Amazing Places

Hanami Is Japan's Annual Obsession With Cherry Blossoms

The blooming of Japan's cherry blossoms is not only a delightful welcoming of springtime — it's a national obsession. The country has a deep-rooted relationship with the sakura (aka, cherry blossom), and the island's population goes all-out when they start to flourish. This annual flower freakout is known as hanami.

Stop and Smell the Sakura

Each spring, the sakura bloom to display pastel pink hues throughout the entire country of Japan. Viewing these flowers is the tradition of hanami, and it's a pretty huge deal. The word itself means to just view flowers (hana means "flower" and mi is "to look"). During hanami season, which lasts for a few weeks in March and April, people hold flower appreciation picnics under the cherry blossoms.

The annual event of enjoying beautiful flowers takes shape in many ways. Leading up to the festival, you can find convenience store items in shades of pink and special cherry blossom-flavored goodies (cherry blossom Pepsi, anyone?). No wonder — food and drink are a big part of hanami. When the trees are blooming, parks can be filled to the brim with people eating sakura mochi and drinking sake on picnic blankets. The festivities usually go late into the night, often illuminated by paper lanterns hung from the trees.

The Japan Weather Association even has an annual sakura forecast it broadcasts live. Not surprisingly, this broadcast prompts international travelers to book their flights and flock to the island for sakura time.

Related Video: What You Didn't Know About Cherry Blossoms

It's Not Just About the Flowers

The beauty of the sakura bloom is undeniable, but the festival represents more than just pretty plants. As early as the eighth century, elite imperial courtiers of Japan made it a point to take in the beauty of the blooming sakura with picnics and poetry. The whole tradition is itself a symbol of Japanese cultural and philosophical beliefs. The short-lived nature of the cherry blossoms stands for the fleeting nature of life. The spring bloom also coincides with the start of spring, and the financial and academic year in Japan. Sakura means new beginnings, and that's a good enough excuse to enjoy beautiful sights, idyllic weather, and lavish picnics as any.

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Learn more about Japan's Hanami traditions in "The Sakura Obsession: The Incredible Story of the Plant Hunter Who Saved Japan's Cherry Blossoms" by Naoko Abe. The audiobook is free with an Audible trial. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto April 4, 2017

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