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Ah, it's that time of year again. The sky seems bluer, the grass looks greener and the birds seem merrier. It's Spring folks, and in Japan that means the start of the year (the academic and fiscal years start in April). It's also the time of year when the Cherry Blossoms start to bloom, and that means "ohanami". You can take that to mean, "look at the cherry blossoms and get drunk"!

It seems to be a tradition in Japan to make the new recruits in almost all companies to find and save an ideal spot for "ohanami" as their very first "job". This usually means going early to a park with lots of Cherry Blossom trees, laying out a sheet big enough for everybody to sit on and waiting there for almost the whole day for the others to finish work and come down. Not to mention making sure that there are enough drinks and food as well. A free day off from work you say? Well, if it's a nice warm day, perhaps.
Once everybody has a place to sit and drink in hand, it's time to start drinking. Not many people seem to admire the Cherry Blossoms, they just serve as an excuse to get together and drink. There is a tradition in Japan known as "bureiko", which basically means that when drinking usual manners can be broken. For example, addressing your superiors without adding their position (like Tanaka shacho (President Tanaka)) or saying things to your superiors that you usually keep to yourself. With this strange tradition, these acts will usually be overlooked (only when drinking though!). Just a little reminder to those whose tongues seem to slip when they get a bit tipsy.

If you are one of these fortunate fellows who was assigned the "job" of reserving a place, we've tried to gather some information that might make your life a bit easier. If you're a foreigner visiting or working in Japan, we'll give you a peek inside this weird Japanese tradition.

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accentParks
First off, you have to find a place where there are lots of cherry blossom trees. Where better than large parks? The largest and most popular of which is Ueno Park which has 1100 Cherry Blossom trees. You can sing karaoke, dance and drink till your heart's content. Be warned however that in order to find and save a good spotáas the saying goes, "the early bird gets the worm".

Ueno Park
(03-3828-5644) - 5 minutes walk from JR and Ginza Subway Line's Ueno Station.
There are numerous other parks where you can go for "ohanami" as well.

http://www.tokyo-park.or.jp/park/05/05-park.htm

Sumida Park (03-5608-1111) - Close to Asakusa Station with 1018 Cherry Blossom trees and "yatai" stores.

Showa Memorial Park
(042-528-1751) - 3 minutes from JR's Nishi-Tachikawa Station with 1500 Cherry Blossom trees. With the trees being lighted up at night, a perfect place for viewing the flowers at night.

Shinjuku Gyoen Park (03-3350-0150) - 5 minutes from Shinjuku Gyoen-mae Station (Subway Marunouchi line), Sendagaya Station (JR Sobu line) or Shinjuku San-cho-me Station (Subway Toei Shinjuku line). Another large park with 75 different types of Cherry Blossom trees, numbering 1500 trees in all.

Mukougaoka Yuuen
(044-911-4281) - 3 minutes by monorail from Mukougaoka Yuuen Station on the Odakyu line. Open 9:30 to 5:00 (Mon. - Sat.), 9:00 to 5:30 (Sun. and Nat'l Holidays). 1500 yen admission fee for adults. Enjoy a "ohanami" lunch in the picnic garden that is surrounded by 8000 Cherry Blossom trees and roses. Or you can admire the flowers from one of the many attractions.

Yasukuni Shrine
(03-3261-8326) - 5 minutes from Kudanshita Station. The "Somei Yoshino" type of Cherry Blossom tree that is used to predict the blooming of the trees every year is planted here along with 1000 other Cherry Blossom trees.

Koganei Park (042-385-5611) - Take a bus to Higashikurume from Musashi-koganei Station on the JR Chuo line and get off at Koganei Kouen Nishi Guchi. Approximately 2000 trees.
http://www.tokyo-park.or.jp/park/21/21-park.htm

Where else? Well, in Setagaya ward, there are a lot of places with "sakura" (meaning cherry blossom) in their nameáSakura shin-machi, Sakura, Sakuragaoka and so on. Obviously you would think that because of this Setagaya ward has lots of Cherry Blossom trees, and you are correct. Come the beginning of April, the residential areas are overflowing with Cherry Blossom flowers.

