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2011 Sakura May 3, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over to read “2011 Sakura” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-FY

 

It is officially the end of the sakura season for 2011.  The sakura season began in early April and lasted for just under 1 week for the full bloom.  This year has been a very mixed year in Tokyoand Japandue to the Great East Japan Earthquake.  The sakura season in Tokyoand Japanare no exception either.  While things had started to return to normal at the start of April, things were not completely back to normal.  The state of Tokyo itself was still in a mild state of shock and the history of the cherry blossoms had reminded people of the traditional stories that had been passed down from generation to generation and taught in various textbooks and media.

Aside from the actual beauty of the cherry blossoms, there is a lot of symbolism and many stories.  I have heard a lot of these and only found a little information in English that was easy to research and find information on.  Mortality is the main symbol of the cherry blossoms.  They have been a symbol of our mortality and how life can be very short yet beautiful.  The cherry blossoms start to bud and within a week of budding they are blooming.  Shortly after that, the spring winds blow the petals away leaving nothing but the nearly bare branches exposed for a short time before the leaves replace them.  It’s a very short process that takes only a few weeks.  If you are lucky, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom for almost two weeks, but for most of the time it is around one week.  This year the symbolism of mortality has been especially poignant this year due to the Great East Japan Earthquake (Tohoku Earthquake).  With over 10,000 people found dead at the start of Tokyo’s cherry blossom season, many people were still unable to get past the sadness that the country has endured for what was less than a month.  The region was also dealing with the ongoing nuclear crisis and wondering what would arise from such problems in the future.  Needless to say the atmosphere in Tokyo was far from celebratory.

I mentioned two years ago that there was a fairy tale that highlighted the fact that many dead bodies were buried under the cherry trees and that their souls were linked to the trees themselves.  Since then, I have heard a few more stories that included the “fact” that the ashes of the dead were scattered around the base of the cherry trees as well.  The symbolism of this act was that the people who died would be reincarnated as petals within the tree itself.  This is also more so for those who had committed suicide or sacrificed themselves for their country such as those who died or committed suicide for Japan in war.  I still cannot find any information regarding this in any online source however this has been relayed to me by various students.  This is of course changing from person to person but the basics are all the same.  This also creates a tale for children that the trees themselves are haunted.  This is to keep the children away from the trees, especially at night.  Some stories include the fact that if you go to see the cherry trees alone at night, you will die.  I would theorize, as with many other tales, that this was to prevent children from going to see the cherry blossoms alone at night when it could be dangerous.  It is also another reason for many cities to illuminate the blossoms at night in order to “protect” people from being “killed” or “taken away”.

This year in Tokyo was very different indeed.  While I didn’t personally go to any parks to witness the cherry blossom parties, I did have a chance to walk around; see pictures from friends; and hear first hand accounts from my students and friends.  The hanami season (cherry blossom viewing/cherry blossom party) was definitely different.  There were less people and less noise.  Most of the famous parks were quieter than normal.  Most companies had cancelled their parties and most parties were of friends and families only.  The Governor of Tokyo, Mr. Ishihara, called on everyone to refrain from having hanami parties and to respect the dead in the difficult times.  There were many opinions about this action and I will refrain from voicing mine as much as possible.  This basically caused a lot of companies to cancel their plans, if they had any, and most of the parks that lit up the trees at night were dark.  Several parks had signs that requested people to avoid having parties under the cherry blossoms and the few parties that I did see were very quiet affairs.  Rather than the raucous parties where people drink excessively, I would imagine that people just enjoyed a few drinks and enjoyed the chatting more.  Of course I wasn’t there so I can’t truly comment on the outcome.  It could well be that there were some groups that were pretty loud but I can’t say for sure.

Unfortunately, the parks were not as busy as a regular year.  This could also be a blessing for some however it was still busy.  Unlike most years where you would be hard pressed to find a good spot to enjoy the cherry blossoms, this year you could find spaces without looking too hard.  The party mood was definitely more sombre than normal however it will be an anomaly.  I’m sure that by next year the parties will return and the drunken mess will be back.  Tokyo will be its regular happy and raucous self.

