The transition from winter to summer is just beginning, and that means something magical is about to arrive: cherry-blossom season. As winter loosens its grip, delicate pastel petals push their way out of gnarled sakura-tree branches — an early indicator of the warmth that will slowly envelop the archipelago.

This process, and its surreal pink results, does something to people in Japan that I love, but have difficulty explaining. Strict salarymen become party animals, and the most bashful guy in the office loosens his tie to belt out a sing-along under flurries of flowers. The weather still echoes winter’s chill, but the hearts and minds of the Japanese populace have begun to thaw. I can only describe it as something of a spiritual spring break.

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