Sakura and Hanami
Perhaps the most famous seasonal flowers in Japan are the Japanese cherry blossoms which bloom every year in late spring, beautiful pink and white blooms whose scent fills the streets, wafting their way into windows and cracks in doors. As the flowers bloom and fall they carpet the area beneath the trees, with several trees in a row it can look like a carpet of pink leading off into the beautiful hills of Japan.
The Sakura blossoms as they are called in Japanese are a huge tourist attraction and are part of a spring festival that takes place in Japan every year. The celebrations include huge fireworks shows and much drinking and partying. If you think Japan is full of quiet, withdrawn people then you haven’t been to Japan during their spring Sakura festival. Japanese culture is all about nature and in Haikus any reference to the cherry blossoms is a reference to spring and the joy of new life. The cherry blossoms have become so popular that they are instantly recognizable as a symbol of Japan. Their incredible beauty and ephemeral nature has come to represent human life in Japanese culture.
Plum blossoms also find their way out of the cold and snow in spring, although much earlier in the season than cherry blossoms. These delicate purple buds are considerably less celebrated than the Sakura blossoms, however during the Edo and Momoyama periods they were all the rage in Japan, becoming the focus of painting compositions. Japanese painting is a search for perfection, a Japanese artist can dedicate his or her life to perfectly capturing the essence of a Plum blossom in spring or a cherry blossom and will dedicate twenty or thirty years only to painting these flowers.
The Iris and Morning Glory are also to be found seasonally in Japan. Irises are also spring flowers with beautiful dark purple petals and a complementary yellow inner ring. Morning Glories are gorgeous blue flowers that bloom in the morning and fade by late afternoon. Seasonal flowers are important in Japanese poetry and literature as the Japanese are very much concerned with subtlety and so any reference to a Sakura blossom indicates the poem is set near the end of spring and so on. Ceramic ornaments, lacquered dishes and kimonos are often decorated with highly stylized versions of these seasonal flowers.
Throughout Japan, hanami is celebrated from the moment the first sakura (cherry blossoms) begin to bloom, up until the very last petal falls.
There are many ways to celebrate hanami season, but the two most common activities are the blossom viewing promenades and picnics under the trees.
The promenades are usually in the major sakura blossoming sites, like parks, castle gardens, and temple grounds, while the picnics are anywhere the sakura are.
On any given day, you’ll see couples or families strolling along paths lined with sakura trees, and groups of tourists peppered throughout the crowds, photographing and admiring the sights in awe.
Weekdays are the best days to go out and enjoy the scenery, because when the weekend hits, the chaotic fun begins.
Weekends at all blossoming sites are completely packed with people. Hanami picnics in Japan are famous and enjoyed by all. It’s tradition to gather under the sakura trees to admire the surroundings and enjoy the company of friends and loved ones, while eating traditional foods and drinking modern beers or traditional sake.
In the heart of this picnic season, it isn’t unusual to see thousands upon thousands of people tightly grouped in every park or anywhere the sakura trees are found.
In some cases, you’ll see more people than blossoms, and late arrivals get to play an interesting searching game to find their friends.
The basic items found at almost every picnic party will be decorative plastic ground sheets, beer or sake, bento (traditional Japanese packed lunch), and a variety of traditional hanami foods like yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), dango (dumplings), sushi, and takoyaki (octopus dumplings).
Overall, the hanami parties are great fun for everyone and the entire season brings people closer together between long work days and the rushed life in big cities.
Sakura and Hanami
Cherry Blossom Festival