Spring is blooming: Ringing in Japan's special season

Photos by Tetsuo Nakahara, Stripes Kanto
Photos by Tetsuo Nakahara, Stripes Kanto

Spring is blooming: Ringing in Japan's special season

by: Tetsuo Nakahara | .
Stripes Kanto | .
published: April 06, 2014

Editor's note: Folks, in a few days all the cherry blossoms will have fallen to the ground in the Tokyo area, so you better get out and check them out.

From late March through early to mid-April, many people in Japan begin to look skyward to view beautiful white and pink flowers in full bloom and breathe in spring’s long-awaited arrival. Yes, it’s cherry blossom time.

The “sakura,” or cherry blossoms, start to bloom from Okinawa in February, and the season moves north gradually. This year, cherry blossoms are expected to start blooming around March 20 in Sasebo, March 25 in Iwakuni, March 26 in around Tokyo and April 20 in Misawa, according to the Japan Weather Association.

The most popular cherry blossom trees in Japan are the “somei yoshino.” There are several other varieties such as “yama sakura,” “yae sakura” and “shidare sakura.”

The small, round-shaped flower petals flutter to the ground gracefully after they bloom for approximately 10 days. Because of their fragility and beauty, cherry blossoms are often compared to the fleeting nature of human life. It is also said that cherry blossoms and “bushido,” the traditional spirit of samurai, have much in common: No matter how beautiful the blossom, it will soon perish.

During the short time cherry blossoms are in bloom, many Japanese enjoy the custom of “hanami,” or blossom viewing, at parks, schools, grounds, rivers and pretty much anywhere cherry blossoms can be found. It provides a chance for people to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, spread out a picnic blanket and enjoy some tasty treats or barbecue with friends and family. It is also a great opportunity to open up a cool beverage and bask under the pink-tinged petals of Japan’s springtime symbol.

In many companies and organizations, nighttime hanami parties are held, both to enjoy the season, and strengthen bonds between friends and colleagues. Since April 1 is the beginning of Japan’s fiscal year, when companies take on new hires and the new school year starts, these open-air events often serve as a way to meet new colleagues and celebrate the start of a new year together.

Popular hanami locations can also get very crowded. In fact, many people arrive early in the morning to claim the best spots, waiting there until parties start later in the day. The trash left after these events has also been a problem for those who live near major hanami locations. But such issues far outweigh this longstanding tradition – even as it is practiced in the United States.

In 1912, Japan presented 3,000 cherry blossom trees to Washington DC as a friendship gesture to U.S. The number of trees has since increased along with strong the friendship between the two nations. Now, the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place, attracting many tourists to Washington DC. Don’t miss an opportunity enjoy this pastime while you are in Japan.


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