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Hanami Tradition: Cherry Blossoms Viewing in Japan



In Japan, spring is pink. As winter fades, the landscape transforms into delicate shades of pink and white. Cherry blossom trees, known as sakura in Japanese, bloom across parks and streets. Department stores and shops release seasonal products and decorate their interiors with an all-pink or sakura theme.


The sakura season is always anticipated. It usually starts blooming in late March to early April in the southern regions, such as Okinawa, and gradually progresses northward, reaching Hokkaido by early May. When it finally blooms, people from all walks of life gather to partake in the centuries-old tradition of Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing. This article will delve into the details of Hanami, exploring its origins, symbolism, customs, and enduring significance in Japanese culture.


Origins and History of Hanami

Hanami" (花見) in Japanese means "flower viewing.” The origins and history of Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, trace back to ancient Japan. The practice is believed to have originated over a thousand years ago during the Nara Period (710-794) when aristocrats engaged in gatherings known as "ume matsuri" to admire the plum blossoms. Over time, the focus shifted to cherry blossoms, particularly during the Heian Period (794-1185), when the aristocracy embraced the aesthetic beauty of cherry blossoms and incorporated them into courtly rituals and poetry.



The association between cherry blossoms and Hanami grew during the feudal Edo Period (1603-1868) when the samurai class and commoners began to participate in cherry blossom viewing picnics under the sakura trees. It became more widespread as the Tokugawa shogunate encouraged urban development and the planting of cherry trees throughout Japan. During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), Hanami became a symbol of national pride and identity, with the government promoting the planting of cherry trees in public spaces and the celebration of cherry blossom festivals across the country.


The Philosophy of Cherry Blossoms

For the Japanese, cherry blossoms aren't just pretty flowers. They symbolize fresh starts and new chances, marking the arrival of spring after the long and dormant winter months. They serve as a reminder of the cyclical nature of life and the promise of new beginnings. It specifically aligns with Japanese education and business customs that the new fiscal year starts in Spring.


Beneath their soft pink petals and delicate fragrance, cherry blossoms typically last for just a fleeting few days to a couple of weeks. Their short blooming period symbolizes the transient nature of life, reminding us that nothing lasts forever. When Japanese people gather to see the cherry blossoms, it's about taking time to enjoy the beauty around them and be grateful for the simple things in life. The cherry blossoms teach them to live in the moment and find joy in the little moments that come and go quickly.


Hanami Traditions and Customs

Hanami is not merely a passive observation of cherry blossoms; it is a vibrant celebration steeped in tradition and camaraderie. Here are some key aspects of Hanami traditions:


1. Going for a picnic

The main focus of Hanami is picnicking under cherry blossom trees. Families, friends, and colleagues gather in parks and gardens, spreading out blankets or mats to enjoy meals and snacks amidst the blossoms. Choosing a location and the fight over the best spot are serious matters for the Japanese. Expect popular spots such as Ueno Park in Tokyo, Maruyama Park in Kyoto, and Osaka Castle to be very crowded and noisy. If you prefer more serene and quiet Hanami, go to your local park or other hidden gems. You can also picnic at night, as some places hang lanterns and lights for the yozakura (夜桜) or night sakura experience.


2. Hanami food

Traditional Hanami parties feature a variety of seasonal foods and drinks. Bento boxes filled with sushi, tempura, and other Japanese delicacies, as well as onigiri, are popular choices. You may also find Hanami Bento, a special type of bento box specifically prepared for Hanami picnics. It may include seasonal ingredients and decorative touches such as cherry blossom-shaped food or pink-colored snacks. Sake, beer, and tea are commonly enjoyed beverages during Hanami gatherings.


Sakura mochi, dango, tea, and sake for Hanami


When it comes to Hanami snacks, sakura mochi and dango are the ultimate choices. Sakura mochi, with its sweet rice cake wrapped in a salted cherry blossom leaf, captures the delicate essence of the season with its floral flavor and soft pink hue. Meanwhile, dango offers a satisfyingly chewy texture and various flavors, making it a versatile and beloved treat. Fresh, in-season fruits such as strawberries and peaches, as well as cookies, are also common for a Hanami picnic.


3.Cherry blossom forecasting

The cherry blossom forecast, known as "sakura-zensen," is eagerly anticipated each year. Meteorologists track the progress of cherry blossoms blooming across Japan, providing updates on the best times and locations for Hanami viewing. Again, as many people watch this forecast to time their visits to coincide with the peak bloom of cherry blossoms, you may end up going when there are peak crowds


4. Making arts

Throughout history, cherry blossoms have inspired poets, writers, and musicians in Japan. Hanami gatherings often include recitations of haiku poetry or performances of traditional Japanese music, adding to the festive atmosphere. Some people gathered fallen sakura petals and pressed them for various purposes, including culinary and decorative uses. They can be used to adorn confections, greeting cards, bookmarks, resin jewelry and artwork.



Taking pictures and videos of cherry blossoms is a must. Photographers from both inside and outside of Japan travel across the country to capture their beauty through photography. You can easily find people taking couple photos, family photos, and even photos with pets against the backdrop of pretty sakura. Don’t forget to upload them to social media so people around the world can also enjoy sakura.

 

In the midst of life's hustle and bustle, Hanami offers a tranquil respite – a moment to pause, reflect, and marvel at the beauty of nature. As cherry blossoms bloom and fade with the passage of time, the tradition of Hanami endures, a timeless testament to the enduring spirit of Japanese culture. Furthermore, the invaluable lesson of living in the present and appreciating nice things while it lasts would forever resonate in our hearts.

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