Japan is known for it’s wide variety of festivals, and one of the most famous, is Hanami.
Hanami (花見) translates literally to “flower viewing”, but is more commonly referred to as cherry blossom viewing. As you may, or may not know, Sakura (known as cherry blossom) is different to the blossom we know in the UK. The sakura trees span the islands of Japan, and are only ever in full bloom for about a week. The trees start blooming in the south of Japan first, where it is warmer, and where spring spreads warmth through the land, the cherry blossom soon follows.
The Japanese cherry blossom is renowned throughout the world, and is considered one of the symbols of Japan. In the past, cherry blossom trees were used to divine the year’s harvest, and mark the beginning of rice planting season. Within the Shinto faith, cherry blossom trees were believed to house kami (Japanese deities), and were treated with a profound respect, often including offerings of sake (Japanese rice wine). It’s temporal beauty is often thought to symbolise transience, and human life, and it is custom to appreciate this beauty. It is from these roots, that Hanami began, and has developed into the celebration that it is known for today, and even if the roots are forgotten, it is still a magical experience.
All across Japan, you will see groups of people getting together, and going to parks, to sit beneath the sakura trees, picnicking, and drinking in celebration. This can go onto the evening in some places, and that provides another mystical experience as well.
Along with the fleeting time that cherry blossoms are around, there is also a lot of limited edition foods, such as sakura ice-cream, sakura flavoured snacks, and drinks etc., which are always a fun experience to try. In some of the more popular areas, there will most likely be food stalls on specific days for the Hanami, really giving the feel of a festival (you definitely need to try some of the various festival foods while you’re there).
The most popular places people visit to see cherry blossom when visiting Japan, are Tokyo, Mt. Fuji and Kyoto.
This is likely due to the fact that they are the most well known places of Japan, generally. However, there are other little hidden gems in Japan too, which if you prefer a more quieter setting, and not as busy as the larger festivals (not to mention less expense, as their blooms could be earlier or after the short time that the main places are in bloom), then we definitely recommend you visit those places. It is easy to plan as well, because every year there is a forecast for the coming year’s cherry blossom season – as a warning though, you should always plan several months ahead, as it is the most popular season in Japan!