The Wild and Beautiful Feast of Watching Flowers — How I Experienced Hanami in Tokyo

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(This time I am writing in English because I made this essay to my Japanese Culture and Society class. I have took all the photos. ~ Tämä bloggaus on poikkeuksellisesti englanniksi, koska kirjoitin hanamista esseen japanilaisen kulttuurin ja yhteiskunnan kurssilleni.) 

I have now been in Tokyo exactly for three weeks (and unfortunately I have had the flu all the time!). I came to Toyo University as an exchange student from Haaga Helia University of Applied Science Helsinki where I’m studing journalism. This is my first time in Japan even though I have read a lot about Japan and its culture beforehand.

I came to Tokyo maybe in the best time: hanami, ”flower viewing”. It was already almost end of hanami because this year Japanese flowering cherry trees reached peak bloom earlier than usually.

At my first week here I went to Yoyogi Park with my Finnish friend Siru, who was here for Slush Tokyo 2018, and with her two Japanese friends Maiko and Rina. It was kind of funny because I and Siru have studied Japanese and we are interested in Japanese culture, and Rina and Maiko have been to Finland many times and are studying Finnish!

Me, Siru and Maiko in Yoyogi Park
Me, Siru and Maiko in Yoyogi Park
Me and a cherry soft drink
Me and a cherry soft drink

I and Siru had bought Japanese food like Shrimp Tempura and drinks like sake and a cherry soft drink for the picnic. The Japanese girls came with Finnish accessories like a Tom of Finland bag, Finnish foods like chocolate called Geisha, and cheese curls, and Finnish drinks like cranberry long drink.

We all went to a big Finnish-Japanese picnic. It was exciting experience because many Japanese people there spoke a little bit Finnish and were interested in Finland. The Finns on the other hand were living in Tokyo and liked it.

Yoyogi Park was enormously crowded, maybe also because it was Saturday. The Japanese were sitting in big blue plastic blankets with their friends, co-workers or family with food and drinks. Many were drinking alcohol. It reminded me about the first of May picnic in Finland.

Everywhere there were lots of pink cherry blossom flowers: on trees, in a pond and on the ground. It was so beautiful and at the same time restless, but I like big parties.

I also went to see another hanami on the next day. This time I walked alone to Ueno Park on Sunday. Even the walk there was awesome because it was a sunny day and I saw so many beautiful and peaceful Shinto and Buddhist temples, cemeteries and cherry blossom trees.

In the cemeteries I liked bamboo fences bound with ribbons. I also liked kanjis on grey tombstones. There were also lots of flowers in cemeteries.

These three photos are from a same cemetery
These three photos are from a same cemetery.

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Temples had gardens with stone lanterns, rocks paths, ritual tubs, many different plants, animal and saint shaped sculptures. I took my shoes off and went inside of one of the Buddhist temples. I was the only one there. The wooden floor felt nice against my feet and it was so quiet. I wondered about the many bottles of alcoholic beverages on the altar.

After my peaceful trip, Ueno Park was again very crowded. There were also lots of young Japanese women wearing pretty and colourful kimonos. I took photos of them and with them.

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There were many red paper lanterns, and happy, drunk people. Many people had their own picnic tables. Japanese people can be shy and polite, but at hanami they were louder and wild.

I went inside two red temples. First, I washed my hands in a ritual tub outside the temples. I saw cute prayer amulets and prayer plaques where people have written down their hopes. There was also forecasts that you could buy.

I watched Japanese people ringing bells, lighting incenses and praying. In front of the Shinto temple was an interesting round shaped bonsai tree. There were also a huge red paper lantern and many smaller white paper lanterns I liked in the temples.

At Ueno Park there were lots of street foods. Many people ate fried corns that smelled good. I marvelled at the whole octopuses and fishes.

I bought cherry blossom tasting ice cream with a panda shaped waffle. I also ate a baked potato with maybe mayonnaise – the first time eating a potato with chopsticks!

In Ueno Park there was a big pond where people pedaled swan shaped and pastel colored pedalos. In the water there were also cherry blossom leaves and big fishes, maybe black carps. The view was lovely since there was also a sunset.

I’m happy that I got a chance to see hanami in Japan, and I think I will remember it for a long time.

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What else: I have already experienced many wonderful Japanese things in Tokyo: Harajuku, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Shimo-Kitazawa, Odaiba, Golden Gai bar area, Ni-chome gay bar area, Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, The University Art Museum, a maid café, Gundam Café, onsens, Hakone Park near Fuji, Tokyo Dome and DisneySea. You can see photos in my Instagram account (elisahele).

I have also eaten in a traditional Japanese restaurant with sliding paper doors and a sushi restaurant with a robot and a conveyer.  I have also been in metro at rush hour, but I can’t recommend that. 😀

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