Ah, spring is in the air! Things are starting to warm up, the cherry and plum blossoms are in bloom, and the sounds of beer can tabs popping can be heard at parks across Japan.
Japan is a country of people who work hard and play hard. As such, the Japanese find many occassions to party. End of the semester in college? Class drinking party! New staff member(s) at work? Welcome drinking party! Staff members retiring/transferring? Farewell drinking party! New Year's? Party. Fireworks tonight at the beach? Beach party. Flowers in bloom? Let's go drink! And so on.
While I don't always feel like participating, this is one thing that I've come to appreciate about Japanese culture. Sure, plenty of people get wasted at all these events, but plenty of people
don't. It's not about the drinking - it's about enjoying each others' company and usually about appreciating something else (often some kind of beauty). Take what's going on right now: "hanami," or "flower viewing" in English. For a two or three week period every spring (the length is dependant upon the weather), the cherry and plum blossoms are in bloom. If the weather is nice, friends and families visit their local park or some other such flowery area and set up little picnics. At larger parks, such as Ikebukuro in Tokyo, vendors will set up stands, selling stuff like fried noodles, grilled sweet potatoes, ices, and all kinds of Japanese folk foods; and if you want to picnic at these larger venues, you have to get up early and claim a spot, because by noon they'll be completely overrun with tarps, blankets, coolers, and flower viewers.
I've never actually sat down for a "proper" flower viewing, but I've walked around several, viewing people viewing the flowers, and while they are usually plesant, sometimes people can get a little rowdy and the atmosphere a little inappropriate for children (but according to my observations, parents unfortunately aren't very discerning about that kind of thing here).