It’s that time of year again where the parks and many parts of cities turn pinkish white, the temperature carefully rises above 8 degrees Celsius to foreshadow the coming of the warmer months, and people gather to enjoy copious amounts of alcohol. It’s Cherry Blossom Season once more, when many flock to parks and rivers, braving cold and even rain to enjoy the mesmerising beauty of these mysterious flowers that have inspired artists and writers since days long forgotten.
Cherry blossoms, like many facets in life, have no permanence. It is this fleeting beauty that makes them so enigmatic. Only blooming for a short time, one has to really stop and actively enjoy their passing beauty to truly understand the Japanese mindset and why people sit outside for hours in cold weather to enjoy this transient season. It is said the ephemeral nature of the blossoms are a reflection of life - beautiful, powerful at its peak, yet fleeting and impermanent.
Cherry Blossoms, or Sakura (桜) as they’re called in Japanese, stem from the Japanese Cherry Trees, and have a long history in Japan. The custom of 花見 Hanami (Cherry Blossom viewing) is said to have started during the Nara period (794-1185 AD) in the Imperial Court. By the Edo Period (1603-1867 AD), the custom had spread to all corners and societal groups in Japan and everyone was able to enjoy the beautiful seasonal festivities. This tradition eventually became such a mainstay in Japanese cultural customs that now its synonymous with Japan in people’s minds all over the world.
The Japanese revere the Sakura so much that a picture of a blooming flower has been permanently emblazoned on the ¥100 coins.
So, what do you need for a perfect Hanami? Well, first of all you need the right setting and some good people around you to enjoy it with. Next, get yourself a blue tarp (most popular) or some kind of blanket to sit on. After that, make sure you have lots of food and plenty of drinks. Though some people drink tea, the most popular beverages during this season are of the alcoholic variety. Beer, Wine, Umeshu (Plum Wine) and various flavours of Japanese Sake (Nihonshu) seem to be most consumed.
One of the best places to enjoy Hanami in the Aichi area is along the banks of the Gojo River near Iwakura Station. Imagine a river area lined with Sakura Trees on either side, lots of little food vendors, and plenty of people having fun and relaxing under, or next to the trees. No wonder this pristine area has been named as one of the top 100 places to see cherry blossoms in Japan and its definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Whether you’re in Aichi, or other places in Japan though, having a Hanami is one of the definitive cultural experiences to be had. Although the season is almost over in Aichi, there’s still time to view the flowers in northern Japan, so grab your friends, and hop on a Shinkansen while there’s still time! Hope to see you all at a Hanami next year!