With their resemblance to clouds, and their appearance at the beginning of spring, cherry blossoms have always had a great significance in Japan. Haname is the name for the ancient practice of enjoying a picnic under the fragrant pink or white blossoms of a sakura tree. In Japan the haiku poets often wrote about these trees, and there are several Zen stories of monks achieving nirvana or enlightenment at the moment of a blossom falling. With their colour and verve they symbolise the changing seasons like little else, and they are a great way to get into Japan, if your’e a new comer wishing ton to see the blossoms, this is best done in in late January, if you’re in the south of the country near Okinawa, or mid March if you’re in the cooler north, such as Kyoto. The Japanese tourist board came up with a great list of the hundred best places in the country to see this cultural phenomenon.
A less peaceful but not less enjoyable way to embrace Japanese culture is by learning how to wrestle Sumo style, from one of the larger than life masters of the Art no less. Catch one of the early morning trainings at a beya or Sumo stable to get yourself in the mood, or see one of the tournaments at the Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo’s National Sumo Hall. Or you can do one of the many one day Sumo taster sessions available where you can learn the basics for yourself. A traditional Japanese meal is included which you’ll be thankful for rather than what the Sumo Wrestlers eat themselves. A typical breakfast for the man mountains is an 18 egg omelette!
Heavily influenced by the Zen aesthetic, even the Japanese style of garden represents metaphysics. Zen gardens are seen, for obvious reasons, in the grounds of the famous temples such as Royan-Ji. These complex yet highly minimal groupings of rocks and small trees are much like a work of art: they are beautifully simple yet provoke feelings beyond normal understanding. The garden at Ryoan Ji is widely considered to be the finest example in the world. It is not known who created it, the monk – true to Zen – has vanished in the silence from which he came. Only the wonderful garden remains.