Kicking back under clouds of pink blossoms in the warm spring sun, eating a picnic and drinking with friends – it’s something you always dreamed of doing in Japan, isn’t it? And then you get here, and you discover that unless you’re a member of a work group that puts on a hanami party, you’ll be pressing your nose against the glass from the outside, looking in.
Sadly, all those happy Japanese faces toasting each other under the trees belong to people who went to high school together or belong to the same running club or played soccer on the same team in sixth grade. And if you weren’t one of them then, you never will be.
But all is not lost! Here are three ways to live the dream:
1: Organize your own
And when I say organize, I mean organize. In advance.
1: Pick a date. Here’s where to check the forecast for when peak bloom is going to be in your region: https://sakura.weathermap.jp/en.php
2: Pick a location. The craziest parties in Tokyo are at Inokashira Park and Yoyogi Park. The most beautiful are in Shinjuku Gyouen (but they don’t allow alcohol past the gate, and they definitely search and confiscate, so be forewarned). As a general rule, parks that charge admission don’t allow picnicking or blue tarps (Shinjuku Gyouen being the exception).
3: Invite your friends. Call your other hanami party outcasts and reap their thanks and glee. (Japanese friends might say yes if they don’t have another party to go to, but your best bet is to invite other foreigners.)
4: Make food/drink assignments unless you want to provide it all yourself. Don’t count on buying anything in the park, even if they have a snack stand. Lines are long, prices astronomical. Bring all your drinks and snacks with you. Grilling and such is not allowed, so anything that can be eaten cold is good. Don’t underestimate how much people can drink. Seriously. It’s really all there is to do, once you get situated.
5: Buy a blue tarp for everyone to sit on. You can get one at your local convenience store.
6: Get there early. Many Japanese partiers go the night before, spread their blue tarps on the choicest real estate, and camp overnight, just sayin.’ You don’t have to do this, but if you don’t want to get stuck in a corner of the garden where no trees are blooming, early means “get in line that morning, before the park opens.”
7: Make sure everyone you’ve invited knows where to look for you, especially if you don’t end up where you’d hoped to be. Cell towers get swamped, and calls often fail to get through once partying starts in earnest.
8: Crack a beer, and get ready to survive, I mean enjoy, your cherry blossom party!
If you want some suggestions for great places to see the pink extravaganza (and have your party), here are my favorite spots, with maps!
2: Wing it
If you want to roll the dice instead of being the host with the most, you might still be able to get a seat on a blue tarp.
1: Buy a six-pack of decent beer (i.e. not the cheapest brews at the 7-11)
2: Wait until 11:00 or so, when parties are well underway.
3: Walk through the hanami park of your choice, looking for people you distantly know and/or expansively drunk foreigner groups who seem welcoming to you (and your beer).
3: Snag an advance ticket to an excellent sho-chu and craft beer hanami party
Every year, my friend Mac (of Maction Planet private tour group fame) organizes a killer craft beer and artisanal sho-chu party in Yoyogi Park. If you manage to snag one of the limited number of tickets, you’ll be able to skip all that pesky organizing and still be guaranteed a choice spot under the fluffy pink things. Plus, you’ll get premium craft beer on tap, all the sho-chu you can drink (poured by world-renowned expert Chris Pellegrini), and a chance to hang out with a very funny and knowledgeable guy and make new friends. Once you’ve got a base in the park, you can kick back on the prime location blue tarp and watch the world go by, or you can wander through the park, beer/sho-chu in hand, and check out the craziness elsewhere. Here’s the link, for 2019 details and ticket ordering!
The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon!
“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist
Writing mystery books set in Tokyo is mostly what I do, but I also blog about the odd stuff I see every day in Japan. I'm a graduate of Stanford University and the Sendagaya Japanese Institute in Tokyo, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. When I'm not in Tokyo, I live in San Francisco. I also host a travel site called The Tokyo Guide I Wish I'd Had, so if you're headed to Japan and want to check out the places I take my friends when they're in town, take a look!