With winter soon coming to an end, we welcome back the warmer spring weather with one of our favorite seasons in Japan: the sakura viewing season! Many Japanese and foreigners alike look forward to cherry blossom (sakura, 桜) viewing, picnics, and other ways to celebrate the short period that the cherry blossoms bloom. The sakura viewing is called hanami (花見), which literally translates as flower viewing.
To prepare you for the sakura season, we’re going to go over why the cherry blossoms are special, as well as some ways Japanese people will be celebrating this year!
You might be wondering what’s so special about sakura, or cherry blossoms, as they don’t exclusively bloom in Japan. However, cherry blossoms are seen as the symbolic flower of spring. They bloom only for a short period of time, so seeing them at an opportune moment is very special.
Japanese art and poetry also celebrates the cherry blossom season for what the cherry blossoms represent. For example, in haiku, or Japanese 5-7-5 poetry, cherry blossoms can be used as both a kigo, or “season-indicating word” and as a mono-no-aware, or a symbol of the “transience of life.” Since the cherry blossoms only have their beauty for such a short time, we pay attention to them as their lifespan makes the individual moments where we can cherish them more and more meaningful.
Depending on the weather, cherry blossom season could come earlier or later in the year. However, it usually arrives any time from mid-March to early April. At this time, people start rolling out their limited edition Sakura-themed merchandise and snacks, and start planning for the festivities.
In 2022, the blossoms will start to bloom around the end of march, starting on the western side of the country in the Kyushu region, with Kumamoto forecasted to get its first blossoms around the end of March. Tokyo and Nagoya in the Kanto region will follow a few days after that, with Osaka and Kyoto in the Kansai region blooming just after. The last to receive the cherry blossoms will be the Tohoku and Hokkaido areas, with the latter receiving the first of their blossoms toward the end of April, and blooming just a little bit into the first few days of May.
Many sites track the cherry blossom forecast around Japan, such as Japan Guide which has a whole map with estimated best viewing dates for the season.
Most people go out of their way to go to gardens and parks during the peak bloom season for hanami. Hanami, or “flower viewing,” is a traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers that only bloom for a short period of time. While the “hana” (花) of hanami is the generic word for “flower,” it usually refers to sakura blossoms, as spring is the time that hanami is most popular.
You can think of hanami like a giant outdoor party or picnic, with many people going to places like Yoyogi park in Tokyo or Osaka Castle park in Osaka, laying down their blankets or tarps and enjoying the view with friends. These parks can get pretty crowded, and depending on the time you arrive and how long you stay, you might need to be prepared to deal with long lines (both entering and exiting!) and limited space. Remember to bring an umbrella too just in case it rains!
Cherry Blossom festivals are also popular events, where you can get street food and drinks and enjoy the peak blooming season (or even some time after,) for unique sights and iconic photos.
The Cherry Blossom festival at Hirosaki Park, near Hirosaki Castle creates a moat of pink petals as the flowers start to fall from the trees, jostled slightly by a gust of wind or light rain. In Tokyo, music events pop up during the Sakura Matsuri at Ueno Park, which has around 800 cherry blossom trees for viewing and picture taking.You can make the trek out to Fuji Kawaguchiko, where they light up the cherry blossoms after sunset, and you get the amazing view of Lake Kawaguchi, with Mt. Fuji in the background, and cherry blossoms framing the scene.
Another popular spot is Himeji Castle, which is the only castle in Japan listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Himeji Castle Cherry Blossom Viewing Festival begins in April, and there are around 1000 cherry trees at the foot of the castle and all around the castle park. Not only is Himeji Castle a wonderful place to visit year round for the heritage and unique white roofs, but also a great place to make a trip out to visit for sakura season.
Whether you’re going outdoors or staying indoors, you can celebrate the coming of the cherry blossoms in your own way too. Whether that’s getting special Sakura items through our Snacks, Ramen, or Stationery packs in the next coming months, or going out and smelling the flowers as the snow begins to clear. We hope you enjoy the beginning of spring and the beauty of the cherry blossoms!