Anyone living in Japan can tell how the weather here can be so unpredictable. Yet, when it comes to spring, everyone gets very excited, because it’s Cherry Blossom Season and it’s happening NOW!
Days are getting warmer and trees are already blooming. But, unfortunately, this year’s hanami (cherry blossom viewing) won’t be the same with all the events getting canceled, and gatherings in big groups being prohibited due to the current pandemic. But, hey, no need to be upset! In this article, we will give you some ideas on how you can enjoy cherry blossom without breaking the rules and most importantly- staying safe. So, keep reading!
Below is a list of things covered in this article:
- What Is Hanami?
- How Do People Usually Celebrate It?
- Hanami Forecast for 2021
- Places to Visit for Hanami
- Precautions to Take This Year!!
First, about Hanami
What Is Hanami?
Hanami is the traditional Japanese custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers, and the word “Hanami” translates literally as “flower” (花) and “see/watch” (見). Although many associate hanami with sakura (cherry blossom), it could also be referring to ume (plum, 梅) and other trees that blossom in spring.
It is the lifestyle of Japanese people to enjoy and find joy in small things. And celebrating Hanami started in a similar way. The custom is said to have started during the Nara period (710-794) when viewing ume (plum) was more popular, and sakura (cherry blossom) became a synonym for hanami in the Heian period (794-1185). However, only elites and then samurai society celebrated the custom before common people could also enjoy Hanami in the Edo period. People would gather in the gardens and sit under the cherry or plum trees chatting, drinking sake, and eating delicious meals.
How Do People Usually Celebrate It?
Viewing cherry blossoms, or Hanami is a grand celebration for Japanese people and all the tourists visiting Japan in spring. During this season you can find sakura-themed products starting from Starbucks coffees to sweets and bentos everywhere. Usually, people gather in groups of friends, families, coworkers, couples in the parks and gardens, and hold feasts under the trees. There are many famous spots which are usually crowded, but you can do hanami anywhere where you can find a flowering tree. Sometimes those parties may go until late at night, which is called yozakura (夜桜, “night sakura”).
- If you don’t have days off, or work until late hours, you still can enjoy sakura in the evening when you are free and take your friends for yozakura.
- It is a great idea to do hanami in the evening with your loved ones, as it is very romantic to enjoy the view of blooming trees over candlelight.
Taking pictures with sakura trees in the background is one of the most common and must-do activities during hanami parties and events.
Hanami Forecast for 2021
During this season places all over Japan will turn white and pink. However, full bloom dates differ depending on the prefecture. You can find the cherry blossom forecast from the Earth Communication Provider, they post accurate and updated information about the dates. So, make sure to check before planning your hanami this year!
Japan Meteorological Corporation (JMC) has estimated the flowering and full bloom dates for Somei Yoshino (Yoshino Cherry) trees in approximately 1,000 cherry blossom viewing locations in cities from Hokkaido to Kagoshima and released the following dates on March 11, 2021:
|Prefecture||Flowering date||Full Bloom date|
Visit the website to see the next cherry blossom update on the 18th of March.
Places to Visit for Hanami
As we already said above, all the flowering trees can be a good spot for hanami picnics. But, here are the best cherry blossom spots visited by thousands of people every year:
- Meguro River
- Ueno Park
- Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
- Sumida River and Sumida Park in Asakusa
- Mohri Garden in Roppongi
- Sankeien Garden, Yokohama
- Kawazu, Shizuoka
- Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Kamakura
- Lake Kawaguchi, Yamanashi
- Chureito Pagoda, Fujiyoshida
Precautions to Take This Year!!
Trees are already blooming, the weather’s so nice and warm, sweets and drinks are sakura-themed, everything’s so ideal and ready for hanami- except us. In order to prevent the spread of the virus this year’s many events are being canceled including hanami gatherings. But it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the magnificent view of cherry trees. The only thing is to stay away from crowds.
Our Tips for How to Enjoy Hanami While Staying Safe:
1. Hold a virtual hanami party
Hanami alone or with just one friend may not feel like hanami. So, here comes technology to help again as it has been so handy for more than a year now. Visit the nearest park or garden, bring your favourite snacks, food, drinks and hold a Zoom or Skype party with all of your friends joining you from the nearest parks from their houses. You still get to see your friends, still get to celebrate the cherry blossom, spend time in the fresh air and take group photos! Make sure you have enough data or use pocket Wi-Fi!
2. Avoid the most visited spots this year
Although we provided the list of best spots for cherry blossom viewing in this article, our suggestion is to avoid such crowded places and find somewhere local to you. Or another suggestion would be visiting them in the early hours of the morning when people are usually asleep or are busy at work. This might be difficult if you are not a morning person though 🙂 But you get a chance for that only for a few days in a year, so don’t miss it!
3. Visiting early in the morning or in the evening
As mentioned, going to the parks when nobody else is there is the best option for hanami. It might be chilly, or eerily empty and not feel like real hanami, but that’s the safest way and I would say the best way of connecting with nature. And instead of sake or beer, bring hot coffee or matcha to keep you warm!
4. Go alone/with few friends
Although not recommended, if you still decide to visit places like Ueno Park, Meguro river and other famous spots, go alone or with a couple of friends. And it’s better if you do not stay there for a long time.
5. Walking or cycling instead of partying
This one is my favourite suggestions for this year’s Hanami. If you have a bike and a phone with a good camera (or professional camera) then you can visit not one but many gardens and parks to view the cherry blossoms. Again, go early in the morning, grab some snacks to have while taking a break, ride around the neighbourhood and take lots of quiet shots of sakura and ume trees. Maybe your friend/roommate/child or anyone living with you can join you for the ride.
P.S. If you don’t have your own bike, you can rent it from docomo bike sharing stations.
I hope you found this article and tips on how to enjoy Hanami during the pandemic and stay safe useful!
If you know more ways of celebrating hanami safely this year, share them in the comment section below or leave a comment under our Instagram posts (guidablejapan) about sakura and hanami so that others can see them!
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Read our article about the 5 Sakura treats for your Hanami from the link below: