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How Did Cherry Blossom Viewing Start in Japan?

We asked hanami revelers if they knew the origins of cherry blossom viewing.

By 3 min read

Enjoying the cherry blossom-viewing madness right about now? Right now is peak bloom time for sakura (cherry blossom) in Tokyo, as well as much of the lower half of Japan. But while joining your friends on a bright blue tarp to get slowly drunk under the pretty pink trees might seem as normal a thing to do in Japan as reading a manga or renting a goat, do you know how the whole tradition started?

How did cherry blossom viewing start in Japan?

The tradition of cherry blossom viewing in Japan is called “hanami” in Japanese. Hana means “flowers” and mi means “viewing.” Stick those two together and you have the centuries-old custom of… looking at flowers. 

Cherry blossom overtook ume (plum) blossom sometime in the Heian Period (794 – 1185) as the flower du jour to view among Japanese aristocrats. Emperor Saga, the 52nd emperor of Japan, started the custom of hanami parties in the Imperial Court in Kyoto which, at that time, meant posh people sitting under the trees writing poems in homage to the flowers’ beauty. While sake and food were involved, they were consumed in a more elegant manner than the rowdy beer-soaked party that you might be partaking in right now.

When the Edo Period (1603 – 1868) rolled around, sakura trees were being planted across the country by the ruling samurai. Warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi was the first to host a hanami party in Kyoto for his feudal crew and their followers. The practice eventually spread to the common people and hanami began to involve large crowds gathering together in a place where there were now lots of trees to be admired. One of the most popular spots in Tokyo during the Edo era was Ueno Park—still a top choice for hanami today where millions of people gather each spring to see blossoms.

Cherry blossom viewing today

In a truly modern-day hanami, haiku have been replaced with portable speakers, the beauty of the flowers are appreciated through an Instagram filter and “picnic food” has taken on a new meaning of cherry blossom-themed eats and snacks galore.

What hasn’t changed, though, is the power that cherry blossom season has to lift everyone’s mood, get everyone outside and ring in the start of a brief period of absolutely perfect weather before the rainy season kicks in. No doubt about it; you can sense the excitement in the air and it’s an amazing feeling.

So whether you’re going old-school with a refined poetry writing contest or you’re getting absolutely sloshed in the sunshine, we hope you have the best time with your hanami 2019!

GaijinPot’s 2019 Cherry Blossom Forecast

While the pink carpet of sakura has already rolled out from Okinawa up through Kansai and is now edging into northern Honshu, don’t worry if you haven’t made it just yet — cherry blossoms will be blooming in northern Tohoku and Hokkaido all the way until the beginning of May. You can track the progress on our 2019 Cherry Blossom Forecast Map.

View Map

GaijinPot 2019 Cherry Blossom Photo Contest

Share your best sakura moment on Instagram with the hashtag #GaijinPotSakura and win up to ¥50,000 in prizes!

Are you planning to travel in Japan for yet another beautiful and life-changing sakura (cherry blossom) season? Share your gorgeous posts with us for the GaijinPot 2019 Cherry Blossom Contest. This year, we’re back with bigger and better prizes for blossom-lovers in or outside of Japan, including Japan Rail Passes or shinkansen tickets, a limited-edition sakura goodies box, and a chance to be featured on our Best of 2019 GaijinPot Cherry Blossom roundup. Running until May 10!

View Contest

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