One of the most popular Japanese customs is the practice known as "hanami", which takes place in spring. It translates literally to "flower viewing" and mainly refers to the viewing of cherry blossoms. This article will guide you on the history of this tradition and on a lot of useful information on the most representative hanami spots.
Hanami indicates the act of admiring the scenery of blooming cherry trees, "sakura" in Japanese, in spring. Generally, people sit on a tarp beneath the cherry trees and spend time together drinking alcohol and having a picnic. During the blooming period, the most popular spots for hanami get crowded with food and drink stalls, and sometimes there are festivals and events of all kinds. Plus, hanami can be enjoyed not only during daytime, but also at night, when the cherry trees are lit up and offer a completely different scenery, called "yozakura".
The History of Hanami
In ancient times, it was believed that sakura were trees enshrining deities like the god of the mountain and the god of the rice fields. For this reason, in spring, farmers used to make offerings to the cherry trees and pray for an abundant harvest. As time passed, this tradition assumed different meanings and styles. During the Heian era (794 - 1185), aristocrats used to admire the sakura and compose poems about them, but it wasn't until the Edo era (1603 - 1867) that it became popular for common people to go out on a picnic in spring to admire the sakura, similar in style to the hanami of today.
Sakura Species that Can Be Seen in Japan
There are many different types of cherry trees in Japan, and about 600 of them are officially recognized. Classified as either "wild", growing natively on mountains and hills, or "cultivated", resulting from cross-breeding the wild species, they can differ in color and number of petals, shape of the branches, and so on. The blooming period varies according to the species as well, so make sure you check beforehand. The most representative species is called "Somei Yoshino" and accounts for the 80% of all the sakura grown in Japan, while another well-known type is the "Shidare-zakura", characterized by dangling branches and a bright color. In Kawazu-cho, in Shizuoka Prefecture, there is a large quantity of wild "Kawazu-zakura", renowned for its big beautiful petals and deep pink color, but most of all for the fact that it can be admired for an extended period of about 1 month, between February and March.
When Is the Best Time for Viewing?
The blooming period changes according to the area of the country and the sakura species, but usually they bloom in sequential order from south to north. On average, the first cherry trees to bloom are the ones in the Okinawa region, from late January to mid-February. Next, it's in Kyushu, West Japan and Kanto regions, between late March and early April, followed by Hokuriku and Tohoku regions, from mid-April to late April, and finally Hokkaido from late April to late May. This is just an approximation, as the forecast is different every year, but use it as a reference for when to see sakura in the various areas of Japan.
Rules and Manners to Keep in Mind During Hanami
Please keep in mind the following rules during hanami.
[Basic Rules and Manners] •In some places, it is forbidden to consume food and drinks, so make sure to check in advance. •If you occupy a space with a tarp or the like, do not use more surface than needed. It is good manner to compromise with your neighbors. •Do not damage the cherry trees or break their branches. •Getting extremely drunk and noisy is considered a breach of etiquette. •Do not leave any garbage behind. Take it home with you or throw it in the designated areas.
Best Hanami Spots in the Major Cities and Surrounding Eateries
Finally, take a look at this list of recommended hanami spots in the major tourist destination cities and where to get good food and drinks in the nearby area.
When it comes to Tokyo, the big metropolis, you can't help thinking about the majestic skyscrapers and modern buildings lined up one after another, but there are actually also lots of nature-rich oasis and hidden gems where you can admire beautiful sakura.
▼Check here for a list of restaurants to drop in to before or after hanami in Tokyo!
1. Sumida Park (Sumida/Asakusa)
This is a park near Tokyo Sky Tree, one of the city's most famous landmarks. Renowned as a great sakura spot ever since the Edo era (1603 - 1967), it offers a line-up of about 640 cherry trees planted for 1km along the river between Azuma Bridge (Azuma-bashi) and Sakura Bridge (Sakura-bashi). Plus, during the hanami season, Tokyo Sky Tree has a special illumination that makes your experience even better when you come here to view the yozakura.
Sumida Park (Sumida/Asakusa)
Address: 1-2-5, Mukojima, Sumida-ku, Tokyo / 1-1, Hanakawado, Taito-ku, Tokyo / 2-1, Hanakawado / 7-1, Asakusa Source: GO TOKYO Official Website
2. Chidori-ga-fuchi (Kudanshita)
The foremost sakura spot of the city. About 260 cherry trees stand proud along the moat of the Imperial Palace on a green belt of about 700m. During the full bloom it gets extremely crowded, but if you're here at the right time, why not enjoy a beautiful hanami while rowing a boat? Watching the sakura from the water is the best!
A hugely popular hanami spot in a stylish area full of classy shops and cafes. On both sides of the river for 3.8km, from Ikejiri Bridge (Ikejiri Ohashi) to Kamenoko Bridge (Kamenoko-bashi), where the Tokyu Meguro Line passes, you can see over 800 colorful cherry trees. There aren't any big parks here, but you can enjoy the surrounding environment with a relaxing walk.