Komazawa Park
(03-3421-6121) - 5 minute walk from Komazawa Kouen station on the Shin-Tamagawa line. The park was used during the Tokyo Olympics and also has a public gym.
http://www.tokyo-park.or.jp/park/22/22-park.htm

Setagaya Kannon (03-3410-8811) - 20 minutes by bus (to Setagaya Nozawa) from Shibuya station. Although you won't be able to have your "ohanami" party here, contrasting view of the historic temple and Cherry Blossom trees is a sight to behold. This is Japan folks!

Okay, perhaps you were too busy to even think about "ohanami", yes, overtime can be rough, but take heart! Around 10 days after the "Somei Yoshino" type of Cherry Blossom tree reaches it's peak, the "Yae-zakura" type of Cherry Blossom tree reaches it's peak. This type is more full bodied and has a deep pink color.

Baji-Kouen
(03-3429-5101) - 30 minute bus (to Seijou-Gakuen) ride from Shibuya. Get off at Baji-Kouen mae. Run by the JRA, this park let's you meet ponies while admiring the Cherry Blossom trees.

On the 3rd Sunday in April, the main street in front of Sakura shin-machi station (Shin-Tamagawa line) is closed off to traffic and the "Sakura Matsuri" (Cherry Blossom Festival) is held, allowing you to stroll under the Cherry Blossom trees that stretch for a few hundred meters.

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accentDrinks and Food
Now that you've found an ideal place for your "ohanami", what you need next are drinks and food. Ideally, you would go with another person so that just in case you need to go to the restroom or off to buy beer, there would be a person left to stand guard. If not, don't worry, if you already have laid out your sheet, then place a little note on it saying who reserved the spot and for what time and you'll be okay. Depending on where you have your "ohanami", stores may be hard to come by and the nearby convenience stores may be sold out of alcoholic beverages so it's probably best to buy drinks before hand. Your local liquor store would be an ideal place to go to stock up on beer, sake, sho-chu and anything else you might find appropriate. If you have time you may want to drop on by the basement of Tobu Department Store (03-3981-2211) (http://www.tobu.co.jp/f_depart.html) on the West side exit of Ikebukuro where they have beer from around the world.
If you are on a limited budget, you might want to check out some discount liquor shops located around town.


Discount Liquor Shops
Isobeya - (0422-20-6977) Kichijoji, open 10:00am to 8:00pm everyday.
Target - (03-3483-6412) Ueno, open 10:00am to 7:00pm
Garcon - A discount liquor shop chain with stores in Nerima (03-3928-5231), Suginami (03-5346-0800), Mitaka (0422-76-7477), Setagaya (03-3439-3900) and Fuchu (0423-36-2311).

You now have drinks, what next? Food of course! Again your local supermarket might be the best place to stock up on food. You might want to buy what is known as "otsumami", which means food that is sort of like a snack that is eaten while drinking. These may include potato chips, yakitori, kara-age and the like. For those of you who want a full fledged meal with your drink, try going to a "yatai", which may be at some parks, that serve everything from toys to fried noodles. You can also buy a "hanami bento" at reasonable prices, which are lined up in almost all department stores around this time. Okay, I know there are people out there who love pizza with their beer (and some football too perhaps?). Rejoice! Most pizza delivery services like Pizza Hut (http://www.pizza-net.co.jp/pizza-hut/) and Domino's Pizza (http://www.dominos-pizza.co.jp/) will deliver a piping hot pizza right to your little sheet in the park! Sometimes a person from the store will be at the park handing out menus so be on the lookout!

