Watching Cherry Blossoms
Sakura hanami: ‘watching cherry blossoms’. Few activities are so representative of Japan. Every year, from the end of February, weather forecasts attempt to provide the most accurate timing for the beginning of the ‘hanami season’ throughout the country.
Hanami season is known for being short, as it lasts less than two weeks. Because of the huge climate differences, from northern Hokkaido that is similar to Europe to the sub-tropical climate of Kagoshima prefecture, it spreads over more than one month. For travelers, going on a hanami ‘spree’ can be a lot of fun. They can start in Kyushu at the end of March, go via Kyoto and then up towards the prefectures north of Tokyo!
Sakura hanami: a bittersweet moment
Sakura hanami is a special and bittersweet moment for Japanese residents. Above all, it’s a time for celebration. April 1st marks the beginning of the new school and fiscal year. Coming together with family, friends and coworkers, people take over parks and river banks.
Ubiquitous picnic blue sheets cover the grass, soon topped with countless bento boxes, filled with fried chicken, rice balls, salads, sausages, and other BBQ delicacies… Along with beer, sake and shochu of course.
For the same reason, it’s also a time for saying goodbye. Goodbye to children who leave town to go to university elsewhere, goodbye to colleagues dispatched to a remote branch on the other side of the country.
Happiness and sadness mingle together under the beautiful pink and white petals of cherry trees.
An ephemeral beauty
This is also why cherry blossoms are a perfect symbol for this special period. It’s not only the start of spring, of a new year. They are the essence of ephemeral beauty. As such, they represent so well some of the core principles of Japanese philosophy. Nothing remains forever, everything changes, nothing is permanent… Life is but a dream!
Therefore everyone wishes to enjoy sakura hanami. It is a stark reminder of the necessity of enjoying the present moment. ‘Ima koko’: ‘now and here’ is an essential rule in Zen. Enjoying a delicious sencha while contemplating cherry blossoms has therefore been part of Japanese traditions for centuries.