March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. The English saying about coming of spring season fits well here in Japan, too. For most parts of the country to be more precise, as it stretches a long way north and south. But no matter where you are on the archipelago, you will find a festive mood mounts up in your region toward spring in its full swing. It is the time of year when Japan's famous cherry blossoms are at their bloom.
(Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture)
Those of you fortunate to be in the country during the beautiful period should have a go at hanami, or a traditional cherry blossom viewing party. But before you get drunk, let us first take you through six things you may want to know about the cherry blossom loving culture.
(Tendo, Yamagata Prefecture)
1. How do I know when cherry blossoms bloom?
The Japan Weather Association releases weekly reports on when blossoms are expected to start flowering and reach full bloom.
2. What makes cherry blossoms so special in Japan?
Because they are short-lived. They only last for a week or so with only a few days in full bloom. Samurai saw gracefulness in implication that the petals fall quickly without clinging onto branches, as the feudal warriors would throw themselves at enemies and die if necessary to serve their lord. While modern Japanese people do not share with their ancestors such circumstances, they do take falling petals as an example of the pathos of things.
(Miharu, Fukushima Prefecture)
3. What does hanami mean?
The term hanami literally means "blossom viewing." But most Japanese associate the word with a party under blooming cherry blossoms when they hear it.
(Ueno Park, Tokyo)
4. When did it begin?
Aristocrats around the ninth century are thought to have started hanami parties under cherry blossoms in place of plums which had previously been preferred. The tradition gradually spread among samurai since the Kamakura period (1185-1333), then flourished as popular entertainment fit for people around the 19th century.
5. What's it like?
You can sing, dance and make a fool of yourself like any party, as long as you don't annoy others. Still, hanami parties have emphasis on showing our appreciation for simple beauty in the sight and passage of the seasons. Enjoy each passing moment while you can with families, friends, by yourself or as an all-hands annual company event.
(Oshino, Yamanashi Prefecture)
6. How can I find place for hanami?
If you are in Japan you are never far from cherry trees -- by main roads, in any sizable parks, riverbanks, shrines and temples. Walking along these lanes of trees will be an experience in itself. If you fancy going a little further and try a hanami session, your best bet is to ask locals for good locations. Any cities and towns have a hanami spot or two that locals are proud of. If you are in big cities, the places for hanami are well mapped out. So dive in there, enjoy Japan at its best.
(Minamiaso, Kumamoto Prefecture)