Spring and Sakura in Japan
From the end of March until the beginning the April, the “Sakura” (cherry blossoms) come to full bloom all over Japan. “Sakura” is a symbol of spring; a time of farewells and new beginnings, as it is when it changes to a new fiscal year for schools and workplaces in Japan.
People cherish its beauty as it only lasts for a short period of time, and this often is compared to the impermanence and fragility of life and nature itself, which is also a big theme in Japanese culture and spirituality.
So what exactly is Hanami?
“Hanami”, literally translated to “watching flowers”, is an act of enjoying watching the cherry blossoms in full bloom, often involving picnics under the cherry trees with family, friends and colleagues from work. Many people bring their own packed lunch for this occasion (called “hanami bento”) as well as beer and other drinks to enjoy with their picnic.
Many parks, castles, and temples also have special light-ups at night for people to be able to enjoy the cherry blossoms after work, and to see its spectacular beauty in a different light. This has a special name, “Yozakura”, meaning nighttime sakura.
One important side note is to make sure to pick up all your trash before you leave. It has become famous worldwide that Japanese people are used to cleaning up after themselves when using common spaces. There is a notion of “making it cleaner that when you used it” amongst Japanese people, so leaving someplace dirty is very much frowned upon and considered bad manners in Japan.
Otherwise, you would be surprised how friendly and fun Japanese people get when enjoying their picnic under the cherry trees (often with the help of a few drinks!).
How to Hanami
As “Hanami” usually involves staying outside to enjoy the blossoms, it is essential to check the weather forecast as well as the blossom conditions in advance. Hanami is such a big part of Japanese culture that most weather programs give a forecast of sakura blossoms to tell you how much they have bloomed in each region of Japan.
Once you have chosen a suitable day, it is also crucial to pick the perfect spot. Famous Sakura sightseeing areas are often overcrowded, and therefore require you to reserve a spot in advance or to go very early in the morning. (Japanese people do certainly take their hanami traditions very seriously!) Otherwise you can go out to the countryside and try to find a calm spot by the riverside where you can often find an aisle of sakura trees.
Last but not least, is the preparation of food, snacks and drinks to enjoy your picnic under the pink sky of cherry trees. There is a famous saying in Japan, “Hanayoridango”, literally translating to “rice cakes over flowers”. This shows that the cherry blossoms are just an excuse to go out and have good food with good company, and that’s what people often are looking forward to the most. Make sure to bring plenty of food, snacks and drinks in advance, as super markets and convenient stores close to popular locations are likely to be sold out! It is also important to prepare warm clothes, as this time of year in Japan can still be chilly at night, especially if you want to stay to enjoy the light-up “Yozakura”.