Cherry Blossom Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherry_blossom

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

2010 Sakura March 26, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2010 Sakura” and other posts from this blog.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-ow

It’s that time of year again.  It is now official.  The Japan Meteorological Agency has officially announced that the cherry blossoms in Tokyo are blooming.  This is a wonderful, if somewhat annoying, time of year.  The year is full of beautiful cherry trees that are full of pink blossoms.  You also have hundreds, if not thousands of people relaxing in the parks enjoying copious amounts of alcohol.  Love it or hate it, it’s a beautiful time of year.

For more information about the Sakura Season, please refer to my old blog post from last year:  http://wp.me/s2liAm-sakura

Information:

List of Sakura viewing sites (Japanese only):  http://www.mapple.net/sp_sakura/
Yahoo! Japan (Japanese only):  http://sakura.yahoo.co.jp/
Yahoo! Japan (Tokyo region – Japanese only):  http://sakura.yahoo.co.jp/spot/list/13.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Sakura April 21, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Sakura” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-sakura

Late March into mid-April is the Sakura season in Japan.  Every year, within a two week window, the cherry blossoms start to bloom turning Japan into a sea of pink.  It marks the true start to spring.  If you plan your trip to coincide with this season, you will not be disappointed.  You’ll be able to experience a unique Japan that very few tourists will ever experience.

Many people wonder what is so special about the cherry blossoms.  It isn’t, necessarily, only the fact that they are beautiful, but also some of the history of the cherry blossoms with Japan.  It has been part of their culture for centuries, if not millenia.  There is a fairy tale saying that there is a body buried underneath each cherry tree.  Cherry trees are the only trees in Japan that have flowers that bloom before leaves are grown.  While I cannot verify this claim, it does help promote the tale.  This also brings a feeling that cherry trees are somewhat magical and it can bring about powers to many people.  It is very common to see cherry trees planted within temple grounds, parks, along rivers, and almost everywhere else a tree can be planted.

The most popular thing to do in Japan during the sakura season is to go to a hanami.  In fact, many Japanese people don’t say “sakura season” but rather “hanami season”.  Literally translated, this means flower watching season, or more specifically watching the cherry blossoms.  On weekends, it’s common to see families enjoying a nice stroll in the park or along the river enjoying the beautiful cherry trees.  You can see many friends playing Frisbee or just having a nice time talking to one another.  It’s a great time to have a picnic.  These usually involve bentos (Japanese style packed lunches) and onigiri (rice balls with some type of filling and seaweed wrapped around it).  When the sun goes down, things can change dramatically.  Often, there are many floodlights that are turned on to make the pink blossoms stand out even more.  It can create very surreal experience.  It is also when all of the office workers come out to party.

Hanami parties are very common for offices and friends.  For the two weeks that the cherry blossoms are blooming, almost every office in Japan will have their own hanami party.  While this is probably declining in recent years, it’s still a popular tradition among the older companies.  Being the end of the fiscal year for most companies, and the start for most new recruits, it’s the final menial task for new recruits who are about to enter their second year with a company.  They have one, and only one mission.  Find a nice spot in a park, a park that has been decided by the office, and start camping out there from the mid-afternoon.  The spaces under the cherry trees, themselves, are often taken by noon, and some workers must camp out there all day.  It’s a long and boring task that essentially involves unfurling a large blue tarp, making sure it’s secure, and then sleeping all day.  They can also play games on their phone or whatever electronics they have.  Once their co-workers finish for the day, they can start to party.  Generally, it’s a loud, crowded, and jovial event.  If you are weary of such crowds, it’s best to avoid the parks at night, but there are a few places you can visit that are still nice, and not too bad.

In Tokyo, there are several great places to visit.  Ueno Park is one of the most famous places in the north.  The entire park is lined with cherry blossoms, but unfortunately, the entire park is paved, so there is very few, if any, grassy areas to sit, eat, and enjoy the cherry blossoms.  It’s also one of the most crowded areas in this season.  Another area is Kudanshita.  It is an area north of the Imperial Palace.  There are many areas here that can be enjoyed, along with almost any other place around the Imperial Palace.  Yasukuni Shrine is another famous, if not controversial, place to visit.  There are many cherry trees within the shrine and along the streets surrounding this shrine.  It’s a beautiful place.  Shinjuku Gyoen is also highly recommended, as is Shiba Park at the foot of Tokyo Tower.  The Sumida River and Meguro River is also famous and worth a visit if you have the time; and you aren’t tired of looking at cherry blossoms.

