Japan is famous around the world for its sakura (cherry blossoms), but I don’t think you fully appreciate their beauty until you have survived a Japanese winter. These beautiful, tiny pink flowers are a symbol of the beginning of the beautiful Japanese spring and they also herald the coming of ‘hanami’ season; the time of year when the whole country gathers under the sakura trees and gets drunk.
The Japanese calendar includes a national holiday specifically to mark the beginning of spring. This year, 春分 (shunbun) fell on a Wednesday and it was a lovely midweek break. Two two-day weeks seem so much more palatable than one five-day week, in my opinion.
How can you not love a country which gives everyone the day off because the weather’s getting good?
#1 Coming back to life
Winter in Japan isn’t necessarily colder than winter anywhere else in the world, but the absolute refusal to heat or insulate means that it seems much colder. It’s also pretty lonely because most people live in tiny apartments, so socialising means going out to bars or restaurants, and usually its preferable just to stay home under your kotatsu.
Winter is Japan is pretty rubbish if you aren’t in a ski field: for four months now I have had blue hands, a lot of alone time, seven layers of clothing and a weird, cold-induced hunch.
But this means that when spring starts, it feels more magical than any other spring I’ve ever had.
The quality of the light changes. The air smells different. People smile more. Blossoms explode onto trees everywhere. Coats and hats are discarded, and bare arms and legs appear.
It’s a time for spring-cleaning, bright ideas and big plans.
I’m feeling good about this.