I was trudging through the rain back to my apartment when I saw it.
A lone tree between the supermarket and the car park.
A lone tree covered with blossom.
The sakura cherry blossom had finally reached Sapporo.
Down in Tokyo (where blossom festivities had finished a month ago), the sakura is preceded by several weeks by the plum blossom. Here in Sapporo, where the snows only stop for about 20 minutes, the trees have to get a move on and both plum and cherry blossoms appear together in a riot of spring pinks and whites. Since these tender tree flowers last only a precious couple of weeks, I took off to Sapporo's main shrine in Maruyama Park as soon as the rains shows signs of abating.
As did the rest of Sapporo.
Literally Every Single Person. It was a miracle the subways were even running.
It had rained solidly from Thursday to Saturday, but on the last Sunday of Golden Week (so named for its multiple national holidays), the sun peaked out between the showers. I reached the park to find the lower ground had become the land of a million BBQs while the upper blossom grove swarmed with people and cameras. Mainly cameras.
If one were to paint the scene, a grey sandwich for the threatening sky and photographic equipment with a thick pink and white jam splurge in the middle would capture the moment. It was beautiful and the atmosphere of excitement was contagious.
So contagious that I bought a giant squid on a stick and half a sweet potato from a nearby stand.
The arrival of the sakura is a major event in the Japanese calendar. Weather forecasters plot the advance of the cherry blossom as it moves across the country and everyone gets ready to eat, drink and be merry. It's like Christmas, only outdoors. I strongly suspect every Japanese family photo album is 3/4 full of identical close-up pictures of the tiny pink and white flowers.
Just as I sat down with my sea creature and spud lunch, the skies opened in a downpour. People ran for cover and started moving the picnic tables into the shelter of the food stands. Except they couldn't move the one I was sitting at since I hadn't budged. I am British after all.
One of the women working at the food stalls came up to where I was nonchalantly seated and tucked the spare chairs underneath the plastic table. "Are you OK?" she asked me.
Are you dying? Is that why you haven't moved? Don't you know if you DON'T MOVE OUT THE RAIN YOU WILL DIE?
I peeked out of her from underneath the hood of my rain jacket. "I'm good!" I told her with a squiddy grin.
She looked astounded.
I finished my grilled squid. Typically, the rain then stopped. It really was just like being back at home.