When cherry blossoms bloom in Japan, people of every age and occupation gather under the trees for hanami: a time to admire, ponder, and celebrate.
There is hardly a natural phenomenon as closely linked to Japanese beauty, culture, and philosophies as the fleeting cherry blossom blooms. Majestic trees stretching their rose crowns towards the sky, tiny petals being whirled around by spring winds, and the pleasantly aching knowledge that this breathtaking beauty will perish after only a few days – this is the image of sakura.
Here we'll share all about hanami - how Japanese celebrate the cherry blossom season.
What is Hanami?
Hanami, which means "flower viewing" in Japanese, is the traditional custom of enjoying the beauty of cherry blossoms. It is synonymous with public picnics, friends, and families huddling down under the trees with food and drink.
However, the custom of “flower viewing” is so much more than just one big spring party.
Hanami’s century-old roots reach deeply into Japanese history. The custom can be traced back to the Nara period (710 ~ 794), even though people back then admired ume, a plant species related to both the plum and the apricot. In contrast to sakura, ume’s bloom lasts from January to the end of February – a span of almost two months.
Like many things, the practice of flower viewing was inspired by the Chinese Tang Dynasty. What sakura is for the Japanese culture, ume is for the Chinese, leaving its beautiful traces in poetry, philosophy, and literature. Once the custom of admiring flowers in full bloom had settled in Japan, however, the uniqueness of sakura was noticed rather quickly.
How to Hanami: Appreciation of Sakura Bloom
Hanami literally translates to "flower watching" and is an annual celebration of Sakura and springtime. People gather around cherry blossom trees with family and friends to enjoy delicious drinks and food under the beautiful pink trees, often with the petals gently snowing from the branches when in full bloom.
Want to participate in this exciting tradition? While hanami can consist of one person having a drink under a sakura tree, a few preparations for bigger parties can make the event much more enjoyable. Many hanami supplies can easily be found at 100 yen shops.
What to Bring to a Hanami Party
・Tarp/Picnic Sheet - Different sizes are available depending on your group size.
・Disposable plates, cups, utensils - Hanami is a picnic; after all, these will help share your food and drinks.
・Garbage bags - While hanami is an occasion to enjoy, following the rules of the park or area is important. Make sure to clean up after yourselves once the part is over.
・Paper towels and wipes - There is bound to be a spill sometime during the hanami, be ready to clean things up.
・Kairo - With the hanami season beginning from March, temperatures may not quite be warm yet. Japan's convenient heat packs can keep you warm while you enjoy your time.
・Food and drinks - Many parks and streets usually have vendors selling drinks and treats, but buying food and drinks beforehand can save some money for those on a budget.
Helpful Tips for a Perfect Hanami Party
In famous parks like Ueno or Yoyogi, the places under the cherry blossoms are often quickly taken. To prepare for this, some groups do not hesitate to designate someone to reserve a spot by coming early in the morning and placing a tarp.
This is particularly true when companies want to celebrate hanami - then it usually is a junior member who is sent out in the morning to reserve a nice spot. There are also other things to keep in mind for any first-timer when looking for a hanami spot. This includes:
・Do not stay close to the walkway. This is especially true for famous parks like Yoyogi and Ueno: the crowd is usually huge and one can be easily overwhelmed by the masses of people.
・Do not stay close to trash cans. Even if it might be fine in the morning, the smell will become quickly unbearable, especially on sunny days. Also, some sites do not have garbage bins. In that case, take your garbage when you leave and dispose of it at home.
・Look for a nearby toilet beforehand, and be sure to line up early. The waiting time can sometimes be more than 30 minutes.
・Bring warmer clothes. The weather can still feel quite chilly, especially at the end of the day, when night falls.
The Philosophy of Cherry Blossoms
So What sets sakura apart from a blossoming ume or wisteria tree? The answer lies in the petals’ brief lifespan – shortly after the flowers have fully developed, the wind starts whisking them away. Sitting under a sakura tree, it is impossible not to be reminded of the brevity of its splendor. The passing of time is what defines the sakura philosophy. The small, fair petals are not only a beautiful natural spectacle but a metaphor for life itself.
This acceptance of the nature of things is what defines the philosophy behind sakura and the very reason why, in the end, it was the cherry and not the plum which has inspired countless poems, pictures, songs, dances, novels, and various other works of art and thought.
Nothing seems more reminiscent of human mortality than the sakura - and we hope you enjoy the kind of "wabi-sabi" moment during your own hanami in Japan!
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