What is Hanami?
The word Hanami in Japanese means flower viewing. A popular practice dating back since ancient traditions, people now gather in great numbers (sometimes even thousands!) to admire and view cherry blossoms together.
Often times, parties with picnics and camping are part of the fun too! Food, beer, and sake are enjoyed throughout the day and late into the night as visitors indulge in the beauty of the blossoming cherry blossoms.
Where to View Cherry Blossoms?
When choosing a location for viewing cherry blossoms, it depends on the time of your trip to Japan. The Sakura season in Japan generally starts from Okinawa, south of Japan and gradually moves towards Hokkaido, north of Japan.
However, If you’re trying to catch the Sakura season, you may find that it’s not really consistent every year. The best time to visit Japan for cherry blossom viewing would be early April.
Here are some of the major cherry blossom viewing sites in Japan throughout the season:
Time: Early April
Time: Early April
Time: Mid April – Late April
Shinjuku Gyoen Park
Time: Early April
Time: Late April – Early May
Time: Mid April – Early May
How to View Cherry Blossoms (Hanami)?
Hanami is simple!
The main part is to enjoy the intensity and beauty of the blossoms. You can either admire them from afar as a single tree or a group of trees or walk up close to view the luscious color of each blossom.
Traditionally, people view cherry blossoms while having picnics under the blooming trees. These are held in public and private gardens across the country where the best picnic spots are fought after.
People usually spread their picnic sheet early in the morning, marked with the group name and the picnic starting time. Some parks don’t allow for the sheets to be unattended so somebody has to be positioned until everyone arrives.
However, if you’re looking for something simpler, having a relaxing stroll while viewing cherry blossoms is also a great way to experience hanami.
What to Pack During Cherry Blossoms Viewings?
Much like many other places during spring, Japan is both cold and rainy. However, the rain in Japan can get pretty long so it’s best to be prepared for it.
A picnic in Japan definitely must have some Bento! If you don’t know what’s that, it is Japanese packed lunch boxes, which are prepared at home or can be bought easily at supermarkets. The convenience store in Japan also sells these with a bunch of variety of Bento.
Curious about what is in the Bento? Well, the food choices inside a bento can include sushi rolls, inari, tamagoyaki (omelet), fishcakes and any other kinds of food.
Onigiri are rice balls stuffed with different ingredients and wrapped around with seaweed. They are easy to find in the convenience store in Japan. What makes it so amazing is that they come in a variety of flavors, like fried salmon, teriyaki chicken, tuna, or ume (pickled plum).
A good Sake under a blooming Sakura tree is the best! It is popular to have beer or sake when viewing cherry blossom in Japan. When you drink sake under cherry blossom trees, the Japanese refer this as hanami-zake.
There also many breweries that release seasonal beer with decorated cherry blossom designs. These beers are also very popular and come with flavorful tastes too!
To find out more about sake, read our sake beginner’s guide!
Hanami drinks are not just all about sake and beer. You know, Japan is popular with their tea too! Not everyone in your group would just want sake or beer, so make sure to prepare some soothing hot or cold tea.
Japan also never fail at incorporating all kinds of flavors to their drinks. Sakura flavored tea or drinks can be found during the hanami season too.
You can easily buy umbrellas anywhere in Japan. However, the prices are higher when purchasing umbrellas in a train station. Remember to make sure your umbrellas have a wide diameter than can cover you fully.
It’s a hassle to pack them for travel, but it’s definitely worth it. As the rain in Japan is cold, heavy, and uninterrupted, it’s best to wear the appropriate shoes to keep your feet dry and warm. Also, you’ll have one less thing to worry about with these weatherproof shoes.
7. Water Proof Clothing
The weather can get pretty cold especially during the night. To keep yourself warm and cosy, make sure to wear proper thermal clothing and leggings under your pants. Side note, Uniqlo has a selection of HeatTech clothing to choose from. And the best part. It comes in multiple colours as well!
8. Extra camera battery
Nothing’s worse than going cherry blossom viewing with a low battery camera. Almost everything is picture worthy in Japan and cherry blossoms are no exceptions. Get yourself prepared with fully charged camera batteries or pick an extra one at one of Japan’s big electronic shops such as Yodobashi or BIC Camera.
9. Rain Cover for bags
Whether it’s for your backpacks or day bag, having a rain cover for them is as important as umbrellas. Most backpacks for travelling comes with rain covers so be sure to bring them. It comes in handy whenever you need to protect documents or maps in your bags. Also, it’s whenever the umbrella isn’t big enough to cover your bags.
History of Hanami
Dating back centuries before hanami came about, people first admired plum blossoms instead of cherry blossoms. It was called umemi in Japanese, which meant ‘plum viewing’.
The first hanami that was referred to cherry blossoms viewing was written in the early 11th century in the world’s first novel, The Tale of Genji. In the Heian Period, the Emperor Saga would hold hanami feasts and parties under the blossoming sakura trees in Imperial Court in Kyoto.
Although it was initially limited to Japanese royalty and socialites, the practice of hanami eventually spread to the citizens in the early 1600s by the Edo Period. Till this day the custom of hanami has lived on and has drawn millions of visitors from all over to celebrate and be a part of this seasonal celebration.
More than just a celebration, hanami itself has been viewed as a metaphor for life in Japanese culture as both are similarly fleeting yet beautiful. Its symbolism is still a popular influence towards the arts, literature, and dance.
To learn more about the history of hanami, you can read this article.
Etiquettes When Viewing Cherry Blossoms
Take Off Your Shoes
When you’re doing a picnic there, keep in mind that a picnic blanket is just like a Japanese house.
When entering a Japanese house, you need to knock on the door first, then take your off shoes before entering. In a picnic, however, you can skip the door knocking (well, there’s no door here), but you do have to take your shoes off.
This is a common Japanese rule. Do this if you’re with your Japanese friends or colleagues. Oh, Remember to leave your shoes at the edge of the picnic blanket.
Reserve Your Spot
Big cities such as Tokyo have parks with cherry blossom trees. In the hanami season, they will become busy extremely fast. If you’re planning to get a spot for your hanami picnic, it is best to go early and reserve a space with your picnic blanket. For the sake of politeness, have at least one person stay there until everyone else arrives.
Check and follow local park rules
Each park has different rules and should be followed accordingly. That’s if you don’t want to ruin your hanami and get kicked out. Some parks don’t allow alcoholic beverages while others have an evening curfew. Make sure you check them before heading out.
Take care of the cherry blossom trees
By the time you read this part of the blog, you’ll probably know that the cherry blossom tree is the main star of hanami. So make sure you’re careful with them. No climbing, pulling on branches, picking blossoms, and standing on tree roots!
Pick up your rubbish
Keep clean. Remember to clean up if you’re having a party or a picnic. Some parks do not have garbage bins so be prepared that you might have to clean and take your garbage home.
Planning to Travel to Japan?
If you have made it this far in this article, you’re probably planning to go to Japan somewhere in the near future or just in the back of your mind.
Well, viewing cherry blossoms is just one of the unique experiences in Japan. There’s so much more to Japan than just this.
You’ll be able to find out all that you need to know about Japan in our Ultimate Japan Travel Guide!
For those who have been there, feel free to share your unique experiences in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you!