Saturday, April 2, 2011

Hanami Hitch

It's now been over three weeks since the now so-called Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. That's what it's called on Wikipedia, and it's funny how they create media-friendly monikers for these things.

It's like the ironically named Great Kantō earthquake that hit Tokyo in 1923. It was only great in terms of the number of people it killed (over 100,000).

It's now spring in this city, and the cherry blossoms are beginning to unfurl. Usually at this time of year millions of people would start to unravel their mats in crammed public spaces for the hanami – literally “flower viewing”.

Japan's famous for it.

There’s an ethereal quality to the canopy of subtle pink plumage that surrounds you in leafy places in most parts of the country, and the petals drifting on the breeze is like something spun from the reel of a classic Japanese movie... which is, well, just what you’ve probably seen, in anything from the whimsical musical romp of Seijun Suzuki’s Princess Raccoon (2005) to the dramatic demise of Ken Watanabe’s character in The Last Samurai (2003). They're also stunningly used in Makoto Shinkai's anime 5 Centimetres Per Second (2007).

It’s a remarkable sight quite unlike anything you will have encountered anywhere else in the world. While there may be the odd cherry tree that sticks out like a sore thumb in front yards from Washington D.C. to Melbourne, here in Japan these woody perennials are cultivated, pruned and spaced to perfection.

What makes the seasonal phenomenon even more special is the fleeting nature of the blossoms themselves, prompting the Japanese to use them as a metaphor for life and its brevity.

Which brings us back full circle to the Tōhoku earthquake on March 11, and the continuing woes at the Fukushima nuclear reactors.

Around 25,000 people are assumed to have been killed across 18 prefectures to the north and north-east of Tokyo, while hundreds of thousands are homeless, without basic essentials like water and electricity.

TEPCO, the people who run the nuclear power plants, have put on a carefully orchestrated stage show of ineptitude, and according to some reports may be endangering the lives of their rank-and-file staff by sending them into the reactors to fix the job that management stuffed up in the first place.

Crocodile tears from TEPCO spokesman and head honchos on the TV just don't cut it. I think the entire board of directors should be rounded up and sent in to Fukushima to replace the workers, and try to fix the plants themselves.

Meanwhile we're collectively treading water, waiting to see what happens.

Of course we hope for the best, and in my case I occasionally pray to an empty mead hall of Norse gods that the nuclear crisis will soon be a thing of the past. But no one seems quite sure what will transpire.

Most people here are dealing with it regardless, and going on with their lives in the best way possible.

There have been exceptions - like one of the talented artists on my old record label, who seems to have embarked upon a sad descent into a petty, self-centred, money-grabbing kind of madness since the crisis began, and I've lost a mate as a result - but I guess people deal with the subliminal stress in different ways.

Me? I really miss my two girls, who have been down with the in-laws in Fukuoka for two-and-a-half weeks now, until this thing blows over (er... poor choice of words) or is resolved, and we know more about the radiation issue in Tokyo. Having a five-year-old daughter makes things a little more complicated as my wife and I are far more worried about her future health than our own.

Every day I wake up in an empty apartment and go through the somewhat surreal notions of going through life and working like nothing's changed, yet in a subtle sense everything has. As I say - surreal.

And now it's spring, the cherry blossoms are on their way, and I think everyone's wondering the same thing: Is it appropriate to just let our hair down and celebrate, with all that's happened recently and that which continues to unfold up north?

Why am I even bothering to write about this here? Isn't it so damned trivial in the grand scheme of things?

To be honest I haven't got the faintest idea, but I find myself beginning to believe that to celebrate would be some kind of collective catharsis. Perhaps not partying quite so hard - in normal circumstances hanami banquets often stretch from daytime into the night (when the name of the jaunt is changed to yozakura, or night sakura), and lanterns dangle all about for people to continue drinking and warble prolific - but all the same sitting with friends, having a drink or two, and just plain celebrating the here and now could be a godsend.

After all life, as it turns out, can be as fleeting and transient as the cherry blossoms themselves, which often bloom and fall in the same week.

Besides, I'm going to throw in my favourite (anonymous) haiku here. When it's hanami season you need sake, and the two combined are part of what makes Japan truly special - especially at times of adversity like these (currently) are:


Without sake
what is the use of
cherry blossoms?


Japan Australia said...

I love the cherry blossoms in Japan and it is usually my favourite time of year. Sounds like it is a late bloom this year.

Japan Australia

What's the plot, anyway? said...

Yeah, a little later. It was chilly for awhile - but now the weather is definitely on the mend. ;)