I grew up in Laguna Beach which, especially during the summer, was always crowded. Driving from the north end to the south end of town on the Pacific Coast Highway could take an hour on a hot summer weekend day. On the Fourth of July it was hell as people came to watch the fireworks display over the Pacific Ocean. A couple of years I worked in the little newsstand next to the beach on the Fourth. That was insane.
The Fourth in America is a good holiday for a picnic. The Japanese have a similar time, hanami (花見), or flower watching. The history goes back to some rich dudes who would sit outside, get toasted and write poetry about the fleeting beauty of the sakura (桜 or さくら), or cheery blossoms. Today it's an excuse to pack into one of Japan's many parks throw down a blue plastic sheet, bring some food, bring a lot of booze and get totally blotto.
The park that follows the course of the Shukugawa river makes the center of my neighborhood and is lined by almost 1700 sakura trees. The combination of easy access by train, lots of park space and a ton of sakura means Shukugawa is one of the most popular hanami spots around. According to the city authorities 120,000 people came to the park, over 20,000 more than last year.
It was packed this year. Saturday was rainy, so everyone came on Sunday. I had to work all day in the bar, but I had a few brakes in which to see what was going on. The line of stalls on the east side of the river were doing big business. A group of tough looking guys set up a whole karaoke machine and two large tables in one of the most conspicuous spots near the bridge. There was a fight somewhere, but I didn't get to see it. Bummer. This year JT and the Nishinomiya city gave out handheld ashtrays in front of the stations hopefully cutting down on some of the cigarette butts in the park.
Here are some quick translations of two news stories about the hanami.
- Asahi.com on April 6th:
With about 1600 cherry blossoms trees on view for the Sakura Matsuri in Shukugawa Park, Nishinomiya, Hyogo, 120,000 families and couples, 20,000 more than last year according to the Nishionmiya Sightseeing Association, were drawn to the park.
- Mainichi.jp on April 6th
The 43rd Nishinomiya Sakura Matsuri opened on the banks of the Shukugawa river, a wellknown famous place for seeing sakura, with 120,000 people coming to enjoy themselves with the flowers in full bloom.
The city has run the event for 66 years and it has become an established tradition. The Shukugawa river runs 3KM in a north south direction and has about 1,700 trees growing there, which many people come to visit each year. Many photographers and other groups came to the park.
Many families came to eat bento along the river. Mr. Adachi a 74 year old retired man said, "The trees that grow along the river are very beautiful, it's a really a good place. I took many photos."My Shukugawa Sakura 2009 photo set can be seen here.
A map of the area is here.