Cherry-flavored denial

There’s this question that I used to get asked a lot. And when I first heard it, it struck me as kind of odd. Of course we have four seasons in Australia. The tilt in the earth’s axis isn’t unique to Japan, you know? What, do you think I’m an alien?

Actually, that’s what they call us foreigners here. Aliens. But I digress.

Japanese culture has an awareness and fascination with the seasons that was something new to me. And other than funny questions directed at foreigners, the first thing that really drove this point home for me was the convenience store beer fridges. Like clockwork, each time the season changed, there’d be new beers in the fridge. Starting with the summer editions, then the cans decorated with dying leaves, followed by the winter editions, and finally, the spring editions – covered in cherry blossoms. Because nothing sells beer like floral patterns.

Seriously though. In Japan, one of the year’s prime events is hanami, or cherry blossom viewing. On the surface, it’s an occasion to take some time out of daily life to appreciate nature in all it’s beauty. More practically, it’s an excuse to get together with friends, consume copious amounts of alcohol, say things that a more sober you might regret – and all while maybe spending a few moments appreciating nature in it’s beauty.

But whatever the reason, hanami is an event. It’s on the street, it’s in the news, it’s on your calendar. And that calendar is moving forward every year.

To put some numbers on this, in the decade covering 1991-2000, the average date at which the Japan Meteorological Agency announced the first bloom of Tokyo’s cherry blossoms was the 27th of March. And yes, the national weather agency really does announce the start of cherry blossom season. It’s important business, okay?

Fast forward to the decade of 2001-2010, and first bloom was now happening almost a week earlier, averaging in at the 22nd of March. Which moved back to the 21st of March within 2011-2020.

But this year? In 2021? The first bloom started back on the 14th of March – the earliest ever. Not that being the earliest ever is particularly unusual right now, because the sakura have bloomed earlier than “expected” for 8 years in a row. Honestly, it’d be weirder if they came on time.

And yet. Despite the Japanese people’s keen awareness of the changing seasons – from the “does Australia have four seasons too?” questions right down to the national forecaster announcing the first bloom of the cherry blossoms – there’s still little action on climate change.

But thankfully, it’s not like there’s no action. Because Japan has started building hydrogen tankers! Technologically advanced behemoths tasked with shipping liquified hydrogen – a clean-burning fuel stored at near-absolute-zero temperatures – across the oceans. From home. From Australia. Where they’ll create the hydrogen by burning that marvellous brown mineral that we all know and love. It’s a win-win, you see. Japan saves face by burning “clean” fuel, while Australia – who couldn’t care less what the world thinks – makes a dirty buck.

So I guess what I’m trying to say here is that despite what the Americans and Europeans may think, we in the western pacific certainly can think outside the box. That, and hanami is for saying things that you might regret…