Flower Viewing (Hanami) occurs every year in correspondence with the blooming of the ornamental Cherry Blossom tree (Sakura), and that means it can happen anywhere between January and May, due to climate differences. The trees themselves blossom a wonderful pink-almost-white flower.
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The Start of It
The festival originates from Japan, from a period when Japan was heavily influenced by China, which designated a time to appreciate the beauty of flowers. The blooming of the sakura means the start of the rice-planting season and is thought to be a sign of how well that year's harvest would fare. Originally limited to the elite of the Imperial Court, one emperor extended Hanami to the common people by planting sakura in parks, and it was celebrated by having lunches and sake (rice wine) beneath the trees. Cherry blossoms serve as a lasting metaphor for the fickle, short nature of life as the petals usually scatter within a week, and the trees are frequently depicted in art and music. Many Japanese women have the first name 'Sakura.'
The Japanese carry on the tradition of Hanami to this day, gathering in large numbers wherever the sakura happen to blossom each year. Thousands fill the parks to hold feasts under the flowering trees, and sometimes carrying into the late night. The cherry blossoming period also coincides with the beginning of the scholastic and fiscal years for about half of Japan, and so welcoming parties are often opened with Hanami.
This festive time has even been extended to some portions of the United States. As a gift from the Japanese government in a gesture of friendship, thousands of sakura have grown in Washington DC and in Philadelphia, in which both of these cities observe Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival). Met with parades, photography contests, a regaling of traditional stories, and other festivities, it has been gladly accepted as an aesthetically appealing and spirit lifting observance, embracing the coming spring.
To learn more about the States-side festivals, please visit The National Cherry Blossom Festival's official website for a history and links to many things sakura-related.
Have you observed Hanami? What does the Sakura bring to mind for you? Do you have any photographs of a cherry blossom?