I have longed for to see Japanese cherry blossom as long as I can remember. Probably heard of hanami first time, when I was still tiny child. This spring was finally the spring to experience blossoming sakuras. We tried to find out beforehand the best time to visit in Japan to be able really to see the blossom of its glory. It is always difficult to forecast, but we managed perfectly. It was such a blossom, just started, when we landed on Japan, Tokyo on the 28th of March and we were lucky to see more and more cherries blossoming day by day. My best risk taken ever, in forecasting sense.
In Tokyo we saw our first and a few of cherry trees blossoming, some of full of lovely white bloom, some just starting to blossom, and some young cherry trees with delicate pinkish flowers. We walked amazed at the Imperial Garden (with mainly local admirers). Lots of people wandering and wondering around the Imperial Garden, every blossoming tree targeted with cameras. Everyone wanted to have a picture, maybe many with blooming sakura. And no wonder. They really were breath-taking. Our luck continued also with the weather, such a lovely vernal breeze, blue sky, subtle clouds, sun shining. Perfection.
Tokyo surprised me being so tranquil even though population over 13 million. Even cars seemed to roll smoothly without any noise. People were extremely friendly and super polite with smiles and bows. It was the prime time for hanami, and people were having picnics, strolls, parties all over the Tokyo, and yet no chaotic bellowing, shouting or harassing. (Such as Finn I am used to observe, when celebrating spring and soon to begin summer 🙂 .)
My Japanese vocabulary contains only six words: arigato, hai, sakura, hanami, onsen, oishi. Still we managed to communicate moderately and thank god there are translation apps. Our first dinner was full of warmth and speaking with hands and loads of smiles. We stepped in a local eatery, sort of traditional steakhouse-pub. Atmosphere was cozy, not too loud, smoky, menu only in Japanese and none of the waiters spoke English. No prob. With waiters’ mobile apps and with patience I managed to get the most excellent vegetarian dinner I have probably ever gotten, at least on the steakhouse. And by saying arigato, made all of them including chef himself to smile warmly, but friendly and their bowing was so embarrassing deep when saying goodbye.
We also had picnic under cherry tree, like so many Tokyoites did. We chose to go Ueno-Koen, and oh boy, it was truly crowded. Fortunately walking a bit further after entering the park we found our own little slightly blossoming cherry tree to sit under. Well, beside it anyway. Our plan was to buy lunch-box, but near the park all the places were already emptied from them. So it was a delightful surprise to find food stalls around the pond. We bought very abundant and delicious fried cabbage noodles with pickles and had some red wine. Locals had amazing amount of food and loads to drink, some even had carried tables and chairs there. It really reminded me Finnish spring festival, Labour Day 1st of May, Finns call it vappu. But only, somehow celebrating hanami was more enjoyable and peaceful. In Kyoto we had chance to hear all night long, how locals enjoyed Friday night literally on the street. The street was closed from cars and other traffic than walkers. People were sitting down on the cardboard and blankets, taking off their shoes, drinking sake, whiskey, beer and tea and of course eating delicacies. On the pavement there were many food stalls and beer kiosk, also the stage, and we were lucky to hear local vocalists to entertain partying people ’til early in the morning. At first music was disco like and after some hours it became more nostalgic and not absolutely sure, but it sounded also like karaoke. In the morning the street was quite clean, empty, normal, when we left the hotel at 8.15 am. Comparing again to Finnish parks, streets – vappu party people do leave such a mess behind, and it is not rare to spot even some exhausted celebrants to lie on the streets.
There is no words to describe the variety, freshness and taste of Japanese food. We had a chance to eat in so many traditional places – we had excellent teppanyaki dinner, pub food, sashimi of course, sushi, oysters (yammy – so oishi), fish, miso soup, wagyu and kobe beef. To list all of we ate, I just have no time nor enough space. Feeling full. We visited The Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, highly recommended market to go. Remember not to eat before going there. Also Nishiki Market in Kyoto was a great place to visit. And again go there with empty stomach.
So much to see, so little time. I definitely will return Japan. Hopefully sooner than later. I truly fell in love with cherry blossom, Japanese being friendly and polite and suitably distant, all the temples and parks I didn’t mention, but you know there are plenty. I could change my diet wholly Japanese (excluding meat). I feel blossomed.
My recommendations of the week:
BOOK: Elina Hirvonen: Kun aika loppuu (only in Finnish at the moment)
PLACE: The Tsukiji Market
SOMETHING ELSE: Miyako Odori, Kyoto