Tag Archive for hanami

5 Things about “Hanami” (Cherry Blossom Viewing)

Welcome to Spring. Japanese people go crazy over cherry blossom viewing, I guess because it’s the first sign that the winter cold is breaking, and warmer days are clearly ahead. However, the plum flowers are already blooming, and have been for most species for about a month, but the cherry blossoms (or “sakura”) bloom for a week before the Spring breezes blows the petals away. Also, even though there are hundreds of thousands of these trees across the country in various species and varieties, most of these bear no edible fruit.

A young Japanese lady admiring the cherry blossoms. For this model released photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Seasons gallery.

 

1. Weather and when

The cherry trees blossoming is triggered by warmer weather, beginning in Okinawa in the south in February, to central Japan where they typically blossom in the second week of April, to Hokkaido in June (I think). The trees typically remain in bloom for seven or eight days. If there’s heavy rain, the petals are out for a very short time, but if the weather remains mild, the cherry blossom parties, or “Hanami Matsuri” can go on for nearly two weeks. Japanese Meteorological Agency used to provide blooming forecasts for nearly fifty years, but a few years ago they ended this service. Too many tour companies have tried to sue the JMA for inaccurate forecasting, costing the tour companies lots of money because of their own inflexibility and understanding of weather and nature. Now there are websites that make their own predictions that you can use like JNTO.


For this cherry blossom (sakura) photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Cherry Blossoms gallery.

 

2. Language point

The following contains both Roman, Chinese and Hiragana characters. “Hanami” (花見、はなみ), literally means ‘flower viewing’ (Wikipedia), but what Japanese people really mean is just hanging out and enjoying cherry blossom trees. “Sakura” (桜、さくら) means ‘cherry trees’ and ‘cherry blossoms’, and “ume” (梅、うめ) means ‘plum’, ‘plum tree’, and ‘plum flowers’.

Flowers on a Japanese plum tree. For this photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Cherry Blossoms gallery.

 

3. How it’s celebrated

Usually cherry blossom parties are held by groups of people. Usually work colleagues, community groups (typically neighbourhood groups), university clubs, groups of friends, and some times families get together for this. For evening parties, one or two poor sods have to get a tarp and some basic supplies and stake out a good spot until the evening when the others arrive. Usually its the young office staff or secretaries job to do this. Otherwise, most folks have their party in the day time. I think it’s still quite uncomfortably cool even in the day time, so day time parties are more common. They usually have a small bar-be-cue, have sake and beer, and relax and enjoy themselves without any loud frivolities.

For this Hanami (cherry blossom party) photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Cherry Blossoms gallery.

 

4. Why cherry blossoms and not plum flowers?

Good question. The plum flowers are out much longer, they start earlier, and some species are out in the warmer part of spring, too. Also, plum flowers are usually much nicer or prettier. In fact, in the Nara period (710-794AD), it was the plum flowers that were revered, and to some extent the cherry blossoms and wisteria. Later, because of famous literary works focusing on cherry blossoms, the other options fell to the wayside (Wikipedia/Hanami History). Cherry blossoms are out for only a week typically at the start of April in central Japan. This timing, and brevity, seems to act as a convenient demarcation in time for Japanese people. School and university calendars start in April, companies have their new recruits start in April, companies transfer their staff to start in April, so March-April is also the moving season. The end of March marks the end of storage and tax-thingamy time, so major electronics stores have sales before new models are shipped and put on display. It seems the start of April is the time when Japan hits the reset button and lots of things starts fresh.

For this cherry blossom school sports photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Cherry Blossoms gallery.

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5. Legend

Continuing on from point 4 above, it is said by Japanese people that the life of a samurai is short lived, with the sudden start and end as the cherry blossoms themselves. A good for a samurai is to have a quick sudden end, rather than a gradual fade to nothing, much like the sudden fall of petals from a cherry tree.

Nagoya castle in the Spring. For this photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Cherry Blossoms gallery.

POTW: 5Mar 2012 Sakura

This Photo of the Week is for Spring. In southern parts of Japan cherry blossoms, known in Japanese as ‘sakura’, will soon start blooming, and as the warmer temperature clime moves north blomming will reach central Japan early April, and be in Hokkaido at about the end of April early May. Of the many species of cherry blossoms in Japan, the particular ones Japanese most enjoy bloom for just one week. However, some springs are a bit windy which blows the petals away within a few days, and some springs are warm and so the blooming time can be almost two weeks. Whilst the flowers are in bloom, many community groups, groups of friends & families, and companies get together for picnic, barbeques, and to consume lots of Asahi beer. This kind of party is known in Japanese as ‘hanami’, translated as ‘flower viewing’.

The reason why cherry blossoms became so popular for parties is that they are a metaphor for a warrior’s life. It is short lived, beautiful, and ends suddenly. The tradition continues in modern times presumably because it is a convenient narrow-point in the calendar to identify the time for such parties. In spring there are other species of cherry blossoms that bloom for almost a whole month, and the much prettier plum flowers bloom for a month or so as well.

Cherry blossoms :: sakura

Thanks to +John Asano reminding me that it’s almost Cherry Blossom (sakura) season, which is usually the end of March early April and goes for about a week. In Japan friends, social groups, companies, and families all stake out a place under an arboretum of cherry blossoms and have barbeques and pretend it’s not uncomfortably cool. These barbeques / parties are known in Japanese as ‘hanami’, or ‘flower looking’. Because of the 11th March earthquake last year, most people thought it bad taste to have a party only a month after the disaster, so there were very few hanami parties in 2011, and so I bet they’ll make up for it this year. See more Japanese pictures at my PhotoShelter portfolio.

This year, I made up a gallery of pictures that have “sakura” as a keyword. I’ll admit that I was in that stage where I was repulsed from taking hanami party pictures, until last year when I couldn’t. So this year I’ll add more to the collection.


Cherry blossoms / Sakura – Images by Andrew Blyth

Cherry blossom viewing parties are not on

Every year, the cherry blossom viewing parties, known in Japanese as ‘hanami’ (lit flower-seeing) are popular. Groups of friends, company staff-groups, university clubs, social clubs, and others gather under cherry trees to bar-be-que and drink beer and sake. It’s a nice time as the weather is more clement and the air lacks chill, and parks that are loaded with cherry trees are a really nice break from the bleak colours of winter.

However, winter of 2011 in Japan hasn’t ended on the best of notes. Cherry blossom viewing and associated revelry is a national obsession, but anyone having so much fun this year would surely feel a sense of guilt. People living and suffering in temporary shelters (mainly school gyms) have lost everything, including their hanami cliques, and their favourite groves of cherry trees. Furthermore, I’m sure no-one really wants to be seen having fun right now. So, the cherry blossom parties are out, and I’ve found it hard to find any one doing more than strolling past and smiling at the gentle pink hues.