Anyone traveling to Japan in the springtime is sure to experience one of the more exceptional natural events in the seasonal calendar. Hanami, or flower viewing, is the annual Japanese custom of enjoying the blooming foliage after the winter weather subsides. While hanami specifically refers to the blooming of cherry blossoms, many plan events around the one to two week period where nature flourishes with color and fragrances.
Said to have begun in the late 8th century, the flower viewing tradition is widely believed to have started in the Nara Period. The seasonal event was used to welcome in the new year's harvest while marking the beginning of the rice planting season. In the Heian Period , Emperor Saga would welcome this time with celebratory feasts and parties under the sakura trees in Kyoto's Imperial Court. While originally limited to Japanese royalty and the elite upper class, hanami spread to all citizens by the Edo Period in the early 1600's. The custom still lives to this day as visitors from around the globe partake in this traditional event. Since then, the annual custom has drawn visitors to witness the beautiful seasonal changes while pinpointing and celebrating the beginning of the fiscal and scholastic year with friends and family. A typical hanami usually consists of holding an outdoor party under cherry blossom trees during the day or night. Food, beer and sake are brought to a picnic as visitors bask in the cherry blossoms that fall from the tree. These parties last well into the night as the moon illuminates the pink blossoms.
While cherry blossoms bloom throughout the country, there are a few cities and regions famous for their hanami festivals. The castle town of Hirosaki, which holds the Sakura-matsuri festival, is one notable Japanese city famous for its bountiful cherry blossoms that draw people from both near and far. Also, travel to the center of the Nara Prefecture to find Yoshino-yama, a mountain with over 30,000 cherry trees that is considered to be the best viewing spot in all of Japan. Or make a trip to the cherry blossom viewing tunnel at the Japan Mint in Osaka, where every April the grounds are open to the public for one week so that visitors may enjoy a prime view of their cherry blossom trees. Over 100 varieties of trees bloom at the Japan Mint tunnel, giving visitors the opportunity to distinguish between the various sizes and shapes of the flowers. Finally, if your trip leads you to Tokyo in the spring time, explore Ueno Park where 1,200 blossoming cherry trees burst to life. Don't forget to make a stop at one of Ueno Park's many museums, including the Tokyo National Museum, National Science Museum, and Japan's first zoological garden.
No matter where your travel arrangements lead you, a visit to any number of cherry blossom festivals in Japan is guaranteed to be a joyful occasion that pinpoints the cleansing of the mind and new beginnings. To find a list of Japanese cities famous for their cherry blossoms, please visit: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/interests/cherry.html