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Hanami: Observing The Brief Eternity of Cherry Blossoms

by Ryosuke Wada April 12, 2016

hanami culture Japan

With flowers preparing to bloom and allergies coming into full effect, spring is just around the corner! As the harsh winter weather is coming to a close, we take a look at one prominent feature of spring in Japan: Sakuras! 

Sakura Season Japan
Bloomed Sakura in Japan.

Cherry Blossoms have a rich history engraved in Japanese culture, dating back to as far as the late 700’s! 

“Hanami” or flower viewing, has been a part of Japanese culture since the Heian period. (794 – 1185) Friends and families would gather together to enjoy the beautiful sight of the Sakura flowers blooming in full effect.

People enjoying their picnic under a cherry blossom tree

Modern day hanami still consists of picnic get-togethers beneath Sakura trees while drinking, eating, and having a good time. The typical meal consists of: 

  • Hanami Bento: Typically home cooked bento boxes packed with food that is perfect for sharing with other people. More recently, many stores have started to sell special "Hanami Bento Boxes".

Hanami Bento

  • Hanami Sake: It is a Hanami party after all! Most Japanese people bring a nice bottle of slightly sweeter sake to the Hanami to share with friends and family. Sake infused with sakura flowers have become more and more popular recently too.

hanami sake

  • Hanami Dango & Sakura Mochi: Sweet rice mochi wrapped with pickled sakura leaves is the go-to snack during the hanami season. The combination of sweetness with the slight saltiness and bitterness of the pickled sakura leaf is perfect!

Hanami japanese snack dango

  So when did the concept of hanami start in Japanese history?

The practice of hanami officially started during the Nara period (710-794) among the aristocrats. However, they practiced hanami with a different type of flower, the Ume blossom.

ume blossoms Japan

Notice the Ume blossoms have more flower petals than the Sakura flowers

 

Cherry Blossoms increased in popularity over time, and eventually became to be associated with hanami by the end of the Heian era. The Japanese people started to bring back these trees from the mountains to their homes, which explains why they are abundant in Japan.

  Historical artwork depicting Aristocrats enjoying hanami.

Cherry blossoms have deeply been rooted in Japanese folk religion, as farmers believed a deity dwelled in each individual Sakura tree. In order to have a good rice harvest, they provided offerings for these deities, prayed, and held a banquet to celebrate the gods.

  Sakuras in full bloom next to a rice paddy. 

There are so many different types of Sakura cherry blossoms!

Just in case you didn’t know, there are actually multiple types of Sakuras out there in the world. Not just multiple, but a tremendous amount. Over 600!

While Cherry Blossoms come in different types, up to 80 percent of the Cherry Blossoms in Japan today are Somei Yoshinos. This type of Cherry Blossom is actually a hybrid of two different types, genetically modified around the end of the Edo period. While it grows faster than most types, it has a shorter lifespan.

A picture of a Somei Yoshino

Because Sakuras have a short life span, it is often seen as a metaphor for the beauty of life. They are often subjects of Japanese poetry and illustrations depicting their beauty and importance to the Japanese people.  There’s also a saying, “Hana yori Dango,” or, “Dumplings over Flowers,” which shows the true underlying preferences of some viewers.

The people, the food, and most importantly, the beauty of these flowers is a must see to enjoy the start of the spring season.

Where can you see the cherry blossoms?

Locations in the US :

  • Brooklyn Botanical Garden (Brooklyn, NY)
  • Subaru Cherry Blossom festival (Philadelphia, PA)
  •  Macon George’s International Cherry Blossom Festival (Macon, GA)
  • Riverside Park (New York, NY)
  • Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival (Nashville, TN)
  • Cherry Blossoms Denver Festival (Denver, CO)
  • Missouri Botanical Garden (St. Louis,MO)

  Locations in Japan :

  • Shinjuku Gyoen (Tokyo)
  • Goryokaku Park (Hokkaido)
  • Yamazakigawa (Nagoya)
  • Maruyama Park (Kyoto)
  • Osaka Castle (Osaka)
  • Nara Park(Nara)
  • Handayama Botanical Garden (Okayama)

Check out some of the most beautiful places in Japan in these other posts!

Ryosuke Wada
Ryosuke Wada


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