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Japan's beloved cherry blossoms help dispel some disaster gloom

After the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster struck last month, Japanese were asked to scrap celebrations for the beloved cherry blossom season and practice self-restraint.
/ Source: Reuters

After the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster struck last month, Japanese were asked to scrap celebrations for the beloved cherry blossom season and practice self-restraint.

But as the annual pink wave that heralds spring rolled up the Japanese archipelago to Tokyo this weekend, the campaign for "jishuku" lost out to appeals to shake off the funereal mood and partake in traditional, rice wine-fueled "sakura" parties, for the sake of the nation's psyche, and economy.

"Too much self-restraint will strip away peace of mind and plenitude from everyday life, and destroy the nation's vitality. This will drag down economic activity, which will hinder recovery efforts in disaster areas," said the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun in an editorial.

Far from Tokyo, politicians and businessmen in the shattered cities of northern Japan are saying the same thing, prompted by worries that a gloomy nation will take much longer to recover from the psychological and economical effects of the disaster.

Japanese officials had canceled rock concerts, sporting events and other entertainment after the March 11 quake.

"For the disaster-struck areas to recover their vitality, the entire Japanese economy needs to be vibrant," said Yoshihiro Murai, the governor of Miyagi, the prefecture closest to the epicenter.

"I would like to see a limit to extreme self-restraint," he told local newspapers.

Up in Miyagi, third-generation sake, or rice wine, brewer Kaichiro Saito, 52, lost a shop and recipes dating back to when his grandfather started the business in 1903 in the March 11 tsunami that obliterated the fishing port of Kesennuma.

The Kakuboshi Brewery was located on higher ground and survived untouched. But with about 80 percent of regular customers lost when the deadly tsunami washed away liquor shops and bars in the devastated port city, he needs new outlets for his output of 80,000 bottles a year.

"Of course I understand why people are being restrained, but I hope those living in other regions -- in a decent financial and emotional state -- buy more products from northern Japan, rather than restrain themselves," he said.


Tokyo's government restricted cherry blossom parties in light of the magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami that left 28,000 people dead or missing, and a nuclear accident that has scared away visitors and caused power shortages in the capital.

At Ueno Park, whose 1,200 cherry trees make it one of the city's most popular blossom-viewing party venues, signs had been erected around Ueno Park's encouraging visitors to show "jishuku."

But Masahiro Kayano, the head of the Ueno Park Tourism Association, told Reuters he thought the period of austerity was coming to an end.

"We can't take away people's enjoyment. So although we canceled the cherry blossom festival, I think people should come and enjoy the beautiful cherry blossoms," Kayano said.

Across town at a small park in the shadow of Tokyo Tower, three separate parties of about 20 people were drinking and taking photos of themselves as they sat in a circle on blue tarps spread out under blazing cherry trees.

"This is a fine part of Japanese culture that I think is better that we observe," said 63-year retiree Hironubu Udagawa.

"I understand the sentiments about the disaster, but I don't see how excessive self-restraint helps matters. Just find the right balance between jishuku and excess," he said.