Hanami: Japan’s Cherry Blossom Celebration
Hanami is the Japanese tradition of viewing cherry blossoms. The custom is centuries old, dating back to the Nara period around 710 AD. In Japan, flowering cherry blossoms are called “sakura” and usually peak at the start of April. They only hold their blushing blooms for a couple of weeks and as a result, have become a symbol of renewal and the fleeting nature of life.
To celebrate and honor the sakura,the Japanese hold hanami parties by picnicking under the blooming trees from morning through evening. If you have the opportunity to visit Japan during this period, you’ll witness thousands of people gather in parks, socializing over sake, tea, and bento boxes. Many local department stores and restaurants will even sell special edible treats created especially for this event.
Here are a few tips to enjoying hanami while visiting Japan (or in another city):
Stake a Good Spot
An ideal spot has shade, comfortable ground, and views of the blossoms. When in Japan, make sure that the park allows picnicking and that the space does not require a reservation. If reservations aren’t required, grab a spot early as the Japanese tend to camp out all day long.
Thousands of picnickers at Yoyogi Park in Tokyo
Respect the Trees
The trees are to be honored and admired for their ephemeral beauty. As pretty as they are, they are delicate. Don’t disrespect trees by pulling on the branches, climbing them, or picking off the blooms.
Pack Like a Pro
Come prepared with a water-resistant picnic sheet – such as a tarp – as the ground can be quite damp and cold in early spring. Most hanami-goers also bring cushions or folding chairs for extra comfort. Pack food that can be stored, shared, and consumed at room temperature easily. If you want to sip on sake or alcoholic beverages, make sure it’s legal to drink in public. A pack of wet towelettes will keep hands clean before and after the meal. And remember: April weather can be fickle so have an umbrella and warm clothes on hand in case of a climate shift.
Sakura along Tokyo’s Sumida River in Asakusa
Leave No Trash Behind
Another important thing to pack? A garbage bag! Visitors are expected to clean up after themselves and not all parks offer large disposal bins.
Know Where the Restrooms Are
It’s inevitable you’ll need to use the loo after a few hours of eating and drinking. Know where restrooms are located and bring your own toilet paper – some Japanese parks don’t offer it or may run out with the large crowds. Speaking of crowds, expect long lines to the bathrooms. In other words, don’t wait until the last minute to do your duty or you may regret it.
Cherry blossom selfies at Senso-ji temple in Tokyo
Where have you gone to witness cherry blossoms bloom? Leave your tips, comments, and questions below for other travelers. If you enjoyed what you discovered today, please share with a travel buddy or on social media.
Lara was instilled with the travel bug at an early age and has visited over 25 countries. Her mother’s job as a flight attendant enabled a childhood of discovering the world. She recently relocated to Seoul, South Korea, where she hopes to explore much of Asia for the next few years. In addition to being the founding editor of En Route Traveler, Lara also works as a freelance graphic designer. In her spare time, she contributes as a Local Expert to AFAR, is an ambassador for FIG Clothing, enjoys vegetarian cuisine, instructs Zumba, practices yoga, dabbles in photography and, of course, travels as much as possible.