Apr 3

Heavenly Hanami

in Japan

Do you remember how I said in my post yesterday that, “Cherry blossom season = heaven on earth!”? Well with a statement like that, do you really think I would limit my comments on cherry blossoms to only part of one post? No! As an old Japanese proverb says: “The cherry is first among flowers, as the warrior is first among men.”

The word for cherry trees and their blossoms in Japanese, is sakura (桜 or 櫻, さくら). The cherry blossom is Japan’s unofficial national flower. It has been celebrated for many centuries and takes a very prominent position in Japanese culture. There are dozens of different cherry tree varieties in Japan, most of which bloom for just a couple of days in spring. The Japanese celebrate that time of the year with cherry blossom viewing parties under the blooming trees. This has become such a prominent part of Japanese culture, that the practice even has its own name: Hanami, literally meaning “flower viewing.” Although the word means “flower viewing”, the word is almost always used to mean viewing sakura or ume blossoms (Japanese apricot, but generally referred to as plum blossoms in English).

The weeks preceding hanami in Japan give the sense of almost reverent anticipation. There is a blossom forecast, called “sakurazensen” (literally translates to mean “cherry blossom front”) that is announced each year by the weather bureau. This forecast is carefully watched, as hanami season is short lived, lasting only a week or two if you are lucky.
This year’s sakurazensen map:
Hanami is one of the most popular events of Spring. Crowds of people (families, groups of friends, and groups from companies) sit under the trees, usually on blue plastic tarps, and have a picnic celebration. The picnic fare consists of a wide variety of foods, snack foods, and sake or other drinks. In very popular places the competition for prime picnic spots is very intense. People claim spots by arriving very early in the morning and sitting all day long until the real celebrations begin in the evening. It is a common sight to see a young man in a business suit sitting under a cherry tree early in the morning reserving a space for his company. The new employees are traditionally given this job of sitting all day long to reserve space for the company celebration.
One of the only times you will see trash in Japan.

Hanami at night is called yozakura (“night sakura”). In many places such as Ueno Park temporary paper lanterns are hung for the purpose of yozakura.

Since the Heian Period (794-1185) flower-viewing parties were popular among the Japanese aristocracy. In the Azuchi Momoyama Period (1568-1600) the cherry blossom viewing spread out to the rest of the population. In fact, Tokugawa Yoshimune, the 8th shogun of Japan (ruling from 1716 to 1745), planted areas of cherry blossom trees to encourage this. In more than half of Japan, the cherry blossoming period coincides with the beginning of the scholastic and fiscal years (which is April in Japan), and so welcoming parties are often opened with hanami.
Not only do people go to see the blossoms, but sakura flavor can be found in many things this time of year, from ice cream, to Kit Kats.
Even Starbucks has jumped on the bandwagon, offering sakura flavored macarons.
You also can buy sakura flavoring to make your own sakura desserts.
Yesterday Mr. Fuji left work early so that we could all go do hanami together. We went to Ueno Park, one of my favorite places to see sakura.

The blossoms were spectacular. At times when the wind would blow a bit, it gave the illusion of snow as petals were blown from the trees.
We also enjoyed seeing all of the people enjoying hanami. My favorite was this group of people wearing these great hot pink clown wigs:

There were lots of food stalls set up selling traditional festival foods, including my personal favorites, okonomiyaki and asa-zuke (lightly pickled cucumber).

Squirrel enjoyed “helping” Mr. Fuji push her stroller.
She also enjoyed all the attention she was getting. I think she thought everyone was there to see her!

Check out this list if you would like to know more about popular/famous hanami spots.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Lulu April 3, 2008 at 9:21 am

Great post! Nice photos too! I am going to link back to here if anyone asks me to explain the reasoning behind hanami and why sakura are important!

Enjoy the last couple of days of the blossoms!

Squirrel looks as cute as ever!


Heatherly April 3, 2008 at 10:16 am

i loved the cherry blossoms in DC, i cant imagine the incredible ammount of blossoms in japan!

i designed cherry blossom socks this year…but havent had them test knitted yet :-)


Melissa Hodgen April 3, 2008 at 12:07 pm

As I read your post, I thought I was going to get through one without getting hungry…wrong! Pink Kit Kats, cherry blossom flavoring…how cool is that!
Now I want to have a picnic under a cherry blossom tree. They remind me of the “popcorn popping” song. I bet when the wind blows, it looks like it’s snowing.


Jhoanna April 3, 2008 at 7:40 pm

What a great post accompanied by lovely pictures! It’s so good to know more about Japanese culture from firsthand experience like yours! And I love Japanese pancakes – makes my mouth water just thinking about it . . .


theysaywordscanbleed April 3, 2008 at 8:12 pm

I would so love to have cherry blossoms thriving on our country, but alas it would take more than a miracle for that to happen.

Poulsbo florist


Cindy/Snid April 3, 2008 at 10:22 pm

How cool- thanks for sharing!
Found you blog through Golden Purl/Jean and I am also an expat and a knitter- though living in India.

I am missing blossoming trees!


laline April 3, 2008 at 10:23 pm

thank you for sharing hanami with us
and the food looks tasty
i can wait to go to japan !!!


Jackie April 3, 2008 at 10:26 pm

Oh to be in a part of the world right now where plants are even considering blossoming! So beautiful! We would like to see Mr. Fuji sporting one of those fancy wig things…
Squirrel looks so radiant! What a fun family outing!


The Richards April 6, 2008 at 8:28 am

My sister would write us about the cherry blossoms while she was on her mission in Sendai. It’s fun to see so many pictures of them!!


Tartelette April 6, 2008 at 9:01 pm

Wow! Cherry blossom macarons? Heaven!!


JRS April 9, 2008 at 10:48 pm

I love sakura! One of the disappointing things about Hokkaido is that it usually comes around GW, when I am gone. It’s usually still too cold to sit out and enjoy it though.

I had a Japanese boyfriend for several years–I met him when he was sitting on the blue tarp in his suit holding the space for his company in Yoyogi Park! I had been there for hours enjoying the sake aspect of hanami, and decided he looked lonely (and very very cute) and needed company!

I tried one of those sakura macarons, and I just polished off a sakura scone, but with the pile of old snow outside, it’s just not the same…


Sheltie Girl May 23, 2008 at 8:12 am

This is a wonderful post about your day, the cherry blossoms and all the fabulous food. My children and I love to go to our local Japanese market, the Daido, to pick up fun things to try out. Thanks for sharing!

Natalie @ Gluten a Go Go


Christine February 9, 2010 at 7:31 am

I was just going through your blog (starting from the beginning and working my way through) I absolutely love it! And I really wanted to comment on this post, because I was in Japan on a school trip when the cherry blossoms started blooming, and I saw your pictures of Ueno Park and I was incredibly excited because I saw the exact places in the same year that you took the pictures of for this post! ^_^

Your blog is an absolute inspiration, I’ve always wanted to live in Japan, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get to, but reading about your experiences is so much fun ^_^


gregor April 24, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Hanami and Christmas are the best times of year in Tokyo


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