Many visitors will tell you that while Japan is a beautiful country, there is something special about the springtime when the famous Japanese cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Starting in the month of April, the country erupts in a riot of beautiful cherry blossoms, known as Sakura in Japan. Nearly every street, park, and shrine in the country features a number of these beautiful blooms, and the Japanese people take pride in their country’s unique display. Each year, the event is recognized with Hanami, or flower viewing, which is also known as the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Taking part in Hanami has been an important social event for the Japanese people for centuries. Hundreds of years ago, Japanese aristocrats would spend time beneath the blooming cherry trees along with artists, musicians and poets. While the name “Hanami” means simply “flower viewing”, the meaning that this time of year has to the Japanese people is far more complex. Cherry trees, or Sakura, hold a special place in Japanese culture and society, and the blooms show up everywhere from fine art to candy wrappers. To the Japanese people, the blooms are representative of the beauty of women, and the presence of the blooms for only ten days a year demonstrates the transiency of beauty. While the flower is one of the last in the country to begin blooming, it is also the most beautiful and showy of Japanese flower varieties.
The most traditional way to enjoy Hanami is to visit the parks, shines, and temples where these blossoms flower. Listening to traditional Japanese music, taking part in the dancing and drinking alongside local people, or even attending a tea ceremony are all ways that a visitor can participate in Hanami. Today’s Hanami celebrations are more like parties or picnics, giving locals and tourists alike a chance to bond with each other outdoors. One of the most exciting things for visitors is the chance to wear a Yukata, which is a cotton kimono, during the celebration. Those who are interested in a more mild experience will want to head to a smaller, local park where most of the viewers are older. However, those looking for a rowdy, rollicking time will want to head to the large celebrations in bigger cities at night. Some of the larger festivals feature street vendors who sell food and souvenirs at the festival, drinking, karaoke, and dancing. There are also romantic nighttime Hanami sessions where couples stroll through the darkened gardens and drink tea. These festivals are held at some of the most famous gardens in the country, and many of the trees are lighted to illuminate the blossoms.
It is hard to pick an exact date for attending a Cherry Blossom festival, since the flowers begin blooming on different days of the year. Since the flowers bloom only when conditions are right, you should plan on attending during a several week long period in April, if possible. There are a number of organizations that offer cherry blossom forecasts, but most are only accurate within a few days or a week. In this busy, modern country, Hanami is a special time for the people to take time off and reflect on the simple joys in life. Visitors who come during this magical time will never forget the experience.