Friday, April 9, 2010

Flower Power 花見-style!

Every spring in Japan, the hanami (花見) – literally “flower viewing” – is a cultural necessity, and it just so happens to be a (sake) barrel of fun as well for those able to get time off work and indulge in some good spirit(s).

While this year's version hasn't really been anything to write about, at least in Tokyo (the weather's been all over the place), usually in March or April - depending upon when precisely the nation’s fabulous cherry blossoms (sakura 桜) decide to unfurl - millions of people unfurl their own blankets in crammed public spaces... ostensibly there to watch the delicate, snow-like shower of flowers, but also to catch up with friends, impress the boss, drink vast quantities of sake, carouse, get drunk, sing, and be raucous in exceptionally unJapanese ways.

These parties often stretch from daytime into the night (when the name is changed to yozakura), and lanterns hung up to drink by and warble prolific.

Needless to say I love it, but regardless set out to uncover just why the custom is so darned popular in the hearts and minds of young Japanese creative types some 1,300 years after it’s said to have kick-started during the Nara Period.

(Director of Tokyo Marble Chocolate, character designer and unit director on Oblivion Island, as well as key animator on Mamoru Oshii's Sky Crawlers and an in-between animator on Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away):
“We Japanese enjoy the different feelings and peculiarities of each and every season.
In spring, we have fun under full-blossomed cherry trees, eating and drinking and romping around with our friends. And the sake you drink, surrounded by pink cherry petals dancing in the air, is somehow tastier than usual. In Japanese, we have even coined the word, hanamizake – which refers to the sake you sip under the cherry trees. Then, of course, you need to be careful not to quaff too much booze...”

(Highly-regarded DJ-around-Tokyo who also makes music under aliases like Captain Funk and OE):

“I'm not specialist about hanami, but I think it’s interesting and so symbolic, and a typical way for Japanese to behave – it’s like a small initiation into Japanese society, especially for people just starting out in companies.
“There are much more important (hidden) elements than seeing (mi) the blossoms (hana) themselves.
“There are also some vital things for any hanami party organizer to consider: (a) deciding who to invite; (b) adjusting schedules of participants; (c) claiming a decent space to actually see the blossoms; (d) preparing sheets, drinks, blankets, karaoke machines, and so on – while ensuring that the boss’s favorite songs are loaded into the karaoke machine; (e) getting everyone together; (f) making sure people who drink too much don’t get into fights, go hunting, or generally kill themselves.
“After that there’s the big clean-up, an assurance to the boss that you’re one very smart and reliable person, and follow-up calls and emails (Otsukare samadesita!).
“Perhaps a good hanami organizer should become a good worker in Japanese society – though it must seem weird to people coming from overseas…
“So, needless to say, I’m not talented enough to organize hanami parties!”

(Director of the Gonzo anime Red Garden):
“My understanding is that hanami is an event that marks a new start for everyone – a new school year, newcomers joining companies, and so on. A lot of people use hanami as a sort of bonding ceremony to welcome freshmen, by making it a big drinking party. I guess that’s because there are many people who cannot bring themselves to open up to others, unless they are spoon-fed the opportunities.
“Personally, I try to take advantage of seasonal events – not only hanami, but other annual events too – as they can provide a punctuation mark to daily life. At the same time, however, I try not to be dependent on them.
“One thing is for sure, though... there’s nothing like sipping sake under cherry blossoms, no matter how cold the weather is. Honestly!”

(Actress in 1 Liter of Tears, Beauty):

“Seeing the cherry blossoms, which mark the beginning of spring, makes me happy.
Sake, food, family, friends… It’s good to get to know each other through the hanami party. When I go to hanami, I feel as if... I wish I could stop time.”

(Director of the anime series Bokurano as well as the Studio Ghibli feature The Cat Returns):
“Cherry trees shed their leaves during the winter, and bloom in springtime, before early summer comes and the leaves begin to sprout anew. Trees that bloom amidst leaves aren’t that uncommon, but in the case of cherry trees, the blossoms dominate the whole leafless tree.
“The sight of a cherry tree in full bloom is such a unique spectacle, and just sitting underneath it makes you feel like you’ve wondered into some ethereal world. It makes you want to spend that special time with your loved ones. I think that the hanami season provokes that kind of sentiment in all Japanese people.”

(DJ/musician better known in Japan as Naotoxin):
“Hanami makes me happy, because spring is my favorite season. We get to enjoy good food and sake and, of course, watch the cherry blossoms. Then I really begin to realize that I’m glad to have been born in Japan. Hanami gives us a great chance to think about how beautiful spring is!”

(The director of anime outings Afro Samurai and Basilisk):
The hanami season coincides with the end and beginning of the school year in Japan, meaning that it is the time of year that graduation and entrance ceremonies are held, or when many people, including new graduates, start new jobs. So, it is the season of parting with old friends, and also meeting new ones.
“Enjoying the beautiful blossoms and the shower of their petals while drinking sake is an activity that makes you realize the Japanese sense of aestheticism, but it is also a very emotional season too, and the beautiful cherry blossoms can have a therapeutic effect in those cases. But since I am not a party-goer, I personally do not enjoy rowdy hanami parties that much...
“There was a rocket-powered kamikaze aircraft, or a manned cruise missile, named ‘Ohka’ (meaning cherry blossom) that was employed by Japan during WWII, and so the ephemeral image of cherry blossoms that begin to shed their petals as soon as they come to full bloom sometimes reminds me of the young souls that died in battle.
Although I’ve never really thought of it this way, I think the cherry blossom season is a very important time of the year for the Japanese people that has been imprinted in our hearts since our childhood.”


(Animator responsible for the iconic Honeinu-kun):
“Well, I think the most important thing is not sake, nor food, and not even the cherry blossoms themselves!
“The most important thing is friends. We plan hanami parties to meet together and talk in a completely unusual situation, in the evening, outside! It’s kind of exciting.
“Oh, and the second most important thing for hanami is a coat – you know, an early April night outside can be very cold!”

(Musician, DJ, Megadolly label boss, former member of Fantastic Plastic Machine - and the man behind Robo*Brazileira):
“Hanami is a good excuse to drink with new and old friends. The immediacy and intransient nature of the cherry blossoms also make people think about relationships and ourselves...
“Especially in my case, as it’s my birthday around the same time!”


(Director of the anime series Dragonaut)
“We often go for a hanami party with the members of our studio. I always hope to go for a hanami again with the staff of the shows!”

Let's hope he enjoyed this year's comparatively lackluster season - which still was fun despite the travails of global warping.

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