It’s sakura time in Japan right now, as cherry blossoms around the country explode in beautiful fireworks of pink. This year was very rare: because it was so cold last month, the cherry blossoms were at least two weeks late in opening. A few days ago the weather turned very warm, and the sakura bloomed with a vengeance, attaining zenkai (when the flowers are fully opened) in less than a day. Cherry trees are very common in Japan, and virtually every city has parks and avenues with beautifully landscaped sakura trees. In addition to weather forecasts, the TV news issues “sakura reports” that give information on the state of cherry blossoms in every prefecture, and over the weekend Japan was clogged with happy people doing hanami, or flower-viewing, basically an excuse to spread out a blanket and have a party with friends while enjoying the beauty of the flowers all around you. Although she’s just eight, my daughter is a very spiritual person, and she remarked that there are a lot of sakura trees near the small graveyards that dot rural areas in Japan. It was good, she said, that the “hotoke-sama” (a word that describes both Buddha and the spirits of one’s dead ancestors) can enjoy the beautiful flowers and be happy. Unfortunately the season of the sakura is all too short: already the flower petals are starting to fall, and in a week they’ll be gone.
Japan has a lot to offer foreigners who come to live here, with something different for everyone. Some might experience the country through its martial arts, or submerge themselves in the study of its language. Some fall in love with the famous works of Japanese literature by Souseki Natsume or Yasunari Kawabata, while those with an otaku bent can enjoy a dream life here, surrounding themselves with the icons of their compulsions. And then again, there are the foreigners who experience Japan through motorcycles, cruising around the country and exploring the open road, and I have gaijin friends who find great satisfaction in putting thousands of kilometers on their Harleys or their Kawasakis, trekking to the tops of volcanic mountains to find naturally occurring hot springs and attending festivals in the mountains of far-off Hokkaido. If you’d like to see the travels of some free-spirited foreigners I know, check out this page.
Japan can be a very strange place when it wants to be, as J-List readers are well aware. Now we’ve gotten in one of the most bizarre ever: a sexy “Girlfriend Knee Pillow” (hiza makura) made of soft injected foam, a perfect replica of a mini-skirted pair of legs for you to lay your head on when you need some care and understanding.