Hanami in Japan – The Celebration of Cherry Blossoms

It was front-page news in the newspapers: the first sighting of cherry flowers in Tokyo towards the end of March. Exactly five flowers had been counted! The excitement was in the air, and palpable in our own bodies as well. After a long winter cooped up in the Land Cruiser in a world of snow and ice (see the pics here and here), we were more than ready for spring.

“Will you go see sakura?” we were asked several times a day. Time couldn’t pass quickly enough and I carefully calculated what itinerary would enable us to see the best of it. This was easy enough as the Internet offers zillions of sites with cherry-blossom forecasts (e.g. this one). There is also an abundance of other sites telling you what the best hanami spots are (e.g. this one or this one).

While sakura moves through Japan’s main four islands from south to north between March and May (although starts as early as January in Okinawa), the biggest explosion is in April. This announcement of spring goes hand in hand with the beginning of Japan’s new academic and financial years, both of which start on April 1.

Last year, in Korea, we enjoyed our first cherry blossom season. However, due to delays to get the Land Cruiser out of the container in Busan followed by days of rain, we got only one really good day of the flowering season as it is very short – a week to ten days, depending on the weather. It was stunning (see the photos here), but this year I was set on seeing more of the cherry blossom as well as in different places.

All of a sudden nature exploded. We were in Toyama, at Peter’s place (read about it here). In front of his house and uphill next to the temple trees turned into soft-white tinges. What a sight!

While sunny the wind can still be cool. Thanks Big Agnes for the down jackets! [get yours here!]

Hanami in Japan, 2 schoolgirls are taking selfies in front of flowering cherry blossom trees

Where to Admire the Cherry Blossom

The main places we got to see and enjoy sakura were in Takaoka, Kanazawa, and Matsumoto. Our favorite was Kanazawa, where the large Kenrokeun Garden and surrounding park and castle made for hours of strolling under the pale-pink flowering trees as well as people watching.

Hanami means cherry blossom viewing, but it is much more than that. Just like in Korea, people were endlessly taking photos of each other and themselves with the flowers. Some people wore kimonos which made for romantic looking images. When we spotted foreigners wearing them as well we figured that people – locals and foreigners alike – rent them for the occasion.

It wasn’t always clear whether people were simply doing a photo shoot – for themselves or professionally – or were actually getting married and thus were posing for photos in traditional outfits. Couples were surrounded by photographers as well as people helping them to do their hair and make-up.

But the majority strolled or sat. This was picknick time. Couples, families, and large groups brought tarpaulins to sit on, claiming a spot underneath a tree. Some enjoyed a bento (a  tasty on-the-go type of lunch that is beautifully packaged, others brought thermoses with tea, or a burner for a full meal accompanied with a bottle of sake.

We are enjoying this time of the year as much as possible. Before we know it the season will be over, its end being announced by sakura snow that will cover all surfaces in a layer of fallen cherry blossom leaves.

Thank you Japan for sharing this extraordinary season with us!


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