Updated: February 01, 2019
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What's the Meaning of Hanami?

With the cherry-blossom season coming soon, learn the meaning of the ancient tradition of "flower-viewing"!

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Sakura trees in full bloom.
So what is Hanami exactly?

The practice of admiring flower-blossoms in Japan dates back to the Nara period (710–794), with ume blossoms viewing. But by the Heian period (794–1185), sakura came to attract more attention and by then hanami was synonymous with the cherry blossom.
Sakura trees were originally used to divine that year's harvest as well as announce the rice-planting season. People believed in kami (gods) inside the trees and made offerings.

Daikakuji Temple in Kyoto, original residence of Emperor Saga.
Emperor Saga (Heian period) adopted this practice and held flower-viewing parties with sake and feasts underneath the blossoming boughs of sakura trees in the Imperial Court in Kyoto.
Poems would be written praising the delicate flowers, which were seen as a metaphor for life itself, luminous and beautiful yet fleeting and ephemeral. This was said to be the origin of Hanami in Japan.
Hanami in action.
Nowadays in Japan, Hanami tradition continues strong, with people gathering in great numbers wherever the flowers are found. It became an outdoor party for all ages, during the daytime or at night.
Thousands of people fill the parks to have feasts and drinks, and sometimes these parties go on until late at night. In more than half of Japan, the cherry blossoming days come at the same time as the beginning of school and work after vacation, and so welcoming parties are often opened with hanami.
Yoyogi Park.
It is customary for people to go to the parks to save the best places to celebrate Hanami, so expect to see seemingly unattended plastic sheets under the trees. Those spots are already taken!
Hanami in Ueno Park at night.
In cities like Tokyo, it is also common to have celebrations under the sakura at night. Hanami at night is called yozakura (夜桜, "night sakura"). In many places such as Ueno Park, temporary paper lanterns are hung to have yozakura.

So are you ready to celebrate the transient beauty of flowers and have fun with your friends?
Choose your favorite park and Hanami away!

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