Translated by Allie
Hanami - How To Enjoy Cherry Blossom Viewing
Written by k_yamamuro
When the sakura bloom in Japan, everybody rejoices and celebrates by having parties in the open-air called ’hanami’. This article introduces essential information regarding sakura and how to organize a hanami party.
Hanami (”flower viewing”) is a Japanese event held in spring, in which people enjoy viewing the cherry blossoms. In most cases, the flowers people typically consider to be a part of hanami are sakura or cherry blossoms, however, viewing plum and peach flowers can also be called ”hanami”.
Originally, hanami was an event among the nobility, in which the participants used to create Japanese short poems or waka underneath the cherry blossom trees. It gradually developed into the current style, in which the people eat and drink while viewing the flowers.
Photo by smashrockgirl on Flickr
The History of Hanami
Photo by malfet_ on Flickr
It is said that hanami has two possible origins, one of which is a religious event. Farmers in the past predicted how harvests would go and decided when they would plant the seeds based on how the cherry blossoms had bloomed each year.
The second possible origin is the one we previously mentioned, namely a flower viewing party wherein people gathered together and had fun eating and drinking, much like the hanami parties that are held today. This type of hanami was started among the nobility and the history of such events is frequently mentioned in Japanese literature.
For instance, the Man’yoshu (the oldest anthology of Japanese poetry), completed around 783, features numerous poems inspired by the flowers. At that time however, when people mentioned flowers, they were probably referring to plum flowers rather than sakura.
Plum blossoms - the petals of plum flowers have a round shape in comparison with the pointy cherry blossoms.
Photo by y_katsuuu on Flickr
The Kokin wakashu, which is an anthology of Japanese poetry compiled around 905, and the Tale of Genji, which is a long novel written around the year 1008, described how people held hanami parties underneath sakura trees at that time. From these times, the concept of hanami referring to viewing cherry blossoms spread and became far better-known.
Famous Hanami spot in Kyoto, Shidare-zakura at Daigoji temple
Photo by T.Kiya on Flickr
The custom of hanami, which originally was a leisure activity of the nobility, became quite popular with the samurai and the common people and evolved into the beloved spring activity that takes place now.
Cherry Blossom Season and Types of Cherry Blossoms
Photo by woofiegrrl on Flickr
The blooming period of the cherry blossoms varies from year to year depending on the climate and weather conditions. The sakura season in 2016 started from March 26th in Tokyo and from March 28th/29th in Kyoto and Nara. The blossoms tend to be in full bloom about a week afterward, usually in the first week or so of April.
The sakura in the picture above are ’Somei Yoshino’ (Yoshino cherry), which are most often seen in Japan. Somei Yoshino were first cultivated around 1860 in Tokyo.
Photo by Yoshikazu TAKADA on Flickr
The species of cherry blossoms in the picture above is called Satozakura (village cherry). It is also called Yaezakura (multi-layered cherry) as it has several layered petals. It starts to bloom later than Somei Yoshino; it typically blooms from the middle to the end of April in Tokyo.
Photo by slash__ on Flickr
Shidare zakura (weeping cherry), which blooms a week earlier than Somei Yoshino, is known for its beautiful drooping branches. The lifespan of the Shidare zakura is quite long; in Fukushima prefecture there is a Shidare zakura tree called Miharutaki-zakura which is over 1,000 years old. Shidare zakura are mostly found in Kyoto, such as at Daigoji Temple. In Tokyo, you can find them in Rikugien Garden, which is located in the Komagome area.
What You Should Bring to A Hanami Party
Image from SAKURA: 15 Must-to-Bring for Ohanami
The most necessary item is something you can sit on. Having a picnic sheet like the one in the picture above is best, as it is waterproof and everyone can sit on it together.
You should also bring plenty of things to eat and drink, as snacks definitely boost the fun picnic atmosphere. Disposable or plastic plates, cups, forks and chopsticks are also useful to have on hand, as well as your own napkins, wet wipes and trash bags too.
Popular Hanami Spots in Tokyo
What a hanami in Yoyogi Park looks like
Photo by kalleboo on Flickr
Yoyogi Park, which is a spacious park located near Harajuku, and the row of sakura trees along the Meguro River, where more than 800 cherry blossom trees are planted along the 3.8-kilometer river, are the most famous hanami spots in Tokyo. During the cherry blossom season, you can feel the exciting festival atmosphere everywhere in Japan. Hanami is also the best event in which to get in touch and communicate with the locals as well.
Shidare-zakura at Rikugien Garden
Photo by marumeganechan on Flickr