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 sakura

rokugatsu 6 (jun)
In late March, Tokyo prefecture turned pink. It was as if a huge paintbrush drew a wide stroke across the land, causing each tree to burst into bloom, after months of naked winter branches. Festivals were everywhere, people out walking with their cell phone cameras raised, a lightness in the air that reminded me of the first snow of the season in the Colorado mountains. I live near Sakura Dori (Cherry Street), lined with cherry trees for blocks and blocks. It was strewn with pink paper lanterns which were lit at night. In the wee hours of the morning after the jazz club closed, four of us walked down Sakura Dori in wonder, all of us looking up - magical!

At the hanami (flower festival) at Ueno Park in Tokyo city, groups go early to stake out a plot of land, spread out a blue tarp, and picnic under the trees, drinking and partying all evening. In my local festival, there were food booths and dance performances. There is a famous gate used in the movie Roshomon at Togo-ji temple. The lawn around the gate is home to weeping cherry trees. Blossoms tumbled like a waterfall down long swinging branches, and waved like tresses gracefully blowing in the wind. As the wind picked up, little petals rode the gusts and filled the air with pale pink glitter.

The first week in May is Golden Week, a collection of small holidays put together to form a larger vacation for most people. This was the time for the annual Kurayami Matsuri, or festival of darkness, at the local Okunitama shrine, which, I have learned, has been a tradition for almost two thousand years. Horses raced down the tree-lined Keyaki (zelkova tree) street; each neighborhood pulled a small shrine that supported musicians and dancing children; and in the early morning, enormous drums were wheeled through the streets with men pounding on them to bring back the light. But the most wonderful part was the flower dance. Tall posts were adorned with colorful paper flowers in wire streams looking like branches. In a lively competition, music played while someone underneath the flower tree hoisted the heavy creation up and down and danced it around for about three minutes. It was quite a sight!

Before school started, I ran around Tokyo for a week doing 'sample lessons' at four universities. Actually a sales tool, two of us did a dog and pony show. My role was to teach brief, fun, demo lessons to generate interest among potential students in the program. It was an opportunity to see some other campuses and teach some coed classes. Right after Golden Week, I started back at the same women's university, and was very pleased to be assigned the higher-level classes this semester. It's more challenging and engaging, since the students are able to hold conversations on interesting topics, tell more complex stories and give opinions and support them. My new young foreign-teacher cohorts, one a Jewish Brit, the other a California Phillipino Buddhist, are pleasant, interesting people. It's a good team. I'm also teaching online again two nights a week, so I'm busy and the time goes quickly.

And yet one more festival… The last weekend in May, my city held its annual Jazz in Fuchu festival, with nine venues around town, mostly outdoors. I had been an avid spectator last year, but this year I was asked to take part. My favorite jazz club played two sets, with twelve musicians participating (all Japanese except for me). I sang a few bluesy songs in the smaller, more mellow set - four of us: two men in suits (sax and guitar), me in a long flowered skirt and my friend, also a singer, in a kimono. The rehearsals beforehand, in the park and once in a recording studio, were fun, and the event itself almost surreal for me. Somehow I once again had gotten myself in the middle of things!

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