Critical Overview: The tradition of Hanami or cherry blossom viewing in Japan has a long history dating back to more than 1,000 years. The Japanese cherry tree, sakura, which is popular all over the country, has become an iconic symbol of the impermanence of beauty. Unlike ancient aristocrats, modern-day Japanese people make fun and celebration a key component of cherry blossom viewing, indulging in drinking and eating, akin to a picnic under the trees. The cherry blossom festivals are held across Japan during the spring, although the trees bloom at different times throughout the country. It can be challenging to schedule a trip to coincide with a specific festival.
The Meaning of Hanami: The custom of Hanami is an ancient Japanese tradition of enjoying the beauty of blooming cherry blossoms (sakura) and sometimes plum blossoms (ume) in parks and throughout the countryside. The origin of Hanami dates back to more than 1,000 years when aristocrats enjoyed looking at beautiful cherry blossoms and wrote poems inspired by them. Although Hanami literally means “viewing flowers,” it usually refers to cherry blossom viewing.
How Cherry Blossoms are Celebrated in Japan: Cherry blossom viewing is a popular time for Japanese people to gather with friends and family for picnics, barbecues, and parties under the trees. The celebrations often turn into good-natured revelry as the day progresses and sake flows freely. Elderly Japanese sometimes prefer to visit Japanese plum parks to view plum blossoms instead, as these areas are less crowded and rowdy.
The Symbolic Significance of Cherry Blossoms: Cherry blossoms are known for their beauty and ephemeral nature, with the blooms lasting no more than two weeks, and thus have become symbolic of the impermanence of beauty. The Japanese concept of mono no aware, or the wistful realization that “nothing lasts forever,” is often depicted through cherry blossoms in works of art and even tattoos.
When Festivals Take Place: Cherry blossoms normally begin blooming in January in Okinawa, and the Honshu region sees their peak in late March to April. In Hokkaido, cherry blossoms are usually in full bloom in May. However, predicting cherry blossom dates in advance can be difficult, so planning a trip around them can be challenging. Cherry blossom forecasts are announced every spring by the JWA, the Weather Map Co., Ltd, and the Weathernews Inc. The cherry blossoms usually appear in Tokyo and Kyoto sometime between March and April. The dates for cherry blossom festivals, held in different regions of the country from March to May, are determined based on cherry blossom forecasts and vary from year to year.
The Main Attraction: The gorgeous flowers are the main attraction at cherry blossom festivals, but there are also a variety of traditional Japanese performances, such as tea ceremonies, that take place during these festivals. It’s also common for festival vendors to sell regional crafts and specialty food from the area.
Cherry Blossoms Elsewhere in the World: Hanami is celebrated to a lesser extent in China, Korea, and Taiwan. Smaller celebrations can also be enjoyed throughout the U.S. and Europe, with one of the biggest festivals in the U.S. taking place in Washington, D.C.