Another year, and already sakura season’s almost over, thank God. So exhausting, all that relaxing under the cherry blossom trees, for real.
Sakura season isn’t just great. It’s better than great, whatever that is, since everyone’s waited like six months for Japan to get warm again, and then once it does, Boom! it’s Hanami Party Explosion. I guess I should say that hanami is a Japanese word that translates to “Sitting under blossoming trees on giant blue plastic sheets and drinking ridiculous amounts of sake while eating boxes of rice with little weiners shaped like octopuses.” But maybe “hanami” sounds better, and anyway it’s shorter.
Japanese April Fool’s Joke
On a related note, have you noticed that everything in Japan starts on April first, like a giant April Fool’s joke the nation plays on its citizens? Schools start, companies welcome their new employees, and contracts are renewed. I finally figured out why.
See, if you had to face a year of working till midnight six days a week, and you got a contract in gray, freezing January, you’d say, Screw this, I’m moving to Thailand. But in the springtime, when you see all those pink trees with their lovely cotton candy flowers, you think, Ahhh, Japan, how could I have ever doubted you? I love you. Now, where do I sign? Then a week later it rains and all the flowers are gone, and you’re like, Aw, man, what’ve I done? Probably drank way too much sake, is what.
So once the flowers start to bloom, everyone and their employee races to the park to stake out the best spots under the flowering trees. And then the not-so-great spots next to the bushes. And then some rocky-ass ledge overlooking a canal, because you got there late. But you’ve only got a few days to get in your massive bacchanalia and then it’s back to work for a year, so you invite everyone you know—come to my hanami!
My Faulty DNA
My problem, as any doctor will tell you, is that I have no self control. I just can not not go to every hanami party I’m invited to. It’s genetic, so it’s not my fault. Don’t hate on the handicapped, is what I’m saying. So rather than lazily stumbling to the park in the sun with a couple cans of malt liquor and and falling asleep on the children’s swingset, I spend most of my hanami time hustling through train stations from one party to the next. There’s a lot of flowers to see. And if I don’t see them all, who will? I’m responsible like that.
Walk like a Zombie in Japan
So I’m rushing from one hanami to another, and it’s hazardous, because Japanese people have an almost pathological lack of spacial awareness when they walk. Every day is like National Sleepwalking Day. So as I’m flying down the street on my bike to Ueno park, this dude decides to step off the curb right in front of me. Not even a look before launching his body into the street. Good thing I wasn’t drunk, because I swerved and just missed him. I probably should have snatched his man-purse and kept going, but I didn’t because I’m responsible, as I said. Plus it was brown and I was wearing mostly black, so it wouldn’t have matched. Anyway, this happens all the time. People are constantly making lefts, rights, and u-turns in the middle of crowds without once lifting their heads. I understand if you’re texting on your iPhone, because hey, we all do that, but no smartphone equals no excuse, amigo. So buy one already. Anyway, two hanamis and several cocktails later, I found myself running down the stairs to catch the train right next to some random dude.
Running for the Train
Now, you’re not supposed to run for the train. It’s not, you know, like civically responsible. But let’s be real—the next train’s not for a whole minute and a half, and that’s time you could spend assed-out under some cherry blossoms, so of course you’re gonna run. And me and this guy are racing side by side to make the train before the doors close, going down the steps two at a time, and he’s on the inside of the turn in front of me, so he jumps into the train first, and then—and this is so Japanese—just stops in the doorway, cold. Like he’s instantly forgotten there’s a huge white guy running full-speed an inch behind him.
Once we picked ourselves up from the floor of the train car, this is what our conversation would have sounded like in English:
“Dude, why the hell’d you stop in the middle of the doorway?”
“I didn’t know you also wanted to get in the train!”
“What’d you think I was running for?”
“How should I know?”
But in Japanese, it sounded like, well, nothing, since we didn’t say a word or look at each other. We just dusted ourselves off and pretended like nothing happened. Japanese unspoken communication. It’s easier, sometimes.
Hanami Number Four
My next hanami was in Yoyogi Park with a bunch of people from an English school I used to teach at. One of the dudes was dressed like a woman with a blue wig and voluptuous fake breasts. Actually, he looked pretty hot. We were in the middle of a long field and there was an enormous pile of garbage and at some point I looked up to see one of my female students squatting beside it and taking a whiz. Ah, good times.
Hanami Number Five
This was a spontaneous hanami that happened as I was trying to walk through the crowds avoiding all the Japanese people making sudden turns in front of me. A group of college kids spotted me and called me over to their blue plastic sheet. Actually, it may have been green, but you get the idea.
“Hey, come drink!” a couple of guys shouted in English.
“Okay!” I said, and sat on the edge of their sheet. I’m always up for new adventures of the liquid variety.
“Where are you from?” a girl asked, in English.
“Tokyo,” I replied, in Japanese. It sounds a little different in Japanese, really.
“No, where were you born?” she asked again.
“America,” I confessed.
“Oooh,” Everyone cooed. “America!” They always say that.
“Here, this is Japanese rice wine,” said one of the guys, and poured me a paper cup.
“You mean, sake?” I said.
“Yes, rice wine,” he continued. “And we say ‘kanpai!’”
“I see,” I said. “How does one drink such a beverage?”
“Like this!” shouted another guy. “Kanpai!” and downed an entire cup.
“Well, fair enough,” I said. “Kanpai!” and followed suit.
This seemed to make everyone quite pleased. We did it a few more times.
Hanami Number Six
Suddenly it was early evening and I was in this little park near Oji, walking with some girl. The sun was setting. I remember she seemed very pretty and young, and we were walking slowly. I had a can of beer in one hand. I thought about holding her hand with the other. Since I had a free hand, you know.
“The trees are very beautiful,” I said. This is how you tell a girl you are in love with her in Japan. You talk about nature.
“Yes, they are.” she agreed.
“Spring is such a lovely season,” I continued, “with all the flowers blooming and the air getting warmer. I wonder if it’ll be a full moon tonight?” Talking about the moon is especially good.
“We should probably get back to the party now,” she said.
Hanami Number Seven
Now it was completely dark and cold, and I was drunk as hell in some crowded urban park on the west side of Ikebukuro station. The lights were on under the trees and the flowers were all lit up pink. There was an older woman beside me and she had nice large breasts and I was crying for some reason. I had a tall can of Chu-hi in my hand, which should have made me happy.
“It’ll be okay,” she said, in Japanese, and handed me another tissue.
“But the sakura are all falling,” I sobbed. “They’re all blowing away in the wind. It’s so sad.”
“That’s what they do,” she said.
“But why does life have to be like this? Why does it have to be so tragic and so beautiful? Why does everything go away?
“It’ll be summer soon. You like summer.
“Yes, I do like summer. I really do. God, look at the petals in the wind—just like snow floating up to heaven.
“Yes, there they go,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”
And we sat there and she held my hand, the one without the Chu-hi, while the sakura scattered in the breeze. And that’s how hanami season went down.