"Hanami": The Ultimate Springtime Experience!
We are back again with another post for your literary pleasure and consumption (guess who's back, back, back, back again... okay sorry). We'd like to present to you a really cool part of springtime in Japan and of historically grounded Japanese culture which just passed us by over here in Nihon (Japan).
Hanami (花見 - flower viewing) refers to the Japanese tradition of watching sakura (桜 - cherry blossoms) bloom and flourish throughout Japan over the course of, typically, late March and the entirety of April into early May. It's a truly beautiful time in Japan which is, aside from the actual blooming of the trees and flowers, most famously characterized by the picnic-parties that people often hold in order to do their flower-viewing. While the sakura are blossoming, the parks and open green spaces all over Japan tend to fill up with Japanese people of all ages who will lay out blankets and bring assortments of both personally prepared and store-bought treats to share. It's common, as with a Western-style potluck, for everyone to make their own special dish and then to share each other's homemade cooking! However, there are plenty of culinarily inept people such as myself, even Japanese, who opt for pre-made bento (弁当 - Japanese "lunchbox") or treats from konbini (コンビニ - convenience store), which are surprisingly delicious for any Westerner who hasn't yet experienced a Japanese 7-11, Lawson, or Family Mart... I think I just decided on the topic for the next post.
Alcohol is also commonly a part of these hanami parties and can obviously aid in creating an atmosphere which is present at many of the picnics, but I think most people would agree that it's not alcohol that makes hanami so pleasurable. For many Japanese, it seems that hanami is so highly anticipated and looked forward to because it reminds people to take a second to take a breath of fresh air from their busy work and academic lives that they've doubtlessly been plugging away at throughout the winter. Once the weather gets nice, it's a reminder to call up your friends, put together some awesome food and drinks, and go outside for a lazy Saturday or Sunday for once (though hanami happens on the weekdays too)!
The tradition is said to be as old as the eighth century and is even alluded to in The Tale of Genji- one of the most iconic and legendary pieces of Japanese literature, though many people hilariously hate reading it and debate its legacy and influence, which was published some time at the beginning of the last millennium. Hanami apparently became a tradition in the high courts and among royalty as prestigious and god-like as the Emperors and Shoguns themselves before it made its way down to samurai society and then eventually to the peasant classes as well. Now it really is a staple of the spring season in Japan and is considered something that can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone; even foreigners like you and me. So, if you're planning a trip to Japan, you may want to consider coming for hanami season!