Cherishing the cherry blossoms
If you’re wondering what time of year to visit Japan, why not let nature make the decision for you? Time your trip with the blooming of cherry blossoms and you’ll see the festive side of Japanese life as locals gather to celebrate this wondrous time of year.
The cherry blossom front (sakura-zensen) moves from south to north along with the warmer temperatures. The first blossoms appear on trees on the islands around Okinawa as early as mid-January, and the last in the cooler, northern parts of the country, such as Hokkaido, in early May.
The stunning blooms usually last no longer than a couple of weeks, their fleeting nature symbolising to the Japanese the impermanence of beauty. The Japanese concept of mono no aware is the wistful realisation that nothing lasts forever.
Still, while the blossoms are blooming, locals make the most of it with long picnics, or hanami under the trees day and night with plenty of food, beer and sake to stoke the festive spirit.
The hanami tradition started in the Nara period with feasts for royalty under the sakura trees in Kyoto’s Imperial Court. By the Edo period, common folk had also adopted the tradition, and now people from around the world come to Japan to join in the celebrations.
Along with the joyous parties under the trees are festivals with parades, performing arts, music and lanterns. Vendors sell special foods and handmade goods, and you can partake in tea ceremonies under cherry trees.
Cherry blossoms bloom throughout the country but there are a few cities and regions famous for their hanami festivals. In Tokyo, popular Ueno Park has 1000 flowering cherry trees that draw the crowds but if you’re looking for a destination a little less rowdy, head to Shinjuku-gyōen, one of Tokyo’s biggest parks. Maruyama Park, in Kyoto, is the place to be – a huge weeping cherry tree makes a special centrepiece, especially when lit up at night.
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