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accentOther Stuff
Who likes warm beer? Not many people. So, if you bought your drinks before hand you might want a cooler right? Even if you didn't buy before hand, it's always nice to have cold drinks. Run out of space to sit? Don't have a sheet to start with? Need some games to liven things up? Then stop by Tokyu Hands (http://www.tokyu-hands.co.jp/index.htm) on your way and pick some stuff up!

Tokyu Hands -
Shibuya - 03-5489-5111
Shinjuku - 03-5361-3111
Ikebukuro - 03-3980-6111

Now that you have everything ready, time to hop on the train and get going to the park to secure your ideal spot. Happy hunting and don't forget to look up from your drink to look at the flowers from time to time!

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accentOther Festivals and Events
( [E]: event [F]: festival [I]: fair [e]: entertainment [f]: flower)
January
1st: Hatsumode
The first visit to a shrine to pray for happiness for the coming year.
(Meiji Shrine, Sensoji Temple, Hie Shrine, Kanda Myojin Shrine, etc.)
[E]
6th: Dezome shiki
Modern fire engines with firemen in Edo period costumes. Adults and children enjoy watching balancing acts on bamboo ladders and Edo firefighting techniques. (Harumi Chuo Dori, Chuo-ku)[E]
8th: Dondo yaki
Rice cakes are toasted on a fire of straw rope to pray for good fortune for the year.
(Torigoe Shrine, Kuramae 3851-5033)
[E]
Mid-Jan.:
Annual Sumo Tournament opens. (Kokugikan)[E]

February
3rd or 4th: Setsubun
The New Year according to the lunar calendar. Beans are scattered around the house at sunset to drive out bad luck and bring in good fortune. (Sensoji Temple, Hie Shrine, Zojoji Temple, Kanda Shrine etc.)[E]
Early Feb.: Kite (Tako) Fair
Kites are sold as fire prevention charms. (Oji Inari Shrine, 3907-3032)[F]
Feb. 25th to Mar. 15th: Shiraume Festival
Plum blossoms start to come out. (Yushima Shrine) Can also be seen at Jindai Shokubutsuen and other botanical gardens.[F]

March
3rd: Hina Matsuri
Dolls Festival, also called Girls' Day. Dolls in traditional costumes are displayed and wishes are expressed for the future happiness of girls in the family.[E]
3rd to 4th: Daruma Fair
The daruma is a red doll that brings good fortune if one of its eyes is colored in when a wish is made. When the wish comes true, the other eye is colored in. Politicians often use them at election time.
(Jindaiji Temple, 0424-86-5511)
[I]
18th: Dragon Dance
A 15-meter long, 75 kilogram golden dragon paraded by young people in Asakusa.
(Sensoji Temple, 3842-0181)
[E]

April
Early April: O-hanami
Cherry blossom viewing time. A time for celebration during the blossoms' short life. News broadcasts predict the date the blossoms will begin to open as the 'cherry blossom front' moves across the country. (Chidorigafuchi Park, Ueno Park, Aoyama cemetery, Sumida Park etc.)[F]
Late April: Yaezakura
Double-flowered cherry blossoms can be viewed at Shinjuku Gyoen.[F]
First Sun.: Hana matsuri
Flower festival -- Buddha's birthday. Edo-style parades take place.
(Gokokuji Temple, 3941-0764; Honmonji Temple, Ikegami, 3751-0006)
[E]
End of Apr. to Beg. of May:
Azaleas : (Nezu Shrine, Rikugien, Kiyosumi Park etc.)
Wisteria : (Kameido Tenjin Shrine)
Peonies : (Nishiarai Daishi Temple)
[F]

May
5th: Boys' Festival
Warrior dolls are set up in the home and carp shaped streamers are tied to poles in the hope that boys in the family will grow up strong and healthy.[E]
Kanda Festival
One of Edo's big three festivals. Lively, portable shrine parade. (Kanda Shrine, 3254-0753)[F]
Sanja Matsuri
Another of the big Edo festivals. Colorful and spirited. (Asakusa Shrine, 3844-1575)[F]
May 31st to Jun. 1st: Potted plant Fair
Goldfish, wind chimes. Very summery (Fuji Sengen Shrine, Asakusa)[I]

