A byte of life from the Land of Sumos and Sushi

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

I have often remarked on Japan’s love affair with concrete. Unfortunately so much of this country is covered in the stuff, as there seems to be little or no planning regulations that prevent the construction of an ill fitting blemish in an otherwise naturally or architecturally attractive area.

Spring is the season of the Sakura (cherry blossom) and is something which the Japanese are most proud of. There are cherry trees everywhere, so for a few days each spring, the blossom explodes and the parks, streets and gardens become the centre for the much anticipated annual cherry blossom viewing parties.

Although the sheer scale of certain cherry tree plantations can be impressive, I think that the Japanese get a little over excited about looking at sakura. During the hanami (literally: flower see) season, there are daily blossom reports on the news and in the papers, charting the exact percentage of blossom that has appeared on the trees, and pinpointing the best spots to see flowers that are in optimum viewing condition. During the short life of the sakura, bbq parties and picnics are held under the boughs of the trees, soon after which, the petals fall and the blossom front sweeps northwards on towards Hokkaido.

It was at the cherry blossom viewing festival in my area, whilst strolling down a sakura lined path by the river, that I stumbled upon the most garish use of concrete to date. Not content with lining every river and stream with concrete, pouring concrete down the sides of mountains and building ugly concrete high rises, I saw to my amazement that concrete had been poured inside several of the trees.

I can only assume that this was done in an effort to strengthen ailing trunks, but I found it puzzling that they would chose to pollute their beloved sakura trees, an object of so much national pride and a symbol of Japan’s beauty, with cold, hard, concrete, the archenemy of all things natural.


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