Famous throughout the world, Japan’s cherry blossoms put on a spectacular show every spring with visitors coming from far and wide to view the incredible sight.
Japanese call it “Hana – mi” which literally translates to “viewing of cherry blossoms”; the cherry flowers referred to as “Sakura” in Japanese. So when did this tradition originate and how did it become a popular activity among locals and tourists alike?
Here’s a Little History
Sakura developed its prominence first among the Aristocratic families in Japan during the Heian period between the 8th and 12th centuries. But it was not until the 17th century (the Edo period) when Sakura began to gain a foothold among the common people.
Tokugawa Yoshimune planted numerous Sakura trees in various cities across Japan. All cherry blossom trees were planted using a technique called Tsugiki (Grafting). Most trees planted using this technique have identical DNA, which is why most Sakura in Japan blossom and fall around the same time.
How do Locals Celebrate Hanami?
Once cherry blossoms start to appear, parks throughout the country quickly fill with locals who set up their picnic blankets and baskets. People are merry drinking sake, eating tempura and engaging in playful banters.
This is a great sight to take in as a tourist, although it can often prove difficult to find a place to sit.
Cherry Blossoms Schedule
Every year the Japan Weather association publishes a schedule which outlines the blooming of Cherry trees in Japan.
How Do You Plan a Trip?
If you are visiting Japan for the Cherry blossoms, my recommendation is to start your trip in the south. It’s more likely you will find a cheaper ticket to Tokyo than to other cities.
When you get to Tokyo, activate your JR Rail pass at Tokyo Narita International airport and head straight to Kagoshima by Shinkansen (High speed Bullet train system). A distance of 1353 KM between Tokyo and Kagoshima only takes 7 hours by Shinkansen train. Start your journey from Kagoshima and slowly move up north to Tokyo.
How About Those Japanese?
At a first glance, Japanese locals tend to be shy and introverted, though once you start making an effort to interact, you will find them very friendly and amicable. They will go out of their way to help you.
From my time in Japan, I remember stopping to ask a girl for directions to the nearest subway station. She didn’t speak any English but walked with me all the way to show me the station. I met a Japanese man at an overnight bus from Tokyo to Kyoto and we became friends. He offered to host me at his tiny apartment for a few days.
Instances such as these made my journey very pleasant. Japan is a very organized country, and I have never witnessed anything quite like it elsewhere. It is often quoted as one of the safest and cleanest places in the world. They don’t throw garbage on the streets. I joked with my friends that cleanliness overtook as their religion.
When to Go?
You should plan your trip between mid March and mid April. Make your flight/hostel/Airbnb/Couchsurfing bookings well in advance as most places get filled pretty fast during the Spring season.
Where to Stay?
In big cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Hiroshima it is easier to find Couch surfing accommodations. In smaller cities hostels and Airbnb options work better.