O Hanami is the Japanese term for cherry blossom viewing. This may well conjure up visions of sophisticated Tokyoites strolling hand in hand under the trees whilst making suitably cooed appreciations. Let me just dispell this belief. What actually happens is one of the most organised large-scale piss-ups you’re ever likely to see. Over the course or the few weeks that the blossoms are out, large blue tarpaulins securely affixed to the ground cover parks across the city. You never see these being laid – I suspect they are put there by people at 4am in the morning, much like wot ver Germans do with their beachtowels. If they don’t have people on, they will have a printed notice there, informing anyone who may want to nick their spot that it belongs to them, and giving the hours they wish to occupy that space. As far as I can see, no-one ever argues, and fights don’t break out. A miracle that would only happen in a society like this one.
People rock up – either for a morning shift, arriving before lunch, or an afternoon/evening shift, arriving in the afternoon – and neatly lay out a HUGE amount of tasty food, and normally an even huger amount of beer, sake etc. A particularly organised bunch we saw at Yoyogi last weekend even had a paddilng pool full of ice to keep their booze cold. Awesome.
I was lucky enough to be invited to join Kosei and his family at their o hanami party on Saturday, and things progressed much like the above. Someone, I suspect Kosei during his early morning Kedi-walking, had set out a massive tarp and left a note on it saying when they expected to arrive. Come 11am, we duly arrived, and spread ourselves and the food out on it. The former was comprised of myself, Yukiko, Kosei, Kentaro and Daijiro. The latter included yakisoba, konyaku (an almost calorie-less foodstuff with the consistency of an over gelatined jelly), fried chicken (om nom nom), ume boshi (salted plum) flavoured seaweed snacks, salami, crisps, and chocolate. Yum. I had only just got my arse on the ground when I was immediately handed a can of Strong Seven. The “seven” refers not to some mystical number, but to the alchol content. I knew at this point that I could be in for a rough day.
Managing to restrain myself, I drank only two cans of beer (Yukiko had four, resulting in the need for a mid-afternoon nap) – go me! However, I was foiled by the sparkling wine Yukiko had bought from the konbini, and the sake that Kousei later bought. Anyhow, the day was filled with sitting around chatting, and playing with the kids. This largely involved fighting Daijiro, something his parents were happy to encourage since he is on the path to becoming a Shorinji master (whereas Yukiko has banned Kentaro from joining the dojo, lest it affects his delicate disposition). There was also a decent playground and we joined the queue for the swings. There I saw my first other gaijin – an American man with some half-Japanese kids. It was really great to see everyone again, especially the kids (both of them ;) and I’m really glad I did the homestay as it makes my time here in Tokyo so much cooler to have people other than gaijin to hang out with.
By the time we walked home, I didn’t feel drunk so much as a bit woozy and tired from the day. We headed back to theirs, where I got shown the kids awesome new beds (bed on top, desk and cubby-hole below), plus Daijiro’s collection of Power Rangers, which all looked the same to me. I tried to help him re-attach the mismatched bodies, legs and arms, but was mainly met with cries of “chigai” (disagree) when he saw what I was doing. Ah well.
After half an hour of that, and a total content of zero milliltires of water consumed throughout the day, we headed out for yaki niku, one of the most fun eating-out experiences to be had here. A lot of Jinro (Korean sake) with Hoppy (a brewed yeasty alcohol-free drink) was consumed, along with enough meat to ensure a raised body temperature for the following two days.
It wasn’t so much the volume of alcohol consumed as the period of time that it covered, and when we said our goodbyes at around 10.30pm, and it was all I could do to keep my eyes open to get to the metro station and to the right stop.
Some photos of the day: