For many people the highlight of spring in Japan is to go to a hanami, or Cherry Blossom viewing party. Although, the Cherry Blossom is highly celebrated it has never been designated as the official flower of Japan. However, it is treated by many as such. Not only is it celebrated by going to a viewing party, but there is also a plethora of Cherry Blossom goods available for purchase.
There are lots of different Cherry Blossom flavoured foods and drinks, most notably Starbuck’s sakura (the Japanese word for Cherry Blossoms) latte, frappucino and chiffon cake and McDonalds’ sakura Mc Freeze, which is Cherry Blossom syrup mixed with soda. But I have also seen more traditional Cherry Blossom flavoured items, such as mochi (Japanese gelatinous rice cakes) and noodles, as well as clothes and small Japanese style items made of sakura patterned fabric.
Despite having tried many of the items I’ve mentioned, and many more I have found, I still find it difficult to describe the exact taste of Cherry Blossoms. They are kind of sweet, but also a little salty and the colour- very pink.
So, what exactly is a Cherry Blossom viewing party? Well, usually people go as part of a group of friends or family, or may be with co-workers or as party of a School or University club/society and eat and drink under the Cherry Blossoms. Cherry Blossoms are generally found in lots of parks or at local temples or shrines. Many people take bento (Japanese lunch boxes) or if the weather is good they might have a barbecue. Some groups may also take music and games, for example I’ve seen pictures and videos of people trying to tightrope walk between two trees on a rope they’ve put up. Basically, a Cherry Blossom viewing party is a place to have fun, whilst eating and drinking with friends and/or family.
These viewing parties usually occur in March and April. Depending on the weather there is also a limited time to hold one, as once Cherry Blossoms begin to bloom they only last around two weeks, if the weather is good, and reach full bloom within a few days of the flowers starting to open. Furthermore, the Cherry Blossoms begin to bloom in the south of Japan first and then begin to open in a northerly pattern, finishing in Hokkaido around the end of April/start of May. Almost like a wave, I suppose is the best way to describe it.
Although, hanami are usually held during the day I learnt this year that there are also night time events. When it gets dark at some locations the Cherry Blossoms are illuminated by spotlights and the effect is really quite breathtaking. The park a friend and I visited not only did this, but also had a small festival with games and food stalls, which was something I had never seen before. I'm not sure how unique it is, but I really enjoyed my own Cherry Blossom viewing this year.
The Cherry Blossoms in Japan really are a site to behold and I don't feel that this article or pictures do them much justice. I highly recommend that anyone visiting Japan during Cherry Blossom season should try to go to a viewing event. It really is a great experience and something you will never forget.