Spring is upon us and the sakuras (cherry blossoms) are going to explode everywhere very soon. The exciting thing about the sakura season is nobody really knows when it will happen till just a few days before it will actually happen. It seems this weekend will mark the start of gazing at pink flowers and the whole of Japan will be celebrating.

Hanami (means flower viewing) parties make any sober Japanese (or gaijin) come out of their shell. I think it’s the abundance of warm sunshine after a drab, cold winter and everyone wants to come out and play (plus a lot of booze is involved).

If you are a hanami newbie, you might need some pointers to thoroughly enjoy the season.

Reserve a spot early. Spread a ground sheet with your name and arrival time to “book” your spot. It’s a pain but somebody has to do it if you want an excellent spot in a popular park (eg. Yoyogi, Inokashira etc).

Further inside the park is better. While being near the station has its plus points, you may find it way too crowded to truly enjoy your hanami party. You don’t really want to be squashed right up with your neighbour’s guitar playing, loud drunken musings, and wild dancing. So, search for a place further central in the park where fewer people will be inclined to venture.

Bring warm togs. Don’t let the sun fool you — it may be warm at midday but once the sun starts fading in the late afternoon, it actually gets cold very quickly. A thick scarf and an extra jacket will do you just fine.

Don’t drink too much alcohol. Well, this would probably apply only to the ladies, and it’s not dished out with prissy intentions. See, there aren’t many toilets available in parks, and even if there are, each toilet hub would only have a few stalls and the never-ending queues of women lining up to wee is extremely daunting when you have a full (and drunken) bladder.

You don’t want to spend the majority of your hanami party queuing up for a loo or searching for a less crowded one. Advice: just drink less alcohol and pace the fluids; go to the toilet before you really have to as it will save you a lot of mental trauma.

Take along entertainment. A hanami party typically lasts the whole day, so conversation might dry up even for the chattiest of people. Some folks might bring along a book or magazine, or a portable CD player (or rather, these days, an iPod and portable speakers). Feel free to bring cards or a guitar. Just think about how you would like to enjoy the perfect picnic.

Give some thought to food. Conbini snacks serve some people well enough but it’s likely that the conbini closest to the park will be jam-packed with a huge crowd clamouring to get their food and drinks. Nab an awesome sakura-themed bento box from a department store, or make your own goodies. Salads and finger food work best, but you might want to consider a small hot pot if you are going to linger after dusk. Warm soup with delicious meat and veggies will help you party on, instead of running back home.

Be responsible for your trash. You’ve got to do something about the used disposable plates, utensils, and napkins, so remember to include gomi (rubbish) bags in your picnic basket.

Spots that rock during hanami:

Yoyogi Park
Aoyama cemetery
Chidorigafuchi (near the Yasukuni Shrine and Imperial Palace)
Sumida Park
Ueno Park
Inokashira Park