavoured sweets.  If you've been to Japan during sakura season you can tell us about that.  But what if it's not spring in your part of the world, or what if there aren't any sakura trees nearby, you wonder?  I know that unfortunately not everyone can enjoy the sakura in person, but you don't have to be near actual cherry trees to participate, or have ever even seen any in person, for that matter.  There are so many other ways to appreciate sakura and join in the mini-challenge.  You could read a haiku that mentions sakura, by one of the famous haiku masters like Basho, or Issa.  Or you could write your own ode to the cherry blossom.  It is National Poetry Month after all, in the US at least. You could listen to Japanese music that mentions sakura.  You could make origami sakura flowers.  You could make a pink, sakura-inspired cake, or sakura-shaped cookies.  You could read Will Ferguson's Hitching Rides with Buddha, a travel memoir of a Canadian who lived and taught English in Japan and one spring followed the cherry blossom front from south to north, hitchhiking all the way.  A very amusing book, click on the title to read my short review.  Really, pretty much anything goes as long as it involves sakura somehow.  So this month's task might require some imagination but I hope you're up to the challenge and I really look forward to seeing what you come up with. 

April's Prize

One person who participates in the mini-challenge this month will be selected at random to receive this set of sakura tea.  Included are two tea bags each of sakura green tea, sakura black tea, and sakura hojicha (a type of roasted green tea).

sakura tea

sakura tea

To be eligible for the prize, you must complete this month's mini-challenge and provide a link to your post.  If you don't have a blog, you can leave a comment with the details on this post, or email me at inspringthedawn AT gmail DOT com. You are welcome to post more than once and add the links below.  I love it when you are enthusiastic about a topic!  However, each participant will receive only one entry per month.  It doesn't matter if you've won previously, you're eligible each month that you participate.  Please let me know if you have any questions.

Once you have completed the task, don't forget to come back here to add your link to the Mr. Linky below. Please submit the link to the actual post, not just to your top page, and please only submit links to posts relating to the Hello Japan! task for this month. All other links will be deleted. Thank you for your understanding.  Have fun!

Happy spring!

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  1. Love the book ('Hitchhiking with Buddha') but prefer the alternative title - 'Hokkaido Highway Blues'. I read this a while back and was envious of his journey (as I am when reading any travel book). I may just give this another go this month - time permitting, of course ;)

  2. I posted a review in my Sunday Salon of The Old Capital by Kawabata, which describes the cherry blossom festival in Kyoto. I also included some spring photos of Kyoto that I took but they were a week or so beforethe blossoms appeared.
    My Sunday Salon.

  3. April mini-challenge:

    My son moved to Japan 3 weeks ago, so I asked him to send me some photos of sakura in his neighborhood.

    He first said it had been raining and cold a lot lately, "meaning the sakura are being difficult."

    But he sent me photos yesterday, which I've posted here:


    The photos are of one 'display' but from different angles, just down the street from his apartment.

    He lives in the city of Ishioka, in the prefecture of Ibaraki -- and these are the first photos I've seen of where he lives, so thanks to this challenge for that! :)

  4. I've linked to my cherry blossom experience :)

  5. I have many Japanese friends in the UK. We all look forward to the cherry blossom season as there is so much meaning behind this beautiful flowering tree.
    Below is a poem at the head of chapter 12 of Geisha written by Liza Dalby. In the chapter she explains the meaning of sakuru and describes Sukurako a young Shimbashi geisha who entered the profession in the spring of 1975.

    Sakura, sakura,
    When is it that people
    Gad about under the cherry?
    From the end of March
    To the middle of April,
    it's nothing but
    Bloomin' blooms of

    Sakura sakura to
    Hitobito ga
    Ukaretamau wa
    Itsu no koto?
    Sangatsu sue
    Kara shigatsu
    No nakaba kana

    Once some visitors from Japan, nostalgic for their home country, took photos of the young blossoming cherry tree in our garden. I would love to plant one wherever we live.
    I hope, as a visitor to your blog, I have contributed an interesting thought.


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