Let’s Have a Hanami!

Let's Have a Hanami!

Japan’s most iconic season is about to begin as it has been predicted that the cherry blossoms (sakura 桜) will begin to bloom across the country this week. 

Found throughout Japan, sakura generally bloom from late March to early May, starting in Kyushu and steadily progressing northward sweeping across the nation until it reaches Hokkaido where the season comes to an end.

Each spring, everyone eagerly awaits for the first glimpse of pink on the trees. “Sakura Forecasts” are tracked online, and even aired on TV, showing precisely when and where the sakura are blooming.

Tokyo, Japan

The exciting thing about the sakura season is that nobody really knows when it will happen until right before it actually does. Even though no one knows exactly when they will bloom, everyone does know what will happen when they finally do– hanami!

Hanami (花見) literally means “flower viewing” (hana 花 “flower” and mi 見 “to see or view”), and this tradition can be traced back two centuries, said to have started during the Nara period around 710-784.  

Tokyo - 2013

It is something that can be moving and spiritual, with deep and ancient connections to Japanese history and culture. Sakura have long been prominent in Japanese art, society and are even connected to the Bushido, the traditional code of samurai, due to their symbolic nature.

Blossoms usually last for only one week, and sometimes even less if it’s windy or it rains. No matter how beautiful the blossom, it will soon wither away and throughout the week petals gracefully twirl to the ground. It is because of this fragility, that sakura are often compared to the fleetingness of human life. And Japan loves the beauty of transience. 

Champaign, IL

During hanami, people view the flowers not just by casually strolling by, but rather, by spreading their sheets under the blooming trees for a day of picnicking and partying with friends.

These flower viewing parties are a great opportunity to enjoy the spring weather with your friends and family, and often people will attend more than one. It is especially common for employees to be given a day off to go enjoy hanami together. These days will be spent eating, singing… and let’s not forget dancing, which is more often than not fueled by alcohol.

Tokyo, Japan

While some people like to view the blossoms from a distance, others like to view them up close, to see each individual blossom and to feel the petals fall around you.

To enjoy a hanami you’ll first need to reserve a spot, as popular parks, temples and castle grounds will become very crowded quickly. An easy way of doing this is to stake out your spot early in the morning and spread a sheet or tarp out with a note that has your name and the hour you plan to arrive. Otherwise, you will just have to nominate someone to sit at your spot until everyone can arrive.

As hanami often last all day, you may want to bring along additional entertainment like a book, cards or another game. You’ll often see people who bring speakers for music or even a guitar. This is perfectly fine but do keep in mind all the other groups around you. 

At some of the more popular locations, the city will often hold a festival of sorts, complete with food stalls, games, and more, which is another great source of entertainment.

For some, the most important part of a hanami is the food. After all, there’s a reason behind the old Japanese saying hana yori dango (花より団子) meaning “dumplings over flowers”. The Japanese may love and appreciate beauty, but they will still prefer the practical over the aesthetic.

Snacks from a convenience store are fine for most, but it is likely that the lines of these places will be very long. Rather than wasting your time waiting, pack food from home or buy a special sakura-themed bento box from a depachika (the basement of a department store).

Champaign, IL

Octopus hotdogs, a popular bento snack

If you’re going to bring food at home, appetizers and finger foods are best– anything that’s easy to share. There are a lot of special sweets and snacks during this time of year that make use of the sakura motif which are great food options for your hanami.

For drinks you’ll rarely find anything other than beer and sake being served, so relax and enjoy a day of social drinking outdoors.

A word of caution though, apparently a few parks do ban alcohol, so make certain that you know the rules of the park beforehand! Of course at these locations the beer and sake will be replaced by normal soft drinks and teas instead.

Today, Japanese cherry trees can be seen around the world, and not just in Japan.

One of the most famous places outside Japan for cherry blossoms is the West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C., which has sakura trees that were gifts from the mayor of Tokyo in 1912 to symbolise the developing friendship between the U.S. and Japan. There is also a festival held during cherry blossom season here, that many D.C. locals and visitors alike go to enjoy.

Champaign, IL

Point being, you don’t have to be  in Japan to have a hanami of your own, so get out there and go enjoy the beauty of spring!

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Do you like sakura? Do you think you could spend a whole day viewing them and picnicking?

 

84 Comments

  • I could definitely spend a day picnicking watching the Cherry Blossoms. What a beautiful site. They also happen to be one of my favorite scents. I love the picture of you two. That is a gorgeous photo!

  • Patricia says:

    The Sakura is absolutely stunning. I think Japan in the spring is amazing and would love to see the Sakura up close. I did not know that it does not last long at all. I wish it lasted little longer so people could enjoy the view. I did not know that people have a festival to celebrate it either. Very interesting and informational article. Thanks for sharing the beauty of Japan.

    • Beth Williams says:

      I wish it lasted longer as well! It’s so hard to plan a trip to see them. Sometimes they last for a week or two, but sometimes they only last for one day. Just takes a bit of rain to knock off all their petals!

  • Rocio says:

    This is Beautiful. The flowers are my favorites!! Never heard of Hanami :). Can’t wait to see more pictures from Japan.

