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Desert Rat Meets Her Match in a Japanese Spring:  March is a Slut!

The house is back to beer temperature.  The wind is howling like an Irish Banshee.  After a week of almost balmy weather, it has snowed and blowed for four days straight, delivering the biggest snowfall of the winter.   This is Spring?  “I am so happy it is March”, Chas says.  “Aren’t you glad it isn’t winter any more?”  As I wrap myself in my fleece cocoon and switch on the heated carpet square under my feet, I shoot him a scathing glance and stammer, through semi frozen lips, “Ssssure”.  “March is great.”

Well, officially, Spring doesn’t arrive until the equinox:  AND, that day is a Japanese holiday.  Yippee!!  The promises March gave last week; and, then, slut like, took away this week, will inevitably be fulfilled.  The sun will eventually triumph.  Thank you, Ra.

Having lived in the Arizona desert for over a decade, I am used to a moderately uncomfortable winter (read:  not able to wear shorts).  In Tucson, March makes a few idle threats and Spring slips in quietly, announcing itself with a renewal of energy in the rose garden and bobcat kittens in the back yard.  I got used to that gentle reminder of the change of season.  I didn’t own a winter coat.  I hardly noticed March.

O.K.  I know March is an unstable month.  I usually associate the unpredictable weather March has to offer with Colorado.  It gets wild and wooly up there in March; from the Front Range to the prairie.  However, since moving to Japan, I have learned a whole new appreciation of March, and of Spring.  It seems March is unpredictable everywhere; and, here, it seems to be trying to make up for the relatively mild winter with one last blast of nasty weather.  Remember that “…goes out like a lion…” stuff from elementary school?  Well, if the wind is any indication, the Koriyama lion is on steroids.

Looking around Koriyama, when I can see through the blowing snow, I notice cherry blossoms (sakura) are being anticipated in every aspect of Japanese culture.  Sakura tea is on the shelves, along with cherry flavored rice crackers, cake, and manju (a sweet pastry). There is even a display of cherry blossom pink cell phones in the local denke (electrical appliance store).   Although pink and white plum blossoms (Ume) have already made a brave appearance in various localities around town: it is the cherry blossom that is considered the true sign of the arrival of Spring.

The evening weather report issues forecasts of where the "cherry-blossom front" is moving, beginning on the island of Kyushu in late March and ending on Hokkaido in mid May.  Newspapers in every city cover the entire process from first flowering to full bloom to assist eager readers in planning their Ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) excursions.

Ohanami are special parties for viewing sakura during which people sit on the grass, snack on their obento (picnic lunch), and sip sake and green tea while the sakura float down around them.   Ohanami is a ritual of some importance in Japanese culture.  In ancient times people would write poetry and compose music while sitting under the falling sakura.  These days, we are told, the parties can be a little more rowdy.  The following website offers insight into Ohanami and the significance of sakura to Japanese people.

We eagerly await the arrival of Ohanami, and those promised days when the air will be warm and filled with blowing cherry blossoms instead of blowing snow.  It will come.  It is only a matter of waiting out the final blustery assault of March. - Bobbie