Cherry blossom season begins in Tokyo

USA Today published an article on Cherry Blossom Season in Tokyo by Jay Alabaster.

The Japanese Meteorological Agency said Monday that the country’s capital was officially in bloom, a closely watched announcement that marks the start of the yearly cherry blossom viewing season.

The annual rite of spring in Japan goes back hundreds of years and involves sitting under “sakura” trees and taking in the fluffy pink flowers, which drop off about a week after they appear. In Tokyo, residents flock to parks to lay down tarps and claim the best spots, then host elaborate picnics and long drinking sessions.

In Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park, a small group of flower viewers gathered underneath cherry trees laden with pink buds…

Japan designates certain sakura trees for monitoring all across the country, and considers a region to be in bloom when at least five or six flowers can be counted on its trees. On Monday, an official government counter visited the Yasukuni Shrine, home to Tokyo’s trees, and proclaimed the city abloom.

When 80% of the trees’ flowers have opened, typically a few days later, an area is officially designated as in “full bloom,” prime time for blossom gazing and revelry.

This season starts a day later than last year in Tokyo, but six days before the historical average. The first flowers have bloomed earlier in recent years, triggering concerns of global warming. In the southern, warmer Okinawa islands, cherry blossoms began blooming in late December.

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The Life of Buddha, PBS documentary

The Buddha, a two-hour documentary for PBS by award-winning filmmaker David Grubin and narrated by Richard Gere, tells the story of the Buddha’s life, a journey especially relevant to our own bewildering times of violent change and spiritual confusion. The program was produced in conjunction with the exhibition Pilgrimage and Buddhist Art, organized by Asia Society Museum, New York, opening in March 2010. The companion website for The Buddha, launching in early 2010, will feature the work of some of the world’s greatest artists and sculptors, who across two millennia, have depicted the Buddha’s life in art rich in beauty and complexity. Hear insights into the ancient narrative by contemporary Buddhists — including Pulitzer Prize winning poet W.S. Merwin and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Join the conversation and learn more about meditation, the history of Buddhism, and how to incorporate the Buddha’s teachings on compassion and mindfulness into daily life.

Premiering April 7, 2010 at 8 p.m. EST on PBS stations nationwide

Dazzling, dizzying Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Los Angeles Times featured an article on modern architectural delights in the ancient city of Chiang Mai as reported by Susan Spano

“About 30 years ago, the gods of style looked down from design heaven on a town in central New Mexico. It was dusty and small, but they thought it had potential, so they nodded and turned it into Santa Fe…

They’re at it again in Chiang Mai, the old northern capital of Thailand, founded at 4 a.m. on the eighth day of the waxing moon in the month of Visakha and the Year of the Monkey, or 1296, a date dictated by Indian cosmology. More than 700 years later, a construction boom has given Chiang Mai some of the most stylish hotels and restaurants in Southeast Asia. Galleries and design stores have opened, showcasing a trove of textiles, ceramics, furniture, antiques and architectural salvage…

Builders have sought inspiration from the gilded temples and traditional teakwood houses. Designers and buyers come for the arts and crafts, which add an elegant Asian echo to contemporary minimalism…”

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