I had many goals for my long-awaited arrival to Japan. After spending months in South Korea and Thailand waiting for the borders to open, I was thrilled to finally put my years of studying Japanese language to use. I was excited to explore the sprawling metropolitan of Tokyo, spend time hiking the surrounding mountains, and see the beautiful castles and shrines encasing Japan’s rich history. But what I was not expecting was how deeply I’d fall in love with the culture surrounding flowers in Japan.

Coming to Japan in early March, I was here just in time for the 花見 (flower watching), particularly of the 桜 (sakura or cherry blossoms). The first thing that I fell in love with was just how ubiquitous the sakura trees are. You could turn down practically any random street in the heart of Tokyo and be met with an explosion of white and pink petals. With no tourists around, I thought I’d be one of the only ones taking my phone out whenever I saw a blossoming tree. But I soon learned that no matter how long you live in Japan, you never get tired of seeing the first blossoms. I found myself frequently making small talk with random grandmothers and salarymen as we all stood in mutual admiration of the sakura before going about our days. Yoyogi Park and Nakameguro are two of the most popular spots in Tokyo for seeing the cherry blossoms, and having visited both during full bloom, they rightfully deserve the popularity. What I loved even more than the raw beauty of the cherry blossoms themselves were how they brought people together. For that entire month, seeing the flowers was a go-to activity with friends. One of my favorite memories was picnicking under the blossoms in the park and seeing other groups of friends and families all doing the same – all celebrating the coming of spring, the beauty of Japan, the relationships they cherish – and it is something I’ll never forget.

Next were the ネモフィラ (nemophila), a vibrantly sky-blue flower that is a less common than the sakura, but still incredibly beautiful. Hitachi Seaside Park is easily the most famous place to see these flowers, and, with only about a week to see full-bloom, I knew this was something I wanted to plan around. I had a day off on the middle of the week, and since all my friends had work or classes that day it was a chance for me to take a solo day trip to see the flowers. The entire day felt like a mini-celebration of how comfortable I’ve become in Japan. I remember waking up, getting my おにぎり(onigiri) in the morning, and waiting for my train to head to Hitachi. Navigating the entire trip using only my Japanese, practicing my photography and being rewarded with the beautiful sprawling hills of nemophila was another special day marked by flowers for me.

Now it is June and 梅雨 (rainy season), which also means that the 紫陽花 (hydrangeas) are in bloom. The hydrangeas are arguably the most beautiful of all the flowers so far. There is such richness to their color, popping out against the mist. But what I particularly love about them is how much they represent my journey in Japan. While trying to navigate that first month in Tokyo, everyone told me that I was lucky I wasn’t leaving until after I got to see the hydrangeas. In those moments I had no idea what to expect from my time in Japan – I only had 4 months to try and squeeze in all the goals for Japan I had wanted. Despite all my anxieties in the beginning, I have found myself deeply connected to Tokyo and the community I have found here. In these last days, I can’t help but think about the hydrangeas in the rain – despite how sad I am to leave, it is that sadness that makes the richness of my time in Japan come to life.

by Nihaal Rahman on February 23, 2022