Spring is finally starting to make the world look a little friendlier and, most importantly, warmer. Flowers are starting to bloom, trees are getting greener and we are even getting some sunshine. For some, the coming of Spring is reason to celebrate. The Japanese, for example, have a festival which is called “hanami” or “watching the flowers”, that is entirely dedicated to, you guessed it, watching the flowers bloom. However, it’s not just any flower, it’s the blossom of the cherry tree, or the “sakura” in Japanese. If you want to be a part of this marvelous spectacle, I strong suggest looking for cheap flights on fly.co.uk before simply hopping on a plane.
In general, the time of blossoming varies between early February and early May, depending on where exactly in Japan you are. In Okinawa, which is the located on the southernmost of the Japanese isles, hanami usually takes place around the first of February. On the main isles, this usually occurs from late March into May. Since the blossoming of the sakura only lasts for two weeks, the Japanese weather forecast also includes a “blossoming forecast” during these months. If you want to celebrate hanami, follow the forecasts closely.
Hanami is believed to have originated around the year 750, and initially meant watching the blossoms of the plum tree, or “ume” in Japanese. Many older people still continue with this tradition, as the ume trees are usually less occupied by families or office parties. However, the meaning of hanami has evolved over time, and instead of ume trees, sakura trees are now the centre of attention. Originally, hanami was a festivity that both marked the beginning of the rice-planting season as well as the traditional attempt at predicting the upcoming harvest. People gave offerings to the “kami”, the shinto-gods in the sakura trees, had lunch under them and drank sake.
What makes hanami so special, you may ask? Imagine a typical Japanese landscape or even the well kept parks in the metropolitan areas, which are littered with cherry trees. Now imagine them all blossoming in a bright rosy colour, as the sakura tend to start blossoming all at the same time. Add to that the many people having picnics beneath the sakura during the daytime, and the numerous paper lanterns which are illuminated at dusk (hanami at night is called “yozakura”, “sakura at night”). The result is a festive almost surreal scene.
There are also many proverbs, legends and myths about the sakura trees and hanami, since it plays an important role in Japanese culture. One of these proverbs entitled “dango instead of flowers”or in Japanese “hana yori dango” indicates that most of the people watching the sakura blossoming are doing so mostly for the food, “dango”. Dango is a special Japanese dish comparable to dumplings that come in various forms. The next time you’re in Japan try them and if you get the opportunity, check out the blossoming of the cherry trees.