If you need to get out of Tokyo, Kyoto is always highly recommended.  The cherry blossoms are always nice, but I have not had the chance to see them.  I would also recommend visiting Himeji.  It becomes more beautiful with all the pink blossoms providing a new look to the castle.  It’s somewhat rare to see the white castle framed with cherry blossoms.  The park in front of the castle is also very nice and extremely popular for locals to enjoy the weekend.  If you get a chance, I’d also highly recommend visiting Himeji during this season as well.

The cherry blossom season is a beautiful time to visit.  Just remember that you have to be very lucky to get your timing right.  Pick a few weeks to visit and cross your fingers.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Tokyo (Shinjuku – East side and Kabukicho) Part III December 15, 2008

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Shinjuku – East side of Kabukicho)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-4R

This is Part III of my Shinjuku post. Please go to my first and second post for more information Shinjuku .

 

Shinjuku Nichome is an infamous district in Tokyo.  It’s known as the gay and transvestite section of Tokyo.  There are many TV shows showcasing the bars and atmosphere of Nichome.  It is very well known to Tokyoites, however many people rarely venture into this area.  You will definitely see male oriented adult shops, but it’s relatively tame during the daytime.  When the sun goes down, and the bars open up, you’ll start to see people enter and enjoy a crazy time.  While this area is known as a gay district, just West of Nichome and East of the train tracks is Shinjuku Gyoen.  This is one of the Imperial Gardens of Tokyo.  The cost of admission is 200 Yen, and depending on the time of year, it’s worth it.  During the Spring time, you’ll be greeted by tall cherry trees that are completely pink with cherry blossoms.   It can be a beautiful sight.  Beware of the early afternoon and night as it’s also a famous place for Hanami parties.  During the Hanami season, Japanese people gather with their friends or co-workers for a night of drinking beer under the cherry blossoms.  It can become a very exciting night.  During the day, you’ll even see one of the new employees sleeping on a big blue tarp, keeping the space reserved so that his co-workers can join him for the party.  In the Summer time, the trees are green allowing you a beautiful getaway from the city.  You’ll be graced with the presence of rare birds and fauna for Tokyo as well.  In late Autumn there is a Chrysanthemum exhibit and the Autumn Leaves season.  This is when all the leaves turn a magnificent red, yellow, and orange.  Like the cherry blossom season, you must be very lucky to be here at that time.  Being one week too early or too late will not help you.  The season lasts around one week, max.  If you just happen to be here at that time, this is a place that I’d definitely recommend.  Note that in Winter, the leaves of most trees have fallen, and the grass begins to turn yellow or brown, so it isn’t worth it.  Avoid December-March.

Kabukicho is considered to be the most dangerous place in Tokyo, if not Japan.  It’s Tokyo’s unofficial red light district and home to many bars, clubs, and adult (sex) shops.  Like most places where sex is the main attraction, you’ll be able to enjoy great food in this area.  Restaurants and bars are everywhere and getting fast food is also very easy.  If you miss your train and need food or coffee, this is probably the most guaranteed area where you’ll find something.  You may even be surprised by the quality of the food.  The clubs, on the other hand, tend to have mixed results.  While I have never visited one myself, they range from typical host and hostess clubs (kabakura), to strip clubs.  Dancing is better in Roppongi or Shibuya.  Visiting a host or hostess club is a very strange experience, from what I’ve been told.  You are basically paying to drink and talk to someone.  The bill usually starts from 10,000 yen, and there are no limits.  The women in this area can be quite beautiful, however they tend to be dressed in very fancy evening gowns and very puffy hair.  The hosts tend to wear cheesy suits and also have puffy (Dragonball) hair.  Unfortunately, foreigners may have a tough time entering one of these clubs as the owners are afraid of foreigners abusing the system and not knowing how to act in one of these clubs.  Each club will be different and the types of girls/guys working there will vary.  While the majority look the same, be aware that there are some transvestite clubs in this area too.  In terms of sex stores and clubs, they are also everywhere, but they tend to be behind opaque curtains.  Many African men, and Japanese of course, will solicit you (mainly men) to enter one of their clubs.  This will probably mean a very high cover charge that you were never told about, or something even more expensive.  I’ll let your own imagination paint the picture.  The good thing is that these guys are rarely, if ever, in the area before 6pm.  However, it’s a great place to walk and see the other side of Japan, the side that most people would like to forget.  Regarding the “most dangerous place in Japan”, I don’t believe this place is that dangerous.  It’s not completely safe, but it’s still safer than the rest of the world.  If you have lived a sheltered life, I don’t recommend it, but if you have travelled a lot, or know how to handle yourself, it’s a fun place to check out.  You don’t have to spend a lot of time here either.  It does get boring, very fast.

