It's been a while since I was here last. I was once again on the road, once again in Europe, for another wonderful trip of visiting so many amazing places and spending time with so many great people, about which I plan to write soon.
For about a month from the mid March, I was lucky to have warm weather almost everywhere I visited. Coming from Nagano where we were still buried in deep snow in March, I found it feeling more like summer than spring. And I saw lots of blossoms everywhere I went; more often than not I wasn't sure what they were, but they were all beautiful and invariably reminded me of cherry blossoms, one of the most beloved flowers - or possibly the most loved - here in Japan.
We had a surprisingly severe winter in many parts of the country this year, and the blossoms came to bloom later than normal in many places. But as April arrived, so did sakura - and I'd see a lot of beautiful photos of cherry blossoms everyone was posting on the Internet in Japan, excited about the prospect of seeing them myself when I go home later in the month.
The only problem was, there was no sakura in sight up in the mountains.
It's not as if this was unexpected, though. My folks told me while I was away that it was still cold and snow wasn't completely gone. Nonetheless, I had spent a whole month enjoying the springy warmth and seeing pictures of sakura in full bloom seemingly everywhere in Japan, so this blossom-less landscape came as a sort of a let-down all the same.
But still, it was better to wait for the blossoms to come to bloom rather than to come home too late and miss them, I reasoned myself.
A week or two passed, and sometime last week I went out for my appointment with my doctor. As we drove down the mountain and passed small towns, I was surprised to find the cherry blossoms there, nearly in full bloom. It was still pretty cold up at ours, and the mountains were resolutely brown around us, so I hadn't realize sakura was blossoming out there.
And yet, I didn't know it would be quite so soon, and it came almost as a shock when I went out to see the cherry trees everywhere were in full bloom this past weekend, even the ones near us up in the mountains, just a few days after my last outing.
And as the rain was on the way according to the forecast, we decided that it might be our last chance to do our semi-customary hanami picnic.
So we gathered up what we had and put together a bento lunch for the following day - a holiday Monday.
hanami, it's a wonderful Japanese institution where we gather around to admire cherry blossoms, often over something to eat and drink. (To tell you the truth, blossoms can be optional for some folks who seem to regard hanami as a mere excuse to party - but that's that).
Last year, we went to a large park well known for cherry blossoms in our area, and I managed to fix a respectable bento lunch for the occasion (and well, a whole lot of sakura sweets over the period of two months).
Luckily, we received a large box of fresh bamboo shoots a family friend of ours had sent to us just a few days earlier, and my mother made a large batch of takenoko gohan the day before, along with a few other things.
Together with some drinks (hot Japanese teas and fizzy drinks - no booze today!) and an assortment of snacks, we managed to pack a decent lunch I think, considering how little time we had to put everything together.
Oh, almost forgot; I did make some little after-lunch treats!
And after all, the star of the show was the blossoms - and I was just happy to be finally able to celebrate the arrival (officially!) of spring and admire the fleeting beauty of the small blossoms.
And this isn't a complaint, but I wish I had had more time to experiment with sakura baking like I did last spring and the spring before the last. Maybe next year.
I hope you are all enjoying the new season wherever you are - hopefully with a lot of pretty flowers and good food! -cxx