Our offices are very close to one of the prime blossom-viewing areas in central Tokyo, near the British Embassy and the moat around the Imperial Palace. Each year, I can tell when the blossoms have hit their peak because the convenience stores nearby are suddenly ten times more crowded than usual, filled with people standing in line to buy bottles, boxes and cases of beer. Indeed, since I usually don't pay much attention to what's going on around me, often I don't realize that the blossoms have come until that day in April when I find myself standing in line for ten minutes to buy my Diet Coke.
It seems that drinking, eating, drinking, and drinking are the principal activities associated with cherry blossom-viewing. A walk through a grove of blossom-laden trees at peak viewing season involves negotiating a path around dozens of groups of people who are talking, laughing, playing music, cooking yakitori, and drinking a great deal of beer. Sometimes it can be impossible to find a way forward, because these groups of people are sitting upon plastic tarps and have removed their shoes. By removing their shoes they have established each tarp as a "shoe-free zone," and have thus made it taboo for anyone to step on the tarp while wearing shoes. Because the tarps are jammed together, sometimes covering nearly every square centimeter of ground within the grove of trees, an outsider may find it impossible to move forward without planting a shoe upon a tarp, and thus may be forced to backtrack (or, occasionally, long-jump) in order to continue his or her walk.
It also seems that most of the individual blossom-viewing groups are not necessarily groups of friends or family members, but rather that they are mostly groups of employees from the same company or firm, and that the apparently spontaneous parties are in fact semi-official company outings. Often a company will dispatch one or two of its most junior employees early on the morning of the party to claim a prime spot amongst the cherry trees and then wait there all day until the rest of the employees arrive. When the party finally gets underway, it may include many of the usual trappings of company gatherings, such as speeches and polite applause.
This year, peak blossom time fell on a weekend, so I did not have to battle crowds around our office. I did, however, have a chance to snap a few pictures of blossom-viewers at a park in Asaka-dai, near our house, while Jay was playing in the sandbox. (Because it was a weekend afternoon, and because it was in the suburbs, the scene was not as crowded or hectic as it can sometimes be in central Tokyo.)
(Click on a photo to enlarge)
A week later, we all went to one of the local parks in the evening. There were far fewer parties, but the blossoms were still magnificent. Jay had a great time running around in the dark, and I had a chance to snap some pictures with my Kyocera SL300R, which has two-second, four-second, and eight-second shutter speeds, and which seems to give pretty good results for a camera that's about the size of a deck of cards.
(Again, click on a photo to enlarge)