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article imageCelebrating Japanese cherry blossoms in Toronto Special

By Bart B. Van Bockstaele     Apr 19, 2010 in Travel
It was predictable. After an exceptionally mild winter in Toronto, the beloved cherry blossoms in High Park were early this year, drawing huge crowds, happy smiles and many picture takers.

In Japan, cherry blossoms are called sakura, and the delicate and ephemeral blossoms are said to remind the Japanese that life is short, and already over before we really understand that it has begun.
Only just have we passed mid-April, and the Japanese cherry blossom trees in Toronto's High Park, a gift from the city of Tokyo, were already in full bloom. They were hard to miss, even though the crowds attracted to the ephemeral delicate blossoms may have been in greater numbers than the flowers themselves.
In years past, the cherry blossom trees were mainly popular with the small and diverse Japanese community in Toronto, but it seems that the blossoming cherry trees are becoming ever more popular with those of us who do not ordinarily sing "Sakura, sakura" at this time of the year.
Ohanami, the Japanese for "flower viewing", is not usually a tranquil affair. People go for walks to admire the blossoms, but many people do all they can to get a little space under the trees where they spend an afternoon with friends, eating all types of dishes prepared at home or bought from eager vendors. People talk, laugh, listen to music they bring along, and some even bring entire karaoke systems to sing popular songs. And they drink lots of beer and sake or Japanese rice wine.
Only an astute observer would have noticed the difference between what was happening in High Park yesterday and what would be seen in Japan: people were picnicking on the grass, talking, laughing, playing music, there was even someone playing music on a rather massive sound system. But one thing was missing.
In Toronto, drinking alcohol is not permitted in the park. Mel Lastman, the mayor before we got David Miller, once joked that he would have the city by-laws changed to allow drinking under the sakura trees, but the prohibition stands. So, except for the beer and the sake, Torontonians could feel like they had travelled to Japan, if only for a few hours.
The Japanese cherry blossoms last only a few days, maybe two weeks. If you haven't seen them yet, and you just happen to live in Toronto: this is a great excuse to go and visit one of Toronto's historic parks.
More about Japanese cherry blossoms, Sakura, High park, Toronto
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