Cherry blossoms are rooted deep in the culture of Japan, and the seasonal burst of white and soft pastel blooms is now celebrated annually. Cherry blossom festivals the U.S. are wildly popular in spring, as well.
Sakura, as the blossoms are called, are beautiful and fragile.
Cherry blossoms were used in ancient Japan to forecast how crops for the coming year would do. Modern Japan still celebrates Hanami - gatherings of friends to picnic under a canopy of cherry blossoms enjoying the brief burst of the beauty of nature and springtime.
for a Hanami party involves keeping watch on the weather. Like the fall foliage in other areas, the color is short lived. Once the blossoms appear, they are often gone within days. The Sakura zensen, the cherry blossom front, is watched to calculate
the exact timing for Hanami cherry blossom viewing parties. In Japan, weather stations provide updates and newspapers publish maps so everyone will know when the Sakura zensen will arrive in the area.
In the Heian
era in feudal Japan, Hanami was reserved for members of the imperial
family. Common people were not permitted to celebrate!
Today, of course, everyone
takes part and Hanami viewing is a great excuse to party. A group
may begin early in the morning and continue through the day. Others
wait until the evening lanterns are lit among the cherry trees
and go on with feasting for hours into the night.
Fast food stalls help picnickers by providing barbecued chicken called yakitori (skewered chicken) and yakisoba (chicken and noodles.) Some stalls even sell drinks for nearby cherry blossom parties.
Many think of the cherry blossom, Sakura, as Japan's national flower. It has never been officially proclaimed, but the flowers and the enjoyment they provide are very important to the Japanese people. Through the centuries, the Japanese have developed many different varieties of the cherry tree. All of these trees bloom for a short time with pink or white flowers.
Cherries are part of the rose family and like roses, most cherry trees bloom during the spring. A few varieties are grown to flower later and actually show their blossoms in the autumn or even during winter!
Normally, it is just a week to ten days before all of the blossoms are carried away by the wind. During this short time the land is covered with the colors and scent of the fragile cherry blooms. The intense beauty and short time span have associated cherry blossoms with spiritual and philosophical ideas such as the beauty and the fragility of life.
No matter where in Japan you happen to be, if it's early spring you'll find rows of cherry trees announcing their presence with their pink and white blossoms. Every public park provides at least a row of trees to visit. The Motobu Yaedake Cherry Blossom Festival in Okinawa, is the earliest cherry blossom festival in Japan. This festival can begin as early as the first of January! Hanami season through most of Japan is a bit later. Most Cherry Blossom festivals are in March
The best places to see the cherry blossoms bloom in Tokyo are Ueno Park, where more than 1000 trees are planted, and Sumida Park with hundreds of cherry trees blossoming in the Spring.
Osaka Mint, Zouheikyoku, in Osaka allows visitors in to see their garden of more than one hundred different types of cherry trees while they are in bloom. In Kyoto the Ninnaji Temple and Hirano Jinja Shrine are popular places to gather for Hanami. The Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama Park in downtown Kyoto are also well known areas for enjoying the cherry blossoms while they are bloom.
Japan has shared their beautiful cherry blossoms with other lands. One gift to Washington, DC in the United States has given birth to a tradition of cherry blossom festival in that city. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden in New York City also has a beautiful display of flowering trees in April and May.
Cherry trees are wonderful additions to any garden or yard and are not difficult to care for. If you can't plan a visit to Japan or another famed cherry blossom festival, think about adding a few to your own area and have a Hanami party with your friends and neighbors each spring.
They'll thank you for introducing them to the custom!