Friday, April 18, 2008

what's with the sakura craze?

I was invited to a hanami party* the weekend after I came back from my snowboarding trip. The weekend when I was away enjoying the last bits of snow was supposedly the best time to enjoy sakura in Tokyo. All the famous parks in the metropolitan were packed with people. It gets so krazy that people actually have to book their spots few days in advance.

What they do is put up cardboards with their name or organisation and the date and time that they would be sitting under that cherry tree. If this was in Malaysia, that sign would be gone the next minute, replaced by another sign. Or maybe replaced many times over until someone actually sits down there! But this is Japan, once you put your sign there, people respect it and have to look for another spot to have their picnic.

But I had to turn that invitation down becoz a Malaysian friend had just flown in to Haneda from an assignment in Izumo prefecture further down the Honshu island. As excited as I was over welcoming spring, I wasn't that keen on the booze accompanying it. Besides, I had already done a little hanami with my colleagues at the river near our office. The river banks were just flowing with sakura, its petals dotting the almost stagnant water.

These pictures were, however, taken at the canal area in Ichigaya after I met up with my Japanese tutor. It was such a beautiful Saturday morning that I decided instead of taking the train back, I would just follow the canal and walk back to my place which was 2 stops away. There was a small park beside the station, there were still some people enjoying their last hanami. Very Japanese of them to clean up the place after that, throwing rubbish in the right bins - burnables, unburnables and recyclables.

After about 20 minutes, I passed the next station, Iidabashi and crossed the bridge over to the other side to have a different view. As I admired the view from the bridge, it came to my realisation that in the distance was the very restaurant that I had celebrated my birthday, the Canal Cafe! Back then, the trees were still bare and seemed so lifeless. Just a month after, they sprang to life with all these pink blossoms.

The walk to the Canal Cafe was a bit further than it looked. I had a good chat with my then future Japanese tutor about having private lessons. I thought since I was living here I might as well improve on my language skills, and what better way than to push myself than to go for the JLPT 2** exams. I tried to find schools nearby but most of them offered classes during the weekdays. With my unusual working hours, I couldn't commit to regular classes. With my knack for being gung-ho in the initial stages, that meant my own initiative to study on my own had sorta sizzled out too!

Yes, it's a little expensive having a private tutor, but at least I get ALL the attention ALL of the time and having to pay that money to study some things which I've already studied back in uni should be more than motivation to study really hard! The least I get out of this is being able to read more than just simple signs and having basic daily conversation, I want to be able to read faster, respond faster and feel less frustrated about my inability to lead a normal life here!

So anyways, having all these thoughts running in my head while I was walking helped make the journey shorter. In no time, I was already at the restaurant. It actually looked lovely from outside, now that the open air seats were shaded by the cherry blossoms near the canal bank. The line outside was still as long as I last remembered, but there were more people rowing boats this time.

I'm glad I decided to take that walk back home.

* Hanami literally means flower watching. In this context, it means admiring the cherry blossom at its peak, in welcoming spring, but it's basically an excuse to drink!
** JLPT - Japanese Language Proficiency Test, 4 being the lowest, 1 being highest level

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