In the cherry blossom’s shade there’s no such thing as a stranger.
Have you heard of the beautifully simple Japanese tradition of Hanami, also known as “flower viewing”? Most commonly referred to as cherry blossom viewing, it’s the simple ancient practice of gazing at flowers.
Life is beautiful, yet fleeting—this is the sentiment behind the Japanese celebration of Hanami. Each spring, friends and family gather together and hold picnics and parties underneath the beautiful, blossoming cherry blossom trees. Otherwise known as Sakura, the flowers appear for a very brief time between March and May, gracing the Japanese landscape with their delicate and sweetly scented presence.
Because the Sakura are only in bloom for around two weeks before the wind shakes them from the trees, they symbolise the beauty and temporary nature of life itself. When admiring these impressive flowers, we are reminded that each moment is a gift and should be celebrated as such. In this way, we learn to let our lives blossom and appreciate every bit of joy, love and wonder the wind blows our way.
‘Sa’ meaning ‘god’ (神), particularly referred to the god of rice paddies. ‘Kura’ represented a pedestal used to honour a god with offerings of food and sake.
The History of Sakura
The tradition of Hanami dates back centuries, with mentions as far back as 710-794 (the Nara period), influenced by the Chinese custom of enjoying plum flowers. The Sakura were revered as a goddess in Japan, and when cherry blossoms bloomed it was seen as a sign that the goddess had come down from the mountain and it was time to plant rice. Emperor Saga (Heian period from 794 – 1185) was the first to throw an actual party when this happened – with food, drinks music and poetry writing – after becoming particularly fond of a cherry tree at Jishu Shrine located within the Kiyomizu Temple.
Hanami in modern times
It’s such a popular activity – and has been for so long, that the Japan Meteorological Agency is even involved in forecasting the bloom. Chasing blossoming cherry trees is one of the best things to do in Japan, but many countries, some with donations from Japan, can truly hold their own. There are famous cherry blossom parks all over the world in the U.S., Canada, South Korea, Brazil, Europe, Taiwan and China.
Cherry Blossom Fun Facts
- There are nine basic types of cherry trees in Japan and more than 100 varieties of those according to The Japan Cherry Blossom Association
- There are a further 200 more cultivated varieties
- Colours range from white through to dark pink, and petal sizes and numbers can differ too
- Some trees can grow up to 20 metres high
A tree can be a national monument too. The Miharu Takizakura in Miharu Town, Fukushima Prefecture, is said to be more than a thousand years old and is 13.5 metres high and about 25 metres wide.