So that’s Shinjuku.  In all respects, it is a city unto itself.  If you pick a direction and start walking, you’ll see something different every time.  You can spend two full days exploring the different areas of Shinjuku, but I only recommend one.  There is so much more to see in Tokyo.   However, if you live in Tokyo, please visit Shinjuku often and check out each district.  The “city” has a bad reputation among many people, but it’s still a wonderful city to check out and enjoy.  It literally has something for everyone, unlike most of the other districts in Tokyo.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Tokyo (Shinjuku – South and East Areas) Part II December 9, 2008

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Shinjuku – South and East Areas)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-4b

This is Part II of III of my Shinjuku post.  Please go to my first post for information on the west side of Shinjuku Station.

Looking to the South, you’ll be greeted by hotels and the slow developing area around Takashimaya Department Store.    Heading South of Koshu Kaido, you’ll be greeted by Shinjuku Southern Terrace and a walkway that leads to Takashimaya.  Southern Terrace is a popular place for couples to hang out, have a nice meal, and drink Starbucks on a patio.  It’s one of the few Starbucks with a real patio.  During the Christmas season (Nov. 1 – Dec. 25), the entire area is lit up with thousands of Christmas lights.  Southern Terrace is also home to the first Krispy Kreme shop in Japan.  As of writing this, there are still 30-60 minute line-ups to buy donuts.  Talk about crazy.  There is a pedestrian bridge that also affords wonderful views of Shinjuku Station itself and all the trains coming in and out of the station.  It’s fun to watch for a few minutes and provides some interesting photos.  You are also within sight of Yoyogi Station.  On the Eastern side of the tracks, the main thing to do is visit Takashimaya.  It is a large department store with wonderful restaurants with beautiful views.  It isn’t as crowded as other department stores in Shinjuku and has ample amounts of space.  It is also the location of Tokyu Hands and the biggest Kinokinuya Bookstore in Shinjuku.  Various mainstream trendy fashion shops are starting to open branches in this area of Shinjuku.  In the future, I would imagine it would grow into it’s own little neighborhood.  However, for now, it’s a great place to get away from the huge crowds of Shinjuku, yet it will still be busy.

Looking to the East of Shinjuku Station, you’ll find 3 famous areas.  Immediately next to the station is Higashi Shinjuku and Shinjuku Sanchome (I will refer to this area as Shinjuku Sanchome).  A little farther on, you’ll reach Shinjuku Nichome and Shinjuku Gyoen, and somewhat to the North-East is Kabukicho.   Shinjuku Sanchome is a venerable shopping and drinking district.  It is bordered by the Lumine EST and Isetan Department Stores.  Lumine EST is known for it’s two restaurant floors and Isetan is known for shopping and it’s basement food floor.  It was remodeled about 2 years ago and features a lot of good eats.  If you are looking for the heart and life of Shinjuku, Sanchome is the place to be.  Many young people hang out at night in a square just outside the station.  Beyond the station’s entrance, you’ll be greeted by various shops that will sell almost anything you can imagine.  There is a small “adult” themed section next to Kabukicho; upscale shopping along Shinjuku-dori; drinking and eating South of Shinjuku-dori; and electronics and theatres scattered throughout the East side.  On weekends and holidays, Shinjuku-dori is closed to traffic and it becomes a pedestrian paradise.  It’s a wonderful experience to enjoy Shinjuku.  Do beware of the area after 6pm, as it becomes extremely crowded and extremely difficult to navigate.  However, after 10pm or so, things become calmer and enjoying a night at one of the bars or restaurants is highly recommended.

Update (October 18, 2009):  Do note that across from Isetan, Marui has re-opened their main store after rebuilding it for a few years.  It is very beautiful, but caters to women.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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