“I want you to write me two sides of A4 on the subject of cherry blossom. No cliches.” That was the challenge set me by my former agent, the late William Miller. It was fourteen years ago, and I’d contacted him to see if he could find a publisher for some Japanese literary translations I’d done. He couldn’t, but he must have seen something in me when he set me this task, which turned into my first short story and set me off down this novel-writing path.
It’s cherry blossom season in Japan right now. Television weather forecasts will be giving daily updates on the “pink line,” showing the state of the blossom across the country, and confirming mankai no hi, “full-bloom day”—when the blossoms will be at their peak in your area. And for about two weeks around full-bloom day the whole country will be out under the cherry trees every night, drinking, eating, and singing. Mainly drinking. The most popular blossom-viewing spots will be carpeted with blue tarpaulin as revellers stake out their patch. How can you make sure you get the prime spot for your company cherry blossom party? Easy—just order the youngest lads in the office to lay out the tarp at the crack of dawn and guard it all day. I’m not sure whether I’d love this job or hate it, but the above image, taken when I was out for an early-morning run, is one of my favourites. So is the one below, taken at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine.