As anyone who has lived or visited there knows, Japan has five seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Sakura Season.
From the time the first delicate cherry blossoms sprout in late February in Okinawa and Kyushu until the last pink petals fall in Hokkaido in May, the Land of the Rising Sun becomes a brighter place. Smiles broaden, spirits lift and cares evaporate, at least for those few minutes or hours spent under the canopy of pink.
While the purple plum blossoms of a month before actually harken the end of another cold, harsh winter, it’s not until the celebrated Sakura buds bow spring finally feels that it has arrived. Even when, as this year, dramatically unseasonable cold gripped the Kanto and Kansai regions until late April, schedules are altered and time found to stroll through Tokyo’s Ueno Park or the grounds of Kyoto’s temples.
On weekends and holidays, these places explode with life. Blankets are spread under the pink branches, low tables filled with takoyaki, okonomiyaki, yakiniku and, of course, plenty of beer. Street artists find their fans, jugglers juggle and foreign performers send crowds into fits with their gaijin antics.
In Kyoto, Sakura Season is also the time to bring out the kimono, both for him and her. Instagramming your love under the blooms is a must-do item for the young women decked out in the pink and purple kimonos that have replaced the dour browns and orange robes of their mothers.
Of course, they’re big with the tourists, who made up most of those in costume this April at Kyoto’s major sites.
In Japan, where regimen and routine rule for 11 months a year, Sakura Season is a time to breath deep and enjoy life. Whatever is stacked of on the desks of the salarymen and OGs can wait for another day. For these weeks, it’s all about peace and friviloity, with a bit of street food tossed in.