Sh oA eVs a Ob yR i sY S e k Ku cYi O T O P to s y R a ig h Risa Sekiguchi is an artist, photographer, and founder of Savory Japan, a website dedicated to Japanese cuisine and Hanami Bento culture. For more information on the cherry * blossom festival, visit Savory Japan: savoryjapan.com/learn/culture/festivals/cherry- blossom-festival.html Add some color to your cherry blossom viewing party The arrival of the sakura (cherry) blossom season brings a flurry of fun, food and activity to Kyoto. The city is transformed by lovely clouds of pink blossoms from thousands of cherry trees, and throngs of revelers gather to eat, drink and sing under their heavily laden branches. The parties, which herald the beginning of spring, are called hanami (flower viewing) parties. Hanami parties have been a part of Kyoto’s history since the 8th century, started first by the aristocracy and elite who emulated the Chinese court and its customs. In the begin- ning, ume (plum) blossoms were celebrated, but the more delicate and later-blooming sa- kura grew in popularity so that by the 9th century it had become the flower of choice. In 1594, Kyoto’s most famous ruler, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, threw a hanami party at Yoshi- noyama (in nearby Nara prefecture) for almost 5,000 guests! One of the central components of this most Japanese of celebrations is the hanami ben- to. Whether homemade and packed with loving care or purchased from department stores and restaurants, these lovely boxes literally burst with color and exuberance, much like the blossoms themselves. Lifting the top of a hanami bento is a particular joy, and usually accompanied by exclama- tions of delight and admiration. As expected, pink is the predominant color, and pink, red and orange ingredients such as crabmeat, shrimp, and sakuradai (a kind of snapper) sushi are set off by the fresh green of fern shoots and other spring vegetables. Chicken kara age and dango are also popular inclusions. All this excitement is intense but short-lived. All too soon, the bentos are consumed, the partygoers return home and the blossoms themselves last for but a few days. With the first strong wind, their petals rain down like falling snow, collecting in drifts along Kyoto’s streets and floating along its canals. Representing the fleeting beauty of nature, the blos- soms’ transience makes their brief appearance all the more remarkable. So grab a hana- mi bento and celebrate while you contemplate this image, as it is one of the core con- cepts of Japanese philosophy. It also happens to be a great time. Spring in a box; Photo by Risa Sekiguchi.
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