This. Is. HANAMI!!

While I went all over the place last year to spots like Tamatsukuri Onsen, Kisuki, and Senju-in Temple, I didn’t spend much time at the O-shiro Castle Festival that marks the start of spring, complete with a temporary Edo-style open-air a tea house (one more than usual in the area) serving matcha and sakura-mochi on every clear day. I do so love the scent of sakura-mochi. The castle was worth visiting almost every day for a while, though the best time I went was at noon when the flowers were in full bloom.

Sure, yes, the flowers were great… but I think I might have done more baby viewing that afternoon. Where had all these babies suddenly come from!? Little faces peeking out of carriers while (slightly) older siblings are helped to teeter down the stairs, or babies out for a day with grandma and grandpa, or babies so small you hardly notice their tiny limbs poking out of their carriers. Dads carrying strollers up the stairs while moms huff and puff and follow more slowly, carrying in the baby while walking in heels. Babies barely mobile squirming on the picnic blankets, and for every baby, a smartphone to snap pictures of said baby and their first Hanami (flowering viewing).

I’m pretty sure the babies weren’t all planned for cherry blossom season, but given important beginnings are planned around cherry blossom season, I wouldn’t be too surprised if some were. I think my surprise may just be a combination of not seeing so many young families all congregated in one place so often, and of everyone finding it too cold until that point to bother braving the weather with their tiny bundles. That may apply to more than just babies–everyone dressed up a little more than usual, either breaking in new outfits purchased for spring, or finally breaking out some old favorites again. Haha, take that, winter! Be gone!!

It wasn’t only people with babies at Matsue Castle this particular lunch hour–it was as if everyone was there! The young couples were obvious–holding hands and dressed most fashionably, though a little shriek of surprise caught my attention when one young woman tripped in her high heels. Thankfully her boyfriend already had her hand to keep her from tumbling too far down the steps, and they shared a laugh as she stood back up.

These two, however, made a more graceful couple–at least on a shorter set of stairs.

The old couples were also picnicking and strolling together, more still and quiet than the young families who had brought puppies and baseballs gloves. They took their time, and at one point I overheard an old man ask his wife what in the world she was doing stopping to pick up a fallen blossom, as the two seemed to have differing opinions on the aesthetics of the blossom and its natural place.

That’s a Lafcadio Hearn marker–his students used to have their physical education class here.

The kids are enjoying their short spring break between school years, so there were picnic groups made up entirely of elementary school boys, as well as a few family-run yatai (food stalls) where the kids were helping out as well. A little more so than adults, kids tend to scream like they’re having fun when they are freaking out about the shaved ice machine going haywire.

It is only the students who are on break, as working society is busily taking little more than lunch breaks in the new fiscal year. Thankfully there is cultural reinforcement at this time of year to at least take a midday breather to appreciate the cherry blossoms. One such worker was perhaps slightly older than middle age, but had an appreciation of beauty that was apparent on his face. As he came up the old uneven steps he was already glancing upwards at the blossoms, and he slowed his pace as he approached, smiling with what looked to be a sign of approval. Good job, blossoms. A trio of young recruits were looking a little less than used to their formal black suits, but they still giggled like school girls as they made their way through the grounds. A fourth picked up her pace and to join them, and the others gawked at how fast she had gotten an ice cream cone from one of the yatai.

I didn’t plan on getting anything from the yatai, but it had been a while since I last had a crepe…

Despite how dressed up everyone is, I only noticed one person in kimono, which feels a little less than usual for big events around the castle. She had dressed it up casually and left her hair down, but seemed increasingly warm and tired in it as she looped here and there among the cherry trees. Perhaps her friends hadn’t arrived?

Perhaps what was oddly lacking was serious photographers–sure, everyone was snapping photos on their smartphones, but the big, clunky cameras that so many retirees frequently tote around the castle didn’t seem as present as usual. That’s perhaps because Hanami is best done with the people you love, and best enjoyed in the moment.

I was short on moments, however, and had to get back to work at city hall–though it just so happened that I ran into Mayor Matsuura on my way back, as he was on his way in. Enjoy your midday break, Mayor!

This was just the scene on a sunny Thursday afternoon, and the blossoms throughout the castle keep were lit up until 9pm. On the weekends during the castle festival, there were also Kagura, Dojou-sukui, and musical performances, as well as free samurai dress-up. Speaking of samurai dress-up, this year’s Musha Gyoretsu Warrior Parade had sunny weather for their march to the castle! I was in Tokyo for the kimono contest at the time, but maybe this sort of luck with carry through next year, too! As long as I don’t have anything else to do I’d love to take part again, but it’s so hard to choose what sort of role I’d want. Performing with a naginata was great and all seeing as it is my weapon of choice, but there are so many other props that look fun to try out, be it long and detailed wigs, or bows and arrows… ah! My inner samurai-wannabe is at odds with my inner Yamato-Nadeshiko-wannabe. That’s why being one of the lady warriors was such an obvious choice last time.

Alas, looks like I am getting carried away with the aesthetic thoughts the cherry blossoms arouse–but just when you looks again, they’ve all disappeared.