It’s creeping up to that time of year where the cherry trees will bloom, replacing the grey undertones of winter with the soft, pink glow of spring. The blossoms only last a short time before the petals fall to the ground, so you have a very small window of time to enjoy the flowers.
Japanese people really look forward to Spring. It’s the time of the year with the best weather, so that coupled with the pink cherry trees means that everyone will head outside and have picnics in the park. This is called hanami. It can also be used as an excuse to drink outside in the afternoon, especially students and salarymen who seem to embrace that part of the spirit of hanami. Some parks light up the trees at night, and you can keep on doing hanami even after the sun goes down.
Hanami is fun and all, but I think people have overly romanticized the whole thing. I’ve been thinking about my hanami experiences, and it seems that there are a few critical hanami problems that are continually overlooked.
For one thing it is almost impossible to find your friends if you try to meet inside the park. On the peak days some parks are as crowded as Disneyland. There will be literally dozens of people on their cellphones walking around trying to meet up with their group. What do you say to figure where you are in a park with no landmarks to reference from?
“I’m under the really big pink tree.”
“To my left there are some guys drinking beer.”
“40 meters away there was some trash bins.”
It’s pretty futile to try to describe the area where you are to anyone. My best advice is to wander around until you randomly find your friends. If you can’t find your friends, join a group that is already drinking and make them your friends. It is probably easier that way.
It gets pretty ridiculous as people get desperate to find each other. There are just that many people in the park. If it is really crowded people will start waving hands and jumping up and down, but even then there are at least 10 other people doing the same thing to get the attention of their friends.
Another thing that happens quite often is that someone will bring wine. A moderate vintage perhaps? How thoughtful… until you realize the bottle has a cork and no one brought a cork screw. Not so thoughtful.
At this point you will have to access your inner Macgyver. With a small selection of ordinary items, you must figure out how to open the bottle and save the liquid inside. Are you up for this challenge?
Of course you can ask around to see if another group brought an opener, but the odds might not be in your favor. Most people just bring cans of alcohol, so a corkscrew is not exactly something that people will have on them. Your best chance is to look around to see if anyone else is drinking wine, but there is also a chance that their wine had a screw-off cap. That wine might be trapped in the bottle forever at this rate.
After drinking for a while you will eventually have to go to the bathroom. Those 3-4 beers you sucked down? Well guess what…you have to go. NOW.
You walk towards the public bathrooms and see a long line. A very long line. This is going to take a while. Why weren’t you smart enough to go after the second beer? The women’s bathroom line is going to be at least 50 people long, so you will just have to play the dangerous game of holding it for 20 minutes. It’s a character building exercise.
Beer, what have I ever done to you?
I think what makes hanami different from any other picnic or BBQ in Japan is the fact that it is so crowded, it takes an incredible amount of effort to enjoy it. It’s not for the faint of heart.