Japan’s famous cherry blossom has been in the news this week. Thanks to climate change, it’s blooming earlier and earlier, and 2021’s bloom is believed to be the earliest since the 1400s. Traditionally, the season doesn’t start until mid-April, meaning it has arrived a good two or three weeks early this year. The cherry blossom season is incredibly important in Japan. It is of huge cultural and historic significance, as well as being a driver of tourism to the country – we run our own dedicated cherry blossom tour to help our travellers see the beautiful pink spectacle for themselves. In this article, we’ll tell you a bit more about Japanese cherry blossom. We’ll delve into the history and culture of the event, and share some fun facts about cherry blossom with you.
Translating to English as “flower viewing”, hanami is the Japanese term given to the observation of cherry blossom (Sakura) in Japan. Yes, it’s such an ingrained part of Japanese culture that it has its own word. The act of hanami encourages the Japanese to pause and appreciate the beauty of nature and wider life. It is about slowing down and simply admiring the wonder of your surroundings. As winter comes to an end and the country’s cherry trees burst into vibrant pink, there’s plenty to see!
Hanami normally lasts for around 2 weeks. Cherry trees across Japan bloom and then lose their blossoms fairly quickly, to be replaced by lush green leaves. During the period of blooming, many Japanese people celebrate outdoors. They enjoy parties and picnics in gardens and parks, underneath the cherry trees. Street festivals last into the night and trees are lit up with artificial lights – this is where the term “cherry blossom festival” originated.
The history of hanami in Japan
Hanami goes back centuries and is believed to have originated in around the 8th century. The focus was initially on the blooming of plum blossom, but this soon switched to the more striking and widespread cherry blossom. It is thought that Japanese people engaged in hanami because they believed the trees possessed spirits. The early days of hanami involved making offerings in their honour.
There was also a functional use to hanami. Historically, the arrival of cherry blossoms tended to coincide with the beginning of the rice-planting season, a crucial time of year for Japanese rice farmers.
Throughout the 18th century, cherry blossom trees were planted across the country in order to encourage the celebrations. This planting has seen great success, with hanami remaining as popular today as it has done for many previous centuries.
Seeing the cherry blossoms for yourself
Our 13-day Cherry Blossom Festival tour departs just once per year. The trip is timed to coincide with the peak of the Japanese cherry blossom festival. Our 2022 departure is scheduled for March 28 2022 and will involve guided touring of Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and more. There will also be plenty of opportunities to engage in hanami. During the tour we visit the Kanazawa Gardens. This is one of the best places to admire the cherry blossoms in the whole of Japan. There is never a bad time to visit this beautiful country, but the cherry blossom festival is the perfect excuse to book your trip. Just don’t forget your camera!
If you’d like more information about the tour, then please do get in touch with our team! They’ll be happy to help.
5 facts about Japanese cherry blossom
1. Japan’s oldest cherry blossom tree is approximately 1,800 – 2,000 years old. Scientists believe that the Jindai Zakura tree in the city of Hokuto was a seedling at around the same time that Septimius Severus was the Roman emperor and the Mayan civilization was just beginning to take root in South America. And it still bursts into bloom every year!
2. The Japanese have a special word for when all the Sakura petals have fallen to the ground and the green leaves that follow are starting to bud. The term is hazakura and it translates very literally to “cherry tree in leaf”.
3. To the untrained eye, all of Japan’s cherry trees and Sakura may look the same. But there are actually more than 600 different species in the country. This includes both native and hybrid species which have been created (deliberately or accidentally) by man.
4. You can eat Sakura petals and leaves during the Japanese cherry blossom season. They are pickled during a process known as shiozuke. The pickled petals are then used in pastries or sweets called Sakura mochi. These are famous for their distinctive aroma. The blossoms are also often consumed as a drink in Japan. Simply added to hot water, they create sakurayu tea.
5. Where you see cherry blossom trees, expect to see birds. It’s no surprise that the bright pink blossom attracts birds and insects. The nectar of a cherry blossom tree is at the base of the petals. This means that only birds with long beaks can extract it. Birds with shorter beaks will simply tear the petals instead. You’ll probably see the remains of their work on the ground. The Japanese white-eye, Japanese tit, Brown-eared bulbul and Eurasian tree sparrow are just some of the species to spot amongst the Sakura.
Fancy a visit for yourself?
The Japanese cherry blossom season is a magical time to visit the country. It signals the end of winter and the beginning of warmer, brighter months. People across the country celebrate with friends and family, admiring the stunning pink beauty of the blossoms, feasting and partying into the night.