Viewing Cherry Blossoms: A Spring Tradition

We had a warm few weeks and the cherry blossoms bloomed early. Japanese people love the blossoms as it is a symbol of transient nature of life. The beauty, the brevity and the finally the softly falling blossoms signal the coming of spring in a culture where the change of seasons always appear in haiku. The blossoms only last about a week to 10 days and fall from the trees. Some are reminded of young and beautiful people who die in their prime, I’ve heard.

A Family Picnic under Cherry Blossoms

A Family Picnic under Cherry Blossoms

It is a season to enjoy a picnic and beer or sake under the trees. In full bloom, the pale pink blossoms look like soft bunches of cotton candy. As we sit under the tree, the petals were drifting down on us.

Last Friday was a nice day and it drew many families out to the Botanical Gardens where I picnicked with Mayumi. She had been really looking forward to it since we were unable to go last year.

Mayumi excited over her obento!

Mayumi excited over her obento!

I remember my first experience of Viewing Cherry Blossoms forty years ago. I didn’t speak Japanese but the plasterers who were working on our apartment used gestures and a few words to invite me to go with them. We went to Hijiyama Park in Hiroshima city. They brought all the food and drinks. We spread a blanket under the trees  and were enjoying our lunch when a geisha came around to play the shaminsen for us. She was very old and wrinkled and wore heavy make-up.

I thought there was something strange about her and this was confirmed when “she” went over to the bushes to relieve “herself.” It turned out that “she” was a he!

In full bloom!

In full bloom!

The custom began with viewing of plum blossoms in the Nara period, but by the Heian period ( 794-1185) cherry blossom viewing became popular among the imperial court nobles. The word hanami, or “flower-viewing” was first used in The Tale of Genji in the early 11th century.

Flower viewing became popular with the masses after Tokugawa Yoshimune planted many trees along the Sumida RIver in Asakusa to allow commoners to enjoy themselves.

Tokugawa Yoshimune planted cherry trees

Tokugawa Yoshimune planted cherry trees

Though people love to stroll under the trees, most people are more into the food and drinks. It is often an excuse to drink with friends! This is the origin of the saying “Dumplings rather than flowers.” (Hana yori dango.)

Hanami Dango (dumplings)

Hanami Dango (dumplings)

I remember going to Kintaikyo in Iwakuni to enjoy yozakura, or nighttime flower-viewing when my girls were little. The park was partially-illuminated, making it all seem like a starry pink wonderland. I still recall that magical night!

Inside the greenhouse at Botanical Gardens

Inside the greenhouse at Botanical Gardens

I’m glad I could keep my promise to take Mayumi to see the blossoms this year! We had a great day! Now that we have seen the cherry blossoms, I feel that spring is officially here!

Advertisements

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. deceptivelyblonde
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 16:58:34

    Awww. I always wanted to see the cherry blossoms in bloom. 😦 Last year when I went, it was June and it was more the season for hydrangeas and roses than cherry blossoms. I was hoping this year would be better, since I’ll be there in early May. However, someone said that would be too late too 😦 Oh well, I’m planning on moving to Korea or Japan after I graduate so maybe I”ll see them in a couple years! I will say that when I visited the shrines, I think people were more there for the flower viewing than the shrines since there were tons of people with big tripod-esque cameras surrounding all the flowers.

    Reply

    • leahmama1
      Apr 07, 2013 @ 21:36:46

      I hope you have a chance to see them some day! I’m sure y ou will! So you are going to live in Japan or Korea?! Come and visit us in Hiroshima!

      Reply

  2. beckynielsen
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 22:17:49

    Such a quintessential part of spring in Japanese literature! I enjoyed reading about your experience this year and seeing the pictures – a lovely bento box assembled by Mayumi!

    Reply

  3. leahmama1
    Apr 09, 2013 @ 22:36:55

    Yes! Japanese people are very into seasonal change and knowledgeable about so many plants and flowers. I’m not but I do love the cherry blossoms! Do you have any in your area? I know there are some in Washington DC. Thanks for reading!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: