Sakura no hanami (桜の花見), or “cherry-blossom viewing,” is not to be trivialized in Japan. Like die-hard skiers keeping close tabs on snowfall predictions, some Japanese people keep a close eye on cherry tree (sakura) blooming predictions. Not only are sakura a heralding of long-awaited spring, but there is great symbolism contained in the idea of the Japanese cherry blossom.
Here’s the essence of sakura: The way that the sakura flower bursts onto the scene with its delicate pink petals, then quickly fades into oblivion a week or two later, reminds Japanese people of the fleeting nature of life and beauty. Sakura encompasses the Buddhist idea of impermanence, or mujō (無常), which is all about enjoying the present because it vanishes so quickly.
Cherry trees are such a part of Japanese culture that hanami (flowing viewing) usually just refers to sakura, though sometimes other blossoms such as plum and wisteria come to mind. There are flowering maps that appear every year to guide sakura fans in their quest to perfectly time their cherry blossom viewing outings. In March, the warmer southern regions of Japan are first bestowed with the parade of color, and the sakura tree blossoming front moves gradually northward into April or May.
Where to go in Japan to see Sakura
With the abundance of cherry trees in Japan, hanami really is something to witness firsthand if you ever get the chance.
The sakura circuit starts in Okinawa, the southernmost island, as early as January or February most years. Next up are the islands of Kyushu and Shikoku in March. On the main island, Honshu, the cities of Osaka, Nagoya, and Tokyo should get their blooms at about the same time, often mid-March. Sakuranomiya in Osaka is sure to be a festive place to visit during hanami season. In Tokyo, Ueno Park or Yoyogi Park are really popping when the sakura are in bloom. Saitama is a bit north of Tokyo, so sakura no hanami is expected to come alive there next.
The cherry blossom front, called sakura zensen, continues north until it gets to the northernmost island, Hokkaido. You won’t miss your hanami chances if you show up at the end of April, but depending on the weather that year, you may not see a sakura bloom until May.
Japanese Snacks to go with Sakura
When people go out in search of sakura blooms, certain Japanese sweets and teas are part and parcel of the experience. People like to bring a picnic or stroll in the park and eat at food carts. Popular foods during hanami are bento lunches packed with spring-themed snacks like makizushi (rolled sushi), inarizushi (stuffed sushi), kamaboko (fish rolls), and tamagoyaki (fried egg). Many food stalls sell dango (rice dumplings on a stick), mochi with anko (red bean paste), or a variety of pink and cherry-inspired treats. The drinks of choice are sake and green tea during sakura celebrations.
You don’t have to go to Japan to have a first-rate cherry blossom experience. You can enjoy the taste of sakura, spring, and pink cheer from your home! If you sign up for Bokksu in March, you can get an amazing Sakura Season box filled to the brim with 22 spring-themed Japanese snacks, sweets, and teas from artisanal producers. Try things like plum rice crackers, sakura mochi, and white peach gummy candies, and you’ll see what the spring sakura hype is all about!
Cherry tree = sakura 桜 or sakuragi 桜木
Cherry blossom or flower = sakura no hana 桜の花
Cherry petal = sakura no hanabira桜の花びら
Cherry (fruit) = sakuranbo 桜んぼ
Cherry-blossom viewing = sakura no hanami桜の花見
Cherry blossom front = sakura zensen 桜前線
Night-time sakura = yozakura 夜桜
By Megan Taylor Stephens