While we wait for spring to really arrive, let’s escape the drizzle and talk about hanami, a wonderful, annual Japanese tradition based around enjoying the blossoming of cherry trees.
An ancestral custom
It should first be noted that the cherry trees in question are ornamental, meaning they do not produce fruit. These specimens are highly popular in Japan, where they have sprung up almost everywhere including in parks and public gardens across the country. In the springtime, their magnificent flowers (both the tree and the flower are called sakura) ranging from pale pink to fuchsia delight the people of Japan. Everyone keeps a close eye out for the first blossoms, and there is even a daily flower weather report forecasting the big event based on the different regions and climates. The flowers generally appear in late March or early April in the central regions of Tokyo and Kyoto. The Japanese are very attuned to nature, and while the festivities are not on the same scale, they also enjoy observing the arrival of orange and brown leaves heralding the beginning of fall.
The idea of hanami is to celebrate this bloom in a fitting fashion. The word hanami literally means “flower viewing” (from hana, “flower,” and mi, “to look”). According to legend, this custom is linked to agricultural rites and dates back several centuries. When flowers started to appear, Japanese farmers would place offerings under the cherry trees to please the gods of the fields. This practice was a way of showing their devotion to these higher powers, while also asking them to protect the rice plantations that were sown soon after. The imperial court then adopted the tradition with the hosting of sumptuous feasts. It was only many years later that the custom was taken up by the samurais, followed by the rest of the population.
Coming together to celebrate
When the cherry trees finally burst into bloom, each person gets to work busily preparing for the festivities. Out come the picnic blankets, covers, and seats, and everyone rushes to find the best spots in their nearest park. After getting comfortable under the cherry trees, so begins an unforgettable evening of eating, drinking, and singing in a good-natured atmosphere! The celebration is usually a family affair, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed with friends or colleagues. Many parks adorn the trees with enchanting lights, giving revelers the chance to discover them from a different angle. The result is a giant, joyful picnic that attracts countless Japanese people and many tourists (those lucky enough to have picked the right dates for their trip!). Of course, the whole evening is not spent actually looking at the flowers. Hanami is far more than just that… The beautiful, fleeting, fragile cherry blossoms symbolize renewal and rebirth, and invite people everywhere to live in the moment and appreciate their lives.
What about France?
If you haven’t made plans to go and experience this incredible event firsthand in Japan, then don’t worry! There are many Japanese gardens in France, each more beautiful than the next, and filled with all the indispensable features such as water, rocks, plants, hills, bridges, and little islands. And don’t forget the iconic tea pavilion, where the renowned ceremony takes place! Two of our favorites are the Domaine de Sceaux , which organizes an annual hanami event combining traditional Japanese music and dancing (April 28 and 29, 2018), and the Parc Oriental de Maulévrier in the Maine-et-Loire region, which offers the largest Japanese garden in Europe and organizes a picnic under the cherry trees for the occasion.
Who will you take to discover these superb sakura flowers?