University of Wisconsin–Madison

Hanami

Cherry blossom season in Japan is incomparable with anywhere in the world (sorry, that includes you Washington DC) from sheer abundance to endless varieties to traditions of having parks dedicated to cherry blossom trees to hanami (cherry blossom viewing parties) that make the experience even more spectacular. In the full bloom of cherry blossoms in Osaka (around two weeks long) I was invited to four hanami by coworkers! One was hosted by my lab at Osaka Castle Park, another by a coworker who is responsible for all of my logistics before and during my internship who brought a group of us biking around Asuka, a third planned by the female researcher in my lab who invited me and two other female coworkers to Kyoto, and lastly a Hanami planned by Anna’s (the other intern’s) lab (which I ended up not being able to go to).

The first, held in Osaka Castle Park by my lab was probably the most typical hanami experience. In order to get a spot under the trees, the head of my lab left at noon with a big tarp to mark our territory, even when the rest of us wouldn’t arrive until after 7PM! All the women left work together right as the work bell rang to symbolize work was over, while the men all left work early (5PM) to pick up food for the hanami. Me and the other women arrived around 7PM in the most beautiful display of cherry blossom trees illuminated by lights in front of a lit up Osaka Castle.

It felt surreal as we sat down to gaze up at the trees. Right my boss was to come early and get a prime spot because the park was packed. After taking in the beauty of our surroundings for half an hour, the male coworkers arrived arms full of food for a feast!

More and more food kept appearing and I felt rude turning any of it down so I just kept eating. Close to 8:30PM we are just eating sweets and drinking beer so some of us decide to go watch this show a man in the park was putting on which turned out to be a monkey show! I felt bad for the little monkey, but he was so gosh darn cute!

At around 9 we are all back sitting down under the cherry blossom trees when music began to play and the lights illuminating the cherry blossom trees turned off. Slowly, from how full we all were, we plod back to catch the trains Home.

The following Saturday we had an epic bike ride through Asuka. I didn’t have a bike but the coworker who invited me told me not to worry. Almost two hours from my dormitory later, I arrive at Asuka station (I had no idea it would take that long). We quickly rent bikes and another coworker (who seems to be an avid biker because he brought his own bike and was wearing all biking clothes) led the way. Another coworker’s family joined us including three small children between the ages of 2-6. I was worried I would not be able to keep up with the group because I haven’t biked at all since coming here, but having all the children there made everyone go at a nice, slow pace that even I could keep up with.

There were cherry blossoms everywhere. It was an experience I had never expected in Japan because I never knew this was something I could experience! We bikes along rolling hills, occasionally stopping at a large rock or mound of dirt that each had its own ancient Japanese story behind it.

Then we reached the end of the route at a lovely park where we sat to eat our packed lunches and gaze up at the cherry blossom trees. Asuka is also famous for strawberries, so the coworker leading the group brought us to a famous ice cream shop known for using fresh strawberries in their mixture. It was “”oishi” (delicious).

After, we slowly biked back to the station with full bellies, once in a while stopping just to take in the views.

The last hanami I attended was the one the female researcher in my lab invited me to in Kyoto. We started the morning by meeting in Kyoto station where, from there, we would go to the golden temple (Kinkaji temple). The golden temple is a bus away (which is strange for me because most other places in Kyoto are accessible by train). Once we arrived you could tell exactly why it was named the golden temple! 15kg of gold adorned an otherwise ordinary sized temple.

We next went for a walk along Kamo river populated with endless cherry blossom trees.

Following that, we entered the nearby botanical gardens where not only cherry blossoms were in full blooms but all the other flowers!

Slightly behind schedule, we rushed to a famous ramen restaurant, but we had to wait in line 1.5 hours to be seated! It was worth the wait though, even if we had to quickly slurp up the ramen to dash and catch a taxi

Why we were behind schedule was because the female researcher in my lab had booked us seats on a famous old fashioned train ride through a beautiful cherry blossom forest on the edge of a river! We made it just in time and then enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

After this train, we headed to the bamboo forest and popular river in Arashiyama near by.

Before all departing, we finished off the day by the river enjoying some crepes and bubble tea served by local vendors

All of these hanami were amazing and I honestly can’t rank which was my favorite because they were all so different! I’m so lucky to have coworkers who bring me out to experience aspects of Japanese life I would never have had the opportunity to be a part of is I was a tourist or even studying abroad at a university.