#5: Do ‘hanami’ and #76: Go to ‘hanamatsuri’
It seems fitting that a post about Asakusa should be followed by something slightly on the more traditional side, so I’m going to talk about these two very special events a wee bit; hana matsuri and yozakura/hanami. Two things I have grown to love and will miss like nothing else when I return to New Zealand!
The importance of cherry blossoms in Japanese culture is hugely understated. Hanami, which means ‘flower viewing’, is an almost religious occasion in Japan and especially where I’m living, in Hirosaki. Hirosaki is famous for having one of the most beautiful sakura viewing spots in the country, and everyone was assuring me that the city would get really busy around Golden Week, which was when they flowered. Considering most of the time Hirosaki is a ghost town, I snorted and refused to believe them– but when we went to Hirosaki Castle for hanami– or rather, yozakura, which is evening hanami– I was stunned. People everywhere. If you could sit there, people were there. It was insane.
But nonetheless, I couldn’t argue with those guys that said Hirosaki’s hanami was one of the most beautiful you could see. The scenery was breathtaking against a clear, warm night.
Our yozakura was organized by my university’s Cross-Culture Club, and for the small price of 500 yen, we biked our way to the castle, spread out a few tarpaulin and were provided with delicious Japanese snacks and chu-hai (oh my god, I adore chu-hai!). Halfway through a lukewarm teriyaki hamburger, we decided it was dessert time somehow, and we went off to explore the many food vendors that surrounded the castle grounds. If you could eat it, you could buy it– I loved these stalls!
Anything someone with a sweet tooth could dream of was here. Pastries, traditional Japanese sweets such as dango and daifuku, icecream, bananas covered in chocolate, little cakes with custard cream, red bean or matcha cream inside (which is what I bought!), alcohol for insanely cheap prices– and that was only the sweet stuff! Senbei, yakitori and ramen were other popular sellers by the looks of things, and no matter where you went, whatever was in front of you smelt insanely good. I ended up a custard cream bun and a chocolate covered banana, the latter half courtesy of one of my Korean friends.
A night of admiring the stars and the flowers, drinking a crapload of melon and orange flavoured chu-hai amongst good company– I wish NZ would take up this festival. Sadly, the day after we went to hanami, Hirosaki decided it’d have a huge downpour for 3-4 days so all the sakura were destroyed, but at least I had my one chance and loved it.
The one consolation that came from all the sakura dying such a horrific, untimely death was that shortly after the sakura bloom, the apple blossoms bloom. Hanamatsuri is meant to be a celebration of the birthday of Buddha, to the best of my knowledge, but the execution of the celebration is a lot like hanami. When we cycled to Hirosaki’s Apple Park on a balmy 20 celsius day, I didn’t know quite what to expect, but when we arrived I was pleasantly surprised. Hirosaki and Aomori are famous for their neputa festival that happens in August (sadly after I leave), and for the hanamatsuri, some of the neputa floats were being displayed and moved around.
There was also a traditional music band, whom I think were also primarily practiced for neputa serenading us as we ate a plethora of delicious food. Gotta have the food.
It was such a fantastic experience– sitting on a woven mat, listening to a neputa band, the sunshining and a piece of asparagus wrapped in bacon on its way into your mouth. Gosh.
I’m going to miss Japan!