Posted by: leospurr | April 5, 2009

Oh Hanami!

お花見は                 o hanami wa
心をこめて               kokoro o komete
来年来れる?           rai nen ko re ru?

sakura in full bloom

sakura in full bloom

My very own Haiku created just for hanami.  Ok, what’s hanami?  General translation is “flower viewing”.  I learned this word, and was taught the concept before arriving in Japan, but didn’t really get what the big deal was.  “Ok, so people go and look at flowers.  Uh, yeah, great.”  I lived in DC for several years and have seen the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin.  I lived in Korea and took ridiculous road trips down to Chinhae for their own over-commercialized cherry blossom festivals.  So, why would I get excited about looking at cherry blossoms in Japan??  Well, the answer is because every watered down tradition I’ve been exposed to previously pales in comparison to how the Japanese celebrate these occasions! 

Every media outlet – weather bureaus, newspapers, radio stations, etc. – announce the sakurazensen, the cherry blossom front, on a daily basis starting in January.  The warmer southern parts of the country experience the bloom of flowers earlier, and the colder northern parts are later.   The tradition of hanami is said to have started during the Nara period (710-794), and then focused on the ume (plum blossom) which bloom a few weeks earlier than the cherry blossoms.  The tradition of enjoying the sakura (cherry blossom) started in the Heian period (793-1185) when Confucianism and Chinese influences were at their height.  People still have parties to celebrate the plum blossoms, but none as great as the celebrations for the cherry blossoms. 

Meguro River

Meguro River

Today was literally about the peak of the blooms in and around Tokyo.  In order to not miss a bloom, I started going to hanami parties last weekend.   With various groups of friends, I’ve been to Ueno Park, Yasukuni Shrine, and my own neighborhood Meguro river.  Each location has been filled with hundreds, probably thousands depending on the location, of families, friends, co-workers, all looking to stroll along the tree lined walks.  After the general appreciation of the spring blossoms, the real appreciation takes place – of food and drink!  People spread out blankets, plastic sheets, cardboard, newspapers, and sit down under the presence of the trees and imbibe, imbibe, imbibe!  People are nearly sitting elbow to elbow, and it really is a lot of fun.  Everyone is happy, cheerful, and friendly.  Pictures are being snapped at the rapid rate, and you just can’t help getting into the festivities.  Some locations, the Yasukuni Shrine for instance, also put up food and drink stands.  Our party at Yasukuni was actually catered, and yummy dishes and drinks just kept coming out for 3 hours straight!

crowds enjoying hanami in Ueno Park

crowds enjoying hanami in Ueno Park

So, my new ambition is to bring back with me to the States a greater appreciation for several Japanese traditions, and to introduce my stateside gaijin friends to all the wonders of these rich traditions.  Thankfully, I’ll be in the DC area for the foreseeable future, and am already planning next year’s hanami party!  Mark your calendars now…


My very own tree lined run route!



  1. what fun–can’t wait!!!!

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