Hanami: Japanese Flower Viewing
Cherry blossoms are known as sakura in Japan, and it is not an exaggeration to say that they are the flowers of Japan. There are dozens of species in Japan, most of which bloom in the spring. As the buds bloom in parks and streets across the country, hanami is held to celebrate the seasonal spectacle. People hold parties and picnics under the trees to enjoy the fleeting beauty of sakura and welcome the arrival of spring.
What is Hanami?
In Japanese, “hana” means “flower” and “mi” means "to view". Therefore, hanami means “flower viewing”. In Japan, the flower being referred to in hanami refers specifically to sakura. In March and April, Japanese people hold flower-viewing parties under the sakura trees, which are informal gatherings among friends and family. Normally, schools and companies also hold their celebrations to give people a chance to make new friends, usually in a park near their offices or schools. Most parties take the form of a picnic. People take off their shoes, sit on picnic mats (often "blue sheets"), and share food and drinks. Many of the foods and drinks are pink and decorated with sakura patterns.
Hanami is not a mere springtime event - it's a national pastime with cultural and religious origins. Historically, sakura have been used to predict good times for planting new crops and for harvesting existing crops. Therefore, the blossoming of sakura is considered a symbol of revival. In Japan, the fiscal and academic year begins in April, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. In this context, sakura symbolizes happiness and hope. In addition, its short lifespan feels like a metaphor for the inevitable death of human beings. Their beauty in full bloom and their delicacy in fading form a stark contrast that reminds people that life is short and precious. With so many beautiful meanings, it is no wonder that countless events are held to celebrate its full bloom.
History of Hanami
The tradition of hanami goes back at least a thousand years. In the Nara period (710-794), the flower referred to plum blossoms when it comes to hanami. However, since the Heian period (794-1192), sakura has become the main attraction. In the 7th century, Empress Jito was particularly fond of sakura and admired their beauty on Mount Yoshino many times. The first hanami event was held in the 9th century by Emperor Saga. At that time, hanami was a popular activity among nobles, who considered it an elegant thing to do.
In the Muromachi period (1336-1573), samurai began to enjoy hanami. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the most famous samurai flower-viewer, held the Yoshino Hanami in 1594. Four years later, he held the most lavish hanami party, the Daigo no Hanami, at Daigo. The party lasted for five days and entertained more than 1,300 guests. 700 sakura trees were planted in Daigo-ji Temple for the party, which made the temple one of the best places to appreciate sakura today. In the Edo period (1603-1867), hanami gradually became a folk custom of ordinary people. March 15 to April 15 every year, Japanese people will gather at the famous sakura viewing spots and enjoy the beautiful view.
How to do Hanami
Hanami events can be enjoyed both during the day and at night. Hanami at night is known as yozakura. The lights at night create a romantic atmosphere, in which the delicate flowers sparkle in the darkness. There are some traditional hanami foods that the Japanese like to eat while admiring the pretty view:
- Hanami Dango: Chewy multi-colored dumplings made of sweetened rice flour. It is tradtionally three rice balls on skewers, which are pink, white, and green respectively.
- Cherry Blossom Cookies: Butter cookies decorated with pickled cherry blossoms on top and sugar on the side.
- Cherry Blossom Milk Pudding: Milk pudding with cherry blossom jelly.
- Sakura Mochi: It is a pink rice cake filled with red bean paste and wrapped in a pickled cherry blossom leave.
If you are a traveler, here are some tips for you. After enjoying the flowers, remember to dispose of your garbage properly. Since some parks do not have bins, garbage bags are required to take your garbage home. Also, any actions that may hurt the trees, such as climbing, pulling, and shaking trees, are regarded as impolite. Moreover, the rules in different parks vary. If you want to barbecue, for example, you'll need to check with the park manager first.