When you think about spring in Japan, surely the first thing that springs to mind (no pun intended) is the cherry blossoms that draw large crowds of locals and tourists alike. The tradition of hanami (花見), or flower-viewing, is centuries old and one of the most spectacular things you can do in Japan.
Read on to learn more about what hanami is and how to celebrate it!
What is hanami?
Hanami started as a tradition between the aristocrats in the Nara period (710-794). Unlike today, hanami was associated with appreciating the ume (梅, plum flowers) which bloom earlier than the sakura (桜, cherry blossom).
The ume was replaced by sakura during the Heian period (794-1185). This can be seen for example when investigating the ancient text Kokin Wakashū (古今和歌集, Anthology of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry). Here, 70 poems are dedicated to the sakura, and only 18 poems are dedicated to the ume. It was around this time that hana (花, flower) was used as another name for sakura, and women’s beauty came to be compared to sakura.
When most people think about hanami today, they probably imagine large crowds gathering for a picnic under the cherry-blossom trees. This is a common practice for all people in Japan, from couples wanting a romantic outing, to a company group outing.
However, hanami is not limited to a picnic and can be enjoyed in many different ways. For example, walking around in parks watching the sakura is also considered as hanami. Visiting a temple after dark and watching the illuminated sakura, also known as yozakura (夜桜, evening sakura) is also considered hanami.
Things to consider when celebrating hanami
If you want to learn how to celebrate hanami in Japan, there are some things you might want to keep in mind. Below we have listed some important things to consider when celebrating hanami in Japan.
The cherry blossom season typically runs from late March to early May, depending on the location and the weather conditions. It is recommended to see a kaika yosо̄ (開花予想 blooming forecast) and plan your hanami outing accordingly.
Furthermore, the blooming event usually lasts between 1-2 weeks and comes in several stages which all can be appreciated in different ways. Some Japanese people prefer the initial stages of budding as there is a certain aesthetic beauty in frailty in Japanese culture. Some people prefer when the flowers are in mankai (満開, full bloom), and some people cherish the last moments when the sakura petals drop from the trees and flutter away in the wind in what is called a sakura fubuki (桜吹雪, sakura blizzard).
Finally, sakura comes in many different variants and some bloom earlier than others. For example, you can see the sakura bloom as early as mid-February if you travel to the Izu Peninsula. For more information on different types of sakura, click here.
Spring in Japan is the season of sankan-shion (三寒四温, three cold days, four warm days). This means that the weather fluctuates a lot and your choice of clothes is important. If it’s a warm day you may want to try wearing traditional Japanese clothing such as a kimono and yukata. Just remember to bring a blanket or something to sit on.
Food and drinks
There are no particular rules on what to eat during hanami, but there are a lot of seasonal foods in Japan during spring. Some examples are the sanshoku-dango (三色団子 dango riceballs in three colors), or the sakura manjū (桜饅頭, steamed sweet bun filled with a paste mixed with red bean and sakura leaves).
For more information on what to drink and eat, check out this article!
Some parks, temples and gardens offer nighttime illuminations of the cherry blossoms. This creates a different and romantic atmosphere, and many people enjoy strolling around the illuminated trees at night.
When participating in hanami, it is important to be respectful of the environment and other people around you. Be sure to clean up after yourself, refrain from playing loud music, and avoid damaging the cherry blossom trees.
Some great hanami spots around Japan
Many parks and gardens across Japan are known for their stunning cherry blossom displays. The season also invites a lot of domestic tourism in Japan. As such, it is common to hold matsuri (祭り, festivals) to celebrate the flower blooming event. There are also many places excellent for hiking in the pink spring time Japan.
With a focus on parks and gardens where you can celebrate hanami in a traditional sense, here are some of our picks on the best locations to celebrate hanami in Japan:
- Shinjuku Gyoen, a beautiful park with cheap entrance fees and beautiful gardens where you can enjoy tranquility and sit in the grass and have a picnic. There is a small entry fee to this park.
- Ueno Park, a very popular place with lots of sakura trees lined up along the waterside. You can also rent paddle boats here if you want to.
- Rikugien Garden, a beautiful garden where you can enjoy the illumination of shidare-zakura (weeping sakura) for a cheap price.
- Osaka castle, one of the largest castles in Japan with lots of sakura trees in the foreground and the possibility to explore Japanese history while having a picnic.
- Himeji Castle, just an hour by train from Osaka and Kyoto, Himeji Castle is famous for its beautiful sakura gardens that are overlooked by the impressive castle built in multiple layers on top of a hill.
- Kamogawa river, a beautiful river that runs across Kyoto city and a very popular spot for people to sit in the grass under the sakura and hold a picnic.
- Maizuru Park – Located in Fukuoka City, Maizuru Park is a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing and also other flowers, such as plum blossoms. The park also has a beautiful castle as a backdrop. There are plenty of open spaces for picnicking and relaxing.
- Kumamoto Castle – Kumamoto Castle in Kumamoto City is a historic site that is known for its impressive cherry blossom display. The castle is surrounded by over 800 cherry trees and an ideal spot for your flower-viewing event.
- Kikuchi Keikoku – Kikuchi Keikoku is a scenic gorge located in Kumamoto Prefecture. The area is also known for its stunning cherry blossoms, and there are many hiking trails and picnic spots throughout the gorge.
- Moerenuma Park, a unique park located in Sapporo City. The park was designed by Isamu Noguchi and has many interesting sculptures and art installations. The park has a large hill with cherry trees and is a great place for picnics and walking.
- Maruyama Park, a large park located in Sapporo City, and popular for hanami. The park is perfect for taking a walk, and there is a shrine and a pond in the park as well.
- Nakijin Castle Ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its beautiful cherry blossom trees. The castle ruins are located on a hill, providing a great view of the surrounding area.
- Yogi Park, a large park located in Naha City and known for its sports facilities and cherry blossom trees. The park has over 2,000 cherry blossom trees and is a great place for hanami.
Celebrate hanami with Go! Go! Nihon
Spring is a special time of year in Japan, where people come together to appreciate the beauty of nature and enjoy the company of friends and family. If you want to experience your first hanami while studying in Japan, get in touch with us to see what your options are.
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