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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

Doesn’t everyone love hanami (flower viewing)? Around spring, sakura (cherry blossoms) are blooming in Tokyo and much of Japan’s lower half. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus, it isn’t recommended that you and your friend gather on a blue tarp and drink under the pretty pink trees this year.

Still, there is always next year for hanami. That’s part of the beauty of cherry blossoms. Their very existence is temporary. But how did flower viewing even start? It seems as normal a thing to do in Japan as reading manga or renting a goat.

Let’s take a quick look at the history and culture surrounding hanami.

How did cherry blossom viewing start?

Seeing sakura never gets old.

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 were sitting under the trees writing poems in homage to the flowers’ beauty.

For 2021 we want to see how you celebrate sakura while social distancing and staying safe from covid.

While sake and food were involved, people drank more elegantly than the rowdy viewing party you might see in Yoyogi park.

When the Edo Period (1603 – 1868) rolled around, sakura trees were being planted across the country by the ruling samurai. Warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi even hosted a hanami for 5,000 people over five days in Nara.

The practice eventually spread to the common people, and hanami began to involve large crowds gathering together where there were now many trees to be admired. One of Tokyo’s most popular spots 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

Peak sakura viewing and social distancing.

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

However, what hasn’t changed is the power that cherry blossom season has to lift everyone’s mood. The flowers get everyone outside and ring in a brief period of absolutely perfect weather before the rainy season kicks in.

Which is all the more reason the 2020 and 2021 have been a bit of a bummer, to say the least. Thanks, COVID-19.

Still, if you practice social distancing and seek out hidden spots, you can experience a good hanami. You might even find a whole new appreciation for the quiet elegance that a remote sakura viewing brings.

The 2021 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 GaijinPot Travel homepage.

For 2021 we want to see how you celebrate sakura while social distancing and staying safe from COVID-19. Tag your best socially distanced sakura-inspired photo or home hanami picnic by April 17th, 2021, with #SafeSakura for a chance to be featured on our Instagram!

Follow @GaijinPot and add a caption describing your submission.

Not much of a photographer? That’s all good! You can enter with anything sakura-inspired.

We look forward to seeing your amazing submissions. Just make sure to stay safe and avoid the crowds!

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