are officially in season, and to celebrate the Himeji Castle threw a Hanami (Sakura Viewing)
Festival! Yes, this is how much Japanese people LOVE sakura, they even have a word for the process of looking at the blossoms= hanami.
But Hanami doesn't just entail the act of "looking at a cherry blossom tree"; it can involve so much more (usually friends, family, box lunches, and lots and lots of alcohol.)
This particular Hanami event was held at the famous Himeji Castle (one of the world's National Treasures.)
The event started when the sun came up. The early risers staked out their areas with tarps, and the vendors started up their grills. From dawn till dusk the crowds poured through, and the usually withheld Japanese people began to loosen up and get crazy as the day went on, and the sake (alcohol) supply disappeared.
I myself was in no mood to drink alcohol midday, so instead I just roamed around the grounds and checked out the various stands, vendors, shops, and displays. There was also a stage set up directly in front of the castle, with nonstop performers through out the day. The shows were all very Japanese, and included dancing, drumming, and even a frolicking (scary looking) lion that climbed up a ladder very, very slowly.
Because of the recent weather drop, and the fact that it drizzled on and off all day, the crowds were no where near the usual festival size, which was nice. I sampled sakura tea, sakura cookies, sakura cake, sakura crackers, sakura jam, sakura honey...yeah, you get the point.
When I was getting ready to bail, (the dreary weather hadn't really put me in the mood to lounge around on a wet tarp) some Midwestern Inaka JETs showed up and brought me back to spirits. These girls (Shannon and Emily) live in the middle of nowhere which makes it hard for us to see each other often.
But it was soooo wonderful to hang out with Midwestern folk! Call me crazy, but I've come to think that the area you're from in the States makes a big difference not just on your pronunciation and word choice, but also on your attitude, the jokes you tell, the things you find offensive, and so forth. I hate to make this general assumption (and of course I know there are many instances to prove it false) BUT my rare meetings with these gals really bring a smile to my face, much laughter all the way from my gut, and a cure to any existing case of homesickness or current misery about work/life/Japan.