first trip to Japan, ever
In the 3rd year of my university study, I was supposed to go to Japan for an exchange and internship.
My dream of going to Japan started at the age of 11 years.
The plan was specifically to not go to Japan beforehand to build up even bigger expectations and bigger hype.
The full package blew my mind and soul.
You can guess the amount of hype when the day finally came.
The 22nd of March 2014, was marked as the beginning of the greatest adventure I could ever imagine.
I am used to long flights, but this flight particularly took very long for some reason.
The season of the Sakura blossoms or Hanami actually started a few days after my friends and me had arrived.
I didn’t know beforehand that we were entering this season upon arrival.
My plan was to have no plan and to just go on with the flow.
And oh was I in for the best ride that started my 1 year of Japan journey.
First, let me elaborate for you what Hanami is from what I have learned and from my experience.
“These images are mentally carved into my brain as it still makes me smile when I think back.”
History of Hanami
I am sure you have heard about Sakura or cherry blossoms before.
It is inevitable if you like Japan. You can see it everywhere on paintings, models or even anime and films.
The Sakura blossom phenomenon has influenced the Japanese people and culture for over more than 1000 years.
Well did you know that these Sakura trees go from bald, to pink and from pink to green?
According to Japanese philosophy, the short-life span of the Sakura blossom symbolizes human life.
As human life has a relatively short lifespan and is to be fully enjoyed and blossomed.
Fun fact! The Japanese folklore tells a story about a Japanese fairy spirit who breathes life into these Sakura trees. Her name was Konohana Sakuya Hime (木花咲耶姫).
Enjoying and celebrating the presence of the Sakura blossoms was started by the Japanese emperors during the 9th century.
Celebrating the Sakura festival was actually adapted by the common people later on.
Sake or Nihonshu(日本酒) was an important factor of celebrating the view and presence of the Sakura blossom as it still remains important today, which I totally understand and for which I am very grateful for.
I Have based this knowledge on a book about the Sakura blossoms, “The Cherry Blossom Festival (2005) – Ann McClellan”.
I am grateful for sharing your knowledge about this subject.
What Is Hanami in my experience?
Well I wasn’t aware of the Hanami phenomenon until the very moment I was in Japan.
Did you also know the leaves of the Sakura tree’s are actually just about 2 weeks pink?
It will transform to green after those 2 weeks.
Which is reason enough why people in Japan go to parks and fully celebrate this as one big, 2 week long going festival.
This sounded like this is going to be the best moment to have a 2 week long awesome adventure. Were my expectations too high?
Well, to call it as high expectations is just to put it mildly.
Let me tell you the top 3 reasons why I definitely loved celebrating Hanami in Japan.
“We were quite shocked and overwhelmed by this gesture as we said arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます) a million times to him!“
Drunks, drunks everywhere!
The first park I went to was Yoyogi Park (代々木公園). After a few minutes in the park, I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere.
It is a HUGE park and the park was full of people having lots of fun.
All the people were sitting on picnic canvases with good food and off course, lots and lots of alcohol.
The alcohol was everywhere. I was so fascinated, that I barely ate my own food or drank my own drinks.
Speaking of drinks, I got recommended to drink Strong Zero! It contains a good percentage and has a very terrific taste.
It was so easy to drink and I also recommend it to you whenever you go to Japan.
It is available in every shop and definitely in the convenience stores.
Man, those convenience stores were so convenient!
We don’t have convenience stores in the Netherlands unfortunately.
But the convenience stores really proved to live up to their names.
The fun part of Hanami is that the people in Japan start very early on the day celebrating.
This means that everybody gets a whole day to get wasted.
And what is the best part of lots of people starting to drink early on? Yes, total chaos in the evening.
It was almost like a warzone! Casualties everywhere and yet people having lots of fun.
These images are mentally carved into my brain as it still makes me smile when I think back.
I was able to make a lot of new friends due to the drunk people everywhere!
You can really see these moments as a free pass to randomly talk to people more easily.
My Japanese language skill went through the sky due this lifehack. I kept talking (I guess mainly because of the alcohol) with many people and people loved to talk back.
They will get impressed by your Japanese basics which will turn into even more confidence to talk in Japanese.
That confidence is key to be willing to talk more in a foreign language.
My new friends actually corrected my language errors I made.
Since making errors hurts so much, you will definitely not make the same error next time.
I can say that this was the best kick start of my journey in Japan and my Japanese language skill.
So my number 1 advice to practice your Japanese level skill is, go to Japan during the Hanami season!
It was easy to just do and scream some KANPAI to another group.
This was the wonderful ice breaker.
The other groups usually kanpai’d back to us and eventually started asking where we were from.
These are the best parts, as the best conversations roll out from here either in English or Japanese as we mingled.
This was so enjoyable especially as we shared drinks, foods and lots of laughter.
An old man randomly providing us with food and beer
Saved the best for last. I would like to share the most heart-warming experience that happened.
I was picnicking in Fuchinobe park with some friends from the Netherlands.
This park was nearby my university dormitory where I lived from a half year.
Some random grandpa walked through the park and saw us chilling and having fun.
We just nodded at him and smiled. BUT, after a while he came back and actually bought and brought us some beer and food.
We were quite shocked and overwhelmed by this gesture as we said arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます) a million times to him! He didn’t even stay to hang out with us.
Just some small words we exchanged and off he went.
I can tell you that this is also one of the best things that could happen to you while on a trip like this.
Yet, this was even still the beginning of my 1-year journey in Japan and it showed many promises.
I guess I should also share my weirdest experience of the Hanami period as well.
They had free toilets in Fuchinobe park!
Free toilets are the best especially since we don’t have free toilets in the Netherlands.
A small but important detail about those toilets in Fuchinobe park, it had 3 urinals for men.
After taking in lots of fine, delicious tasting drinks, it has to go out as well.
When I went to the toilet there was a man standing in the middle of those 3 urinals.
His plan was to do a check-mate on you.
I had to do what I had to do so I just stood on the left side of him doing my thing.
As I saw from the corners of my eyes, the guy was wearing a face mask and obviously started looking or stare at me!
When I tried to look a bit more from the corners of my eyes, I noticed the movement of his arm and hand.
Yes this man was doing something else than just peeing.
I will let you fill in the details yourself.
After I went out of the toilets and my friends later on experienced the same This confirmed that I wasn’t delusional.
These images are yet again, mentally carved into my brain.. Unfortunately..
My friends and me still crack up out of disturbance whenever we talk about this experience.
Which is why I thought this was worth sharing!
Have you ever been to Japan and celebrated Hanami? What do you think of this blog post?
Please share with us your best experiences of this festival or other weird encounters in the comments below!