February 11, 2009

Cherry Blossoms in San Francisco, Japan and Washington DC

Amazing that in spite of the rains and cold temperatures, we have cherry blossoms galore all over the streets of San Francisco. I love this time of year. These trees are a different variety than what can be seen in Japan or Washington DC but beautiful nonetheless.

In Japan cherry blossom trees begin to bloom in March, in the southern part of the country. Television stations track their progress on a map, like the weather, and report back as trees begin to blossom further and further north during the months of April and May.

Ohanami: Cherry Blossom Viewing
I'm not sure about Washington DC but in Japan, people love to get out their blue plastic sheet, and sit below the cherry blossom trees and enjoy them. All during this season, people on the subway and in the office talk around the water cooler about the best places for ohanami. If you come to visit, don't worry about not hearing where the best places are to go. You can easily find directions to the shrines, temples and parks with the most trees in bloom at any particular time. My favorite spots:
  • Ueno Park
  • All around the Imperial Palace
  • Aoyama Cemetery

My husband told me that in his office, they would make the most subordinate guy assistants take blue tarps and leave work early to go stake out the best place before work was over. And in Japan, most office workers did not leave the office until 8:00pm at the earliest. When I would walk by the park near our place, you would usually see one or two young guys in suits sitting by themselves on blue plastic sheets.

Often sake - lots of sake - and food snacks like taiyaki or takoyaki accompany the viewing, and possibly some portable karaoke singing later into the night.

Japan loves sakura - cherry blossoms
The entire country seems to love and almost revere this time of year. You can find special foods for the occasion, like pink colored mochi. Department stores and specialty shops sell lots of products with the beautiful sakura motif.

Remember several years ago there was a Louis Vuitton series of bags that were all over the magazines and copied by street vendors? They were a wildly popular Sakura collection created by Takashi Murakami, a famous artist. I remember thinking at the time that this was an interesting partnership choice. Here is a quote I found about the artist to illustrate why I thought that - Like Andy Warhol, Takashi Murakami takes low culture and repackages it, and sells it to the highest bidder in the "high-art" market - which perfectly describes the consumerism in both Japan and the US.

From Hello Kitty to eyeglass cases made from vintage kimono scraps in a sakura print, Japan loves sakura and ohanami. To learn more, see photos and find information on cherry blossom viewing in Washington DC check out some of the websites located here.


  1. Global Traveller2/13/09, 1:01 PM

    Google Translates this from Japanese to be links to: Difference and liquor stores. Ban on liquor store. Liquor store worker shot.

    If this kanji is Chinese then Google says:

    Hotel brokers.
    Hotel moonlighting.
    Hotel work
    Hotel brokers
    Hotel workers.

    Very interesting...


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