Fast, Easy, Cheap: Pick One

Just some other blog about computers and programming

Flowers, Booze, and Politics

Since I’m feeling in quite a literary mood tonight, I’ve decided to write a lengthy blog. I really need to get in to the habit of writing about things as I think of them, but instead it seems I just wait for everything to build up till it reaches a critical mass. Hence the odd combination of topics in today’s entry. So without further ado, here we go…

As many of you may be aware, it’s currently Sakura season in Japan. Normally one would think that a once a year blooming of some cherry blossoms isn’t a major thing, but then one would be wrong, at least in the case of Japan. Japanese people are crazy about Sakura, for reasons that are still not entirely clear to me. They report the blossoming of the Sakura on the weather forecasts, and they’re used in almost every advertisement around this season. People seem to talk about nothing but Sakura all the time! I mean, I think they can be quite beautiful and all, but I’m not really one to obsess over such matters, in contrast to many people here apparently.

Earlier in the week one of my coworkers came excitedly to my desk late in the afternoon. This was quite a surprise to me, since on a typical work day unless I take the initiative to converse with someone I can go practically the whole day without being noticed.

“Kamil!” he said, “Did you ride your bike to work today?!” (except in Japanese).

Still a bit stunned by the sudden attention I just stared at him blankly. He thought that maybe I didn’t understand so he started trying to translate to English but I interrupted him before he got very far.

“Hai, hai…” I said.

“Do you have some time right now? Let’s go to the park!”.

I looked at my computer clock which said approximately 17:00. A strange request from someone who normally works till midnight!

“Why do you want to go to the park?” I asked.

“The sakura have started to blossom! and it might be raining later in the week, and we won’t be able to go look at them! It should only take 1 or 2 hours maximum.”

“Sure, let’s go,” I said, eager for any opportunity to leave work for a little fresh air.

So my coworker and the other intern and I rode our bikes to Hamamatsu Castle Park and spent the afternoon strolling around looking at the blossoms. Apparently only about 15% had bloomed which was slightly disappointing to my coworker, but for me it was good enough to get outside for a bit on a work day.

One of the favorite pastimes during the Sakura season is what’s known as 花見 (hanami) or “flower watching”. The gist of it is that you get together with your friends in a park under the blossoming trees and have a friendly get together with copious amounts of alcohol. I got invited by one of my friends from Nagoya to join her and her friends for hanami in Tsurumai Park. Unfortunately my friend came down with a bout of influenza the day before and so was unable to make it, so I had to go join a bunch of people I had never even met before!

I arrived in the park at around five in the afternoon, and after locating one of the people I was supposed to meet we proceeded to our previously reserved hanami tarp location which one of her friends had placed down early that morning so we’d have a place to sit. It turned out that our location must have been quite good, since every few minutes a group of people would gather near us and take photos of the low hanging blossoms just over our heads. The park was bustling with people and there must have been several dozen similar parties going on at the same time.

Someone with us brought a gas stove and a variety of vegetables, noodles, and seafood. We succeeded in illicitly preparing a delicious meal by repeatedly hiding our stove from the park patrol who kept checking to make sure nobody was cooking anything. Just to make things interesting, apart from one of the people in our party who spoke with a really strange British-type accent, nobody spoke any English whatsoever. This made communication a little bit difficult to say the least, but I still had a pretty good time. Unfortunately by about 9 PM it began to rain so we had to cut our gathering short and pack things up.

Apart from being cherry blossom season, it’s also time for the prefectural governor elections (at least that’s what I think is going on). What this means is that my neighborhood, and in fact the whole city, is full of vans patrolling the streets with giant loudspeakers blasting campaign messages at all hours of the day. It seems they start at about 6 in the morning, since that’s when I am usually woken up by them, and continue on for the rest of the day.

I believe that at one point today there were no less than 5competing campaign trucks right outside my apartment all blasting at their respective messages trying to outdo each other. The volume was ridiculously loud at times and I was eventually forced to leave my apartment just to get some peace and quiet. Even though I can’t vote, even if I could, I would certainly NOT vote for audio terrorists.

The puzzling thing is, they don’t even say anything in their messages. It consists roughly of “Good morning/day/evening! This is ! Thank you!” intertwined with the typical mix of Japanese polite language modifiers. Let me tell you, there’s absolutely nothing polite about waking me and running me out of my place with that ruckus.

As my friend succinctly put it, “I feel like I’m living in the world of 1984 whenever those election broadcast cars come around”.

I have a little over a month left in my stay in Japan. I’m starting to become quite anxious to go home and finish my degree, but at the same I’m not looking forward to leaving my new-found friends behind. I think in many ways it’s a more difficult thing than packing up from Canada and moving here for a year since at least then I knew I would be coming back…