RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
In Tokyo some unusual signs have appeared in parks. The city is asking visitors not to picnic under the cherry blossoms, although that's a national custom at this time of year. The idea is that people should be mourning the victims of the recent disasters, not celebrating the coming of spring. NPR's Anthony Kuhn has this report from Tokyo.
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ANTHONY KUHN: Spring seems far from Tokyo's Ueno Park on a chilly Sunday under steely gray skies. The signs reflect the conservative views of Tokyo's 78-year-old mayor, Shintaro Ishihara, campaigning for a fourth term in this month's elections. In spite of the signs, hundreds of people are picnicking or strolling in the park.
Walking among them is Makku Akasaka. With recorded music and a bottle of sake, he's out campaigning as the sole candidate of the obscure Smile Party. He says he disagrees with the governor's injunctions against�hanami�or cherry-blossom viewing.
Mr. MAKKU AKASAKA (Candidate, Smile Party): Refrain from entertainment, including hanami, is a negative mind. Most important thing for Japanese people is to rebuild, and so they need positive mind.
KUHN: Hanami, many Japanese will tell you, is an expression of the aesthetic sensibility in the Japanese soul. Or, at least, says magazine editor Yoshi Tsujimura, it's a very popular sort of affectation.
Mr. YOSHI TSUJIMURA (Magazine Editor): (Through Translator) Even if you're just there to have fun and enjoy the beautiful cherry blossoms, it's a part of Japanese people's character that they have to appreciate it or at least act like they appreciate it on a level beyond mere physical beauty.
Ms. HITOMI ONISHI: (Through translator) On a spring day with soft rays of sun, flower petals fall restlessly. There's no peace in my heart.
KUHN: That's Tokyo resident Hitomi Onishi reading the work of 9th century court poet Tomonori Kino. She and her girlfriends are playing�karuta, a favorite�hanami�game in which players take turns reciting poems from a deck of cards.
Nearby, schoolteacher Masujio Shimozaki sits on a tarp under the cherry blossoms, enjoying some sushi, cheese and whiskey with four friends. Shimozaki says he doesn't need governor Ishihara's civics lessons about how to respond to natural disasters.
Mr. MASUJIO SHIMOZAKI (Schoolteacher): (Through Translator) I'm the sort of person that, if you tell me to look right, I look left. It's important to have a diversity of opinions. But we definitely brought less food than in years past. We're trying to conserve in our own way, while still enjoying each others' company.
KUHN: He mentions�hakanasa, one of several Japanese words to describe human sensitivity to the poignant fact that cherry blossoms, like life and beauty themselves, are short-lived, and that nature produces tsunamis as well as spring blossoms.
Ms. SHIMOZAKI: (Through translator) I think beauty and pain exist together and can't be separated. When you look at the cherry blossoms, there's�hakanasa�in their beauty.
KUHN: Many Japanese point to 17th century haiku master Basho. Many of his later works are characterized by�karumi, a Buddhist-influenced sense of lightness and detachment, sketched in this poem.
Come, see the real flowers of this painful world.
Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Tokyo.
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