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Thread: Hanami, a tradition unique to Japan ?

  1. #1
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Arrow Hanami, a tradition unique to Japan ?

    Regardless of the issue of the "4 seasons" (see this article), many Japanese think that "hanami" (花見, lit. "flower viewing") is a tradition unique to Japan. What surprises me all the more is that many Westerners or Western guidebooks seem to agree with that without doing much thinking.

    It seems to me that, in Western Europe at least, Spring has been associated with "flower viewing" since the Antiquity and the blossoming of trees and blooming of flowers is a deeply ingrained symbol of spring. One of the oldest cultural expression can be found in the root of the month of "April", which very probably comes from the Latin word "aprire", meaning "to open", "to blossom" or "to bloom".

    In fact, in my experience Europeans care as much if not even more about flowers than the Japanese. The main difference is that the Japanese seem to care almost exclusively about cherry blossoms (and some to plum and peach blossoms too, but much less), while Europeans care more about flowers. I remember when I was a child, the pupil's magazines would show snowdrops or crocus around March to announce the coming of Spring. Most people in the countryside would have a garden or parterres with daffodils, narcissus, pansies, tulips, roses, lilies, petunias or begonias. It felt like people cared more about flowers than the Japanese (or maybe that's because I live in Tokyo).

    I am often told that what makes hanami so special in Japan is that people go in groups to special places (parks, gardens, canals...) to see the cherry blossoms and picnic there. But that is what we used to do when I was a child, except that it was with flowers instead of blossoms. In a country like the Netherlands, there are so many places to go with your family watch the tulips or other flowers. A place like Keukenhof gets hundreds of thousands of visitors per year from all around Europe (and outside Europe). There are also plenty of botanical gardens in all Western countries (I remember some nice ones in Australia ), even if they were more popular in the 19th or early 20th century than nowadays.

    It cannot be argued that the Japanese tradition is much older than in Europe, as "tulip viewing" has been common at least since the early 15th century, and as the word "April" shows, flower viewing was already popular in Roman times, before the first kingdom was founded in Japan.

    Now, could it be said that the Japanese hanami is unique because of its association wth cherry, plum and peach blossoms ? If I am not mistaken, these blossoms are also popular in Korea and China, and could even have originated from China. Could our Korean and Chinese members explain how popular blossom viewing is in their country.

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    Now, my view on this is thus:

    It's not the physical actions that are taken that makes the hanami unique, but the combination of the social interactions as well as the cultural significance to the Japanese people.

    Essentially, the more the Japanese stress that hanami is unique, the more unique it actually becomes (ha!)

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    tsuyaku o tsukete kudasai nurizeko's Avatar
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    the crucial difference being that the japanese pretty much concentrate on one flower, the cherry blossom, and actually make an even out of it, in the west it isnt even thought as an event, its just something you do naturally as spring comes along.


    i might also note in my city theres a good few cherry blossom tree's (least they look like cherry blossoms) and the biggest best one is in the corner of a church graveyeard in the centre of town (its a small city).

    so viewing cherry blossoms isnt unique to japan, simply the way people do it.
    also i need to get a cutting of a cherry blossom tree sometime to grow my own from scratch =D.

    for me, i like vistting thw winter gardens in winter, preferably with my g/f it isnt as big as a whole national tradition but its somethnig i like to do.

    the only thing that really makes japan unique is its constant claims to it, but saying that, its still a different country, culture, and society from ours, its different enough i would think it wouldnt need to constantly claim uniqueness.

  4. #4
    Hullu RockLee's Avatar
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    In Japan, April is the beginning of the school year as well as the business financial year. Since the Heian Period (794-1185) flower-viewing parties were popular among the aristocracy. In the Azuchi Momoyama Period (1568-1600) the cherry blossom viewing spread out to the rest of the population.
    Cherry-blossom viewing began in ancient times when aristocrats wrote poetry and sang songs under the flowering trees. It has been the theme of numerous literary works, dances, and paintings. Even though modern parties aren't so refined as those of the past, people still find the blanket of light-pink petals deeply moving.

    The Japanese like cherry blossoms because the shape and color of the petals reflect people's ideal notions of purity and simplicity. They are also touched by the blossoms that are so fragile and short-lived, scattering just a few days after they flower. Every time there is the slightest breeze, a shower of cherry-blossom petals is produced.
    Hope this is enough data about how hanami was born



    sources : http://www.asij.ac.jp/elementary/jap...ami/hanami.htm and http://web-jpn.org/kidsweb/calendar/april/hanami.html
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    Junior Member YAMA's Avatar
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    Hello! Konbannwa.
    I love going hanami very much. Because it is a rare opportunity to have a
    big party "outside".
    In Japan, there is a saying "花より団子-hana yori dango-"
    For many people, viewing cherry blossom is not important, but having a fun with their colleagues, friends, or family members is more important.

    Cherry blossoms are very special flowers for the Japanese. Since Japanese school year starts in April, cherry blossoms are always related to new life or new friends and reminds me a sweet sentimental memories of childhood.

    I think hanami got its popularity in Edo period when gardening was a national obsession. After Somei yoshino (Typical type of cherry) produced by breeding
    in Somei (Name of the place near Sugamo, Tokyo), then Shougun orderd to plant them everywhere. ( I'm sorry if I'm wrong.)

    The time for plum blossoms and peach blossoms are still cold to have a party outside that's why they are less popular in Japan, I guess.

    Maciamo-san,
    I think every country has something unique (or they believe it's unique). Why not for Japan?

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RockLee
    Hope this is enough data about how hanami was born
    But that does not answer my question. Europeans have been writing poetry about the blossoming of trees and flowers earlier than the Heian period, and still do (while the Japanese are still taught Heian-era poens at school, as it seems they aren't many modern poets choosing that topic). Doing a Google search, I found several European poets writing about cherry blossoms too.

    Quote Originally Posted by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)
    ...
    And in the warm hedge grew lush eglantine,
    Green cowbind and the moonlight-colour’d May,
    And cherry-blossoms, and white cups, whose wine
    Was the bright dew yet drain’d not by the day;
    ...

  7. #7
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by YAMA
    I think every country has something unique (or they believe it's unique). Why not for Japan?
    Of course. Countries can have unique city names, a unique flag, unique national anthem, unique people, etc. But saying that cherry blossoms or "flower viewing" or the clear distinction of the seasons are unique to Japan is very strange for me.

    I don't mind that the Japanese say they enjoy seeing cherry blossoms, but in my experience the people I met usually care less than I do. I have met many Japanese who don't know what is "大寒桜" (ookanzakura, i.e. winter cherry trees), when I said I went to watch them in some parks in Tokyo. Funny because it's a quite famous kind of sakura. They usually know 枝垂桜 (shidarezakura, i.e. weeping cherry trees) though. But I am sure most people couldn't tell 5 of numerous sorts of sakura that exist in Japan. So people like sakura, but still don't know so much about it.

    You said :
    Quote Originally Posted by YAMA
    For many people, viewing cherry blossom is not important, but having a fun with their colleagues, friends, or family members is more important.
    I have been to almost all the big parks and some gardens in central Tokyo to see the cherry blossoms, and apart from Inokashira Koen or Ueno Koen, most people do not sit under the trees and picnic with their family or colleagues.

    So if they just come to see the blossoms, why do so few people watch the ume blossoms ? I went to see them last weekend in several places, and there were very few people, although the weather was nice and there were plenty of blossoms. Why do people care so much more about sakura than ume, when the weather is not that different (sometimes better during the ume season in fact) ? I suppose it is again this typical "group-mentality phenomemnon". Once something becomes popular, everybody has to do it (like with Louis Vuitton bags, Korean drama, some kind of food, etc.).

