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Cherry blossoms are serious business in Japan

Cherry blossoms signal the onset of spring and provide important social opportunities.
None | By Chie Matsumoto, Tokyo
UPDATED ON MAR 21, 2007 08:03 PM IST

Cherry blossoms are serious business in Japan. They signal the onset of spring and provide important social opportunities. The entire nation takes sakura cherry blossoms seriously and all eyes are fixed on the blossoming predictions that the Japanese Meteorological Agency releases in March.

Japan's weather office doesn't limit its forecasts to the rain and sun but extends them in spring to reports of the so-called sakura front, which monitors the buds' development starting from a warmer region of southern Japan and onto the northern area.

So much expectation centres on the dates when flowers blossom in full that the agency was recently under attack for giving a forecast a few days off.

The head of forecast department bowed and apologized at a press conference, which was broadcast on a national television last week, saying that the agency betrayed Japanese people. The season starts this week.

"The responsibility was enormous," Keiichi Kashiwagi said. "We would like to send our whole-hearted apology to the people who rely on our forecast."

The agency also posted a written apology on its website: "We deeply apologise for having caused inconveniences by releasing wrong information. We will revise our computer system and try our best to prevent any further mishaps from happening again in the future."

Inconveniences would have caused problems for businesses, party organisers and partygoers alike.

Millions of Japanese people flock to parks and gardens nationwide and get together with their co-workers and neighbours at picnics under cherry trees when the flowers are in full bloom.

Newspapers run front-page stories on how and where cherry blossoms are blooming, televised news programms show buds that are about to burst, and mobile phone users coordinate to conduct the Sakura Project to report on the development of flowers in their region.

Magazines, meanwhile, print special features on the best places to view the flowers for readers planning parties and picnics.

Weekend daytime hours bring millions of Japanese out with their sake Japanese rice-wine bottles, feasts of sushi and barbecue chickens and even portable karaoke machines to enjoy sitting under the cherry trees.

Freshmen employees are usually given the responsibility to pick the best spot in nearby parks and secure prime viewing space for the after-work parties. The day of the party might be the only chance employees are allowed to get out of work earlier than their bosses, so as to set up their picnic sites.

Food and alcohol sales also blossom during the season.

Alcohol sometimes takes attention away from cherry blossoms, when the priority shifts and public drunkenness becomes more acceptable than usual.

Aside from the busy singing and dancing drunks, food-delivery scooters are also witnessed weaving through patches of blue tarpaulin sheets handing over pizzas, fried chicken and Bento boxed lunches.

The young delivery staff can manage to spot their clients out of hundreds of people, thanks to mobile phones.

The cherry blossom period lasts for only about two weeks, but for the Japanese, the lure of this season lies exactly in its short-lived nature.

During the Middle Ages, Japan's samurai warriors particularly identified themselves with the fleeting beauty and fragility of the sakura as a symbol of their own lives.

Kamikaze pilots during World War II adorned themselves with sakura flowers before they plunged their bomb-laden planes onto Allied warships in suicide attacks.

The lives of the cherry blossoms are likewise brief. But the Japanese find beauty in the fragile pink petals blown by the wind, delicately landing on plates of food or in sake cups, to delicately proclaim the arrival of spring.

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