Well, it's that time of year again. It's 20 degrees outside, and the cherry blossoms are blooming. The traditional thing to do, of course, is head straight for your nearest 500 -year-old castle (or its twentieth century reconstruction) spread out a plastic mat, and have yourself a cherry-blossom viewing party - o-hanami.
A bento is de rigeur, even if you just get a few rice balls and a beer from the convenience store, but I don't roll like that. I picked up an imitation lacquer (read: plastic) family-size bento from my nearest Daiso 100 yen store, a bargain at 500 yen, and filled it with decidely non-Japanese goodies.
In the first box: cubed old cheddar, chicken skewers, tomatoes, blanched broccoli, and double mustard potato salad, from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" - it's a great recipe for a picnic, especially since it doesn't have any mayonnaise. The sharpness of the mustard goes well with the richness of the salami and beef I packed. There are also carrots cut into cherry blossom (sakura) shapes, to help evoke the season.
The whole thing was washed down with ice-cold tall-tin Asahi silver cans (from the nearest conbini, of course), and while we ate, we watched the people around us. A group of teenagers staged an impromptu hip-hop dance recital; young families made short work of home-made onigiri (rice balls - or samgak gimbap for any Korea vets who are reading along) and plates of yaki soba (fried noodles) bought from carts in the park. A group of university students sat next to us, enjoying a hanami with things furnished entirely from a conbini - they sat on plastic garbage bags, eating Lotte crackers, cup noodles, and tuna mayonnaise onigiri, while drinking Onecup sake and smoking heavily. Serious seniors with serious looking, paparazzi-grade cameras and tripods set up at various angles in the park, hoping to capture the first falling petals. Two ladies tottered by in kimono and zori sandals and even the rain that was threatening didn't bother us.
On our way out of the park, we found a - a what? A happening? Who knows what was going on. This character was singing "Ooishiiii, Oiiishiii" (delicious, delicious) accompanied by several small school children with proud parents looking on.
Another typical day in Japan.