    You also said :
    Quote Originally Posted by YAMA
    Cherry blossoms are very special flowers for the Japanese. Since Japanese school year starts in April, cherry blossoms are always related to new life or new friends and reminds me a sweet sentimental memories of childhood.
    That does not explain why cherry blossoms have been predominant over ume or momo or other flowers since the Heian period. The beginning of the school and financial year in April is quite a recent thing (post-WWII I suppose), and does not explain the historical obstination for cherry blossoms.

    Conclusion

    What disntinguish Japan are not the cherry trees or cherry blossoms. They can be found in about all countries with a temperate climate.

    It is also not the fact that people like "blossoms/flowers viewing", as people have enjoyed seeing flowers bloom in Spring for thousands of years all around the world, and have written poetry about it, and sat under blossoming trees in every corner of the globe.

    The interesting thing in Japan is the national obsession with one particular type of blossom/flower, that of the cherry trees. The 'group-mentality' has led to people going en masse to see cherry blossoms, while shunning other kinds of blossoms or flowers, even as beautiful or delicate or seasonal or ephemerous.

    This has had for consequence in many Japanese people's mind to believe that cherry blossoms were somehow unique to Japan, and among some people to exaggerate this into believing that the clear distinction of the seasons was also unique to Japan (while it is not). What gives this impression is the overwhelming number of cherry trees that were planted all over Japanese parks and hills and along roads and canals... so that one cannot miss the sight of cherry blossom in Spring (but may forget about other flowers more easily than in other countries).

    Any country could decide to give a particular priviledge to one kind of tree or flower, and plant so many of them all around the country that the locaks would eventually come to think first that it is 'typical', then 'unique' to their country, when in fact it could be a species of tree or flower that is not even indigenous to the country.

    The question is, why did Japan become so obsessed about cherry trees in the first place, while most other countries did not fall in the same excess ? I suppose that the group-mentality and search for homogenity (rather than diversity) is greatly responsible for that. I would be interested to know whether the same phenomenon also happens in other group-minded and homogenous-minded countries like Korea and China.

  8. #8
    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    I don't mind that the Japanese say they enjoy seeing cherry blossoms, but in my experience the people I met usually care less than I do. I have met many Japanese who don't know what is "大寒桜" (ookanzakura, i.e. winter cherry trees), when I said I went to watch them in some parks in Tokyo.
    They are scattered around several parks and/or along roads ? I asked a friend about the appearance of 寒桜 blossoms (were they closer to a plum or somei yoshino) who was very sorry about not being able to assist because he had never seen one. From that I assumed they weren't nearly as numerous but it left me with a slightly sickened and surreal feeling as well.

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    Junior Member YAMA's Avatar
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    Maciamo-san,Bon jour. こんにちは。Comment allez-vous?

    I tried to find out why Ume (plum) is less popular than sakura (cherry) in Japan,

    1.Ume is less gorgeous than sakura ,IMO.

    2.Ume has a slight nagative image that they are older people's favorite.
    (My granma preferred ume to sakura.If a young people say he/she loves
    ume, he/she will be commented 渋い-Shibui-by their friends.)

    The Kairakuen Garden in Mito,Ibaraki Prefec.is famous for huge Ume
    colony.During the blooming season, millions of people visit there.
    Average age of visitor is 60+, I guess

    3.Sakura was used as propaganda during ww2, because sakura drops very
    quickly, the then militaly authorities brain washed the Japanese that
    sakura is the spirit of Japan, soldiers must die like sakura.(Don't be
    afraid of death) War was over but the myth(sakura=Japanese spirit)
    remained. (We need a therapist to be freed from mind-controll!)

    4.Ume had been recognised as a national flower of China, so the Japanese
    needed something to distinguish from them. I've learned that untill Heian
    period, ume was prefferrd to sakura.

