Springtime in Japan means hanami, the viewing of sakura (cherry blossoms). This centuries-old tradition welcomes the sakura and is eagerly anticipated by crowds of people who gather in parks, rivers and gardens underneath the blossoms to see them and to eat, sing and dance.
For over 1,000 years, hanamai was only practiced by the elite of the imperial court in Japan. The practice spread to the public when Tokugawa Yoshimune planted numerous sakuras in the suburbs of Edo and created several hanami venues in Edo for all people to enjoy.
A few more informative facts about hanami:
The sakura (along with the chrysanthemum) is the national flower of Japan.
Because the cherry blossom season is fleeting, it is viewed as analogous to life itself. It is a reminder to be mindful and to maintain perspective while simultaneously appreciating nature’s beauty and enjoying the moment at hand.
During the all-day celebration people bring charcoal grills, chairs, tables, and plenty of sake. It has elements of American barbeques, tailgates or picnics, but with traditional hanamai foods like rice balls that have been dyed pink, sakura mochi and sticky rice cakes wrapped in pickled cherry leaves.
Being respectful of the trees is a big part of hanami. Nobody should pick the flowers or shake the trees in such a way that might disturb the blossoms and shorten the already-brief season.
The best time for celebrating Hanami depends on the location. Tokyo will have peak sakura time towards the end of March, whereas the Hokkaido region won’t see cherry blossoms until early May.
In Tokyo, some of the best places to watch the cherry blossoms are at Ueno Park (where they have over 800 trees!) and Koganei Park if you want something quieter. If you want to the most up-to-date news and dates for hanami, visit this website.
If you want to see the sakura without traveling all the way to Japan. There are notable festivals in Washington D.C., Georgia, Brooklyn, NY and Vancouver. Click here for a full list of places.