Hanami, the Contemplation of Cherry Blossoms

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What more poetic than admiring cherry blossoms 🌸 when sunny days arrive? Japanese people marvel at the fleeting beauty of this incredible sight of nature every year.

Hanami is a tradition of celebrating the cherry blossoms in spring. This ancient custom that lasts from March to May is particularly deep-rooted in Japan. When the sakura trees are in full bloom, the whole country is talking about it.

Immerse yourself in the magical world of Hanami. 🤩

🌸 What is Hanami?

Hanami is Japanese for "flower viewing" and more specifically for cherry blossoms. Behind this exotic name hides a a true botanical show where the cherry blossoms are shining with all their splendor. The blooming of the sakura is brief and intense, which is why the Japanese appreciate this magical moment all the more, as it only lasts about ten days. 📅

Many families enjoy this opportunity to have a picnic under the shadow of these blooming trees. 🍱 Keep in mind that spots are much in demand and it's best to get up early and lay your blanket in the lawn. The enthusiasm for this festival is also punctuated by a social ritual. As a result, the youngest are the ones who get up early (and in a good mood! 😄 ) to reserve a spot while waiting for their elders.

The contemplation of flowers is particularly popular in the archipelago and causes a veritable national phenomenon. In spring, Japanese gastronomy is enhanced with floral notes and we witness the blossoming of Japanese pastries and specialties such as the sakura mochi or sakura daifuku, cherry blossom tea, sakura sake and other delicious treats to delight the palate... 🤤

Women in kimono and sakura blossoms

Young women wearing kimonos and walking under the cherry blossoms in Japan. (Credit: @chasing_dusk)

The origins of Hanami

This Japanese custom began in the Nara period under the influence of Chinese culture. At that time, the Japanese started to admire flowers while the first plum trees were imported from China and made a real hit in the Land of the Rising Sun. Known as Ume, people marveled at the beauty of their blossoms. Later, during the Heian period, it was the cherry trees' turn to be honored.

The tradition of Hanami has its roots in the Shinto rituals of the past. The arrival of spring announced the planting of rice and farmers used to make offerings to the gods to protect their crops. It was also believed that the deities were hiding in the cherry blossoms. Thus, it was important to establish a holiday in honor of the kami. From that time on, the farmers brought delicious food and sake to them. See, this is where the whole ritual of having picnics under the cherry blossoms came from. 💁

The emperor Saga was the one who introduced this floral festival during the Heian era, making it a celebration at the imperial court. Later, Hanami spread to the samurai caste before conquering the hearts of the entire population. The sakura trees inspired the poets as an allegory of the short and flamboyant life.

Hiroshige print representing a picnic under cherry blossoms

Print by Hiroshige representing a picnic under the cherry blossoms, during the Edo period (1600-1868). The scene takes place on the Goten-yama hill in Shinagawa.

Moreover, the cherry blossom is loaded with a strong symbolism in Japan. It represents the ephemeral beauty and the passing of time, reminding with nostalgia the value of life. It also occupies an important place in Japanese literature and art, which is why it often appears in Ukiyo-e, poems, manga and even in theater. 🎭

Due to its link with death, the sakura flower is associated with the warrior category of which the samurai are a part and becomes the emblem of the Japanese government. Linked to spring, it also represents renewal and evolution. If back then, Hanami announced the rice planting, nowadays, cherry blossoms mark the beginning of a new school year 📚 as well as the fiscal year. And since they symbolize hope, they are found among the Japanese good luck charms.

🤩 The best spots to admire cherry blossoms in Japan

There are many varieties of cherry trees in Japan with colors ranging from pure white to red passing by a whole palette of more or less light pink shades. Some species even feature shades of yellow. 🙃 Additionally, the shape of the shrub, the number of petals and the blooming period can vary. The most popular sakura in the archipelago is one with white flowers shaded with pale pink and five petals. This is the Yoshino cherry tree, which belongs to the Prunus serrulata (Japanese cherry) family.

The sakura trees bloom from the south to the north of Japan. Consequently, depending on your destination you will have to keep an eye on the appropriate period. 🔍 For that, we recommend you to check the forecast on the Internet regularly. This phenomenon is highly anticipated by Japanese people and tourists, so remember to book your trip as soon as possible!

sakura above the Meguro River in TokyoSakura in bloom above the Meguro River in Tokyo. (Credits: Sora Sagano)

📌 Celebrating Hanami in Tokyo

  • Shinjuku Gyoen Park

This beautiful 58-hectare park is the home of more than a thousand of cherry trees, including about ten different varieties. An entrance fee is charged, but the view is exceptional!

