About 1,200 cherry trees have begun to bloom in Ueno Park, one of Tokyo’s most popular areas for viewing the trees’ flowers. Yet the mood is subdued, no feasts abound and with fewer parties than normal, the park is almost empty.
Signs also have sprouted up around the park: “Given recent events, we hope visitors will refrain from throwing cherry-blossom viewing parties.”
The edict is just one of many promulgated in parks nationwide, with people asked to not indulge in hanami following the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami of March 11.
Amid widespread hesitation over festivals and events across the nation, some observers have said, “Exercising voluntary restraint may enhance the meditative mood.”
Sitting in Ueno Park on their blue vinyl sheets and surrounded by cans of beer and bottles of wine on Saturday, some people were ignoring such requests.
“I don’t think exercising complete self-restraint will improve Japan’s situation,” a 33-year-old company employee of Minato Ward, Tokyo, said.
However, a 28-year-old man accompanying him said, “I’m not really enjoying myself because I feel as if I’m being scrutinized by passersby.”
The park–which, unlike in usual years, has neither prepared areas to dump rubbish nor set up toilets for hanami-goers–has said the edict is not compulsory.
The Ueno tourism federation also canceled the Ueno Sakura Matsuri cherry blossom festival, famous for its antiques fair, potted plant fair and thousands of paper lanterns lit up at night.
Meanwhile, across town, many people were taking a walk or enjoying jogging Saturday at Inokashira Park, a popular spot in Tokyo that straddles the cities of Musashino and Mitaka.
A notice was displayed at the park’s entrance asking people to refrain from throwing cherry blossom viewing parties, and similar announcements also have been broadcast over the park’s PA system. Park visitors are requested to go home earlier than usual.
“It’s probably not the best idea to celebrate wildly at night, but I think it’s perfectly fine for people to gather in the daytime to drink and eat,” said a 70-year-old man from Fuchu, Tokyo, who was photographing cherry blossoms reflected in the pond.
At Yasukuni Shrine in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, many signs on display Saturday said, “Please refrain from throwing cherry blossom viewing parties.” Because of this, there have been fewer visitors to the shrine than usual at this time of year.
Elsewhere in Japan, Ujigawa Sakura Matsuri festival, which was to take place on Saturday and Sunday near Byodoin temple in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, was canceled.
One reason was that a water truck used to deliver water for the tea ceremony was unavailable as it had been dispatched to disaster-hit areas.
Famous for the illumination of its trees, Osaka’s April 14 to 20 “Sakura no Torinuke” event will this year go without the decorations for the first time since 1951.
Meanwhile in Kyushu, evening illuminations also were canceled at the Fukuoka Castle Cherry Blossom Festival held at Maizuru Park in Chuo Ward, Fukuoka.
Similarly, the lighting of paper lanterns at two Nagasaki cherry blossom festivals–in Kazagashira and Tateyama Parks–were also halted.
But hanami parties are not the only “indulgent” events to have been canceled or postponed.
Originally scheduled to take place on May 20 to 22, the 2011 Sanja Matsuri has been canceled. One of Tokyo’s major festivals, the Asakusa district’s Sanja Matsuri is famous for its parade of mikoshi portable shrines.
While the cancellation is somewhat due to the atmosphere surrounding the earthquake and tsunami, it also was believed that unpredictable rolling power outages in the Kanto region would prove troublesome for the event.
The Kanda Matsuri festival scheduled to be held from May 12 to 18 in Tokyo’s Kanda district also will likely be canceled.
When festival representatives held a meeting in March, they said it was more proper to send money to disaster-hit areas instead of collecting donations for their event.
The Nikko Toshogu Shrine Spring Grand Festival, which was to be held on May 17 and 18 in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, also has been canceled. The annual event is famous for Yabusame horseback archery and the Sennin Musha Gyoretsu “100 warriors” procession.
The last time the shrine canceled the festival was in 1988, when Emperor Showa became ill.
“Considering the extent of the damage to the quake-hit areas, we thought it was appropriate [to cancel the event],” said a priest.
Commenting on the numerous festival and event cancellations, Prof. Tatsuo Inamasu of Hosei University, a social psychology researcher, said: “I assume such restraint is out of consideration for the quake victims’ feelings, but I also think the victims wouldn’t wish [such constraints] to dampen the mood of the entire nation.
“I believe festivals and hanami–within reason–should be allowed. People would be better off channeling the energy in a positive direction by, for example, collecting donations for quake victims on such occasions,” he said.
“At the time of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, most events weren’t canceled as it was thought despite the seriousness of the situation, positivity should be encouraged as much as possible,” said Masao Kimura, a freelance entertainment event producer and former executive of Yoshimoto Kogyo.
“With this quake, however, there are different factors involved. The rolling power outages and nuclear accident may cause difficulties attracting the usual spectators. But I think it’s overkill canceling everything or restraining from putting on events nationwide,” he said.