Cherry blossoms, or sakura, in Ueno Park. Sakura's a very big deal in Japan, and festivities were largely canceled this time last year because the nation was mourning the victims of the earthquake and tsunami. Everyone we talked to said this year was going to be even more meaningful as a result.
I can't speak to that, but on our last day in Tokyo we walked along a path where all the trees were very nearly in full bloom, and everyone looked so damn happy, picnicking, strolling, taking pictures, drinking beer. We ate takeout sushi and takoyaki under a cherry tree and rented an excellently shitty swan-shaped paddle boat on the park's main pond.
Our Japanese lessons were actually very useful that afternoon. We were able to shout "abunai!" (look out!) just before a boat collision and "gomenasai!" (sorry!) after one.
After we turned in the swan boat, we took the subway over to Jingu Stadium for a good old-fashioned Japanese baseball game. You can BYO into the stadium, so we bought beer and bento boxes from the vendors that line the sidewalk on the way to the stadium. Of course they sold food inside too, more bentos and ice cream, and there were girls with keg backpacks selling draft beer and guys with little portable stands offering mixed drinks. I find these practices extremely awesome.
We'd intended to sit on the Yakult Swallows side and root for the home team--and the underdog--but we screwed up and ended up sitting with the Hanshin Tigers fans. That was ok, though. Tiger fans were a little more passionate, and since they won 3-0 we got to see everyone go nuts, clicking their click sticks and high-fiving every single person within reach when they scored runs, kind of like how Catholics shake hands during the sign of peace. Good stuff.
That about finished up Tokyo for us, although we'll spend one more night there before we fly home next week. Tokyo is a fantastic city to visit. It's vast, clean, and safe, and it varies so much from neighborhood to neighborhood that it's almost like visiting another town entirely every time you emerge from the subway. Which is comprehensive, intuitive, and fun as hell to ride. We did learn we should figure out our precise destinations ahead of time after some rather pissy half-hours spent lost here and there. Still, for a city that large--and largely without street names--it's remarkably easy to navigate.
Now we're visiting family on a Marine base in Okinawa, where the weather and the vibe are much warmer. No cherry blossoms here, but there are beautiful beaches, lots of hibiscus, and, of course, our people. More on all that in a few days, and then on to Kyoto!