Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cherry Blossom Festival

Being an American, I never quite understood why the cherry blossom festivals in Japan were so popular. Yes, the blossoms are beautiful to look at, but many things are and people don't go crazy about them. It seemed like one of the cultural things that are essentially inaccessible to an American like me. Then I went to the Cherry Blossom Festival on base here in Yokosuka.

Wow. Now I get it. It is the Japanese version of the 4th of July in America.

This is the time when families go out to the park with a large blanket or some chairs and sit under the cherry blossoms and picnic. There are booths where food is being cooked, drinks are being served, and souvenirs are being sold. There are temporary stages set up where musical groups are performing. And there is the beauty of the cherry trees filled with blossoms.

I remember that as a child, my mother and father would take the family (I have a brother and two sisters) to a nearly town with a good fireworks display. We would sit on the banks of the river and watch the fireworks show and have a picnic. It is the same with the cherry blossom festivals in Japan. Families will get together, parents and children with their grandparents and neighbors and friends and eat and drink and visit. An American would have no trouble recognizing this.

Many corporations will have company picnics at the large famous parks or festival sites. They will send their junior management out to the park the afternoon or evening before the festival starts to scout and claim a location under a nice cherry tree and plant some chairs and blankets to claim the site for the next day.

Many people in Japan take vacations and follow the blossoms as they bloom, beginning in the southern parts of Japan and heading north as the blossoms come out later and later. Each year a forecast of cherry blossom blooming dates is made and festivals are scheduled to that.

The photographs in this post was all taken by yours truly at Naval Base Yokosuka on April 6th, 2009 during the festival there. On that day the base is opened to the public and anyone can enter without producing any kind of identification. The people of Yokosuka, and many Japanese from Yokohama, Tokyo and other nearby cities came to see the base, the ships, and the cherry blossom - and eat and drink and get drunk under the cherry blossoms.

If you are in Japan when the cherry blossoms come out, do yourself a favor and attend the local festival.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Blue in Green

No, I am not writing about the beautiful tune "Blue in Green" by Bill Evans and most famously performed by Miles Davis' sextet, I am writing about a jazz bar and antique shop in Yokosuka named for that tune.
Blue in Green is a jazz bar and antique shop in Yokosuka that features live jazz performances every Saturday night. This is a very laid back place owned and operated by Yoshiaki Hayashi, himself a jazz guitarist. He doesn't play publicly, but once in a while you can catch him practicing when you walk in.
When you walk in on any given night (except Saturday) you are likely to be the only person there except for Yoshi himself. He will have jazz music playing on a very fine sounding audio system run through iTunes on his Mac laptop. He maintains a full bar including some very high quality beers and whiskeys. This is the only place in town where you can find American microbrews such as Red Hook, Sierra Nevada, Samuel Adams, Alaskan or Stone Brewing Company products and the whole line (it seems) of Anchor Steam products and others as well. Easily the best place to drink beer in Yokosuka. It is the only place that I know where you can get a nice hoppy (my wife would say "stinky") IPA. He also serves food and coffee - starting with the grinding of the beans when you order. The place has a New York jazz club feel and the food is American in a New York style.
It is a small place, as most in Japan are, with a warm ambience and not brightly lit. A very comfortable place to eat and drink.
It is also a very comfortable place to shop for antique guitars and other items (see his web site linked above). I think that this must be Yoshi's main business, because as often as I see the place empty, it cannot be the bar business (although it is my favorite bar).
Go hear some jazz, get a bite to eat, and have a great beer. And visit Yoshi - one of the nicest guys in the world.
Oh, and here is the tune - Blue in Green performed by Miles Davis' sextet.