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Inspirational Nature : Cherry Blossom in Japan

Written by Victoria Zakova


Posted on May 07 2017

From as early as the eighth century, elite imperial courtiers paused to appreciate the delicate pink cherry blossoms known as sakura before indulging in picnics and poetry sessions beneath the blooms. Fast-forward more than a millennium and the flowers that launched a thousand haiku are no less revered in modern-day Japan.

Today, as spring approaches, the entire nation turns a shade of pink. Months before they arrive, retailers switch into sakura mode – cue supermarkets filled with plastic cherry blossom flowers and cherry blossom-flavoured innovations in convenience stores (this year’s highlights so far include cherry-blossom-and-butter crisps and cherry blossom Pepsi). The countdown excitement is heightened further by the televised Cherry Blossom Forecast which offers a petal-by-petal analysis of the advance of the blooms – known as the cherry blossom front – as they sweep from the south to the north of the archipelago.

When the blooms actually arrive (as confirmed by teams of meticulous cherry blossom officials), it is time to indulge in one of the nation’s all-time favourite pastimes – hanami, which literally translates as “looking as flowers” and refers to flower appreciation picnics under the blooms. Every year, a microcosm of society – from salarymen and students to housewives and grannies – takes part in hanami picnics (some civilised, some rowdy) in every corner of the country.

The flowers are deeply symbolic: their short-lived existence taps into a long-held appreciation of the beauty of the fleeting nature of life, as echoed across the nation’s cultural heritage, from tea ceremonies to wabi sabi ceramics. The blossoms also, quite literally, symbolise new beginnings, with April 1 being the first day of both the financial and academic year in Japan.

Unlike the nation’s famed public transport system, the cherry blossoms are not as punctual as tourists might like. Some years they arrive early following a spell of warm weather; other years, chillier temperatures make them late or downpours bring an early demise.
But the first blossoms generally appear in Okinawa in January and slowly move up the archipelago, passing through Japan’s central islands (including Kyoto and Tokyo) in late March and early April, before progressing further north and hitting Hokkaido in early May.
How to hanami like a local?

First, pick up some food, ideally a delicious seasonal bento box, from a local supermarket or a depachika – the ground- floor food hall of a department store, which normally brim with portable food treats. Next, buy some drinks, disposable cups and – a vital component – tarpaulin to sit on in the park. Then, simply find an empty space beneath the trees and enjoy.

The final hurrah of Japan’s cherry blossom celebrations can be found in Hokkaido, the northernmost island in early May. The main city Sapporo is awash with cherry blossoms (Maruyama Park and Hokkaido-jingu shrine in particular) while the adventurous could even be able to squeeze in some skiing with sakura views. 
Definitely one for the holiday plan, if you have not been lucky to experience the sakura yet.



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