The Japanese have a word for it – hanami. The full meaning of hanami is difficult to translate accurately but in literal terms it means ‘flower viewing’ and normally refers to sakura, the blossom of cherry trees in spring.  Incorporated within this meaning is also the notion of transient beauty, the appreciation of something rare and fleeting that will not last for long. Hanami is a hugely important aspect of Japanese culture and the period between late March and early May – cherry blossom time, naturally – is the season in which it is practised.IMG_0417

A predictive blossom forecast is announced by the national weather bureau each year, with expected dates of first bloom and peak blossom made for the entire archipelago. The blossoming starts in Okinawa in the far south as early as February before moving like a slow-moving weather front northwards through the islands of Kyushu, Shikoku and Honshu to conclude in cooler Hokkaido in May. For a number of reasons that are mainly to do with micro-climates and urban heat bubbles, sakura in Tokyo arrives earlier than might be expected for such a northerly latitude, climaxing at the end of March and the first week of April.IMG_0455

The arrival of sakura is celebrated with gusto throughout Japan. In Tokyo, Ueno Park with its long avenues of cherry trees is a highly popular spot for hanami revellers, who assemble here with friends, family and work colleagues to sit in large groups beneath the trees to eat, drink and have fun. As it gets dark the paper lanterns that hang like bunting between the trees are switched on to create a delightful festival-like ambience.


IMG_0595Another sakura epicentre in the Japanese capital is along the Meguro-gawa riverbank at Nakameguro in the south of the city. Here the branches of the cherry trees on either bank almost touch across the water, blocking out the sky with their delicate blossoms. Such is this neighbourhood’s popularity in late March that the bridges that cross the river become packed with Tokyoites armed with cameras and mobile phones. The bridges make the ideal location for group photos and, of course, selfies. They are also the place from which to witness that most exquisite manifestation of hanami: the fall and drift of white petals on dark water.


IMG_0746We have no real equivalent in the West – certainly not in the United Kingdom. Winter snowdrop walks, spring daffodils and bluebell woods have, perhaps, some sort of equivalence but their draw is generally limited. But in Japan during the sakura season the appeal is almost universal, and you will find all walks of life – pensioners, teenagers, young families, office workers, labourers – standing side by side taking in the view and enjoying the convivial atmosphere, all united in the appreciation of the singular cultural phenomenon that is hanami.



About East of Elveden

Hidden places, secret histories and unsung geography from the east of England and beyond
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8 Responses to Hanami

  1. I loved the period of the blossom of cherry trees in Japan and I also love it in Ticino!🌸

  2. Dina says:

    It’s pure magic,Laurence, unbelievable, like a sky with cherry blossom! I have never seen it myself, but I’d love to, one day … Surely something you’ll never forget.
    The Japanese cherries are very popular in Bonn and the blossom (oink, not white) looks great at the moment. Enjoyed this post very much. Have a wonderful time, see you soon!
    Best regards from all of us in Bonn and Cley,

  3. Thank you so much, Hanne. As you say, a sky of cherry blossom. Cherry blossom is lovely everywhere but it is at its most spectacular in Japan, I think. the fact that it only lasts for a week or two makes it all the more special.
    All the very best, Laurence

  4. It must be a wonderful time in Japan during this time. My daily local walks are always determined by the cherry blossom trees at this time of the year.

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