Plum Blossom in Tokyo


From late February to early March, plum blossom (梅の花)arrives in Tokyo. Whilst this doesn’t attract quite the same levels of fervour as cherry blossom season, you should expect lists of the best viewing spots to start circulating online and your Facebook feed to become a flower fest. Continue reading “Plum Blossom in Tokyo”

Setsubun – bean-throwing and large maki rolls

What to do with this big sushi roll?
What to do with this big sushi roll?

You may be wondering why I am clutching a giant maki roll to my face. Today is setsubun, which literally means ‘season division’ in Japanese. It’s a crazy and fun celebration where everyone gets to throw beans at demons. And it has some rather amusing food-related rituals.

Want to know why there is a picture of some sushi and a compass? Watch below…

Later this evening…

Cherry Blossom Erotica

Cherry blossoms (AKA sakura) are fetishized in Japan. The way in which cherry tree seeds have been strewn across the landscape, creating avenues of white explosions, can appear like a virile obsession.  Yet they’re also the epitome of beauty and regarded in such a wondrous manner that one might think that they’re only seen once a century. Actually they bloom for one – two weeks in early April, and every year the mania sets in.

Let me explain. Not only are they dotted around in manga-style pictures, no doubt to add a touch of fragility to the already fragile virgins, but I even saw a guy publicly masturbating by them (post coming soon). Just like the rose came to be associated with the feminine form within European culture, maybe the sakura hold a more sensual connection in Japan.

The majority of people, fortunately, don’t whip down their pants at the sight of sakura – they whip out their cameras, their picnic rugs and several bottles of alcohol, and sit around outside at a hanami (literally, flower-looking) event. In reality, this is an excuse for many people to get wasted. I did plenty of hanami – minus the alcohol. And mainly minus the picnicking as well (it’s my duty to restaurant hunt, so I tell myself).

Scroll down for sakura saturation, brought to you from various locations around Kansai.

Section 1: Hikone-jo, Hikone, Shiga prefecture

Hikone Castle is situated in a park full of a thousand cherry trees.

Section 2: Maruyama Park, Higashiyama, Kyoto

Famed for a very grand Weeping Cherry Tree, a festival atmosphere settles across this park, and people eat and drink and be merry.

Section 3: Sosui, Yamashina, Kyoto

I’m lucky enough to live near a canal area, which has also been sprayed with sakura seeds. It also features some overgrown yellow plants, creating a spectacularly colourful, flowery effect.


Section 4: Around Kyoto

My camera’s been having a little trouble focussing on these snow-like scenes. Here are a few for your perusal:

Throw the dolls in the river!

Watch the dolls float away!

March 3rd – Hina Matsuri AKA Doll Festival AKA Girl’s Day in Japan

Since Valentine’s Day left the poor shop windows bereft, hina matsuri displays have been appearing. The simplest sets feature representations of the Emperor and Empress in traditional garb, sat side by side on a red floored setting, with various other traditional items, including sake, rice cakes and lanterns. The more elaborate include tiers that stretch from floor to ceiling. Here are some I found in the Isetan department store. Take a good look at the prices, convert them if needs be, then decide if you’d pay over half your monthly salary for the set.

Only Y630,000...

As with the commodification of everything in Japan, the dolls have been hard to miss. Seemingly innocent stickers lurk even inside ropeway compartments. I’ve had to make some of these out of tissue paper and card with the kids at school. (In fact, mine were very popular because I gave them spectacularly emo hair cuts with jagged fringes.) But actually, I’ve found this festival to be very charming, perhaps because it’s purely Japanese in origin.

It was today that the doll-delirium came to a head. When they were thrown into the river.

No, not the super-duper expensive ones. That would be just a little too stupid. Small, light, purpose-built ones were floated in baskets down the river which runs through Shimogamo shrine. This is part of a ceremony where people pray for the health of their children. The day also acts an excuse for parents to dress their daughters up in school uniform or traditional dress and take photos of them with a giant hina set, laid on a stage for the purpose. Needless to say, the kids were very very cute and snot-free.

Brother and sister cuteness alert!
The mini Emperor and Empress get ready for their photo shoot"

Our day continued on a very traditional theme as we decided it was time for some plum blossom viewing. Check out the glorious blossoms at Kitano Tenmangu shrine, which should be on all Kyoto visitors’ to-see lists.

Stunning plum blossom!
Crazy bull is unmoved by beautiful blossoms
Kitano Tenmagu and Plum Blossom

I may have this before but I really appreciate the overt appreciation for natural beauty in Japan. It causes me to look at the world around me with new eyes and re-examine things I would have walked past with only the briefest of glances. However, I can’t appreciate Ryoanji and it’s 15 rocks with raked rubble. Yes, it’s supposed to be one of the finest examples of a Zen rock garden. But I obviously can’t appreciate rock gardens. My inner zen is non-existent or only revealed when I’m in a more growing-things-filled environment. At 500円, Ryoanji is a total rip-off. To add insult to injury, you can wander the rest of the garden for free!

Enthralling. Inner Zen alert.