When tourists ask when to come to Japan they’re usually told it’s either the autumn for the fall colours or spring during cherry blossoms season. From my observations spring time can be split into three parts: waiting and checking the forecasts when the cherry trees will start blooming, doing everything cherry blossoms related for about a week or two, and waiting for Golden week holidays at end of April. The Tokyo area typically starts blooming at end of March and reaches its peak around a week after. The Kansai area blooms at about the same time and that is why I headed to Kyoto (and Nara). I was not alone though. The new Japanese school year start in April and kids of all ages have holidays at the end of March, many of them come to Kyoto for some sightseeing and cherry blossoms. There’s also a bunch of tourists, the most noticeable being large groups of Chinese. This results in everything being completely overrun.
I extended my weekend and spent 2 days in Kyoto and one in Nara, a Vulcanus friend living there let me crash at his place since the whole Kansai area seemed booked out for the cherry blossom weekends. Most of my time in Nara it was raining but we still managed to take a look around the major sights, Kyoto weather was great, I don’t remember the last time I ended up sunburnt before April. Out of the very many lovely things I’ve seen, one of the best was a visit to the only Slovenian restaurant in Japan, it’s called Pikapolonca. The lunch menu sadly wasn’t really traditional and they were out of Union but I did eat some proper bread and Slovenian pastry – prekmurska gibanica, cheese cake, apple pie and the very traditionally Slovenian baklava (it’s actually Turkish). Most of the photos are from Kyoto and Nara, some are from around home as well.
Hanami or flower viewing is a tradition during which people observe the flowers bloom and wither, their leaves blowing away in the wind. This calls forth strong emotions of transience, the very Zen principles of everything being imperfect and impermanent. The other thing it calls forth are sakura viewing parties! Hanami parties are nothing new if wikipedia is to be believed, people have been enjoying a nice drink with their flowers since ancient times. What is probably a bit more new is a craze to get the best possible photos of the flowers – I’m guilty of that one as well. Zen ideals seem to be the ones getting blown away during gasps of kireeeei and sugoooi (beautiful and amazing) along with drunken shouts and laughs from salarymen releasing steam after a week of overwork. While the crowds can get a bit out of hand, it is still very enjoyable to drink with friends and pretend you’re under the cherry trees to observe something profound and beautiful – that is as Japanese as it gets.