The beginning of spring in Japan always brings much excitement because of the coming of the sakura or cherry blossoms. The Japanese even have a tradition called hanami, which literally means “flower viewing” and is most associated with the sakura.
The ancient custom involves not only basking in the beauty of the delicate flowers but also of having merry picnics and parties under the cherry trees. I am passing on to you some tips on practicing hanami as well as how to plan your trip in time for this lovely season.
If you can, don’t plan too far ahead. Getting to Japan in time for the sakura full bloom is quite tricky since the flowers only have a lifespan of about two weeks. Buying a plane ticket a month until a few weeks before the start of spring increases your chances of seeing the flowers but also means more expensive prices. Read up on forecasts as to when the “best viewing days” are but keep in mind that these are only estimates.
You can check these sites:www.japan-guide.com
Determine which part of Japan you’ll be visiting. Blossom period happens from South to North so sakura flowers may start to appear as early as January in some parts and as late as April in others. This tip may come in handy when you miss the blossoms in one place; just hop on the shinkansen and head farther up North for another chance to see the sakura!
Also, scour your city of choice for hanami spots. No two trees are the same and that’s why not all cherry blossoms in an area peak at the same time. The more places you go to the more chances you’ll have of catching these fleeting floral beauties. There are many hanami places to choose from: parks, tree-lined avenues, and even little streets lined with cherry trees can be quite a sight in spring. If you’re planning to stay long I suggest going to a park or a garden. Even bustling Tokyo has an abundance of them so you’ll never lack choices.
Here are some of the places I visited which were perfect venues for hanami.
A stretch of the Meguro river is lined with cherry trees which look especially pretty at night when they are illuminated by the faint glow of lanterns. For about 500 yen you can buy a glass of rose, hot sake, or sparkling wine to sip while walking around and looking at the sakura.
This place offers some peace and quiet from the huge hanami crowds. For that reason you should consider visiting it.
Do not forget to bring your food and drink of choice. You can buy delicious and dainty bento meals, onigiri, sushi, gyoza, and other treats in supermarkets (most are connected to train stations) and take them with you.
Some parks are teeming with food stalls. You’ll never go hungry!
Bring a mat or blanket especially if you’re planning to stay for quite some time. You can easily buy an affordable plastic mat in the 100-yen stores. Reserve your spot by spreading out a mat with your name on it or having someone sit on it while waiting for the rest of your party. Or find any empty spot where you’re not blocking anyone. That was good enough for us.
Don’t pluck the flowers. They are very delicate so marvel at their beauty and leave them for the others to view as well.
Whether you choose to have a quiet picnic or a festive party, I assure you it won’t be difficult to have fun during a hanami. With the sakura above you and the company of friends and family you will surely have a good time.