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The Arbor Teas Blog

Hanami and Traditional Japanese Cherry Blossom Festivals

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Cherry Blossom ViewingThe word “hanami” means “flower viewing” in Japanese, and that’s exactly what Japanese Cherry Blossom Festivals are all about – taking the time to enjoy the cherry blossoms that burst open from the sakura trees suddenly and briefly each spring. 

The tradition began in the first century, during Japan’s Nara period, when any number of flowering trees would have been viewed, including plum and wisteria. Originally, only the elite took part in Hanami, but the custom spread through the culture over the centuries and was a common practice for all Japanese by the 17th century.

Today, the weather in Japan is watched very closely as winter to turns to spring, and Japanese up and down the island chain anticipate Hanami, which comes first to the southernmost island of Kyushu. This portion of the weather report is called “sakura-zensen” or “cherry blossom front” and it aims to predict when the trees will blossom.

When the sakuras bloom, the celebrations are simple, with families packing picnics to share under the blush-colored canopies. Large municipal parks such as Ueno Park in Tokyo will hang lanterns under the trees for the purpose of “yozakura,” which translates into “night sakura,” and is literally Hanami at night.

If this makes you want to jump on a plane and participate in Hanami, you’re not alone. Hanami marks the beginning of the busy tourist season in Japan, which doesn’t really end until September.

If you can’t swing Japan, you may be able to find some cherry blossoms closer to home. The National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place every spring and celebrates the blooming of the sakura trees that were brought to Washington, DC as a gift in 1912 by then-mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki. There are also festivals in Macon, Georgia, Denver, and San Francisco, where festivalgoers celebrate everything “Japan” from food and drink to origami and doll making.

[photo credit: Kamal Zharif Kamaludin]