June
First Fri. to Sun.: Kappa Matsuri
Shrine is carried through water; energetic festival. (Ebara Shrine, Shinagawa, 3471-3457)[F]
2nd Sun.: Torigoe Night Festival
200 people carry a 4-ton shrine. (Torigoe Shrine, Kuramae) [F]
10th to 16th: Sanno sai
One of the 3 big Edo festivals. (Hie Shrine, Akasaka, 3581-2471)[F]
Early to Mid-July: Irises
Meiji Jingu, Horikiri Shobuen, Korakuen etc.[F]

July
1st: Katashiro Nagashi
Paper dolls with names written on them are scattered on the sea to pray for forgiveness for sins.
(Torigoe Shrine)
[F]
6th to 8th: Morning glory Fair
Over 100 stalls selling morning glory flowers and charms to soothe headaches. (Iriya Kishi-mojin)[I]
9th to 10th: Ground Cherry Tree Fair
A visit on these days is worth 46,000 visits at other times. Charms to protect you against being struck by lightning. (Sensoji Temple)[I]
Late Jul.: Firework displays
Carried on from Edo times. The Sumida River display takes place on the last Saturday. Other displays at Tamagawa, Toshimaen and other amusement parks.[E]
Jul. to Aug.: Noryosen
Night cruises around Tokyo Bay and along the Sumida River.[E]
Tokyo Kanko Kisen (Asakusa) 3841-9178
(Hinode) 3457-7830
(Restaurant Boat) 3433-5591
(Asakusa - Hamarikyu - Hinode sanbashi)
(Hinode sanbashi - Kasai Rinkai Park)
(Hinode sanbashi - Fune no Kagaku kan)


August
2nd weekend: Tsukuda Festival
Summer festivities, large portable shrine. (Sumiyoshi Shrine, Tsukudajima)[F]
Mid-Aug.: Fukagawa Hachiman Festival
Traditional festival from Edo times. (Tomioka Hachiman Shrine, 3642-1315)[F]
Early to Mid-Aug.: Outdoor Noh (Takigi Noh)
Performance by firelight. (Hie Shrine)[E]

September
5th to 7th: Tsukimi
Moon viewing. (Mukojima Hyakkaen)[E]
10th to 21st: Dara Dara Festival
Very popular and long-running festival. (Shiba Daijingu Shrine, Shiba Daimon, 3431-4802)[F]
25th: Ningyo Kuyo
Old dolls are brought here and burned. (Kiyomizu Temple, 3821-4749)[E]

October
11th to 13th: O-eshiki
Commemoration of Nichiren's death. Lanterns decorated with paper flowers.
(Ikegami Honmonji Temple, 3751-0006)
[F]
Oct. 30th to Nov. 3rd: Meiji Jingu Reitai Sai
Traditional music, old-style martial arts, archery. (Meiji Jingu, 3379-5511)[E]

November
Tori no Ichi (Bird Fair)
The date is set according to the lunar calendar. A merry festival. (Otori Shrine, Asakusa, 3876-1515)[I]
15th: Shichi go san
To pray for a happy life, girls of 3 and 7 and boys of 5 dress up and visit the shrine.
(Meiji Shrine, Hie Shrine, Asakusa Shrine etc.)
[E]

December
14th: Gishi Sai
Outdoor festival on the day of a vendetta from a kabuki play. (Sengakuji Temple, 3441-5560)[F]
17th to 19th: Hagoita Ichi (Battledore Fair)
One of the games for New Year. (Sensoji Temple, 3842-0181)[I]
31st: Joya no Kane
Ringing out the old and ringing in the new at temples at midnight. After the bells, people visit the shrine. (Zojoji Temple, Shiba; Kaneiji Temple, Ueno etc.)[E]

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