    5. I don't want to have a party outside in Feburuary! It's too coooold.


    I agree with Maciamo-san about the group mentality stuff. That is one of the aspect sometimes I don't like about the Japanese society. I admit that Japan may be more homogenious country compare to yours .But I think over-generalisation is not a good way to understand other cultures.
    Anyway, I like Maciamo-san's point of view. It's very new to me.

    -Well, It's time to go to BBQ, Au revoir!

  10. #10
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Just wanted to show that there are many kinds of cherry trees in Europe too. Here are a few pictures I have taken in Brussels. With the Japanese pagoda in Laeken (northern Brussels), a Japanese could confuse it for Japan itself !

    By the way, there were tens of thousands of people today watching the cherry blossoms and other flowers at the Royal Greenhouses... So hanami (including cherry blossoms) is definitely not unique to Japan. There were bus loads of sightseeers with only purpose to see flowers/blossoms here too.

    In many parts of Belgium, there are streets/avenues lined with cherry trees (e.g. most streets in the Watermaal-Boistfort suburb of Brussels). In fact, I have seen much more streets lined with cherry trees here in Belgium than in Japan. Contrarily to Tokyo's white somei-yoshino-zakura, Belgium has a lot of really pink yae-zakura (as well as other varieties, including white ones too). So the image of the pink cherry trees fits better Belgium than Tokyo (if not Japan).
    Last edited by Maciamo; May 5, 2006 at 05:39.

  11. #11
    Seeing is believing Minty's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    Regardless of the issue of the "4 seasons" (see this article), many Japanese think that "hanami" (花見, lit. "flower viewing") is a tradition unique to Japan. What surprises me all the more is that many Westerners or Western guidebooks seem to agree with that without doing much thinking.
    It seems to me that, in Western Europe at least, Spring has been associated with "flower viewing" since the Antiquity and the blossoming of trees and blooming of flowers is a deeply ingrained symbol of spring. One of the oldest cultural expression can be found in the root of the month of "April", which very probably comes from the Latin word "aprire", meaning "to open", "to blossom" or "to bloom".
    In fact, in my experience Europeans care as much if not even more about flowers than the Japanese. The main difference is that the Japanese seem to care almost exclusively about cherry blossoms (and some to plum and peach blossoms too, but much less), while Europeans care more about flowers. I remember when I was a child, the pupil's magazines would show snowdrops or crocus around March to announce the coming of Spring. Most people in the countryside would have a garden or parterres with daffodils, narcissus, pansies, tulips, roses, lilies, petunias or begonias. It felt like people cared more about flowers than the Japanese (or maybe that's because I live in Tokyo).
    I am often told that what makes hanami so special in Japan is that people go in groups to special places (parks, gardens, canals...) to see the cherry blossoms and picnic there. But that is what we used to do when I was a child, except that it was with flowers instead of blossoms. In a country like the Netherlands, there are so many places to go with your family watch the tulips or other flowers. A place like Keukenhof gets hundreds of thousands of visitors per year from all around Europe (and outside Europe). There are also plenty of botanical gardens in all Western countries (I remember some nice ones in Australia ), even if they were more popular in the 19th or early 20th century than nowadays.
    It cannot be argued that the Japanese tradition is much older than in Europe, as "tulip viewing" has been common at least since the early 15th century, and as the word "April" shows, flower viewing was already popular in Roman times, before the first kingdom was founded in Japan.
    Now, could it be said that the Japanese hanami is unique because of its association wth cherry, plum and peach blossoms ? If I am not mistaken, these blossoms are also popular in Korea and China, and could even have originated from China. Could our Korean and Chinese members explain how popular blossom viewing is in their country.
    Hi Maciamo another very interesting topic:
    You are right flower viewing is very popular in Chinese culture.
    There are flowers for each lunar month. Plese see below:
    The Chinese Lunar Calendar flowers and for 8th lunar month an exception a leaf instead.
    (1) 桃花 táohuā – peach blossom
    (2) 李花 lĭhuā – plum (prunus salicina) blossom
    (3) 杏花 xìnghuā – apricot blossom
    (4) 杨花yánghuā – poplar flower
    (5) 石留花 shíliuhuā – pomegranate blossom
    (6) 荷花 héhuā – lotus flower
    (7) 菊花 júhuā – chrysanthemum flower
    (8) 枫叶 fēngyè – maple leaf
    (9) 桂花 guìhuā – osmanthus flower
    (10) 梅花 meíhuā – Chinese plum (prunus mume) blossom
    (11) 水仙花 shuĭxiānhuā – Narcissus
    (12) 迎春花 yíngchūnhuā – Jasmine
    But there are several versions of flowers of the month in Chinese culture.
    One version is from a children's song book:
    十二月花歌
    正月梅花吐芳香,(plum)
    二月兰花开正旺,(orchid)
    三月桃花迎春风,(peach)
    四月蔷薇出短墙,(wild rose)
    五月石榴红似火,(pomegranate)
    六月荷花满池塘,(lotus)
    七月栀子头上戴,(zhī gardenia)
    八月丹桂满枝黄,(orange osmanthus)
    九月菊花初开放,(chrysanthemum)
    十月芙蓉正上妆,(cotton rose)
    十一月水仙吐新蕊,(narcissus)
    十二月雪花白茫茫。(snowflakes - not a real flower here).
    Another version found in a florist website gives
    正月:梅花
    二月:杏花 (Apricot)
    三月:桃花
    四月:蔷薇
    五月:石榴花
    六月:荷花
    七月:凤仙花 (Balsam)
    八月:桂花 (Sweet-scented osmanthus)
    九月:菊花
    十月:芙蓉花
    十一月:山茶花 (Camellia)
    十二月:梅花 (repeat of the first month)
    Taken from http://www.newflower.com.cn/service/dictionary/4.asp
    Sorry it is in Chinese.

