I probably don’t have to be telling anyone this, but in Japan, the sakura blooming is a full-on national event. Months ahead of time, you start to see the weather reports predicting when the blossoms will bloom. There are websites dedicated to predicting and tracking the sakura blooming across the nation. It’s a sort of group madness, in the best way possible. I mean, I get it, sakura are definitely beautiful. But it’s kinda like sports fandom, at some point, more years ago than anyone can remember, the line between understandable enthusiasm and insanity got crossed, and culturally, we’re all just ok with that.
And yeah, I’m ok with being ok with that. All of the sudden, the blossoms are in full bloom, which gives people the excuse to go golfing mid-week, to take that extra long lunch, and to spend time outdoors instead of cooped up in their offices. People have that excuse to go enjoy the weather. Because frankly, this week, the weather has been fantastic.
But, that question always looms over every conversation… was it really full bloom? Was it ‘mankai?’
I was looking at a map of Tokyo’s parks earlier today, with each park reflecting a status marker for someone’s judgement as to which point in the process the park is, from budding flowers to mankai and beyond to the falling petals and green leaves, according to some mysterious official judge of sakura. The news and web sites report it, and people discuss it. Is that park mankai today? Was that river really mankai? Maybe it was a bit early…
It’s a crazy sort of judgmentalness that drives me batty. Why does it matter if it’s mankai or not? Can’t you just go and be happy that the weather is awesome and the sakura are beautiful? The thing is… I fall into that trap. I want to know when the best time to be there, to take that photo, is. There’s the word-of-mouth between photographers. Where are places still not crowded? Is there a “secret sakura spot?” When is mankai? Because mankai is the best, and all other moments are inferior.
And yet, I’m positive I’m misunderstanding it. This cultural obsession with mankai is not judgmental, or at least, I don’t believe it is. I think it comes off that way, but it’s just one more seasonal variation on Japan’s passion that they share with England – talking about the weather. In the summer, it’s “Atsui desu ne!” and in the rainy season, it’s endlessly questioning if the rain will ever stop, or why it hasn’t rained so much this year. There’s endless pontificating about how bad allergies are this year, or how surprised everyone is that it snowed when it did. And I say this as a person fully immersed and engaged in the experience. I want to know about people’s allergies, I want to hear about people’s dramas with being able to find time to dry their laundry in the rainy season. And I want to listen to people’s opinions about what exactly constitutes mankai. Not because that inherent judgement is important, and not because it greatly changes my world, but because listening to your neighbors and friends, and vicariously experiencing their victories and defeats is how we build that sense of community and teamwork that makes community work.
So maybe you can add “talking about the weather” to that pile of things the English got right, with tea and gin. And, as odd as it is to say that Japan has gotten flowers right, they certainly have. Here’s hoping you’re cherry blossom season is as nice as the one in Tokyo this year has been.