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Let’s Have a Hanami!

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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.

First sakura blossoms

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.  

Hanami in Ueno

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. 

sakura blossoms at sunset

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.

Hanami in Ueno, Tokyo

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).

Octopus hotdogs

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.

Having a hanami

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!

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

 

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59 Responses to Let’s Have a Hanami!

  1. Selina April 9, 2014 at 6:03 pm #

    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
    Selina recently posted…Interview with Brian and Noelle from wanderingon.comMy Profile

    • Beth Williams April 10, 2014 at 8:57 pm #

      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

  2. Jenna April 2, 2014 at 12:55 pm #

    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!
    Jenna recently posted…Weekend Getaway to Jacksonville, FloridaMy Profile

    • Beth Williams April 2, 2014 at 9:03 pm #

      I know! I wish we got days off in the US to sit under trees all day ;P

  3. Ashley and Alex April 2, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    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.
    Ashley and Alex recently posted…My Favorite European Island: CreteMy Profile

    • Beth Williams April 2, 2014 at 9:03 pm #

      I hope you guys get a chance to experience the magic of cherry blossoms someday!

  4. Agness April 2, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    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.
    Agness recently posted…First 5 Impressions of IndonesiaMy Profile

    • Beth Williams April 2, 2014 at 9:02 pm #

      Glad I could introduce you to something new!

  5. Mary @Green Global Travel April 2, 2014 at 7:35 am #

    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.
    Mary @Green Global Travel recently posted…PHOTO GALLERY: The 25 Most Inspirational Travel QuotesMy Profile

    • Beth Williams April 2, 2014 at 9:01 pm #

      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.

  6. Ron | Active Planet Travels April 2, 2014 at 2:41 am #

    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!
    Ron | Active Planet Travels recently posted…Going Underground in Nepal: Gupteshwor Mahadev CaveMy Profile

    • Beth Williams April 2, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

      Sounds like the perfect afternoon to me also!

  7. Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy April 2, 2014 at 12:16 am #

    The cherry blossoms are so pretty! Octopus hot dog? Cute haha.
    Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy recently posted…A is for Amazing Animal Adventures #AtoZChallengeMy Profile

    • Beth Williams April 2, 2014 at 4:05 pm #

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

  8. Pablo April 1, 2014 at 4:32 am #

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

    • Beth Williams April 2, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

      You do!

  9. Samantha @mytanfeet March 31, 2014 at 11:14 pm #

    Ahh I love cherry blossoms. So beautiful and romantic. Cute picture at the end of you too!
    Samantha @mytanfeet recently posted…Costa Rica Sunsets Photo Post Part TwoMy Profile

  10. Christine March 31, 2014 at 12:57 pm #

    Gorgeous photos! That last one of the cherry blossoms is stunning. I love the colors!
    Christine recently posted…Why Facebook is Dead for BloggersMy Profile

    • Beth Williams March 31, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

      Thanks Christine! I love all the different shades of pink.

  11. Serena @ Souvenirs of a Black Cat March 31, 2014 at 6:55 am #

    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).
    Serena @ Souvenirs of a Black Cat recently posted…Montmartre et le Chat NoirMy Profile

    • Beth Williams March 31, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

      It’s a great way to spend a peaceful afternoon!

  12. The Travel Sisters March 31, 2014 at 3:07 am #

    Great article and pics! Saw the cherry blossoms in Japan a few years ago and they were beautiful!
    The Travel Sisters recently posted…Hugging a Panda in Chengdu, China!My Profile

    • Beth Williams March 31, 2014 at 8:28 pm #

      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.

