- Friday, 9 September 2016

Sakura (Cherry Blossom) viewing in Japan


Sakura blooms 


On my recent visit to Japan I enjoyed the numerous cultural delights this wonderful country has on offer – from okonomiyaki to origami and everything in between. Every step was a reminder on how varied and beautiful our world is.

One particular thing that took my fancy was the ancient tradition of "hanami" – literally meaning “flower viewing”. The Japanese are so in love with their Sakura (cherry) trees that entire days are planned around the enjoyment of these blossoms as they flower throughout Japan. Of course, Cherry blossoms are seen in many other parts of the world, but what really makes the experience in Japan unique is the hanami. As a foreigner there's no better opportunity to interact with locals than to join in the party! :)

Hanami party underway in  the city of Sakura

The practice of hanami began centuries ago and eventually developed into what it is today – a celebration across Japan to honour and enjoy the Sakura. It includes setting up food, drinks and music under the cherry blossoms in parks to sit and enjoy them with friends and family. There are kids playing around, visitors obsessively photographing the flowers from every possible angle and pets playfully hanging around. In fact, there's another version of the hanami which occurs after dark –  "yozakura", during which temporary paper lanterns are hung throughout the trees so they can be enjoyed at night as much as they are in the daytime.

Yozukara- enjoying sakura in evening. [Photo by Tamaki Sono, licensed under CC BY 2.0]

Sakura is Japan's national obsession and for all the right reasons! I remember a particular incident during my stay with a Japanese host in Yotsukaido. She had several gorgeous Sakura trees outside of her house. Unfortunately, one day they took a battering due to high winds and rain and the whole family seemed to be quite upset about it. But just next day she pointed out with almost a child-like excitement that there were more fresh buds visible and that they should be blooming in just a few days. Such is the excitement of people around Sakura!

The Japanese love their Sakura so deeply that they have entire shops dedicated to baking and confectionery, which incorporates the Sakura blossoms into the food. Some of the confectionery can be extremely pretty or intricate – almost too good to eat!

Walking through a sakura trail in Yotsukaido

If you're planning to visit Japan during Sakura season, it's advisable to follow Sakura forecast. There's a certain pattern to Sakura blooming in various regions of Japan. In any given area, the season lasts anywhere from 1-3 weeks. The southern islands (like Okinawa, Naha) tend to have their first blooming in mid January. But cherry blossoms sweep the country from south to north slowly between March, April and May. You may additionally find that hotels and guest houses book up quickly in Sakura season, so it's advisable to book ahead and plan in advance.

So get out to Japan for the next season; I promise you won't regret taking in this national treasure for yourself!

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10 Reasons To Love Japan

The Vibrant Kaas Plateau

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