Each year, people across the country admire Japan’s cherry blossoms and picnic under the blooming trees. This practice—called hanami (はなみ)— is one of Japan’s most popular spring activities:
The significance of the cherry blossom tree in Japanese culture goes back hundreds of years. In Japan, the cherry blossom represents the fragility and the beauty of life. It’s a reminder that life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful but that it is also tragically short.
For just a few weeks every spring, Japan celebrates an annual ritual known as hanami. In theory, it’s a simple pleasure: stopping to view and appreciate the beautiful spring blossoms, most commonly cherry trees.
In reality, it’s a hugely symbolic and much-loved source of national pride, a chance to recognize and reflect on the beauty of nature while welcoming the new season. People often gather and sit under the trees, bringing food, drinks and occasionally music with them. This being Japan, everything is perfectly organized and left spotlessly clean.
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.