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Saturday, March 22, 2008

JAPAN LITE

Here they are once again — The Cherry Blossoms!


Nothing excites Japanese people the way cherry blossoms do. Cherry blossoms are something the Japanese are so proud of, they can't help but smile when someone mentions the magic word: o-hanami.

Although o-hanami sounds more like the lyrics to a Christmas carol (Oh, hanami, Oh, hanami, with faithful leaves unchanging. . .), the translation is actually closer to "Oh, flower-watching." It's the time of year when all Japanese find time to go and have a picnic under the cherry trees while the pink cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

I have to admit that, under their spell, it is very difficult to not see the world as Frank Sinatra sees it: through rose-colored glasses.

Even though o-hanami is a springtime frenzy, the idea of cherry blossoms is a year-round phenomenon. My neighbor named her baby girl sakura (God forbid the day she gets deflowered), you can buy "sakura potato chips" all winter long and I have even lived, at one time, on Sakura Street. It's no wonder that one of the best-selling colors for goods in Japan is pink.

O-hanami would have to be in the top 10 things Japanese, up there with beer machines and ritual bathing in natural hot springs.

Every springtime, the cherry blossoms start blooming in the warmest regions of Japan — usually the most southern parts first. If you listen carefully, you can hear the sound of a bugle as the NHK announcer officially states, "They're off! They're on the nobori, headed for Tokyo!"

There ensues a pink petal sweep up the archipelago prefecture by prefecture, as the buds slowly open up. Locals roll out the pink carpet as they eagerly await the cherry blossoms' arrival in their own hometowns. The Meteorological Agency follows the blossoms' movements as if they were a major weather system. They probably even have a color-enhanced GPS.

Much time is spent by weather bureaus and the Japanese public trying to predict when the cherry blossoms will bloom each year.

Much like autumn leaves, no one can be sure exactly when the trees will start turning. Thus, the Japanese public is now in an annual funk as they try to plan events around the optimum time for viewing, when the blooms are at their best.

With all the guesswork that goes into predicting exactly when the cherry blossoms will open to their fullest, you wonder why they don't allow people to place bets on it. People would be happy to participate, and the proceeds could go to "cherrity."

Such joy do cherry blossoms bring to the Japanese archipelago, they would more correctly be called cheery blossoms. What else has the power to lift spirits, of all kinds, like cherry blossoms do?

Cherry blossoms are, quite frankly, the best thing since the Beatles. They even sound like a live tour: "Ladies and gentleman, brought to you live from the Budokan, the Cherry Blossoms!"

For two months, these saucy little buds open their bloomers to crowds of onlookers. It is such a performance, even the blossoms blush. I expect they will some day earn a permanent spot on the Las Vegas Strip.

People will line up days in advance, hoping to catch a glimpse of them, sing with them, dance and drink with them, and sometimes, pass out and sleep with them.

Female fans will wear bright pink rouge and lipstick to show their support. Men will faint (OK, so what if it's from too much drinking? Maybe all those women at Beatles concerts drank too much too).

But, as any Japanese will tell you, the reason any flower is so beautiful is because it is so temporary, so fleeting. And the cherry blossoms know this.

Because of restrictions by their Mother (you know, Mother Nature), the blossoms are not permitted to perform year-round. Ms. Nature (who has apparently, been single all her life) is allowing her Cherry Blossoms to go on tour for just two months. Thus, the blossoms will end their tour in Hokkaido in May this year.

Wherever you are on the archipelago this year, don't miss the Cherry Blossoms' 2008 Live Tour of Japan.



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