The Jakarta Post
In full bloom: A cherry tree with fully bloomed flowers in a park beside Osaka Castle. (Shutterstock/File)
In Japan, the Sakura season symbolizes a brand new start and hope for people of all ages and professions.
The smell of grilled meat is in the air as I walk along the path toward Osaka Castle.
Laughter seems to be an epidemic in the area, triggered by the cans of beer taken from a portable icebox.
Although the flowers are not in full bloom yet, the spirit of Sakura is already evident among the hundreds of people seated on plastic-covered soil.
While I am disappointed by the lack of Sakura flowers, the celebration from the Japanese is overwhelming.
They bond in style with friends and family.
They sit in circles, playing music and grilling meat on their mini-grillers.
Some of them dance while some walk around and just eat ice cream.
There are stalls selling Japanese cuisine and delicacies. One can hear the vendors calling out to the crowd to purchase their products.
A local by the name of Shiko comes to Osaka Castle every year with her husband.
“I like to come here every year to see the Sakura”, she says.
The Sakura is a much-awaited season in Japan.
People from all over Japan and across the globe flock to where the ume flowers, or the Sakura flowers, bloom.
Trees in Japan are mostly found in parks and shrines. They are rarely available in the downtown areas of Japanese cities.
The next day we drove to Kyoto and rented kimonos.
Kyoto is known as an “artsy city.” The locals wear their kimonos more often than their counterparts in other cities.
The government encourages the locals to wear kimonos by providing discounts on products and food to people who wear them.
Hundreds of people queue at a miniature shop to get the size of everything needed for their kimonos.
The ground floor is for registration and the second floor is where you choose your kimono.
You pay to rent your kimono on the third floor and then you move to the fourth floor where a lady will help you dress up.
I look at my watch and realize half the morning is gone and therefore, I decide to forfeit the Japanese hairstyling.
With our costumes, we go to Maruyama Park where the cherry blossom trees line up, still waiting to bloom.
Japanese-style tables are neatly stacked over the grounds with red cushions as seats. Food is served in bento boxes. After lunch, we head for Kyomizu Temple.
Wearing our Japanese slippers, we tread the hilly slopes to Kyomizu Temple.
Along the path, rows of shops selling Japanese products offer a worthwhile stop for browsing.
We decide to call it a day and head back to the rental shop. It takes just three minutes to remove our costumes.
The next morning we head for Todaji Temple to witness a beautiful hanging cherry blossom tree. This kind of tree is unique because of its falling branches. It is definitely a must-see.
Opposite the temple is a deer park. Crossing the striped painted floor, we walk toward deer and feed them with thin biscuits and sweet potatoes.
Moving on, we rush to the train station to go to Tokyo. The two-hour ride is relaxing.
Before we go anywhere else, we stop at a shop that sells the famous Tokyo Banana, a banana-shaped chiffon cake printed with hearts with banana cream inside.
Upon reaching the city, we head toward Tokyo Tower.
Across the street, the pavement is layered with fully bloomed cherry blossoms.
Unlike in Osaka, the locals in Tokyo are more minimalist and formal in their methods of celebration.
They use overturned cartoon boxes as their tables and have snacks to eat.
They dress formally in suits and jackets.
“I come here to spend the evening with my friends after work. My workplace is just across the way. I don’t have to pay to take this space. It is open for the public,” said a Tokyo local named Muyira.
On the way to dinner, we pass by the Imperial Palace to take a few photos.
The next morning, we head for Ueno Park, where fully bloomed trees of cherry flowers line up and create a captivating scene.
Hundreds of people from all over the world walk through the park, one of the most famous parks in Tokyo.
Like most parks, people picnic by the side of the park.
A group of elderly people sit together in a circle, chatting. It looks like a senior citizens workshop and they seem to be enjoying it.
On another side, younger people prepare their space with a pastel-themed décor.
One of them, Aki, prepares his space to celebrate with friends.
“I live in another town, but I took a day off today from my boss so I can sit here the whole day with my friends,” Aki said.
I would say the Sakura flower festival is one of the most beautiful events I have ever seen.
The flowers excited my senses and it was inspiring to see how the Japanese people reflect on hope.
Sakura is a sign of the end of winter and the start of spring. The sun starts to shine and the weather is gentler on the human body.
It touched me to see people seated on the grounds together despite differences in financial status, gender and age. Everyone had a chance to celebrate in his or her own way.
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