The next couple of weeks, in Japan, there will be trees filled with pink and white petals. The cherry blossoms or 桜 (sakura) in Japanese, bloom every Spring in Japan and even as early as January in Okinawa. What’s great about the cherry blossoms is that a whole country stops and takes time to appreciate and enjoy them.
One of the reasons cherry blossoms are so valued in Japan and the rest of the world is that the blossoming season doesn’t last that long. Within a week the cherry blossoms have reached their full bloom or 満開 (mankai) after the first bloom or 開花 (kaika). Usually cherry blossoms can only be viewed for a maximum of two weeks.
Every year Japanese media and their weather services predict the “Cherry Blossom Fronts” 桜前線 (sakurazensen), which move north from Okinawa to the northern most island in Japan, Hokkaido. It shows how serious the Japanese take the cherry blossoming; a national symbolism of Japan and for flower viewing which is also known as Hanami.
On the northern most island of Japan, Hokkaido, cherry blossoms typically don’t bloom until May. In the major cities of Japan like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka cherry blossoms typically bloom in early April. But this schedule is not always set in stone. Depending on the weather going on that year the blossoms could arrive late or early by as much as 2 weeks.
Hanami in Japan literally means “flower viewing” and is the traditional custom of enjoying cherry blossoms. In modern day Japan, hanami mainly consist of having a party or picnic beneath the cherry blossoms during daytime or at night. When hanami is performed at night it is called 夜桜 (yozakura), and sometimes have paper lanterns to enjoy the trees.
The ancient tradition of hanami actually consisted of viewing plum blossoms 梅 (ume) and today the elder generation still enjoys viewing these blossoms. These type of viewings or parties are more calm than the sakura viewings which tend to be very crowded and loud.
It has said that 花見 (hanami) started as early as 710 ad. The name was coined in a book called Tale of Genji, one of the most famous novels from the 11th century. In today’s modern world Hanami is still continues and many people use it as a time to renew their spirits or as a retreat for contemplating.
My ultimate plan is to travel to Japan during when the cherry blossoms! I would love to be in one of these parks during Hanami to enjoy the simplicity of sitting under a tree and enjoying flowers. The Japanese really love beauty and know how to take their time to appreciate it. Hanami is definitely one of those times of the year when everybody can have a picnic, eat and look at something beautiful.
In a way the Japanese Cherry Blossoms represent a great way of living. It represents what a Samurai would have believed “it’s better to fall at your prime” as well as the blossoms life span represents how fickle life is, conciding with Buddhism and the Samurai. What an interesting way to think!
If there were no cherry blossoms in this world
How much more tranquil our hearts would be in spring.
- Ariwara no Narihira (825 – 880)
So now that you know a little more about cherry blossoms try to make a visit once in your life to Japan to experience a national obsession :) Remember you can/should always look up the weather forecast for when the cherry blossoms are expected to bloom but the forecast are never guaranteed to be 100% accurate.
Because cherry blossoms are so unpredictable and cherry blossoms fall so quickly, spring is more exciting because of it!
images by: jed, muhammad, paul and joy