  • Natalie says:

    I was born in VA and lived around DC for half of my life and I’ve still never been to the Cherry Blossom Fest in DC. But I do want to go at some point, lol. The Cherry Blossom is such a beautiful flower and picnicking all day, would be the life, the kids would have a blast with that and the octopus hot dogs, I make those all the time for the kids.

    • Beth Williams says:

      I’ll be attending the festival in DC for the first time this year! I’m super excited to see this taste of Japan right in the US :)

      You should make octopus hot dogs for your kid’s lunches sometimes. They’ll go crazy!

  • Vera Sweeney says:

    Spring in Japan looks absolutely amazing!! I love how pretty and vibrant all the colors of the flowers are!! I can’t wait for spring to come in the north east I am so over the cold weather and ready for fresh flowers!

  • The cherry blossoms are beautiful and so are your amazing photos. I live in Salem Oregon and we have a lot of these in the downtown area. Thank you for shariing.

    • Beth Williams says:

      Thanks Susan! That’s awesome that Oregon has them. Unfortunately Chicago doesn’t, so I need to travel to see them here.

  • Those blossoms are so gorgeous, I’d want to take a photo of each and every one. Thanks for sharing your post and your photos. I love reading about places other than Hicksville, Georgia, USA. :) Nothing more exciting than a pig jig happens here.

  • Nancy Lustri says:

    I love how I can always learn something new when I read your blog! I’ve never been to Japan before, but from your photos I feel like I have been there. The blooms are stunning and I see you definitely had a nice “hanami” when you visiting Japan, again! :) nancy

  • Jess says:

    Very interesting tradition. Although I have not been to Japan, my brother lives in DC and I love the cherry blossum trees. I used to be a music teacher and we sang a song called Sakura. I love the pretty flowers and how the people just are there to enjoy the beauty and nature. I think they are just beautiufl flowers and trees. Nice that the culture is out smelling the “sakura”!
    http://www.elegantlydressedandstylish.com

    • Beth Williams says:

      I’ve always wanted to go to the DC sakura festival. I’ll finally be attending this year! Can’t wait.

  • We were in Japan a couple years ago at the end of sakura season. Interestingly, we saw people in the parks like in your photo, and now I know that they were enjoying hanami picnic parties. What a wonderful custom!

    • Beth Williams says:

      You’re lucky you got to visit during sakura season! It’s so hard to catch it. We always try to plan a trip, but have only actually caught blossoms once.

  • I love the concept of Hanami and I know I’d have no problem spending an entire day just appreciating nature’s beauty. The Japanese have a beautiful grasp of the connect between the fragility of flowers and humans. I love that the celebration doesn’t start on a specific date each year…waiting for them to blossom! Your photos are beautiful!

    • Beth Williams says:

      I agree! It’s fun waiting for them to actually pop open. Then once they do, they may only be there for one day, maybe a week. No one knows. Makes it more special :)

  • Selina says:

    Octopus hotdogs? OCTOPUS HOTDOGS?! I lived in South Korea and visited Japan and saw some strange fodder in both countries (often quite revolting to a dedicated vegetarian!) but octopus hotdogs… yowzers!!

    I digress… Your post made me yearn for all things Japanese (‘cept octopus hotdogs) and cherry blossoms rock my hippy world, so I loved reading about hanami – and your photos aptly highlighted their beauty!

    I’ve added you to Twitter and will continue to enjoy your blog!

    Selina

    • Beth Williams says:

      Haha! The octopus hot dogs have nothing to do with actual octopus. They’re simply normal American style hot dogs that have been cut in a way to make them look cute like an octopus (though I’m sure plain ‘ole hot dogs are still quite repulsive to any vegetarian!)

      Glad you’ve enjoyed my photos of the cherry blossoms! They’re truly one of my favorite things about Japan.

      Thanks for following along! :D

  • Jenna says:

    I love how people might be given a day off to enjoy the trees–that is great! Lounging under the trees sounds like a great way to spend the day. I would love to see the cherry blossoms one day–they look so beautiful!

  • What beautiful photos. This is something we would love to do when we go to Japan. It is very healthy to go outside and just enjoy the beauty of nature.

  • Agness says:

    This is so unreal. This color of flowers is just my favourite one! Never heard of Hanami before, so thanks for introducing a new word :). That must have been a fantastic feeling to stroll down the streets and being surrounded by magnificent scenery. I can’t wait to see more pictures from Japan.

  • We love the idea of people taking the time to celebrate the beauty of nature. A Hanami picnic sounds like a wonderful way to spend the day.

    • Beth Williams says:

      I agree that it’s nice to spend some time admiring nature. I feel that most people in the US don’t bother to slow down and appreciate it as much.

  • I absolutely adore sakura! Spending a Springtime day under the flowers, writing or reading a book while enjoying the day with friends seems like the perfect afternoon to me! :-) Beautiful photos!

  • The cherry blossoms are so pretty! Octopus hot dog? Cute haha.

