SHORT #30: Kawaguchi and the Blossoms and the Turtle Doves
This story is part of a series that looks into the daily lives of people in very specific kinds of urban places. Here we follow a character in urban Japan named Kawaguchi. If you’ve not met him yet, Kawaguchi was introduced previously in Kawaguchi and the Oden Route, so you can read that one first.
There is a foot bridge that crosses over the northern tip of a narrow island in the city center. On this island tip — which is really a fancified sand bank — there is a small park. This island park is a nucleus of sorts, connected by the bridge, to the bevy of offices, shops, and housing towers, in all shapes, sizes, and ages, that line the outer edges of the river.
At this moment, a slight breeze moves across this bridge. Slight as it is, it must have plucked off a thousand blossoms. When Kawaguchi arrives, he sees the blossoms, whirled into a light pink flurry, some taking flight out of sight, some landing on the grass, and some becoming pink islands themselves that float off down the river.
There are a dozen cherry trees living in this area of the park. Each taking their turn, ceding blossoms to the soft spring winds that come up off the river. Kawaguchi watches on, while the crowd around him continues their fast-paced walk to the offices on the other side of the river, and it seems to him, that the only beings watching the show of blossoms right now are he and the turtle doves.
Kawaguchi enjoys exploring various paths, but somehow he almost always takes this route between the train station and work. Alighting on the mainland side would be quicker, but he goes one stop further, exiting on the island. In the ensuing walk, there is always something to notice that makes his day a little bit better. Well worth the extra time, Kawaguchi thinks.
After the cloud of blossoms settles, Kawaguchi leaves the turtle doves to their pecking and gazing. Hearing the bustle on the footbridge behind him, he starts with two side-steps, then merges at speed, joining the office workers in their fast-paced walk into the concrete “real” world. Looking at the towers ahead of him, he disputes the idea that this world he is walking toward is actually more “real” than the cherry blossom cloud he just witnessed.
That thought stays with him until lunchtime, where Kawaguchi is the first to arrive back. He packs a lunchbox for this purpose. While the other workers head from their drab desks, down the elevators, to the convenience stores where food glistens under flourescent lights, Kawaguchi instead walks directly to the footbridge, down the stairs, and to the tree that had produced the flurry of blossoms earlier that morning. He had known from the morning, that this would be his lunch spot today. The rice, pickled plums, egg, and beer pulled from his furoshiki never tasted quite like they did here, in this time and place.
Soon, the others arrive from the convenience stores, finding their own seats among the dozen trees. They join Kawaguchi in savoring their food and drink, but likely more so, in savoring the showers of blossoms. In this moment, Kawaguchi notices a curious pattern, in how the soft sunshine warms his body, and then, with the most precise timing, just at the moment when the heat becomes too much and his neck begins to perspire, the breeze comes again from the river, cooling him some while also plucking off a few more blossoms from above.
He enjoys this cycle.
Eating, drinking, heat, wind, cool, blossom showers sparkling in the sunlight, repeat.
Kawaguchi enjoys it all so much in fact, that he does not return to work that day. Judging from the increasing fullness of the park however, neither do any of the other workers. The park, it seems, is single-handedly directing the activities of all the office workers around it, and in such a beautiful way.
Soon the scene is not just of the regular workers, but the Vice-Presidents and CEOs too. They come uncharacteristically, smiling, with more beers and sake and sandwiches and snacks in hand, proving the gravitational pull of the cherry blossoms. There they all stay for the rest of the workday, and on until dusk, by which time the crowd begins to stroll, or scuttle, or stumble out. As they leave, their seats are taken up again rather quickly. The new occupants are the turtle doves, who until that moment had quite possibly just pretended to watch the blossoms, secretly awaiting a feast of whatever carelessly dropped cracker crumbs, peanuts, or rice grains might be available. Then again, perhaps they do a bit of both.
Arriving home, Kawaguchi requires a few liters of water and a bit of time to get his mind—which is still floating with the pink flurries—back to earth, but he gathers that it was worth it. For him, and for the other workers, and the Vice-Presidents and the CEOs, and the turtle doves, and everyone, it was always worth it.
This story is based on the real phenomenon of ‘hanami,’ or ‘flower watching’ in Japan. So beloved is this pastime that many trees are planted explicitly for the blossoms (eg: most urban cherry tree cultivars either produce tiny, sour fruits, or no fruit at all). When spring comes, newscasters regularly forecast the peak blossom times for some months along with their regular weather forecasts. When the peak season arrives, parks fill to the brim not just on weekends, but at all times. In Tokyo and Osaka, I experienced how some companies send several workers out ahead of time to scout and claim the best spots, under trees brimming with the most blossoms, and the rest of the company joins them at quitting time (which may come early on this occasion).
Outsiders tend to claim that this all seems a rather strange, unbelievable, or even a questionable practice. Well, they claim this that is, until they partake in the activity themselves, pulled into that nucleus of swirling blossoms.
HOW TO HANAMI
One does not have to be in Japan to partake in hanami. A few helpful steps for doing hanami anywhere:
Find a Cherry Tree or any tree that blossoms (if not available go to step 2, otherwise, skip to step 3)
Plant such a tree and patiently help it mature
Pay attention to the tree on a regular basis, and during the blossoming season, bring a picnic (of any kind, simple or a feast) and sit under the tree, paying specific attention to what you hear, feel, smell and taste
Lie down, and upon a breeze, look up to see if you can catch the blossoms make flickering clouds
Share in this with others and repeat the process yearly, or even throughout the seasons (sitting under green or purple or yellow leaves is more of a ‘komorebi’ experience than a ‘hanami’, but still wonderful) expanding or changing the process according to your tastes
MORE ON URBAN NATURE ACCESS
If you enjoyed the setting and social context of this story, you might also like this photo essay about urban nature in Japan, Korea and Scotland…
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