Saturday, June 21, 2014

花見 --> hanami --> flower viewing

In late March to early April every year, countless cherry trees in and around Tokyo go into bloom. Expansive swaths of Tokyo's greenscape rapidly morphs from green and brown to white and pink. The precise color of each bloom seems to depend on the stage of the bloom and can vary by time of day. The  number and beauty of the flowering trees is remarkable, but more wonderful still is the culture surrounding hanami. Every year Japanese people come out en masse with friends, family and co-workers to picnic, drink and relax outside. Entire lengths of public parks are covered corner to corner in picnic blankets. Hanami season is by far the most festive and lively aspect of Japanese culture I have seen so far. (This statement was true as of hanami season. Now, two months later, at the time that I am finally making this post, it has some stiff competition.)

Relative rankings aside, it was spectacular! I will cut to the photographic chase.

The above photos were taken at Chidorigafuchi Park, which overlooks the outer moat of the Imperial Palace. After walking the length of the park, we happened upon our first outdoor food festival.

There were dozens of different Japanese snack and dinner foods available as well as all a variety of libations -- in Tokyo there is no prohibition on open containers in public. Noteworthy food options included:

Shishamo --- a saltwater fish (called a smelt??), specifically a pregnant one, that is grilled or fried whole with its roe intact. Served on a skewer.

Takoyaki --- A ball-shaped wheat flour-based snack (about the size of a golf ball) flavored with ginger and green onion and filled with a hearty piece of octopus in the middle. Imagine if you will a savory doughnut hole with octopus instead of jam filling... I obviously did not partake though it was cool to see how they are made.

    The mix of takoyaki ingredients before they are cooked and shaped.

    The chef flipping the takoyaki balls as they cook in the specially-designed takoyaki pan.

After we had our fill, instead of going straight home, we returned to Chidorifafuchi to see the hanami by night.

That was a very good day.