The Japanese Cherry Blossoms
The cherry blossoms, or ‘sakura’ is the national flower in Japan. The cherry blossoms come in hundreds of different kinds, with colours ranging between white, light pink and dark pink. My personal favourite is the Kawazu sakura, which is one of the earliest cherry trees to bloom. Every year the Japanese meteorological agency publishes a cherry blossom forecast. This is continuously updated as the ‘sakura’ trees start to bloom in the South of Japan and move North.
The ‘sakura’ trees do not produce any fruit, but they are admired for their beauty and symbolism. The cherry blossoms are associated with mortality, destiny and karma. The blossoms are a metaphor for how short lived the nature of life is.
During World War II, the cherry blossoms were used to motivate the soldiers. The ‘sakura’ were painted on the planes before suicide missions to show that the soldiers were ready to be scattered like countless cherry blossoms in the wind.
The ‘sakura’ is a very popular motif and can be seen throughout Japan, on kimonos, tattoos and even kitchenware. The cherry blossom trees are often seen around public buildings, especially schools.
In Japanese anime, you often see students with their school uniforms standing outside a school with cherry blossom petals falling all around them. The cherry blossoms are typically in full bloom as the students start the new school year. The cherry blossoms are a sign of how quickly their children grow. The parents hope to catch photos with their children surrounded by cherry blossom petals.
Cherry Blossom Viewing: Hanami
If you visit Japan during the cherry blossom season, you’re sure to hear the word ‘hanami’. ‘Hanami’ cannot be properly translated into English, but simply means to have a picnic under the trees that are in bloom. This is a popular tradition in Japan for all ages. Families, couples, and kids all gather on blankets under the blossoms to have a picnic and socialize.
Originally, ‘ume’, plum blossoms were admired and the phrase ‘hanami’ was meant for these blossoms. Today however, it’s mainly the cherry blossoms that are associated with ‘hanami’. The tradition of ‘hanami’ started during the Nara period, around 710-794.
The ‘ume’ blossoms bloom earlier than the cherry blossoms, when it’s still chilly outside. I personally find these flowers more beautiful than the cherry blossoms. The plum blossoms are the first flowers of the year to bloom and they’re often forgotten by visitors.
The cherry blossoms are an important symbol for Japan and they are widely planted around temples, schools, castles and parks. Each prefecture has at least one beautiful location for cherry blossoms. The Japan Cherry Blossom Association published a list of Japan’s Top 100 cherry blossom locations. The locations are chosen based on how well-known and popular the location is, as well as the historic area and surroundings.
Japanese, and foreigners alike are searching for the perfect place to see the cherry blossoms. Most people are willing to travel across the country to find that special viewing location away from crowds. Big cities, such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka will always be the most crowded. But the truth is, there are very few places where you can see the cherry blossoms away from crowds.
My advice is to not worry about the location, but instead plan your timing, there are ways to beat the crowd. For example, go early in the morning, just after sunrise or late in the evening as the crowds have gone home and the streets lights have been lit. Another thing to keep in mind is the weather. You are more likely to find crowds on sunny days, go on a clouded or slightly rainy day.
I live in Fujinomiya, in Shizuoka-prefecture and though there are several famous cherry blossoms viewing locations here I still have my own personal favourites.
My absolute favourite location is by Uruigawa river, approximately 10 minutes by car or bus from Fujinomiya city centre. The river is lined with cherry blossoms on both sides and a beautiful view of Mt Fuji. The neighbouring city Fuji has a beautiful park called Iwamotoyama Park that is famous for its plum blossoms and cherry blossoms.
Cherry Blossom Forecast: Dates 2017
The ‘sakura’ cherry blossoms start blooming on the Okinawa Islands in early January. The blossoms slowly spread North and reach Hokkaido sometime in May. The best time to see the blossoms vary yearly depending on the weather and the location.
I’ve listed the approximate dates for some of the more famous locations in Japan. However, I recommend following the Japan Metrological Agency’s Cherry blossom forecast for exact dates for your location.
Tokyo: March 31st –April 8th
Kyoto: April 3rd – April 11th
Osaka: April 3rd – April 11th
Nagoya: April 3rd – April 11th
Fukuoka: March 31st –April 8th
Tohoku and Hokkaido
Sapporo: May 6th– May 13th
Hakodate: May 4th – May 11th
Aomori: April 28th – May 6th
Sendai: April 15th – April 23rd
Kanto and Chubu
Kanazawa: April 7th – April 15th
Nagano: April 15th – April 23rd
Kyushu, Shikoku and Chugoku
Fukushima: April 13th – April 8th
Hiroshima: April 4th– April 12th
Matsuyama: April 3rd– April 11th
Kumamoto: March 31st– April 8th
Give us your comments!
Where is your favourite cherry blossom location?