Flower Power

During a two-week period in early spring, corporate productivity grinds to a sudden halt as the masses take to the local parks to partake of the annual tradition of hanami. The English translation of ‘flower viewing’ is a loose one indeed, as very few people actually take the time to look away from their cups of booze to gaze at the flowers.

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Here in Osaka, the parks become jam-packed with huge crowds of people, each with their own plastic tarp to spread out under the floral canopy. For some reason, Japanese people seem to have an aversion to actually sitting directly on the ground, even if it is a fresh patch of green grass.

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The men on the lower rung of the corporate ladder are send hours ahead to scope out and protect the best spots in the park.

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Most of the livelier festivities happen long after sundown, and during the day, you’ll probably find some people that have forgotten why they came to the park in the first place.

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Funnily enough, this custom of flower viewing is by and large restricted to the more congested urban areas. Trips out to the suburbs are more subdued, with small, sober crowds actually taking the time to appreciate the beauty of the fresh petals……

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…….rather than peddling their 2-part harmonies  at apathetic passersby.

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The further you go from civilization, however, the smaller the throngs, until they disappear completely, leaving only the sound of the wind sifting through the trees. In the rural areas, the locals are too preoccupied with preparing their fields for the upcoming planting to spare a moment to sit under the trees. This makes for ample opportunities to enjoy nature the way it was intended.

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Saying Farewell

There are numerous ways to bid farewell to someone. For casual encounters, it can be as simple as a brief smile or firm handshake. As we go up the familiarity ladder, the intimacy becomes tighter: a strong bear hug, enlonged embrace, free flowing tears. However, here in the land of 6800 islands, there comes a time when the locals need to head to the mainland, for work, school, or marriage. When that occurs, something magical happens in a show of brilliance and emotion that leaves hardly a dry eye for the curious spectator. It all starts with a ribbon.

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Affixed at one end to a spindle, the ribbons fan out like the feathers of a peacock, reaching the friends, relatives, and close acquaintances standing on the opposite pier.

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The voyager grips the end of the colorful bundle tightly in both hands, waiting for the inevitable.

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The ferry pushes seaward, away from the pier in parallel unison, stretching the paper trail as if to test its resilience.

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Alas, the ribbons snap, drifting down to the waters in a fluid, artful motion.

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As the boat pulls away from port, an enthusiastic group of high school students follows in close pursuit until reaching the end of the dock, when an utterly breathtaking display of unity unfolds, as a group of 5 of the most faithful companions dive off the end of the dock into the frigid mid-March waters.

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Such actions truly make you rethink your way of bidding someone farewell. Are we doing enough here in the big urban centers to show our ties of loyalty?

 

 

Sea Level Sigil

5 years on, and the biggest change since the devastating tsunami is the proliferation of signage indicating your current position in regards to the sea. My neighborhood stands a whopping 1.5 meters above sea level, and for you metrically-challenged folk, that’s around 5 feet.

Do I have reason to fear? Perhaps, if history were to repeat itself. Back in the year 887, a powerful earthquake struck the Nankai trough, triggering a devastating tsunami that wiped out most of Osaka city. The Nankai fault line has been eerily quiet since then, so experts fear that another disturbance in the seismic force may be on the way, and if it comes then not even Luke Skywalker can save us.

Fortunately I live on the 8th floor, so if the tsunami does come-a-knockin’, I should at least have time to call my parents and perhaps send a text message or two before the waves take out the internet. Still, I suppose there are other things to worry about besides a catastrophic flood. Just the other day, police released stats indicating that Osaka is home to rampant cyclists with a complete disregard for traffic laws. Like we needed a government study to tell us that!

So on the anniversary of the great quake and tsunami, as I bow my head to the sea and observe a moment of silence for those who lost their lives and livelihoods, I wonder about all of those sea level signs plastered around a town. A vigil for the sigil if you will.

Koza station in Wakayama - a luxurious 4.9 meters above sea level

Koza station in Wakayama – a luxurious 4.9 meters above sea level