  13. Manouk - Bunch of Backpackers March 30, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    Love this website. Love this article. Love the cherry blossoms. ;)
    Manouk – Bunch of Backpackers recently posted…Ancient rituals at the 10th World Wai Kru CeremonyMy Profile

    • Beth Williams March 31, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

      Thanks Manouk! Glad you like it :)

  14. Raphael Alexander Zoren March 30, 2014 at 11:26 am #

    Cherry Blossom!!! How pretty!!! :D
    Raphael Alexander Zoren recently posted…The time to travel is NOWMy Profile

    • Beth Williams March 30, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

      They are! I think they’re my favorite flowers now :D

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

    • Beth Williams March 30, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

      Yeah, Japan is quite freezing in the winter :(

  16. Oxygen March 29, 2014 at 8:15 pm #

    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 :(
    Oxygen recently posted…How To Increase Alexa Ranking With A Travel BlogMy Profile

    • Beth Williams March 30, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

      Awesome! I’ll be heading to Thailand in another week to celebrate Songkran myself. Enjoy!

  17. Gran Canaria Local March 29, 2014 at 8:06 am #

    Beautiful photos. Who doesn’t love a blossoming tree? We have fiestas on Gran Canaria to celebrate the almond flowering.
    Gran Canaria Local recently posted…Canary Motorcycle ToursMy Profile

    • Beth Williams March 30, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

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

  18. Erin March 29, 2014 at 4:18 am #

    Oh that looks wonderful! Just reading this was so calming & serene. I’d love an octopus hot dog under a cherry tree ;P
    Erin recently posted…Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival: Part 2My Profile

    • Beth Williams March 30, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

      Haha, it’s certainly a unique Japanese experience!

  19. Phoebe (Short Road to Happy) March 29, 2014 at 1:53 am #

    I love Japan just for this reason! Such beautiful photos, especially that last one! :)
    Phoebe (Short Road to Happy) recently posted…Five travel tips to make the most of NorwayMy Profile

    • Beth Williams March 30, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

      Thanks Pheobe! Cherry blossoms are so beautiful, aren’t they?

  20. Tamara @ We3Travel March 29, 2014 at 12:05 am #

    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.
    Tamara @ We3Travel recently posted…Why Keep a Travel Journal?My Profile

    • Beth Williams March 30, 2014 at 5:08 pm #

      I hope you get to experience them, even in DC someday!

  21. Lauren March 28, 2014 at 12:00 am #

    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!
    Lauren recently posted…Caribbean Cruise – Downtown Oranjestad, Aruba (Day 8)My Profile

    • Beth Williams March 30, 2014 at 5:06 pm #

      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 April 1, 2014 at 12:28 am #

        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.
        Lauren recently posted…Aruba Video – Snorkeling and Exploring OranjestadMy Profile

        • Beth Williams April 2, 2014 at 9:15 pm #

          I’ll certainly try to check it out sometime!

  22. Emma March 27, 2014 at 9:44 pm #

    I love cherry blossom, just so beautiful. Hopefully I’ll be able to see it in Japan one day.
    Emma recently posted…Visiting Singapore on a budgetMy Profile

    • Beth Williams March 30, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

      I hope you can too Emma!

  23. Joella J (J in Beijing) March 27, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

    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.
    Joella J (J in Beijing) recently posted…Walking it out: Connecting with my Beijing HomeMy Profile

    • Beth Williams March 30, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

      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

  24. Jen March 27, 2014 at 3:09 pm #

    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!
    Jen recently posted…Get Out of Town: 5 Mini Breaks from LondonMy Profile

    • Beth Williams March 30, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

      I love visiting in Autumn as well. The red momiji leaves are stunning!

  25. Jess March 27, 2014 at 9:57 am #

    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!
    Jess recently posted…New England SpringMy Profile

    • Beth Williams March 30, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

      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 :(

  26. Angela Travels March 27, 2014 at 4:59 am #

    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 :)
    Angela Travels recently posted…Stevens Pass Best Secret – Mountaineer’s LodgeMy Profile

    • Beth Williams March 30, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

      I didn’t know Seattle had cherry blossoms! That makes me consider moving there even more now.

  27. Jameela March 26, 2014 at 10:55 pm #

    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.
    Jameela recently posted…Expat in Libya – Year 1My Profile

    • Beth Williams March 30, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

      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 March 31, 2014 at 2:47 am #

        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.
        Jameela recently posted…Language Gap…at home!My Profile

        • Beth Williams March 31, 2014 at 8:27 pm #

          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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