Numerous iconic Japanese scenes are concerned with viewing cherry blossoms with friends and loved ones. This tradition is called hanami and it has been practiced in Japan dating back to the Nara Period, about one thousand three hundred years ago. The Japanese people continue the tradition of hanami by taking part in the processional walks through the parks. Some hundreds of people fill the parks to hold feasts and gatherings under the flowering trees, with most of them staying until late at night. This is a form of retreat for contemplating and renewing their spirits for another year.
Hanami is the Japanese tradition of enjoying the beauty of flowers. The flowers in this case almost always mean cherry blossoms (sakura) or plum blossoms (ume). SakuraÂ usually bloom all over Japan from late March to early May. The blossom forecast is announced each year by the weather bureau, and is watched carefully by those planning hanami as the blossoms only last a week or two. In modern-day Japan, hanami mostly consists of having an outdoor party beneath the sakura during daytime or at night. Hanami at night is called yozakura and in many places temporary paper lanterns are usually hung for the purpose of people who go for yozakura.
Hanami is one of the most popular events in Spring. Crowds of people, usually families, groups of friends, and groups from companies sit under the fully open cherry blossoms, usually on plastic tarpaulins, and have a picnic celebration. The picnic fare consists of a wide variety of foods, snack foods, and sake (rice wine) or other drinks. The activities often include dancing and karaoke in addition to the cherry blossom viewing. In very popular places such as Ueno Park and Aoyama Cemetery in Tokyo, the competition for the best of theÂ picnic spots is very fierce. Some company groups and/or family members claim the spots by arriving very early in the morning and sitting all day long until the real celebrations begin in the evening. It is not unusual 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 for the company celebration. This flower viewing happens at the beginning of the school year and the business year so it is usually accompanied by welcoming parties for companies and students.
Hanami has changed little since these early times although of course it now has its commercial appeal. It is certainly one of those to one must see when you are in Japan. The difiiculty in flower viewing lies in getting your timing right with the blooming as you can easily miss out if the season begins too early or too late due to unseasonal hot or cold weather. This is also one of the peak times for travel and hotels in Japan and domestic travel can be booked many months in advance before it gets extremely crowded. The sites themselves will usually also be crowded, particularly places like Kyoto in the south of Japan and Ueno Park near Tokyo. Despite all this, hanami is one of the true Japanese traditions as well as being a magnificent visual spectacle. Hanami can be an opportunity to get an insight into the Japanese culture through this not to be missed festival.