This is one of the favorite picnic spots of Japanese people. Here, Hanami is celebrated in a friendly way by drinking sake and eating delicious food. In addition to enjoying the beauty of the landscape, you can also taste Japanese specialties.

📌 Celebrating Hanami in Kyoto

  • The Philosopher's Way

This walk is just sensational when the cherry trees along the path are in bloom. Try to come early in the morning so as not to be bothered by the crowds.

  • Maruyama Park

This public garden offers various spaces to picnic, enjoy a drink or a dish while admiring the cherry trees. Bonus: a beautiful weeping cherry lit up at dusk.

📌 The best spot in Kyushu

  • Kumamoto Castle

If you happen to visit the south of Japan, Kumamoto Castle and its large park lined with sakura trees are definitely worth a visit.

Celebrate Hanami in Nara

To celebrate Hanami in the company of some curious deer, visit Nara!  (Credits: Agathe Marty)

📌 Celebrating Hanami in Nara

This is the spot with the largest number of cherry trees in Japan. With its 30,000 trees, Mount Yoshino attracts many many hikers. Make the most of your trip by visiting the temples and enjoying the beautiful views.

This beautiful park, situated next to Todaiji temple, has more than 2000 cherry trees. During your walk, you will certainly spot some deer roaming around.

📌 Contemplating the sakura at Mount Fuji

  • Chureito pagoda

Located in the fuji 5 lakes region, Chureito Pagoda offers a breathtaking view of cherry blossom trees and Mount Fujisan, which inspires some of the greatest photographers.

📌 Where to celebrate Hanami in Osaka?

  • Osaka Castle

With its thousands of Sakura trees, Osaka Castle is a remarkable location to contemplate the cherry blossoms. You won't be disappointed by the beauty of the scenery!

🍃 Mono no Aware, the Hanami philosophy

Young woman under a cherry blossom tree

Young woman under a cherry blossom tree, Japan.  (Credits: Antonina Bukowska)

The Japanese craze for cherry blossoms exemplifies the concept of Mono No Ware, which focuses on ephemeral beauty. It is both an aesthetic and spiritual theory that has influenced Japanese literature. We can cite the works of the great scholar Motoori Norinaga, follower of this philosophy and the numerous haiku (Japanese poems) derived from it.

Mono (物) can be translated as "object" and aware (哀れ) signifies "pathos". The phrase conveys the emotion or empathy we feel towards the things around us, whose physical appearance reflects a particular moment in our existence.

During Hanami, we marvel at the beauty of the cherry blossoms, and we experience a touch of nostalgia for the passing of time and the impermanence of things. It reminds us with poetry of the fragility of life and the ineluctable link with death. Something to meditate on... 💭

🌎 Celebrating Hanami out of Japan?

Annual blooming of the cherry blossom trees in Washington, DC

Annual blooming of the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC.  (Credits: Mark Tegethoff)

While celebrating the Hanami festival is an important tradition in Japan, you can also celebrate it in other Asian countries such as in China or Taiwan.

In the United States, the National Cherry Blossom takes place every spring while in Philadelphia, you will have the pleasure of celebrating Hanami with the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival. Similarly, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden hosts the Annual Sakura Matsuri.

In Europe, you can admire the cherry blossoms in Finland at the Helsinki Hanami, in Italy at the Parc de Esposizione Universale di Roma and in France, at the Parc des Sceaux in Paris.

Other cherry blossom related events are world famous. Such is the case of the International Cherry Blossom Festival which takes place in Georgia in Macon city.

A true phenomenon in Japan, the Hanami is an ephemeral spectacle that can be contemplated with family or friends. The beauty of the sakura in bloom offers a magical moment for both the eyes and the mind. Beyond the magical aspect of this event, the cherry blossom festival is an opportunity to realize the value of the present moment. So, take a seat for a moment under a majestic cherry blossom tree and let the charm of nature take over 😉

If you would like to know more about traditions in Japan, here are some articles that might interest you. Enjoy reading!

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