The weather is starting to warm up, which means that spring is just around the corner. As many people know, spring in Japan means sakura (cherry blossoms) and hanami (flower viewing).
I always love the time of year when the cherry blossoms start to show, and everything turns into shades of pink, and white with a spattering of earthy browns and greens. My absolute favourite thing to see is the wind blow the petals around like a soft, pink snow.
So while I enjoy cherry blossom time, I never knew much about that. I decided to rectify that, so here are a few interesting cherry blossom facts.
|There are over 100 varieties of cherry blossoms.|
|Many of the cherry blossom varieties have been cultivated by man for decorative use.|
|The three most common types are the Somei Yoshino (染井吉野) the Yamazakura (山桜), and the Shidarezakura (枝垂桜).|
|Cherry trees are classified by the number of petals, the colour of the flower and the leaf, the blooming time, and the shape of the tree itself.|
|The kanji for sakura (桜) represents a woman wearing a hair ornament, standing beside a tree.|
|The cherry blossom can be seen as a symbol of mortality; they bloom beautifully for a short time, but have a fast death.|
|When Japan was conquering new lands, they planted cherry trees to claim the area for Japan.|
Every year the Japan Weather Association puts out a “cherry blossom calendar” which predicts when the flowers will bloom in different areas of the country. Their most recent predictions were released on February 27th.
Hanami (花見) is a popular event in Japan. It literally translates to “flower viewing”, and that’s pretty much what you do. In my experience older people (meaning seniors) go during the day to shrines, parks, or temples to look at and appreciate the cherry blossoms. Younger people often go in couples or groups of friends or co-workers and have a picnic under the trees. Many parks have lanterns lit up at night so people can enjoy night time cherry blossom viewing, or “yozakura” (夜桜).
In big parks you can usually find people using traps to cover the ground, at many popular places have food stalls, or “yatai” (屋台), making it more of a festival. Getting the perfect spot is not an easy task, and a lot of the time groups will send one or two people out to secure their sitting location. Hanami is serious business in Japan.
While I was reading about cherry blossoms, I also found some interesting information about the history of hanami.
|“Hanami” was originally done under the blossoms of plum (ume) trees. However, cherry blossoms started attracting more attention, and by the time of the Heian Period (794 – 1185), “hanami” become synonymous with “cherry blossoms”.|
|At first, flower viewing was only for the elite of the Imperial Court, but by the Edo Period it was for everyone.|
Every year we go somewhere different to look at the cherry blossoms, so as you can imagine I’ve built up a nice collection of photos. I haven’t shared most of the photos, so I chose a variety from various trips.
Nagahama and Hikone, Shiga (長浜と彦根、滋賀)
Nagahama and Hikone are right on Biwa lake, and have some pretty awesome scenic views. We went to check out the sites, the cherry blossoms, and both Nagahama and Hikone Castle. Hikone Castle is special, as it’s one of the only twelve Japanese castles that’s still in its original form. The stairs inside are ridiculously steep, and I remember taking an extremely long time to get up and down them.
Tō-ji [East Temple], Kyoto (東寺、京都)
On a weekend trip to Kyoto to see the cherry blossoms, Tō-ji was our first stop. It was a beautiful day, and although there were a good number of people visiting, the temple grounds were peaceful and quiet.
Maruyama Park, Kyoto (円山公園、京都)
We went to Maruyama park at night time, to see the illumination. There were huge crowds there, and it was hard to even find a place to walk, let alone sit down. The park is famous for the Weeping Cherry Blossom tree that you can see in the photos. As you can also see in the photos, it’s supported by beams and wires. Throngs of people were there taking photo of the tree.
Ninna-ji, Kyoto (仁和寺、京都)
This was another temple that I really enjoyed. It’s a World Heritage site, and was founded in 888 A.D. Despite the fact it’s so old, it’s well maintained. We were lucky to have a nice day, and it was extremely serene. I’d recommend anyone who is visiting Kyoto to check out this temple, especially when the cherry blossoms are in bloom!
Arashiyama, Kyoto (嵐山、京都)
Arashiyama is famous for its bamboo forests, and while I have another whole collection of photos of just that, this time we’re focusing on the cherry blossoms!
Nijō Castle, Kyoto (二条城、京都)
In the evening, we went to Nijō Castle to see the cherry blossoms illuminated. It was absolutely freezing, and I wasn’t able to get as many good photos as I would have liked. We took a break from the cold and had tea, and a traditional Japanese snack in a tea room. It was a really nice experience.
Ogaki, Gifu (大垣、岐阜)
Last year we went to Ogaki for the cherry blossoms. Unfortunately, we were a little later in the month going than we would have liked to be, so the trees weren’t as full as they might have been. We walked from the station through the streets, and a cute little park, finally ending up at the castle.
Nagoya Castle, Aichi (名古屋城、愛知)
Every year they light up the cherry blossoms around Nagoya Castle. I tried to take a lot of photos, but unfortunately, only a few turned out.
Obara, Aichi (小原、愛知)
Obara is little place in Aichi prefecture, that the ladies from one of my morning classes took me to. It was a really nice outing, and a beautiful place. It was a bit rainy, but I’m so glad it’s somewhere I got to go. The interesting thing about Obara is that it has “October Sakura”, which are cherry blossoms that bloom in the autumn. The autumn colours along with the pink cherry blossoms was pretty awesome to see.
We haven’t decided where to go this year, but I’m definitely looking forward to getting some great photos of Rhea amongst the blossoms!
If you’re looking for ideas of where to go, visit Go Japan Go’s list of Top 100 Cherry viewing spots. They cover all of Japan, so no matter where you are, or where you’re heading, you can find a great place to check out the flowers!