Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Flower Viewing

You know, I usually try not to do what everyone expects me to do with these topics we’re given, but for this one I just couldn’t help myself. Like many people in the Visual Anthropology class, I decided to write my entry on Arts and Entertainment on hanami (literally “flower viewing”). The most basic way to explain hanami is it involves going out and looking at flowers (most importantly cherry-blossoms) and (depending on who you go with) drinking sake. Well, except for the drinking sake part, I thought we pretty much had that in the US. It’s spring, I see a flower, I take its photo, I stare at it and smile and if I like it enough, I might even pluck the flower out of the ground and put it in a vase at home to enjoy for up to two weeks if I play my cards right (Example: actually watering the thing). Throw in some alcohol and you have hanami, right?

Not exactly. For starters, it’s illegal in Japan to take any still-growing cherry blossoms (according to nearly everyone I spoke to). It’s still frowned upon to take what’s already fallen to the ground, and besides, who wants a flower that’s been walked all over anyway. Except me, of course.

Secondly, it’s perfectly acceptable (if not outright encouraged) to take an entire weekend simply to go hanami. You can do it with anyone, though most people in Japan do it with their family and friends. And that’s all they do all day long--they sit under the cherry blossoms, have a picnic lunch, drink some sake, and just sit and chat. All day. Maybe get up to go take some photos of particularly impressive cherry blossom trees in the immediate area.

What if you forget to pack a picnic lunch/dinner? No problem! Just stop by one of the many little booths all around wherever it is you’re going hanami (assuming you’re going to a fairly well-known place) and buy some Japanese snack food. You can get takoyaki, squid and octopus on-a-stick, eggplant fries, and candied fruits of all sorts (my personal favorite is the candied strawberries). Sounds like a fantastically nutritious meal to me.

The interesting thing about hanami though is that hanami is also an acceptable corporate outing. How do we know? Because they come in their business suits, reserve a length of blue tarp (I wonder if they stole it from a homeless person--Osaka Castle park was remarkably homeless-blue-tarp-tent-free the day I went…) and sit, still in business apparel, and enjoy hanami while grilling fish and eating other snacks under the cherry blossoms. I wonder why we don’t have this in the US. You know, take the company out to the park, give everyone the day off, sit under the magnolia trees or on a hill full of daffodils (hey, that’s what we’ve got in Arkansas), drink some beer… It would definitely boost employee moral.

On my weekend of hanami, I saw many corporate groups like the one above, most in Osaka park, but a few in Kyoto. I also saw several clubs (noticeable by their matching jackets) and a choir (noticeable because they were singing) at yasaka shrine in Kyoto, and in Ise…

There was a harley-Davidson biker group, all the way from Kyoto! Oh how it makes me smile. They were there to enjoy cherry blossoms at the inner shrine, just like us, and they were doing it in their leathers and Kyoto and Harley biker patches. All in all, my favorite find of the day. And I was beginning to worry that Japan didn’t have biker groups.

So, as you can see, hanami is a highly sophisticated form of entertainment in Japan that stretches across all sorts of networks within Japanese culture.


visual gonthros said...

Sounds like a good weekend. Nice description of the events. Pretty pictures.

Osaka-jo probably swept away the homeless population so that people with homes could enjoy hanami in the park...

Is-ness said...

Oh that's no fair. Homeless people deserve to sleep and do hanami too!