As the most representative city of western Japan, Osaka has lots of unmissable sakura spots as well. Here you can experience hanami in many different sceneries, from the contrasting historical buildings, to nature-lush landscapes with rivers and trees.
▼Check here for a list of restaurants where to drop in to before or after hanami in Osaka!
1. Japan Mint's Cherry Blossom Viewing in Osaka (Temmabashi)
Inside the mint there is Osaka's most important sakura spot, called "Sakura no Torinuke". Every year, the area opens for just 1 week during the sakura blooming season. The place hosts around 130 different species of sakura for a total of 350 trees in 560m. Thousands of visitors come to see them, both during daytime and at night, when lots of beautiful paper lanterns are lit up to create an unforgettable atmosphere.
Japan Mint's Cherry Blossom Viewing in Osaka (Temmabashi)
Okawa is a river that flows quietly all the way through the city and out to Osaka Bay (Osaka-wan). The riverbed from Kema Lock to Temma Bridge (Temmabashi) hosts a riverside park. The 4.2km long promenade along the river is lined up with about 4,800 sakura that in spring attract hordes of visitors who pick this place for their hanami.
This is the park around one of the city's foremost landmarks, Osaka Castle. The area is scattered with an abundance of colorful flowers and plants, but if you're here for hanami, head to Nishinomaru Garden. About 300 cherry trees, mainly of the Somei Yoshino species, bloom all at once as if they were competing with each other to offer you the best view ever, framing the magnificent castle tower.
Home of countless World Heritage sites and famous shrines and temples, not to mention the evocative stone paved districts lined up with traditional buildings, the old capital Kyoto is the best place to enjoy the ancient side of Japan. In spring, this already beautiful cityscape is painted in pink by the flowering sakura trees.
▼Check here for a list of restaurants to drop in to before or after hanami in Kyoto!
1. Maruyama Park (Gion)
This is Kyoto's oldest park, as well as its most beautiful hanami spot. The premises offer a large number of Japanese gardens, traditional restaurants and lovely tea houses. In spring, the whole area turns pink, as there are cherry trees planted all over the park. Above all, don't miss the famous Shidare-zakura, beautiful at daytime and enchanting at night thanks to the illumination.
UNESCO World Heritage ancient temple representative of Kyoto. In the compounds there are about 1,500 Somei Yoshino ready to bloom in spring. The view from the popular Kiyomizu Stage of the contrasting colorful three-storied pagoda and the pink sakura, is an absolute must. If you want to admire it in a different style, stay for the beautifully illuminated yozakura as well.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple (Gojo-zaka Bus Stop)
Address: 1-294, Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto Source: Official Website
3. Arashiyama (Arashiyama)
Arashiyama is renowned as Kyoto's most picturesque scenery and it's beautiful all year long with incredible greenery changing every season. Therefore, in spring it becomes a pretty popular hanami spot. From early to mid-April it offers a huge variety of splendid landscapes decorated with several sakura species in various places, from the area surrounding the majestic Togetsu Bridge (Togetsu-kyo) on Katsura River (Katsura-gawa), to Hirosawa Pond (Hirosawano-ike), the banks of Osawa Pond (Osawano-ike), Giou-ji Temple and Nison-in Temple to name a few.
Even in the northern Japanese island, Hokkaido, there are lots of beautiful sakura landscapes to enjoy. Many can be found in huge nature-rich urban areas! This article will focus on Sapporo and Hakodate.
▼Check here for a list of restaurants to visit before or after hanami in Hokkaido!
1. Goryokaku Park (Hakodate)
Established around the ruins of a goryokaku (five-sided fortification), designated as special historical landmark, this park is one of the most popular sightseeing spots of Hakodate. The whole surface of the characteristic star-shaped fortress is dotted by around 1,600 sakura trees that paint the park pink as soon as they start to bloom. If you arrive from the main entrance, head towards the Ichino Bridge (Ichino-bash) to admire the splendid cherry trees on the right bank. These trees mature beautifully as they receive the benefits of unobstructed sunlight. Plus, during the final stage of the blooming, the petals start falling and cover the canal surface to offer a unique view you'll never forget.
This is a long-known sakura spot in the city of Sapporo. Apparently, its beautiful 150 cherry trees were planted in memory of Shima Yoshitake, the magistrate who had a leading role in the construction of Sapporo. It is adjacent to the Sapporo Maruyama Zoo and the Hokkaido Shrine, and includes the Maruyama Primeval Forest, designated as a natural monument.
World-famous sculptor Isamu Noguchi designed this famous park. Its large surface is scattered with geometric-shaped hills, fountains and playgrounds making it the ideal place to enjoy a fusion of nature and art. The number of sakura planted inside is about 2,300. As the blooming time approaches, the park gets tinged with pink and turns into a feast for the eyes of its many visitors.
Moerenuma Park (Sapporo)
Address: 1-1, Moerenuma Koen, Higashi-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido Source: Official Website
Hanami is an activity easily enjoyed by visitors to Japan. If you are coming to Japan in the spring, make sure it is on your list!
Disclaimer: All information is accurate at time of publication.