Like tulips to the Dutch, cherry blossoms are the most revered signature flower to Japan. Known as sakura in Japanese, the beloved flower is more than just a representation of beauty or impermanence. For Japanese, cherry blossom holds a special significance as shown through the many celebrations and hanami festivals that take place during the blooming season.
Learn more about it and you’ll too will come to appreciate hanami beyond its physical appearance.
Cherry blossoms are a symbolic flower of the spring. When spring arrives, the cherry trees are starting to bloom, creating a breathtaking sight that will leave you in deep awe. As a representation of spring, sakura tells of a time of renewal, of new beginning.
But more importantly, cherry blossoms also represent the idea of fragility and fleeting moments. It’s a visual reminder that life can be overwhelmingly beautiful, but also tragically short. So when they bloom, what better way than to admire, appreciate and celebrate its presence? After all, isn't that what life is all about?
Hanami literally translates to “ watching blossoms”. So during the sakura season in Japan, people like to host parties with colleagues, friends and family. Everyone would secure a spot under a sakura tree, then enjoy eating and drinking underneath the cherry blossoms - much like a picnic.
Popular foods include home-cooked meals or take-out food, snacks or light bites, sweets, sake, tea and other beverage. But no doubt, the main spotlight is definitely the blossoms in sight.
The tradition of hanami dates back to more than a 1.000 years ago and is still one of the most anticipated events today. Celebrations begin in the day and often will last into the night, or is called yozakura (night hanami). In fact, viewing activity gets more and more crowded as the hours pass by, with lovers enjoying a romantic atmosphere, colleagues and people bond over new friendship, and tourists absorbing each moment to the fullest.
The blooming period changes according to the area of the country and the sakura species, but usually they bloom in sequential order from south to north. Below is just an approximation, as the forecast is different every year, but use it as a reference for when to see sakura in the various areas of Japan.
Cherry blossoms normally begin blooming in January in Okinawa, and cherry blossoms reach their peak in late March to April in the Honshu region. In Hokkaido, cherry blossoms are usually in full bloom in May. The cherry blossoms usually appear in Tokyo and Kyoto sometime between March and April, depending upon the climate earlier in the year.
Cherry blossom festivals take place in different regions of the country. Most of them are held from March to May, though other regions organize festivals during January, February, and June, depending on their location.
Gorgeous flowers are the main attraction at the cherry blossom festivals, but there are a variety of traditional Japanese performances presented during these festivals. You might want to consider joining a tea ceremony held under the cherry trees; it can be quite the memorable experience.
Also, since hanami festivals can get so packed, prep yourself with these handy tips below:Come early. People often already start staking out as early as 5 am! Bring a tarp or blanket. This is important to mark your spot or territory. Water & food on the ready! These can get very overpriced if you purchase from nearby sellers. Expect long toilet queue, so do not wait until the very last minute. Manners first. Remember to be respectful in terms of space, public courtesy and cleanliness.
Last but not least, enjoy!
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