As the cherry blossoms begin to open their buds, the Japan America Society is currently gearing up for the upcoming Cherry Blossom Festival, which is scheduled to kick off its opening event on April 1st. While we try our best to create a series of events that allow participants to learn about Japanese culture and get a feel for what spring looks like in Japan, some of you might wonder what Japanese people really do during the cherry blossom season in Japan. As a Japanese, I’d like to share with you some of the typical things that we do for hanami, or flower viewing if literally translated.
First of all, I want to talk about how we learn when it’s best to go see the cherry blossoms in full bloom. Since Japan covers a long range of latitudes from north to south, there are time differences of a few weeks for the peak of flower blooming depending on where you live in Japan. And that’s where the Japanese love for cherry blossoms comes into play. Our desire to get the best view of the flowers we can has led us to create the “cherry blossom forecast,” which is like the cherry blossom version of a weather forecast. This is a very important piece of information for many people who want to make their hanami experience as nice and timely as possible.
Although activities done by hanami-loving people vary greatly depending on where you go and whom you hang out with, one thing that you can’t forget to bring is sake, a Japanese alcohol made from fermented rice. Since the Heian period in the 8th century when hanami was used as a seasonal topic in the famous novel The Tale of Genji, hanami has been part of prayer for a bumper crop and a symbol of the coming of rice-planting season. Hence, sake plays a crucial part not just in making a hanami get-together fun and merry, but also in lending to it a cultural connotation that’s been passed on since ancient times.
Whether students or workers, people usually spread tarp sheets under cherry blossom trees at a park, riverside, school quadrangle, etc., and bring food and drinks to celebrate the season. Because the cherry blossoming season coincides with a new school year in Japan, college kids tend to use hanami to try to get freshmen to join their clubs and social circles, like a fraternity rush in the United States. Riversides where cherry blossom trees are planted are often filled with people barbecuing and having drinking parties during the season. While most of those hanami-related events take place during the day, there is also an option for those who want to enjoy cherry blossoms at night, called yozakura, or night cherry blossom viewing. Catering to people who’d like to take a glance at the nocturnal face of cherry blossoms or just want to have a quieter viewing experience, some places or facilities that own cherry blossom trees light up their cherry blossoms at night for yozakura visitors.
Nonetheless, the most important purpose of hanami is to meet and have fun with your friends and family, and that’s what we’re hoping participants of the Cherry Blossom Festival do. We’ve created more than 20 events for the Festival, and you are welcome to attend any event that catches your attention and interest. Registration for some of the events has already started, so keep checking our website periodically so that you don’t miss the one you want!