Tokyo (AFP) April 6, 2011
Sake brewers from quake-hit northeastern Japan have urged people to enjoy their usual boisterous parties under cherry blossom as a means to help the regional economy.
"I would like you to support the Tohoku (northeastern) region by drinking sake," said Kosuke Kuji, 38, of the Nanbu Bijin brewery from Iwate prefecture in an appeal broadcast on video sharing website YouTube.
"We would appreciate if you enjoy 'hanami' (flower viewing) parties rather than restraining yourselves."
Another sake brewer from Iwate, Hiroko Yokosawa, echoed the sentiments in her own YouTube appeal.
"We would like to continue brewing Japanese sake, thinking about people enjoying our sake under flowers," she said.
The blossoming of cherry trees in Japan in spring usually brings with it alcohol-fuelled picnics at which groups of friends or colleagues gather to enjoy the delicate pink and white blooms, seen as a symbol of beauty and transience.
But the tragedy of the March 11 quake and the tsunami that followed, which killed more than 12,000 people and left over 15,000 missing, has led to calls for restraint from people who feel too much enjoyment would be unseemly.
But sake breweries in the affected areas, famous for the purity of their water and the quality of the rice used to create the drink, fear too much restraint could prove bad for business.
"I completely agree with Mr Kuji of Nanbu Bijin," said Fumitaka Kitsu, who runs a liquor store in Hachinohe, northern Aomori prefecture.
"We see a very depressing mood here, too," he told AFP by telephone. "We want to see people lead their usual life."
Kitsu said many of his customers had asked specifically for sake brewed in the disaster-hit northeast in move he said symbolised support for those reeling from the disaster.
The mood across Tokyo is downbeat, with the red-and-white lanterns that would usually be hanging from trees missing, and signs up asking people to refrain from drinking alcohol in public.
Tokyo's Ueno park has made no preparations for the usual "hanami" parties for the first time since official celebrations began at the end of World War II, and possibly for the first time in four centuries.
Tokyo's conservative Governor Shintaro Ishihara set the tone for the capital when he said last week that "just because the cherry trees are blooming doesn't mean we should be drinking and chattering".
Nanbu Bijin's appeal can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UY0FtSqrMBc
Hiroko Yokosawa's appeal can be seen at:
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