Japanese hanami celebrated in Roihuvuori Cherry Park in Helsinki
Cherry trees a little late for the ceremony
By Teppo Moisio
The picnic season of the Japanese residents of Helsinki was opened on Sunday in Roihuvuori’s Cherry Park (Kirsikkapuisto).
”Itadakimasu”, said Reiko Karvonen to her children Hideki and Sakura, wishing them a good appetite before they started to eat their lunch, which had just been bought at the sushi booth.
Hundreds of other Helsinki residents each on their own blankets were spreading out around them in order to enjoy an outdoor party beneath the cherry blossoms.
The Cherry Blossom Festival or hanami, organised by the Roihuvuori residents’ association, was quite a success, even though the capricious spring weather played tricks on the event and the cherry trees were not actually in blossom yet.
”Hanami is the Japanese custom of celebrating the arrival of spring beneath blossoming cherry trees”, said Reiko Karvonen, explaining the meaning of the tradition.
Roihuvuori’s Cherry Park boasts an abundance of cherry trees. When the park was founded in 2007, a total of nearly 120 cherry trees were planted in the Japanese style park, and today the number of trees is approaching some 150.
The Roihuvuori cherry tree garden is expected to be in full bloom next week.
”The date for the festival had to be fixed too early”, regrets Otto-Ville Mikkelä, the chair of the Roihuvuori residents’ association.
In the future, when there is more information on the trees and the somewhat fickle Finnish weather, it is to be hoped that it will be easier to find a better date for the festival.
However, it is never easy to predict exactly when the annual cherry bloom will happen. Even though the cherry trees in Roihuvuori are only just budding, cherry blossom viewing can already be enjoyed for example in Espoo’s district of Westend, and in Kerava.
In Japan, hanami is the greatest festival of the year.
”Everybody began to speak about hanami already a couple of months prior to the actual festival”, said Elisa Ryynänen, speaking over the phone from Japan, where she is working.
She celebrated her first cherry blossom festival in Japan in April, when cherry trees were in bloom in Honshu, the largest island of Japan.
”It was like a May Day that lasts for a week”, Ryynänen reported.
”Usually it is forbidden to drink in the streets of Tokyo, but during hanami it is allowed, at least in practice”, she added.
The Japanese who live in Finland characterise the festival in the same way.
Even though May Day and hanami have a very different historical background, in practice both are cheerful - even boisterous - spring celebrations.
If the Japanese were celebrating hanami in Roihuvuori, the Finns living in Japan also made the most of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Tokyo, Ryynänen reports.
”We organised a hanami for Finns in the Komazawa Olympic Park in Tokyo. We served pea soup and listened to Finnish music, while waving flags of Finland. The Japanese people were a bit bemused by our goings-on - some 40 Finns”, says Ryynänen.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 11.5.2009
TEPPO MOISIO / Helsingin Sanomat