The Dark Side of Hanami

Opinions Trends & Culture - April 4th, 2014

By Roberto De Vido

Cherry Blossoms Over Tokyo. Late afternoon. Hibiya Park in central Tokyo.
Two Japanese men in black suits sprawl on a white plastic tarp emblazoned with “Hello Kitty” characters. The elder of the two men, apparently in his mid-40s and somewhat out of shape, is smoking a cigarette. The younger man, who could be in his mid-30s, is fitter and almost handsome. Both men are drinking cans of Suntory Pure Malt, and obliquely facing a larger group of office workers—men and women—who look to be in their 20s and 30s.

Older man (already speaking): … I mean, really, Koji-kun, what’s the point of it?

Younger man: What’s the point of what, Taka-san?

Older man: This Groundhog Day we call hanami. Every year we come out here to the park, drink beer on the hard ground, freeze our asses off or get rained on, and watch the new recruits puke into the bushes.

Younger man: As it was explained to me—maybe by you, come to think of it—when I joined the company 12 years ago, we are “building team spirit.” And I should note, this year we are not even drinking beer.

Older man: Makes it even worse. Happoushu, bought by that idiot Tanaka in accounting in an effort to demonstrate fiscal responsibility. What an ass.

Younger man: We’ll probably be reporting to him in five years.

Older man: I don’t doubt it. Brown-nosers like Tanaka always end up ruling the world.

Younger man: And it doesn’t hurt that Watanabe-san doesn’t drink beer.

Older man: Yeah, he’s been bootlegging his own single malt to the company hanami ever since he made Vice President. (He reaches for another can of happoushu.)

Younger man: Here’s what I don’t get. Why cherry blossoms?

Older man: What do you mean?

Younger man: Well, it’s springtime, right? One of Japan’s four distinct seasons. There are hundreds of different flowers blooming. Why cherries?

Older man: What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Younger man: What do you mean? (Reaches for another can of happoushu.)

Taka and Koji are higher up in rank than these two fellows, who would have been sent by their bosses to snag good spots ahead of time (Photo: "Hanami Salarymen" by Janne Moren/Flickr)

Taka and Koji are higher up in rank than these two fellows, who would have been sent by their bosses hours ahead of time to hold good spots for their companies’ hanami parties (Photo: “Hanami Salarymen” by Janne Moren/Flickr)

Older man: I mean, what’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Younger man: Uh, vanilla.

Older man: Of course it is.

Younger man: What do you mean by that?

Older man: Ask 100 Japanese what their favorite flavor of ice cream is and 92 will say vanilla. The other eight will say matcha.

Younger man: So what?

Older man: We Japanese travel in packs. In fact, we travel in one big pack of 127 million vanilla ice cream-loving, cherry blossom-worshipping, black-suited salarymen. (A gale of laughter erupts from the nearby group of younger office workers.) And salarywomen.

Younger man: That’s depressing.

Older man: Have another beer. Sorry, fake beer.

Younger man: You’re really turning into a cynic, Taka-san, you know that?

Older man: “Turning into,” Koji-san? I thought you knew me better than that! I emerged from my mother’s womb a cynic, wearing a suit and smoking a cigarette. On Day 3, I walked out of the hospital and said to my mother, “I’ll be back late. Don’t bother making dinner.”

Younger man: Now you’re getting me worried.

Older man: Worried? About what?

Younger man: That in 10 years I might be you!

Older man: Oh, don’t worry about that, Koji-kun. You’ve got a bright future ahead of you in this company if you want it. You’re not half the cynic I am, and almost all of the senior managers are imbeciles, which means they’ll need you.

Younger man: Not half the cynic you are, Taka-san? I’m feeling sort of insulted.

Older man: Don’t take it personally, kid. I meant that as a compliment. (More laughter erupts from the nearby group of office workers.)

Younger man: Ah, don’t worry: I’m not really insulted. You’re a legend.

Older man: Glad to hear it. Now, can I cheer you up?

Younger man: You going to order Tanaka to go to the nearest 7-Eleven to buy real beer?

Older man: That’s a good idea, but no. I am going to tell you to sloooooowly and casually turn your head to the left, and look in the direction I’m looking. But play it very, very cool. (The younger man sloooooowly turns his head to the left and looks over at the nearby group of office workers.)

Younger man: What am I looking at?

Older man: Erika-chan.

Younger man: Wha––oooh!

Older man: Yes. In her case, a few cans of happoushu appears to have been a good investment. As the kids say, “I see London, I see France…” (The two men gaze appreciatively for a long moment at their young colleague, whose sprawled form offers views not easily obtainable back at the office.)

Younger man: I hope you’ve learned your lesson, you old cynic.

Older man: How do you mean?

Younger man: Well, the supposed point of hanami is to observe pink-hued objects of beauty, and that’s what we’re doing. Erika-chan’s underwear is very definitely pink!

Older man: I may have spoken too soon about your bright future with the company, Koji-kun!

Younger man: I’ll take that as a compliment as well.

Older man: Another happoushu?

Younger man: May as well!


Roberto De Vido is a corporate communications strategist who lives in a small fishing and farming village in Miura Hanto. He is the producer and host of The American Radio Show.

Main Image: “Sakura – 2011.4.17 (62/365)” by Mariko/Flickr

Happy Hanami! "Sakura Man" by Hotarugari/Flickr

Happy Hanami! (Photo: “Sakura Man” by Hotarugari/Flickr)