Did You Already Know? Trivia About Cherry Blossom Viewing During Spring in Japan
Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) is an activity that is looked forward to during the spring season in Japan. While many different types of flowers also bloom during this season, why is it called cherry blossom viewing? What do you do during a hanami event? Here is some trivia regarding the mysterious hanami.
1. Why Cherry Blossoms?
Sakura (cherry blossoms) are a very special flower to the Japanese. There are some theories and opinions regarding Japanese people's love for cherry blossoms, and here is one of them.
In ancient Japan, it was believed that Tano Kami, the god of agriculture, resides in the sakura that scattered during spring. Harvests were foretold by the way that the flowers of the sakura trees bloomed, and preparations for seeds to be sowed were done when the flowers of the sakura trees started to bloom. Also, offerings were made, and feasts honoring sakura trees were held in hopes that there would be a good harvest for the year. These customs were passed down the ages, and it is said that the Japanese people's unconditional love towards sakura stems from this old tradition.
In the Heian Period (794~1185), aristocrats often composed songs expressing their love for sakura trees and similarly held feasts as in ancient Japan. Progressively, in the Edo Period (1603~1867), going on vacations during spring became widespread, and both commoners and samurai alike would come together to do hanami together. Crowds would gather under sakura trees and drink together while enjoying the beautiful view of the scattering sakura, and it can be said that the present-day style of hanami was passed down from this era.
2. The Representative Types of Sakura
The term "sakura" is used as an umbrella term to include all types of sakura trees. Including both wild cherry trees (Yamazakura) and cherry trees bred through artificial selection (Satozakura), there are about 600 confirmed varieties in total.
Among these varieties, the one most representative of all sakura trees is probably the Yoshino Cherry, an artificially bred variety. It is a very popular variety, taking up as much as 80% of the total number of sakura trees in places famous for sakura trees within Japan.
Other representative varieties include the weeping sakura (Shidarezakura) with its pendulous branches and deep and brightly colored flowers, and the Kanzakura, which starts blooming during the cold winter days of January. The flower petals of each variety come in different colors, shapes, sizes, and quantity, so please look closely at all of them and take in all of their beauty!
※Image below is of the Yoshino Cherry.
※Image below is of the weeping cherry (Shidarezakura).
3. When is The Period of Viewing? What is The Sakura Front?
The sakura season varies from places to places within Japan. The blooming of the sakura takes place in geological sequence, from the south to the north of the Japanese archipelago. This phenomenon, called the "sakura front," is usually broadcast, like a weather report, on various media during the start of spring and when the perfect time to go for hanami approaches.
The sakura front usually starts from Okinawa in the later half of January, extending to Kyushu, western Japan, and the southern Kanto region in March. The front moves up towards the Hokuriku and north Kanto regions in April, culminating in Hokkaido in May (subject to change according to temperature).
4. Make Your Sakura Viewing More Enjoyable! Stuff to Bring For a Hanami
Here are some items that you should bring with you to a hanami.
First, as benches are not always available in many places, picnic sheets are a must-have for you to be able to relax and leisurely view the sakura. Bring some cardboard that you can place under your picnic mat, as the cardboard keeps your picnic sheet warm and stable. You can find cardboard from supermarkets just in front of the cash registers, or ask the friendly staff at convenience stores or drug stores and they will usually give some to you for free. Also, wet tissues can be really helpful when cleaning up an accidental spill!
Even though it is the spring season, hanami can get unexpectedly chilly. You can buy a disposable heat pack from the convenience store, or bring a blanket along to combat the cold.
Disposable Heat Packs
5. How to Enjoy Hanami
The usual style of hanami is to enjoy the beauty of the sakura while having some food and alcoholic beverages. The most common time period for hanami is during midday, or at night when the spotlights are shone on the cherry blossoms. Also, minding one's manners is very important in order to best enjoy hanami. As viewing spots can get really crowded, it is basic manners to take up as little space as possible, and to give and take when necessary in order to avoid quarrels. Breaking the branches or damaging the sakura trees, and causing a commotion when drunk are also a no-go. It is also good to be aware that some hanami spots are situated in residential areas, or at historical landmarks where food and drinks might not be allowed. Please observe your manners in order to fully enjoy hanami!
Do you understand hanami a little better? Actually knowing more about hanami before participating in one can help you to better enjoy the experience! Please enjoy hanami to your heart's content!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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