    I supposed the many versions are due to province divergence.

  12. #12
    Seeing is believing Minty's Avatar
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    There are also ballads written about flower viewing or any activty people can do with flowers.

    GuangXi (广西民歌)
    十二月花歌

    正月里来桃花鲜,好比彩云满山间,
    红罗包饭来等妹,桃花树下等妹连。

    二月里来李花白,满树李花白绯绯, (plum)
    哥娘生哥无缘分,摘花不到挨风吹。

    三月桐树花正新,桐树花开春正浓, (Aleurites cordata)
    哥等一夜不见妹,手攀桐花泪满襟。

    四月金斗白西西,金斗花开我不知,
    到处山头花谢了,哥骑母马来得迟。

    五月南球花正绽,南球花发白银银,
    哥想伸手摘几朵,满树花谢落纷纷。

    六月里来六月里,六月芙蓉花正红,
    口里衔来又怕烂,手里拿来又怕溶。

    七月里来七月七,七月莲花开满塘,
    摘朵莲花送给妹,但愿莲花千日香。

    八月里来八月八,八月禾花满田香,
    八月禾花爱细雨,情哥爱在妹妹旁。

    九月菊花开满岭,朵朵金来朵朵银,
    几时走到花岭上,拨开花瓣摘花心。

    十月里来十月十,十月鸡公花正红,
    摘朵给妹头上戴,但愿花儿千日红。

    十一月来过了秋,梅花树上正含苞,
    说知远寨姣娥妹,满树花开快来收。

    十二月过又一年,山茶花开白连连,
    摘朵山茶给妹戴,一心只等妹同年。

    This is another ballad from TaiZhou (JiangSu province) 泰州民谣

    十二月花歌
    正月梅花带雪开,
    二月茶花等月来,
    三月桃花红似火,
    四月蔷薇满架堆,
    五月栀子白如霜,
    六月荷花池塘,
    七月菱花浮水面,(water chestnut)
    八月桂花满园香,
    九月菊花朵朵黄,
    十月芙蓉赛海棠,
    十一月里芦花白,(Phragmites communis - reed)
    十二月里腊梅芳。(Chimonathus Praecox)


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    I know flower viewings or poems around the world, however, no flower viewing party including drinking, esp. among ordinary people.
    It is interesting to investigate why many Japanese love crowdedness, though.

