Watching the People Watch the Sakura

To limit the experience of sakura in Japan to just the flowers is not a fair representation of the experience. Everyone turns out to see the cherry blossoms, and sakura season becomes as much or more about the people than about the flowers.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that there’s been a strong reduction in obligatory hanami. When I first came to Japan, there were lots of hanami picnics that you had to go to. One for your office, another for your team, one for your kid’s PTA group, yet another for your important client. The list went on and on. You see a similar trend with end-of-the-year parties.

Work culture in Japan changes slowly, but it changes, and it seems like those obligatory picnics are on the decrease, while family and social group hanami picnics are continuing. But it seems to the casual observer that there are less picnics, and more small groups of people walking along the areas before finding a place for coffee or a lunch. What that means is that, away from the heavily tourist-packed areas, it seems like, even though there may be more people going through the sakura areas, the whole experience is more pleasant and feels less crowded.

I think the thing I liked the most about it is that it’s people being people. Perhaps before with the large organized crowded picnics, people were operating within social structures, where in my walks this season, people seemed more comfortable being relaxed and themselves. But maybe I’m reading too much into it.

One of the things I like about Japan is that the sakura, like kōyō, is a valid excuse to get out of work and go do things. The argument can be made that workers in other countries don’t need an excuse, they’ve got their paid holidays, and that’s true, but at the same time, it’s refreshing to see people grabbing the opportunity to get out of the office on a beautiful spring day, and go enjoy the flowers.

So do that this spring. There’s a lot of you who are places where the flowers haven’t come out yet. When they do, go do that. Go see the flowers. Stop and smell one, even.