Cherry blossom (Sakura) time in Japan is truly something to behold. It’s a time when the entire country seems to slow down and the mood is lighter; salary men seem to smile more and the train doors stay open a little longer. As I sweat through another day, in what’s not even the peak of summer, with 87% humidity at 9AM and a real feel temperature that will near 100 degrees, I can’t help but to think back to this past year’s Sakura season and what a special time it is.
Viewing Sakura in Japan has its own name, “Hanami,” and the typical season runs from the end of March through May. There are no exact dates for Sakura in Japan and it depends largely on the weather. While the dates are never specific the best viewing this year occurred in late May and early April.
It is said that the tradition itself is over 1,000 years old and dates back to the year 710. It was then, during the Nara period, that people would gather not to view Sakura, but instead, Ume, or plum blossoms. Since that time Hanami has been an important tradition in Japan and has spread as far as the United States where Hanami often occurs. In fact, Macon, GA is known as the cherry blossom capital of the world and boasts over 300,000 cherry blossom trees.
Cherry blossoms are not only beautiful, but they’re also culturally significant. Cherry blossoms are said to symbolize the transience of life. Additionally, it has been said that the cherry blossom hold significance in Japanese culture with regard to nationalism and militarism. If you’re lucky enough to see Sakura in full bloom take note of the fact that fallen blossoms are said to represent fallen samurai who gave their life for the emperor and that it’s not simply a tree, but an icon.
Everyone knows Asakusa is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Tokyo. It’s touristy, yes, but it’s what you expect Japan to look like: the tori gate, the shrine, the whole deal. Sensoji is also interesting for it’s Ginko trees. It’s said they’re some of the last remaining signs of WWII having sustained burn damage during the firebombing of Tokyo. You have to be a history nerd to find that interesting, but if you are look for the twisted and scarred trees in the courtyard.
I love this photo of the Sakura at Sensoji. You can see there’s just a couple of blossoms beginning to fall from it. Those falling blossoms really summarize Sakura and Hanami: they’re temporary and meant to be enjoyed in small doses as to not be take for granted.
Kamakura was once the capital of Japan, but is now a sleepy town just about an hour from Tokyo. It’s slower pace is a great way to shrug off the hustle of Tokyo and you should visit if you get a chance. It’s got more to offer than you’d imagine and some great vegetarian restaurants as well. I shot this photo inside the gates of the Giant Buddha at Kamakura. You can’t help but love the way the light comes through the trees and illuminates the Sakura.
Tokyo’s Ueno Park is probably the best place for hanami. During cherry blossom season it fills with thousands of people from all over the city who enjoy an all day affair of eating, drinking, and socializing. The sidewalks are lined with food vendors, drinks, games and more. It truly is a “must see” in Tokyo and a great way to spend an entire day.
Sankeien Garden is south of Tokyo in the city of Yokohama. The pace is slower and you’ll find Sankeien to be less crowded than the usual places. It’s even possible to find parking, imagine that! What you’ll also find is one of the best places to enjoy an afternoon or an evening.
During cherry blossom season Sankeien Garden stays open for night time cherry blossom viewing. While it’s not as raucous as Ueno Park in the height of cherry blossom viewing it is a site to be seen. During this time the entire garden is not open, but instead a smaller portion. The portion that is open is beautiful.
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