If you have ever heard the old expression “See Naples and die”, made famous by Goethe, you will pardon my wordplay. Personally I have not been to Naples but will argue that such a statement was made by people who had not seen the cherry blossoms in Japan. Sakura, cherry blossoms, are of course now world-renowned and many tourists flock around Japan during this magical time.
And that magical time is here now. Behold: sakura!
Unfortunately the sakura season is very short and if you snooze you will lose the chance to enjoy this pink and white floral magnificence. The difficulty with sakura season is that depending on the region and weather, every year is very different and forecasts are nearly impossible to make beforehand. There are websites that publish forecasts for sakura which many tourists find useful. As an example, www.japan-guide.com/sakura/.
Sakura trees blossom for a short time only and though you can see their buds slowly growing and gently opening, full bloom is what you really are after, trust me.
The flowers will open and unlike most trees, the sakura flowers open towards the ground making it easy for us mere mortals to enjoy the beauty of these gorgeous trees. Standing underneath sakura, breathing in the sweet scent and resting your eyes on the delicately beautiful petals is an experience surely most people will remember for a lifetime.
As sakura flowers droop down, hence hanami, sakura viewing party picnics, are quite the rave in Japan. Japanese people are nothing less than obsessed about sakura. Groups of families, friends or colleagues will reserve a place under sakura with a picnic blanket early in the morning to ensure getting a prime spot for later on. In the afternoon most people will arrive to the reserved spot and eat their bento, a Japanese lunch box usually including rice, fish, meat and vegetables; as well as enjoying sake or shochu, Japanese spirits. Japanese people enjoy both sakura and sake, so hanami is a great excuse to indulge in both.
Hanami has a habit of continuing until late at night and you will see many merry Japanese people enjoying themselves under sakura. Finding Japanese salary men, businessmen, passed out anywhere in the cities of Japan at any given night is never a surprising sight, but during hanami there seems to be more of those who over indulged, sprawled around parks and roadsides. No fear though, salary men are seasoned to endure a night passed out on a park bench or a curb, hard core hanami is nothing they can not handle.
But fortunately for the salary men they do not have to attend these (often) mandatory festivities for too long as the average time of sakura being in full bloom is only a week or less.
Luckily for travelers though, different regions in Japan enjoy sakura at different times, so if you are willing to travel after sakura you will be able to enjoy the gorgeousness from around mid-March to early May.
As stunning as sakura is during day time, basking in glorious sunlight, I strongly recommend going to a night illumination to experience a more mysterious looking sakura. Many Japanese gardens have special night time illuminations for sakura and if you visit, you will surely understand why. If it were not for the masses of people bumping in the night, you might forget you are on Earth instead of some magical fairy tale land far, far away.
I currently live in Hiroshima but unfortunately this year has not been vary favorable for hanami, as sakura only reached full bloom a couple of days ago – which is also the exact same time when the weather turned and heavy rain has been pouring down ever since. These pictures of sakura have been taken in Kyoto last year when I was lucky enough to witness various degrees of sakura blooming.
Anyone who has not seen sakura in Japan yet I urge you to make it happen.