SAKURA SEASON

Springtime in Japan brings the fleeting season of 'sakura' (cherry blossoms), a major annual event that has been celebrated here for centuries. Shops and stores sell sweets, drinks and dumplings flavoured with the blossoms

The flowers are in bloom for only a week or so and then start to fall, blanketing Tokyo in a blizzard of pink. They symbolise the impermanence of life - and the importance to fully appreciate its passing moments.

"Flower appreciation picnics" take place underneath the cherry trees in Tokyo's parks and along its canal sides. In some parks the trees are lit with lanterns for viewing after dark.

It is all very beautiful, but allergy-sufferers beware! Up to a quarter of the population suffer from hay fever at this time of year, and the visitor may want to pack some medication just in case.

Night falls, and Tokyo once again turns into a neon wonderland.

Blossom-viewing is hungry work - time for a hearty meal! Ramen is a dish whose popularity has exploded not only within Japan but worldwide. Ramen Yamaguchui make the base for their noodle soup with chicken instead of the more usual pork or seafood. The broth has incredible depth of flavour - it tastes like it was made with care by a loving grandmother. Back in the kitchen however is a bored looking twenty-something.

And then a drink - blossom-viewing is thirsty work too, after all! Ben Fiddich is considered one of Tokyo's best bars. There is no menu - the owner consults with each guest and then creates a cocktail for them, often including spices and homegrown herbs.

This cocktail is made with a bottle from 1960. Ben Fiddich's owner also offers a shot from another bottle dating back to 1890, but the cost works out to about a dollar for each year....

Photos by Shirley Tu


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