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More than hanami: Japanese spring festivals

Have you seen there’s a hanami festival in Copenhagen, except it’s virtual this year?
“Yes, but they have cancelled two years consecutively, unfortunately. But we enjoyed the hanami itself: Two weeks ago, we went to Langelinie, near the mermaid, and the cherry blossom flowers were really beautiful at the time. In Japan, it’s quite a big event: Everybody is really looking forward to getting together.” Keita pauses and adds: “And drink a lot. Like Danes. When I was a junior student at university, I had to go to the park to secure a space for the senior students. I had to go there 24 hours before or more than that, and we placed a big blue sheet on the ground, and we just lay there. But in the beginning of April, it's still quite cold at night, so it's a mixed memory.”

So hanami is not really a celebration for children then?
“Kiko has a book about it.” Kiko gets out her book and reads: “Ohanami, Cherry-Blossom Viewing. Everyone enjoys getting together for picnics under the cherry trees. In olden times, people believed that cherry trees were holy and that the rice gods dwelled within them. According to legend, when the cherry trees are in bloom, the rice gods descend from the mountains to eat and drink with the people and pray for a prosperous harvest.” Kiko points in the book: “These are sakura-mochi, cherry blossom rice dumplings with bean paste inside and an edible pickled cherry leaf. We had mochi yesterday, too, but without the leaf.”

What was inside?
“Anko.”

What’s that?
“A sweet red bean paste, you can mush it and it’s yummy. When you make mochi, you bash the steamed sticky rice and everybody says, ‘Ew,’ because it doesn’t taste good when the rice seeds are not mushed, but when they’re done and you put the sweet red bean paste inside, it’s really good.”

“Actually, today is May 5th and it's Kodomono-Hi, Children’s Day, in Japan. It's a celebration of the child. We put up this,” says Keita and turns the computer camera to a decorative miniature armor and helmet on display in their living room. ”It's like a samurai armour for the boy. We used to call it Boy’s Day, but now we don't call it that, just Children’s Day. March 3rd is Girls’ Day, Hinamatsuri. On that day, we display really beautiful Japanese dolls, plum flowers. And most of the girls wear kimono, and we eat some sweets and chirashi sushi.”

Are there many spring celebrations in Japan?
“Yes, April 1st is the first day of the fiscal year in Japan and also the beginning of the school year, so we celebrate the beginning of the new year. And the beginning of May is a holiday, we call it Golden Week, the whole week is packed with national holidays: April 29th is the birthday of the former emperor called Shōwa, the 3rd of May is Constitution Day, the 4th of May we call Greenery Day, it’s a day for appreciation of nature and for being grateful for its blessings. And the 5th of May is Children’s Day.”

And what about hanami? When is that?
“Japan is really spread out from the farthest south to the furthest north. In the northern part, I think you can still enjoy hanami now, but in Tokyo and main areas, the end of March would be the best for hanami. It used to be in the beginning of April, but because of global warming, the timing of the cherry blossoms has changed. Flowers are really sensitive to temperature.”

A big thank you to Keita, father of Itsuki and Kiko in Grades 1 and 4. In the photo, you can see Kiko celebrating hanami in Japan when she was 2 years old. Yopu can also take a look at Itsuki, photographed with the cherry blossom artwork he created in class here at our school.