Hanami Cherry Blossom Viewing
Once March rolls around in Japan the atmosphere seems to take on a different quality, and there is one word that you will hear buzzing around a lot. This word is ‘hanami’ which literally means flower viewing, and it is the tradition of gathering under the blooming cherry blossom trees while enjoying a picnic. It has been a tradition for many hundreds of years, and every year people are looking forward to this fun event again.
The main season of the cherry blossoms is from late March to early April in Tokyo, but if you go to the north (such as Tohoku and Hokkaido), it is delayed by up to one month. Also, there are different types of cherry trees that bloom either earlier (e.g. Kawazu-zakura) or later (e.g. Yae-zakura). Knowing when exactly the blooming peak will hit your town is becoming more important as March is proceeding, it is in fact so important that the TV news announces a cherry blossom forecast daily just before the blossoms start blooming.
In Japan, the cherry blossom is a strong symbol of nostalgia. The hanami season also coincides with the season of entrance ceremonies of schools which makes the passage of time extra conspicuous. Many Japanese first-year elementary students take pictures in front of cherry blossoms on the first day of school, so the flowers remind us of the good old memories.
How to Enjoy Hanami
The way we appreciate cherry blossoms is not just by watching the flowers. We often hold a party under the cherry trees during both daytime and the evening with eating seasonal foods and drinking beer, sake, and tea. As new recruits join their company in this season, companies hold welcome parties for them under the cherry trees. It is also an excuse to be away from the office for a bit for workaholic Japanese businessmen. You may see this interesting scene play out at many places in the parks of the bigger cities if you come to Japan during hanami-time.
There are many great places to enjoy cherry blossoms. If you want to take pictures of the cherry blossoms with a Japanese traditional atmosphere, it is a good idea to visit places such as temples, shrines, castles, Japanese gardens, old houses, and Mt. Fuji for incredible pictures. Here are some ideas of places around Japan that are known to be good for enjoying the cherry blossoms.
Temples and Shrines
Yasukuni Jinja (Tokyo), Heian Jingu (Kyoto)
Hamarikyu (Tokyo), Kenrokuen (Kanazawa), Ritsurin (Kagawa Pref.)
Kakunodate Samurai District (Akita Pref.), Shirakawago (Gifu Pref.)
Lake Kawaguchi, Arakurayama Sengen Park, Oshino Hakkai (Yamanashi Pref.)