Viewing is not Always Seeing

Now is nearing the time for cherry blossoms to bloom here in Japan.  My thoughts travel back to 1975 and my first Japanese spring.  This is my story:

My only class of the day, a morning English Conversation Class, had just finished and I was about to go home when my Japanese boss approached.  After some initial greetings, he continued in his almost perfect English, "Ueno Park, Tokyo.  Where it is, do you know how to get there?"

"Sure," I replied, "It's easy.  Just take the Joban Train Line from Kashiwa.  How come?"

He said, "My Japanese friends and I meet there later and do cherry blossom viewing.  Baer-san, you meet us at Ueno Park this afternoon.  Do cherry blossom viewing together?"

I flashed on my Japan tourist guidebook that had an illustration of people looking up into a cherry tree gazing dreamily at the blossoms.  The boring-looking picture was labeled Cherry Blossom Viewing in Japan

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With the cherry blossom trees straddling my street already starting to bloom, I had no interest in traveling for nearly two hours only to strain my neck looking up at the nearly duplicate blossoms.  I lied to my boss, "Sorry, I have other plans."

"Well," he shrugged his shoulders, "maybe next year."

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Later, relaxing with a beer at home, I turned on the TV and watched the picture (I couldn't understand the Japanese words).  An evening news broadcast came on featuring groups of people having lively outdoor parties--eating, drinking, playing guitars, singing--having a great roaring time!

I asked my wife, "What's that?  Everyone getting drunk and everything.  Looks like so much fun!  Sure wish I were there!"

She said, "That's hanami.  Many Japanese groups get together for hanami--usually once a year."

"Hanami," I queried, "What's that?"

"Let's see..." she started flicking through her always handy Japanese-English dictionary while I continued to watch the festivities on TV. 

Suddenly, surprisingly, a brief scene of my boss and his group of friends happily drinking beer and sake on a ground cloth briefly appeared on the TV screen.  Before I could ask my wife if the broadcast location was in Ueno Park, she looked up from the dictionary and said, "Hanami means cherry blossom viewing."

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I sipped my beer watching where I wasn't and thought about the next year.

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Robert Red-Baer

1950-Went to Tinton Falls Elementary School, N.J.
1962-Went to Monmouth Regional HS, N.J.
1964-Graduated US Army NCO Acadamy, Germany
1971-Graduated University of Hawaii with honors
1973-Red Heart Follies (Hawaii)
1975-Japan Prime Minister's Award (Video), among many
1985-Professor Edogawa University, Chiba Japan
2010-Retired in Japan