>> Monday, April 12, 2010
It's springtime in Japan, which means it's hanami (cherry blossom viewing) time!
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of good places to go sit under the sakura (cherry blossoms) when spring comes, but I decided to avoid the massive downtown crowds and go to the relatively smaller Inokashira Park in nearby Kichijoji. That meant a short trip on the Seibu Tama line to Musashi-sakai, and thence to Kichijoji on the Japan Rail Chuo line. (I'm getting pretty savvy about the Japanese railways!)
The places where you can stand to be first in line at the train station even have little flowers as decoration. The sun was shining, the temperature was higher, the trees were blossoming--it finally felt like spring, after a cold start.
My first warning about the crowds I was going to experience was along the path to the park. When I got off the train, I had to ask a traffic cop for directions, and he just smiled and pointed in the general direction. It didn't take me long to get into the flow of the pedestrian traffic, and just follow their lead.
The park in bloom was pretty spectacular. Inokashira Park has its share of cherry trees, but most of them surround a nice little lake, making the view just as good from one side or the other.
The blue tarps were out again, this time en masse, and most were already filled up with family and friends sitting around eating and drinking and enjoying the sakura.
This is just one small section of the park. It took me perhaps forty-five minutes to an hour to make a complete circuit of the lake, and it looked like this everywhere there was flat space to spread out.
From what I understand, people have to pitch their tarps very early in the morning to get the primo spots. Not all of the partiers want to get there that early, of course--particularly as most of them plan to stay into the wee hours of the next morning. That means some unfortunate soul is tasked with getting there early, spreading the tarps, and claiming them all day by laying on them. Here are a couple of place keepers. Of course, I would have just brought a good book to read, but a nap under the cherry trees sounded like a good idea too. (And that fellow will be up the latest of them all.) Junior salarymen, I'm told, often get tarp placeholder duty until they earn their seniority, as entire offices will picnic together.
The lake, as I said, afforded some terrific views, and is a popular place to go rowing or riding in a swan boat.
I thought about taking a turn around the lake myself, until I saw the sheer number of boats--and how long the line was. After that, I was content to just snap some pics and enjoy the lake from the banks.
Railings are no deterrent when it comes to hanami time. The steep slope down to the water was packed with people close enough to get their feet wet if they turned over.
This couple got themselves a nice place by the water with room to lay out. I wonder how early they had to be there for that? You can see they brought themselves food and wine for the day though. Once you get there, you don't want to have to go out. Domino's and KFC have employees walking around, in fact, who will place orders for you and deliver food to your tarp! Now that's service.
This group had their coolers set up like a long banquet table, with table cloths on top.
Another corner of the packed park.
These guys had gotten into some makeup, and were getting into the festive spirit early. (Note the fellow in the back, seated, getting the treatment.) They weren't shy about getting their picture taken, and were pretty tickled that I joined in. (By taking a picture, not by painting my face blue...although I was sure not to linger before they got any ideas.)
I was so impressed by this spread that I asked if I could snap a shot. That's a serious banquet right there.
And of course they drink beer. Lots and lots of beer--so much that they bring cases of it, and the city brings in massive trash bins just to collect bottles and cans for recycling. As much as the Japanese revelers drink though, I'm told that there is rarely any kind of dust-up or trouble. They get drunk well enough--I've certainly seen that in my travels out at night--but it's generally a very controlled kind of drunk, as befits a tightly knit society.
Here a couple of cosplayers had come out to the park to have their picture taken against the sakura. I never could get them while they were posing, and I was separated from them by a sea of tarps, so I couldn't ask.
On the far side of the lake, the sakura form a pink and white ceiling over the forest. It's really breathtaking.
That's all from the hanami at Inokashira Park! More pics up soon...