No this is not the name of some right wing, rabid radical party though I was aghast to read an article in today’s Japan Times about Ayako Sono who supports the adoption of a system that would promote racial segregation in housing zones, basically creating a mini apartheid or a ghetto type situation in Japan and forcing immigrant workers to live in defined areas separate from the Japanese.
If this link doesn’t work just google – sono racial segregation Japan Times and the article should pop up.
Japan has a huge short fall of people working in the aged care sector and this is only going to grow with an inverted population pyramid. Many Filipino and Indonesian workers are being bought in to help with the shortfall. This article had me gasping for air like a fish out of water. I know there is a very strong right wing faction who are anti foreigner in Japan and the Abe government is right wing but I hope that these workers are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve and are paid and treated as well as their Japanese counterparts would expect to be. I can only hope that Sano has possibly lost her marbles, absolutely nobody takes her seriously and the paper that published this was only after the shock factor. Achieved! It was also a little scary to note that this woman had been appointed by Abe as late as 2013 to be on an educational review committee. She definitely would not be supporting the idea of reviewing the history text books in Japan, a matter of considerable angst in Asian politics. Right, rant over, coming up for breath and getting back on topic.
The Cherry Blossom front!
The Cherry blossoms have come to be symbolic of Japan. They start to bloom way down in Okinawa from about February 1 and are synonymous with the coming of spring. Each year the Weather bureau produces a blossom forecast called the sakura zensen 桜前線 which is literally The Cherry Blossom Front. People follow this with great care and plan their Hanami 花見 or flower viewing parties and Hanami trips away with great care as once the blossoms start to bloom their stay is fleeting and they at at their optimum for only a week or two. As the cherry blossom move up the country in a pink wave it is reported each night as part of the weather report. instead of “you can expect heavy rain ….” you get “you can expect the cherry blossoms to be in full bloom by ……” Great discussion ensues and it is the topic of many a variety show on Japanese TV.
Living in Tokyo means the cherry blossoms aren’t due until April but knowing they have already started in Okinawa and will soon begin in southern Kyushu makes it seem that the end of winter is in sight and thoughts of spring and all it beauty seem to ease the cold.
April, with it’s cherry blossoms, doesn’t only herald the beginning of a new season but also is the start of the new school year for primary, junior high, senior high and university students. Many a picture of kids in their new crisp and slightly oversize uniforms is taken under the blossoms. Oversize uniforms seem to be a cross-cultural international mum phenomenon. No matter where you go in the world mums buy a uniform you will grow into. I think I finally fitted mine about the week I graduated high school. I was swimming in it at the start and I actually thought she had made a mistake and ordered a Bedouin tent!
These Entrance Exams are rites of passage in Japanese kids lives. Some of them have been through what is known as juken jigoku or examination hell to get into prestigious schools. After going through that it is nothing to sit though a bum numbing long ceremony welcoming to your school of choice!
The other thing that happens in Japan in April is shuushoku or nyuusha. This is the time that the University students enter companies to begin their life as a working drone. On April 1st, the train commute is crowded with young people in conservative navy blue suits, conservative hair and make up and briefcases and handbags. The first 3 years of relative freedom in University are over. Their final 4th year is time to settle, go through the ritual of interviewing and sitting companyy entrance exams, hopefully find a position before graduating. I have heard friends say in their final year they didn’t go to the beach because if they went to interviews with a suntan they would have be seen as someone who liked to play and was not serious about getting a good position in a Japanese company. They then have to pass the Uni exams and actually graduate. In Japan, it’s not quite as easy as see a job advertised and apply. Come April 1st, it is the company entrance ceremony followed by “nose to the grindstone” time and welcome to the real world, or at least welcome to the crazy work expectations of corporate Japan.
These fellows above are not the drop outs or the failures of the company rat race. Chances are this is the first job with responsibility they have been assigned since joining the company. The task of going early in the morning to the local Cherry blossom viewing park and secure a suitable place for all the senpai (workplace seniors) to come after work in the evening to have a hanami party (a flower viewing party) is that of the new entrants. They are often there from about 10 am or earlier staking their claim for the impending company shenanigans, Rain or shine they will sit there all day until their work colleagues arrive.
Once the blossoms bloom parks and river sides are jam packed with people having Hanami parties. Common themes are copious amounts of alcohol and food. Obentous (boxed lunches), Portable bbqs, Yakitori ( chicken on a skewer) are all popular. Food stands called yatai line the paths in the parks. You can buy noodle and squid on a stick, sweet corn and pancakes. People often bring portable karaoke machines and croon the night away in a drunken sway. As you wander through the blossoms, chances are you will be invited to join the festivities and drink. The company newbies are constantly alert and filling their seniors glasses though at some point this changes and the poor newbies are plied with alcohol and end up terribly legless only to have to get to work the next day and put on a brave face. During this time the late evening commute home is so strong with the fumes of alcohol, you feel like you might become sozzled just by inhaling it!
The well known spots get very crowded. This is a popular viewing place near my workplace which is very pleasant for me in the morning on the way to work but havoc at night trying to get through the crowds and on the train to get home. Check out some of the best known spots in Tokyo in the link below. If you are here for a while or have friends check out where they go. You may well find somewhere very special and not so crowded. During cherry blossom season I get off my train about 2 stops early and take a wonderful 4km walk along a lovely we canal that is lined by Cherry blossom trees. Sure there are others enjoying it but nothing like the masses in Tokyo. I will post pictures in April!
Top spots in Tokyo http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3050.html
As with most seasonal happenings in Japan there is a seasonal food to go with it. The traditional sweet to eat during Cherry blossom viewing is called Sakura Mochi. It is a traditional sticky rice cake with sweet bean paste wrapped in a cherry blossom leaf which has been pickled in brine. Not sure that it sounds delicious but it is!
The one on the left is Kansai style so from down Osaka way and the one on the right is Kanto style so from Tokyo area.
This video link is to a food doco. The latter half has some good references to Hanami. This is a great series if you are interested in Japanese food and culture.
Hanami (flower viewing) is a must do when in Japan during Spring. It could be a stroll through the park or along a river, having your own picnic party with friends or gate crashing a party that is in full drunken swing. What ever you do, you will see a neat cross section of Japanese life, University students , families or Company employees out enjoying the blossoms and celebrating the arrival of spring in many different ways. You can see lovely ladies in kimono or yukata and temples and gardens bathed in a swathe of pink . Once you hear the Hanami report on TV don’t put it off as these delicate wee beauties don’t last long! As they say in Japan Kanpai or Cheers!.
Yoroshiku Onegai shimasu