One of the main reasons our houseguests chose to visit us in the spring was the sakura o-hanami, or flower-viewing, is a big deal in Japan. The Japan Meteorological Association publishes "sakura forecasts" throughout the spring so that people can plan their o-hanami trips accordingly. Additionally, some organizations have ranked the "best sakura-viewing locations" throughout Japan; JR features Tenshochi on its posters as one of the three best places in northern Tohoku.

O-hanami is about more than just looking at the flowers. Restaurants, civic groups, or just groups of friends plan picnics with lots of food and drink in prime blossom-viewing locations. This year, the blossoms came about two weeks early, so by the time our houseguests arrived, the sakura were mostly gone from Kitakami. Nevertheless, we joined the local Okinawan joint's o-hanami party in one of the last parks to have blossoms. The day itself was not optimal for picnicking under the remaining sakura, being all cold and gray. So we made plans to go to Fukusenji, a temple in nearby Tono, with some friends the following day.

At Fukusenji, we found the trees in full bloom. So did busloads of tourists from other parts of Japan.

Many other trees were coming to life at the same time. On a small overlook, sakura and leafing yamamomiji (mountain maple) trees shared the view.

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The Great Butter Shortage of '08 

Rice shortages have been in the news over the last month or so as rice-exporting countries have begun withholding supplies to feed their own people. The shortages don't appear to be affecting Japan, but the country is running low on something important: butter. For the last three weeks or so, finding butter in the stores has been hit or miss, but mostly miss. The stores kindly post signs apologizing for the lack of butter, which is cold comfort when you're contemplating dry toast for breakfast.

Japan isn't generally perceived as being a dairy-centric country, so the butter deficit seems kind of surprising. To be sure, there are Japanese dairies and the Japanese do eat things like yogurt, cheese, and, ice cream. But dairy products aren't a staple in the Japanese diet like they are in the American diet, even as bread (and consequently butter) consumption has increased. None of the other dairy products appear to be in low supply (although I did notice a dearth of imported cheese today), either. Just butter.

I did find a decent supply of butter in the second store I visited today, but refrained from frantically purchasing all of it.
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Let's Vacation! 

Sorry for the lack of new postings over the past week; we've been busy with houseguests. We're going on a road trip tomorrow, so we'll be offline for about a week. See you when we get back!
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Spring in a Bowl 

I made negitoro don for dinner the other night. Negitoro don is a donburi, meaning a rice bowl. It's made by topping the rice with julienned omelet, chopped raw tuna, sliced green onions, and strips of nori.

It's not a spring specialty per se, but the colors are very beautiful and springlike.
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Sakura on the Temple Grounds 

Sakura trees blooming amidst a grove of evergreen trees on the Chusonji temple grounds in Hiraizumi.

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Blossoms in the City 

Sakura blossoms at the entrance to the Kitakami Poem Park, located in the middle of Kitakami City.

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Tunnel Vision 

Looking down the sakura road in Tenshochi.

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Nothing but Love 

In 1974, Kitakami and Concord, California became sister cities. Here in Kitakami, the relationship is commemorated in a small section of the Kitakami Poem Park.

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Pink on Pink 

Contrasting colors on neighboring sakura trees in Tenshochi.

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Cherry Blossom Time 

The sakura trees are blooming everywhere in Kitakami. These trees are in Tenshochi, the park that runs alongside the Kitakami River.

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