Welcoming the Warm Weather in Style
Few countries receive Spring with as much fanfare as Japan. When the warm weather arrives, the sakura trees dust off their branches after a cold, dreary winter and blossom with flowers.
In an arc moving from South to North, the entire country turns pink and white. The season begins with Okinawa from as early as January, up through Kyushu and across the mainland in March and April, and shoots up to Hokkaido around May.
The season is infamous for its transience as it lasts only about a week in any given location. Seeing the flowers at their peak is even harder. After blooming, they endure but a few days. Yet it is this trait which lends to the season its romantic nature.
For visitors and locals alike, one of the most magical moments of the entire year is when the trees simultaneously begin shedding their petals, leading to a downpour of white and pink flakes fluttering through the wind. This iconic moment has been immortalized by its prevalence in Japanese media, such as television, artwork, and in books. Additionally, it is commonly used to elevate climactic moments in TV dramas.
During this season, parks all across Japan become hotspots for couples, families, and friends to admire the flowers, a practice known as hanami, or “flower watching.”
Enjoying sakura isn’t strictly a daytime activity. Many places light up the sakura trees after dark, giving them a mysterious and beautiful aura. Viewing the flowers at night is known as yozakura, which literally translates to “night sakura.”
Celebrating the Japanese way
Hanami isn’t limited just to strolling around parks. There is another activity which attracts Japanese people in droves: drinking under the sakura trees. Enjoyed by groups of people, both young and old, this is a classic and very satisfying way to enjoy watching the sakura.
For those planning on incorporating some Japanese style merriment into their vacation to Japan, here are some simple rules for observing hanami:
1. Reserve your spot
When the hanami season begins in earnest, the popular parks will fill up quickly. In order to get an ideal location you’ll have to reserve your spot. This is usually done by laying out a tarp or mat ahead of time. In some areas that might not be enough, so you’ll see some generous (or unlucky) individuals guarding their territory from the wee hours of the morning.
This is also a good way of finding out where the approved hanami spots are. As a general rule, follow the crowd! While it might be tempting to scope out somewhere secluded, you don’t want to get in trouble for drinking in a prohibited area.
2. Clean up after yourself
Adhere by the saying “Carry in, carry out.” Don’t be that group that leaves garbage everywhere, especially not in a park or near a temple. Take a page from Japanese etiquette: at the end of a party, everyone helps clean up, no matter how late into the night it gets. Even if you don’t stay until closing, at the very least offer to take your share of empties with you.
3. Locate toilets ahead of time
Most hanami take place in parks or near temples; there likely won’t be a toilet nearby. Make sure you’re prepared so there aren’t any last second emergencies. Remember, as in most countries, it is bad form to go into a convenience store and use the toilet without buying anything. And don’t even think about urinating outdoors.
4. Have fun!
For those who can’t get enough of hanami, there’s good news! Begin your spring early by keeping an eye out for plum blossoms. Though popular mostly for older folks who want a quieter way to celebrate, these flowers are just as beautiful as sakura.
Plum blossoms are known to peek through the snow as early as February on the mainland.