    By the way, I like the Acacia Flower Festival in Dalian.

  14. #14
    Junior Member Crackpot's Avatar
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    Isn`t it possible that the Japanese love for cherry blossoms over ume, momo or other beautiful spring blossom contenders is because of the high % of cherry blossom trees planted throughout the country compared with the other blossomers - i.e. if you want to see the most blossoms during a spring picnic in ueno, inokashira or asakusa parks then timing it for the cherry blossom opening will give you the most bang for your buck, especially if time and space are limited?

  15. #15
    Seeing is believing Minty's Avatar
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    Could our Korean and Chinese members explain how popular blossom viewing is in their country.
    I got some more information about Chinese flower viewing.

    There is a tradition called “武汉梅花节 /Wuhan Plum flower festival ,where people go to view Plum flowers during spring, http://www.xfcn.org/ (sorry the website is in Chinese , again).

    There are also Flower Viewing Festival at Jietai Temple (戒台寺赏花节)and Peony festival in Luoyang etc.

    But I am not certain what exactly they do, maybe the Chinese posters here in China can help us out here? I am thinking perhaps they buy tickets to go see the exhibition and have a picnic in the park to watch the blooms.

    Moreover, I am being told that “In ancient times, scholars taking Imperial exams would scour the gardens and parks in the capital for beautiful blooms. After the first two top candidates, the third would be nicknamed as 探花 (tan hua which means look up flower) .”

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    Smile how it was explained to me

    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    why did Japan become so obsessed about cherry trees in the first place, while most other countries did not fall in the same excess ?
    I heard a curious explanation about this by a japanese teacher when another student asked regarding that; in many tragic stories of love -sort of Romeo and Juliet type-, the main characters seal their forbidden love by committing suicide together under a cherry tree (while it blooms of course), the cherry tree works as symbolism of their pure love that dies young. Is like the romantic idea that most people have of the roses, it considered beautiful because is associated with a romantic idea, and can also be compared as why not every one likes Ume as much not every one likes other flowers so much in western culture.
    Nowadays, seems related with friendship, loyalty and love.
    Call it a cultural issue, I don't know if that works for you.
    Last edited by nova; May 21, 2006 at 21:32.
    Only the corpse knows the punishment of the grave

  17. #17
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nova
    I heard a curious explanation about this by a japanese teacher when another student asked regarding that; in many tragic stories of love -sort of Romeo and Juliet type-, the main characters seal their forbidden love by committing suicide together under a cherry tree (while it blooms of course), the cherry tree works as symbolism of their pure love that dies young.
    And how many Japanese actually know about that story ? Nobody ever told me about it, and yet I asked a lot of questions about cherry trees to many people while I was in Japan. Even if they knew about it, it never was clearly associated in their minds with the reason why they like cherry blossoms.

  18. #18
    Regular Member Gaijinian's Avatar
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    and can also be compared as why not every one likes Uma as much
    FYI "uma" means horse. I think you mean "ume."
    これからも絶対頑張る〜

  19. #19
    Frantic nova's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    And how many Japanese actually know about that story ? Nobody ever told me about it, and yet I asked a lot of questions about cherry trees to many people while I was in Japan. Even if they knew about it, it never was clearly associated in their minds with the reason why they like cherry blossoms.
    how old were them?

  20. #20
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nova
    how old were them?
    All ages, but mainly between 25 and 40.

  21. #21
    Frantic nova's Avatar
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    Talking :d

    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    All ages, but mainly between 25 and 40.
    and they didn't knew? how sad, still I think maybe it has a different reason for every japanese I guess to some of them cherry trees bring them good memories or something like that. After all you can't always generalize with people.
    PS. Gaijinian: by the way; thanks I already edited it in the other post.

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