Spring. New beginnings. In what will be the first of many examples I will use of Japan taking things from other countries and making them better (i.e. Japanese), Japan has adopted the Western calendar but set April as the first month of the year, to coincide with spring. That's right, folks. In Japan, the "year" goes from April to March. Anywho, this means that schools and companies start anew right about now, which is why anyone who's ever watched a school-themed anime has seen the kids running around under cherry trees in full bloom.
Schoolkids aren't the only ones who enjoy watching the blossoms, though. The big kids enjoy the blossoms too, along with copious amounts of food and alcohol. This, my friends, is the basis for hanami, one of Japan's best examples of legal public drunkenness. Of course, you can enjoy hanami with your family or friends, but who needs those when you have co-workers? Now, hanami parties are an offshoot of Japanese "enkais" (I'll discuss those another time). Essentially Japanese companies dish out cash to have their workers set up camp under the blossoms and eat and drink the night away. How AWESOME is this? It's not all fun and games though. Cherries only bloom for a grand total of maybe 3-5 days, and Japan's obsession with "the transcience of life and impermanence of all things (UNCLE CHARLES!)" means that the cherry blossom hot spots fill up fast. Every year big companies actually appoint someone to become the Official Tree Holder who, on the day of the party, will leave work early to go and save a prime spot under the trees, and woe betide the man or woman who cannot protect a good spot. Anyways, all the co-workers gather, spread tarps on the grass, and break out bento boxes of food and cans of beer, and proceed to get ragingly, wonderfully drunk, toasting everything from each individual petal on the tree to the really short skirts the cute office ladies wear.
Anyway, this post has gone on long enough. I hope it was enough to introduce you to one of Japan's most endearing cultural activities. Maybe you'll be inspired to find a blooming cherry tree of your own to party under. Just don't come complaining to me if you get arrested for streaking while wearing a nothing but a cherry blossom crown.