text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
I am not original. Thirty five million Japanese and countless foreigners, both tourists and residents share my opinion that any and all discussion about Japan must start from Tokyo. Therefore, I can’t begin a new collaboration like this one with the Hellenic Japanese Center from anywhere else than from the city which felt as familiar as Athens since the first time I set my foot on it.
Tokyo has many ways to make you feel comfortable; it has also many ways to make you feel a stranger in the deepest and most desperate meaning of the word, but the one doesn’t necessarily negate the other. Personally, among the moments that bring me closer to Tokyo, I will choose the various fairs, the ones called “matsuri” in Japanese. And one of the biggest matsuri (even if it’s not always called that way) is the “hanami”.
“Hanami” means “looking at the flowers” and by “flowers” we almost always mean the cherry blossoms. Every spring, when the cherry trees bloom, the Japanese will seize any chance they find to sit under the trees and enjoy their beauty. Some cynics call the hanami a chance for food and drink and it might seem that way but in reality the Japanese don’t need excuses when it comes to eating or drinking!
Actually, the hanami, like all matsuri and like many other activities that characterize Japanese life, is an expression of the communal feeling; the Japanese are a people extremely private and at the same time extremely social –I guess the former is a consequence of the latter. The common enjoyment of a phenomenon as beautiful as the blossomed cherry trees, is a reminder and a confirmation not of the “fleeting nature of things” as is usually written but of the fact that the viewers are Japanese.
Of course, the short life of the cherry blossoms certainly brings to mind the frailty of things and I’m pretty sure there are people who also think of them that way. But for me, and I believe for many Japanese as well, the true enjoyment lies in this communal feeling, in the participation in an event that involves everyone living in Japan; even the people who just happened to be here at the particular moment.
I like Japan in any season. But I truly believe that if someone wants to experience Tokyo as it was 200-300 years ago, during the Edo Period, must come here when the cherry trees blossom and must go to one of the dozens of recommended hanami spots. My personal preference is Asakusa; particularly the Sumida Koen park, near the Sumida river –where this picture was taken.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years. For more information about his work and his writing, visit http://about.me/GrigorisMiliaresis and http://www.japanarekore.gr/