Cherry Blossom Time and The Great East Japan Earthquake
by Michelle "Ms. Geek" Klein-Hass
On March 10th, 2011, most people in Japan were looking forward to Winter's end, and watching the forecasts for when the cherry blossoms, or sakura, would be in perfect bloom. One must get their plans in order to celebrate Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, at a traditional Hanami picnic.
Of course, a day later, the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami changed everything.
The north of Japan: the island of Hokkaido and the Tohoku region of the central island of Honshu, would not be expecting sakura blossoms until late April. Nobody was expecting one of the biggest earthquakes in recorded history, of course. And the resulting tsunami, which swept over the Tohoku region 30 minutes after the great quake, did the real damage. 6 years later, much of the damaged area has not seen concerted rebuilding yet.
There was a great deal of debate in 2011 about whether the joyous and often raucous celebration of Hanami would be called off. Eventually it was decided in some places to not allow the parties; in others none of the preparations were done and although unofficial parties still took place, they did not have the same infrastructure extended to them because it was needed in Tohoku; and in others they went on, because it was thought that the diversion was needed in the midst of the grimness of the aftermath.
However, after 2011, the Hanami parties started back up.
How do the Japanese prep for a Hanami? Firstly, they check websites that give predictions about when the cherry blossom bloom. A good one is maintained by JR, the Japan Railway. Then you contact your friends and colleagues and see who's up for a picnic. Then you go to your local 100 yen store -- think Daiso -- and get your stuff. The Japanese concept of mottainai applies here...why waste money when you're going to have to throw stuff away/recycle stuff anyway? This site has a list of what you need if you are lucky enough to be in Japan in time for Hanami season. There are also etiquette considerations for Hanami in Japan.
If you are in the US, however, you might still be able to participate. Here's a list from Conde Nast Traveller for places in the US for viewing sakura. Not all of these will even allow picnicking, and they will not usually allow drinking in public, so by necessity it's a little different. . They missed an important event in the US: the annual Cherry Blossom Festival at Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge, in Southern California. It's over for this year, but make plans for going next year if you are in the area.
There used to be plenty of opportunity for Hanami at Van Nuys, CA's Beilenson Park and Lake Balboa. In 1990 the Japanese cable manufacturer Canare donated a thousand cherry trees to the park. In 2012, the Japanese Consul of Los Angeles doubled the cherry tree population at the park and the lake in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the planting of the Washington, DC cherry trees, and in acknowledgement of the help and kindness extended to those affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.
But years of drought killed the majority of the trees, and when they die, they will be replaced with plants more adapted to Los Angeles' climate. There are still a few, and they still bloom, but their days are numbered.
If you don't have sakura trees near you, you can still celebrate. Make this easy Chirashi-zushi (Sushi with Scattered Toppings) recipe, and put on some anime that celebrates the season. Here is a list of some suggested series and episodes. Have your own Hanami with your friends!