Monday, April 09, 2007

Hippety Hoppety

Easter in Japan. Hmm . . .

Well, Easter in Japan is even more bereft of Christ than Christmas was. At least then we had a tree and a cake and some presents. But Easter is completely unrecognized. So we had to make our own.

About a month ago I got online and basically begged some of our friends to send us some Easter stuff and boy, did they come through! Here is a picture of Bonnie (blurry cuz I took it with my cell phone -- I was out of film at the time) with the Easter basket full of stuff that people sent! Note the pink plastic Ariel basket that we got free when we bought six cans of Grape Fanta last summer. Oh well, she didn't care!

Since several people sent us egg-dying kits, we decided to educate some of the kids I teach at the English school here. The little boy is Yuki, a kindergartener who was fascinated with the “magic” crayon (made of white wax). I made a sample egg first and they couldn't believe how the wax design was preserved in white while the rest of the egg turned into candy colors. Next is Yuka , another Kg-er looking duly thrilled while dipping her egg. Thanks for that Kodak moment, Yuka! Kids had a chance to practice their English while asking, “Whose egg is that?” “I like blue,” etc. They each made three or four eggs and took them home. They didn't believe me when I told them they could eat them.

And what do you think we did on Easter Sunday? No, nothing as mundane as, say, going to church! No way! We had a cherry-blossom viewing party with our students.

This party is called "ohanami" in Japanese. "o" is an honorific added to words to give them special significance. It is like saying, "honorable cherry blossom viewing party." The word "hana" means "flower" and "mi" comes from "mimasu," whish means "see." So, there you have it: O-hana-mi: Cherry blossom viewing party.

Originally I wanted to have the party near the end of the month when my friend will be visiting from the U.S., but as my students watched the cherry blossom forecast (yes, there is such a thing here - you can even get updates sent to your cell phone and Yahoo Japan has a special weather page for the forecast), they informed me that it would be far too late if we waited until then. So we pushed it forward to April 1st. However, there weren't any blossoms in our part of the country that week so we changed it to April 8th. I completely forgot it was Easter Sunday. When I realized what I had done, I briefly considered changing the date, but then thought it might be a fun way to spend the day. And it really was.

Bonnie and I met our manager, Yuri and her son Koken, along with the other English teacher, Wayne, and drove to the local Buddhist temple (or is it a Shinto Shrine? I forget). Anyway, we skipped the pagan part and went to the park next door which was overflowing with pink, cottony cherry trees in full blossom. One by one, our students found us (we had told them simply to come to the park at 1 p.m. and look for the two gaijin -- and it worked!) and helped us get the grill going (Wayne carried it up to the top of the hill!) with a little help from some other picnickers who actually had matches (oops!).

Everyone had brought packs of meat to grill and share, along with dipping sauce, rice balls, salad and chips. Yuri had been carrying what looked like a large, blue plastic briefcase, which stunningly transformed into a picnic table -- complete with benches. To the right is an actual picture of our actual students (Hiromi, Aya and Hatsue) at our actual party! After we ate, the kids (Wayne, Bonnie, Kouken and some of my students) found some old cardboard boxes, smashed them flat and used them to slide down the very steep hill next to us.

I sat on another hill overlooking the city, the rows of cherry trees laid out like pastel clouds below me, thinking of how the ohanami is viewed in Japanese culture. Since the cherry blossoms are only around for a short time every year, they are especially venerated. To see them at their peak takes good timing and good luck. Almost everyone in Japan tries to find some time to sit and enjoy the cherry blossoms before they are gone.

Wayne said it reminded him of a famous Japanese proverb he had just learned:

ichi go, ichi e


which he translated into English:

“Cherish every encounter, for it will never recur."