Hanami, Cherry Blossom Season in Japan   お花見

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Here we see under the cherry blossoms.

Here we see under the cherry blossoms.

Like a cloud of petals ...

Like a cloud of petals ...

Yori Dango Yana, pastries rather than flowers, that is, a picnic is much better under a cherry tree.

Yori Dango Yana, pastries rather than flowers, that is, a picnic is much better under a cherry tree.

Under the pink petals of cherry blossom, it is good picnic.

Under the pink petals of cherry blossom, it is good picnic.

There is no age to enjoy the o-hanami.

There is no age to enjoy the o-hanami.

A tribute to the transient

In Japan, the beginning of spring means hanami - hana 花, "flower", and mi 見, "look". An annual and unaltered tradition where the Japanese flock to parks and gardens to admire the cherry blossoms, beautiful and fragile.

The custom of hanami dates back to the Nara era (710-794), when plum blossoms, just imported from China, became an object of admiration in Japan. The trend changed during the Heian period, and it was the turn of the cherry blossoms - or sakura - to be acclaimed. The word hanami is also used for the first time to designate the contemplation of the cherry blossoms in The Tale of Genji (eleventh century).

Cherry blossom became sacred for two reasons: spring is the start of the rice planting season, so it is a moment of offering (food and sake) to the kami, the gods supposed to promote the coming harvest.  Also, cherry blossoms symbolize the fragility and transience of life. The sakura flowers reach almost divine beauty for only a dozen days a year, before they wither...

A social ritual

Blooming sakura is taken very seriously in Japan: one cannot escape the special weather forecast that follows the progression of the floral wave, from south to north. Sakura Zensen, a flower weather bulletin, developed forecasts for when the flowers will bloom, from Okinawa to Hokkaido!

The cherry blossoms in Kyoto, video DiscoverNippon.


During this season, one can usually picnic under the cherry blossoms, and celebrate with alcohol and abundant food, in which the barriers between people seem to fade for closer ties. There is a proverb that goes "Hana Yori Dango" or "candy over flowers", that emphasizes the importance of this as a food event as well.

For family and friends, hanami is a social ritual with rules and hierarchy. Generally, the youngest group (kohai) arrive early in the morning to lay out a plastic sheet for everyone to sit on, and keep the seats and wait for their elders (senpai).

Hanami spot, or cherry rush

There are several famous places for hanami in Tokyo (March and April): Yoyogi Koen, Ueno Koen, Sotobori koen, Shinjuku Gyoen, the Meguro River near Shibuya, and Chidori-ga-fuchi near the Imperial Palace. In Kyoto , go to Arashiyama or Maruyama Park, distinguished by the breadth of its trees. In the district of Gion, the night show is amazing. Trees are illuminated during the blooming period. Mount Daigo, south of Kyoto is home to a variety of temples called Daigo-ji, and the gardens are known for their cherry trees. Not far away, stroll among the 30,000 cherry trees of Mount Yoshino in Nara, considered the ultimate place for contemplation of sakura. Further south, the park of Kumamoto Castle is considered one of the best "hanami spots" in Kyushu. 

To experience hanami during a stay in Japan, feel free to stroll the parks further away from city centers or in temples, to discover amazing views and find more privacy. Of course you can go to any park, castle or temple hosting the sacred flowers, but beware: arrive early and reserve your spot!

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