By Alan Wood, March 8, 2015
Editor of Georgia Watchdog
As Macon’s cherry blossom festival fast approaches on March 19, I’m reminded of the connection to Japan that inspired this festival. Our festival, which includes 10 festival days spread over 19 calendar days ending April 4, is a major undertaking. It fairly qualifies as Macon’s single biggest and most ambitious event.
Macon has more cherry blossom trees than even Washington D.C., which has a famous, much larger festival of its own, also beginning in full swing this year on March 19 and extending until April 18. During that same period, Macon often can count on better weather — but we can also count on a limited connection with the Japanese origins of the festival, a link that Washington’s National Cherry Blossom Festival plays up big. Washington even goes so far as to call its festival alternatively by the Japanese name, Sakura Matsuri.
Having spent many years in Japan, I can see opportunities for using our festival to pay more homage to Japan, while enhancing the Japanese flair and vitality of our festival, much as D.C. does with its parallel festival. The Japan-America Society of Georgia, for example, not to mention our major local Japanese-owned employer, YKK, might be recruited to assist us in adding more genuine Japanese culture, activities and verve. We need it. Despite nice fresh features like the biergarten event this coming Thursday, Macon’s festival in other respects has gone a bit flat.
Some Japanese Cherry-Blossom Basics
In Japanese, the word cherry is Sakura, and festival is Matsuri, so combine those words for Sakura Matsuri, pronounced Sa-koo-rah Mot-soo-ree. The Japanese also have a word for the viewing of the cherry blossoms called Hanami. (Hah-na-mee), which literally means flower viewing. They even have a cherry blossom forecast on weather reports. The blossom forecast (sakurazensen, literally cherry blossom front) is announced each year by the national weather bureau, and is watched carefully by those planning hanami, as the blossoms only last a week or two.
Japan is a relatively small country that could fit entirely inside California, but it also stretches very far in the north from Hokkaido, to as far south as Okinawa. That’s a distance of 1,896 miles, meaning blossoms can begin in late March in warmer areas, and last until early May in the cooler north.
Unlike in Macon, most people in Japanese cities don’t have large yards with the opportunity for an abundance of their own cherry trees. Instead, there are large parks and temple grounds where people congregate near cherry trees while in bloom. People will go very early in the morning to claim a prime spot with a large blue tarp. Usually a young or new employee from a company is sent to grab a place the day before for the office crowd and guard it all day before the rest of the crew arrive after work.
You’ll see groups of students, some families, and also a lot of coworkers from the same section at a company. Then after work, the party starts as everyone arrives with food and drink. Celebrations will last literally as long as the blossoms remain on the trees. At most major Hanami venues, all the trees will be lit up so, the parties can last all night long. People sometimes leave in the early morning, heading straight to work. There are lots of public baths where people can shower and change clothes on the way. Many people get very little sleep this time of the year. The Japanese may seem a little reserved — but not during cherry blossom time, when the delicate beauty of the cherry blossoms seems to delight the Japanese sensibility like a powerful elixir.
Cherry Blossoms and the Japanese School Year
The Japanese school year and system are both similar to and different from from the U.S. year and system. Their primary schools correspond to our grades 1-6, with junior high covering grades 7-9, and high school, grades 10-12. But the Japanese school year begins in April, not August, as in Bibb. The first term runs from April 1 to around July 20, when summer vacation begins.
The Japanese start their school year in the spring because they view spring as … Continue Reading