The Displaced Nation

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JESS IN JAPAN: After all the hype, cherry blossom season underwhelms

JessinJapan_column

Jessica Awanohara in Tokyo (winter 2014); photo credit: Hiro Awanohara.

Jessica Awanohara moved from New York to Tokyo with her Japanese husband, Hiro, at the end of last year. What is it like to step “through the looking glass” and treat Japan as a home rather than a quirky place to visit? Jess keeps us abreast of her progress via this occasional column-cum-photos.

After a long, cold, all-around terrible winter, April is here, and in at least half of this beautiful world of ours, that means that spring has sprung! Crocuses are peaking through the nearly frozen plains of Central Park; monarch butterflies are beginning their multi-generational migration from Mexico to northerly climes; and in Tokyo, where I now reside, the most spectacular seasonal transition of them all—the blooming of the cherry trees, or sakura—has been taking place.

This being my first sakura season in Japan, I wasn’t entirely prepared for the national obsession with tracking when, where and how to best view the blossoms. In fact, for at least three weeks, sakura viewing was the only thing anyone talked about. Friends regaled us with stories of sakura seasons past, advising on the best and worst parks in Tokyo for beholding the spectacle of the storied blossoms. Like stock tips, they whispered these insights authoritatively, as though acting upon them would determine our very future.

I learned, for instance, that Inokashira Park, in the northwestern part of the city, was “too crowded, wild, and ‘diverse'” while Nakameguro, in the southeast, was the “ideal spot for a first-timer” like myself.

Meanwhile, the sakura craze was heightened by CNN-style coverage on TV. Whole segments of the morning and evening news were dedicated to maps, predictions, histories, and images detailing the slow ascension of blossoms from Okinawa to Hokkaido.

By the time the trees were showing their first buds, all I could think about was the prospect of attending a viewing party. In case you haven’t heard, celebrating under a fully blossomed cherry tree, a festival known as ohanami, is as eagerly anticipated as the blossoms themselves. All of Tokyo, it seems, comes out for marathon sessions of en plein air eating and drinking, presumably turning as pink as the flowers.

But as luck would have it, this year things would be different. Tokyo was soaked by two straight weeks of hard rain and cold weather. The delicate pink sakura petals were washed away before they were able to reach full bloom.

Braving these inclement conditions, my husband and I biked to a couple of nearby parks and well-known streets to soak up whatever we could (hopefully without getting too soaked!). But the grey skies and cold weather kept our spirits, along with the blooms, at bay. In fact, it was almost too depressing to document the mostly bare branches and paltry spray of revelers, but here, readers, are a few mementos of my first cherry blossom season in Tokyo:

Early sakura in Nakameguro; photo credit: Jessica Awanohara.

Early sakura in Nakameguro, alongside Meguro River, the recommended destination for newbies; photo credit: Jessica Awanohara.

At least someone is trying to get his party blooms on; photo credit: Jessica Awanohara.

At least someone (see man on curb) is trying to get his party blooms on; photo credit: Jessica Awanohara.

The actual best spot to view cherry blossoms this year, snapped on the way to an interview in Shinsen; photo credit: Jessica Awanohara.

The actual best spot to view cherry blossoms this year, snapped on the way to an interview in Shinsen; photo credit: Jessica Awanohara.

* * *

Thanks, Jessica. Sorry to hear it was such a wash-out! Readers, Jess’s experiences raises a classic Displaced Q: How many of you have sought an iconic experience during your stay abroad that didn’t quite live up to your expectations?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s fab post!

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