    • Beth Williams says:

      Octopus hot dogs… one of the many cute novelty foods in Japan. Maybe I should just write a whole post on this haha.

  • Pablo says:

    The cherry blossoms look beautiful, I need to make way towards seeing them in person some day!

  • Ahh I love cherry blossoms. So beautiful and romantic. Cute picture at the end of you too!

  • Christine says:

    Gorgeous photos! That last one of the cherry blossoms is stunning. I love the colors!

  • Beautiful.
    I’d certainly enjoy admiring cherry blossoms all around – so pretty and cosy.
    I love this tradition and the special meaning behind it (about enjoying the moment and accepting transilience).

  • Great article and pics! Saw the cherry blossoms in Japan a few years ago and they were beautiful!

    • Beth Williams says:

      Glad you got to see them! I’m hoping we’ll be living in Japan maybe next year to experience them again for longer. When we saw them last time, we got there on the last day before all the trees were bare basically.

  • Love this website. Love this article. Love the cherry blossoms. ;)

  • Cherry Blossom!!! How pretty!!! :D

  • Looks beautiful and what lovely photos! unfortunately I went in winter and it was freezing cold :(

  • Oxygen says:

    Great Post, Sounds quite awesome, I will definitely place this on the bucket list, I am in Asia now, (song Kran) but will not have time to make it up there yet this spring :(

  • Beautiful photos. Who doesn’t love a blossoming tree? We have fiestas on Gran Canaria to celebrate the almond flowering.

    • Beth Williams says:

      I had to Google what almond blossoms look like since I had no idea! But they’re really pretty and quite similar to sakura.

  • Erin says:

    Oh that looks wonderful! Just reading this was so calming & serene. I’d love an octopus hot dog under a cherry tree ;P

  • I love Japan just for this reason! Such beautiful photos, especially that last one! :)

  • I’m sure I’m not the only one who has wanted to see the cherry blossoms in Japan since reading and watching Memoirs of a Geisha. Somehow, I haven’t even made it to DC at the right time for the cherry blossom festival. Still on my bucket list.

  • Lauren says:

    I love cherry blossoms – they are so beautiful! I’ve also viewed them at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens in New York (they have lots of cherry blossom trees as well as a Japanese garden) and at High Park in Toronto. I would love to view them in Japan or Washington, DC! I can’t wait until they start to bloom this year here!

    • Beth Williams says:

      I didn’t know they had some in the NY Botanic Gardens. We are fortunate have a Japanese garden in the Botanic Gardens in Chicago too, but alas it’s without cherry trees.

      • Lauren says:

        Most of the cherry trees are surrounding the Japanese garden just beyond it. It is quite beautiful to see them all in bloom in a long row – pink petals all around on the trees and the ground below! You should check it out sometime if you ever find yourself in NYC in late April/early May.

  • Emma says:

    I love cherry blossom, just so beautiful. Hopefully I’ll be able to see it in Japan one day.

  • I love cherry blossom. I fell in love with it when I lived in Korea a few years ago. There are a few cherry blossom trees around in Beijing, but nothing like Japan. We were actually going to feature cherry blossoms in our wedding in London but the weather didn’t work out and they’d all gone.

    • Beth Williams says:

      Yeah, I recently found out Hong Kong has cherry blossoms as well, but it’s two sad trees on a hill. Nothing like Japan! haha

  • Jen says:

    I would have loved to have visited Japan during this time. I made it for the beginning of Autumn which was pretty spectacular too. Definitely keen to revisit to see these (and because Japan is awesome) one day. Gorgeous pic of you guys with the blossoms Beth!

  • Jess says:

    How beautiful! I’ve caught the cherry blossoms in Washington DC once, but even living fairly close it’s hard to plan a trip for the right time – one good rain and they’re gone!

    • Beth Williams says:

      Yeah, that’s the hard thing about cherry blossoms being so fragile!
      I remember being on campus at my university in IL where we have a bunch and they had just released the word that buds were blooming. The same day it rained and all the newly opened blossoms were gone already :(

  • Love the photo of the two of you. The cherry blossoms are in bloom in Seattle as well. I took a nice little walk after work down a street that was lined with them. Enjoy spring :)

  • Jameela says:

    thank you for this article, i always wondered about this “sakura” (I don’t speak Japanese) and since i’m passionate about Japan i love reading your post which explains aspects of the culture. Keep them coming. By the way the last picture is just beautiful, i can see why people would spend the day watching those. Looks very romantic too.

    • Beth Williams says:

      It’s incredibly romantic, especially towards the end of the season. I love when the petals fall around you like pink snow… I’ll actually be writing a separate article about this in the future!

      • Jameela says:

        In Libya we don’t have cherry blossoms but it is the time when Jasmine trees are in bloom and the smell is just unbelievable. Love it so much.

        Beth i think you speak Japanese, have you ever thought of writing a post about this language and its complexities/particularities? I’d love reading your take on this topic.

        • Beth Williams says:

          I’m planning on writing a post on tips for learning Japanese soon!
          I’ve talked a little about learning Japanese before in my Should You Learn Japanese Before Moving to Japan article. :)

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