History of Hanami
You can not ignore cherry blossoms when Japan comes into your mind, and when mentioning spring of the country, cherry blossom viewing nearly covers all activities during this season. So, when did the tradition begin?
In Nara Period (710-794), when it comes to flowers, it actually refers to plum flowers because of the leverage of Tang Dynasty in China. Cherry blossoms hadn’t been adored by the imperial family until Heian Era (794-1192). At that time, hanami (cherry blossom viewing) was popular just among imperial family and members of aristocracy. The first hanami festival was said to be staged by Emperor Saga in the 9th century. Commoners began to enjoy cherry blossoms in peaceful and stable Edo Periord (1603- 1867), and some spots have been made to be hot since then, like Ueno Park, Shinjuku Gyoen, Mt. Yoshino, Sumida Park, etc.
The Best Time to View Cherry Blossoms in Each Part of Japan
Cherry blossoms indicate the approach of spring. Japanese people are so keen on viewing cherry blossoms that Weathernews Inc., Weather Map Co.,Ltd. and Japan Weather Association issue the forecast of blooming dates in every prefecture of Japan from Wednesday of the first week of March every year.
Sakura in majority parts of Japan begin to bloom during late March to early April. However, a few places do not follow the rule. Cherry blossom viewing period in Kawazu of Shizuoka Prefecture falls between early February and early March. In Hokkaido and eastern region of Japan, full bloom often goes to late April to early May. What’s more, the period of the first bloom to full bloom is just seven days. Therefore, making a plan in advance before viewing cherry blossoms in Japan is highly recommended.
Facts About Cherry Blossom Viewing
Every spring cherry blossom trees are ubiquitous in Japan, from parks, shrines and castles to riverbanks and mountains.
Parks and gardens: Ueno Park, Inokashira Onshi Park, Nara Park, Hirosaki Park, Tsutsujigaoka Park, Ritsurin Park, etc.
Castles: Nijo Castle, Osaka Castle, Himeji Castle, Matsumoto Castle, etc.
Shrines and temples: Heian Shrine, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Daigoji Temple, Senkoji Temple, etc.
Riverbanks: Yodogawa Riverside Park, Arakogawa Park, Fukurogawa River, etc.
Streets: Yaesu Sakura Street, Philosopher's Path, Kancho-gai Dori St. in Towada City, Nitchusen Memorial Bike and Pedestrian Path, etc.
Mountains: Hanamiyama Park, Mt.Yoshino, etc.
During sakura season, many cherry blossom spots in Japan hold light-up events which often start after sunset, at around 18:00. The stunning cherry blossoms become more gorgeous and magical at night. Illuminations in some places are chosen as the most fantastic ones unanimously, such as Meguro River, Nijo Castle, Hirosaki Park, Sankeien Garden, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Mifuneyama Rakuen, etc.
For Japanese, cherry blossom viewing is not just appreciating the flowers, and it is also a time to enjoy performances, sample local snacks and attend tea ceremonies. Festivals usually go along with light-up events lasting from a few days to two weeks. There is even a concert at Heian Shrine in Kyoto.
What can you do besides just viewing cherry blossoms?
Japanese always place a premium on cherry blossoms, so they are not satisfied with just seeing the flowers. Therefore, they sit under cherry trees, and even occupy a perfect place with mats beforehand. And they have picnics and barbecues. If there is a pond at the spot and flowers are planted around the pond, rowing boats is the best way to enjoy reflection of flowers. When petals begin to fall, it appears that you are on a huge pink carpet.
How to shoot perfect cherry blossom photographs?
Cherry blossom season is quite short, just around two weeks. Thus nearly all viewers eager to take perfect pictures to share with family and friends or leave a sweet memory. Here are some tips of photographing the flowers.
Pay attention to weather forecast from time to time. Blooming will delay in chilly days. Check expected first bloom and full bloom dates on the spots’ websites or www.sakura.weathermap.jp.
It is unnecessary to carry unwieldy professional cameras. Nowadays smartphone is smart enough to take satisfying photographs. Unlike cameras, it is crucial to remember that smartphones are more suitable to shoot close pictures. Make sure to activate HDR feature which will mix three images with different exposures and create a balanced photo. In addition, downloading some high-quality photograph apps is recommended.
Cherry blossoms in Japan are gifts for the world. During blooming period, not only Japanese, but sakura lovers from the rest of the globe will flood to cherry blossom sights in Japan. Nevertheless, early morning on weekdays are relatively the best time to capture the beauty of sakura.
Besides some household names of cherry blossoms viewing sights in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, etc., several spots boasts less crowds and beautiful flowers, for instance, Hikarigaoka Park, Inaba Senbonzakura, Kumagaya Sakura Tsutsumi, Kyoto Botanical Garden, etc.
Light is one of the most significant elements of a good photograph. Soft and gentle light is feasible to shoot ideal cherry blossoms. Sunrise and sunset are the hours for the lovely light. Bright light at midday often wash out the colours of the flowers.
Cherry blossoms should be the leading role of your photograph, so hues and backgrounds are the simpler the better. Of course, some Japanese features will make you pictures even better, such as deer at Nara Park, Mt. Fuji, Chureito Pagoda at Arakurayama Sengen Park. It is worth mentioning that people having picnic under cherry trees is an exclusively cultural scene in Japan.
Last but not least, the best way to remember and capture the most stunning moments of cherry blossoms is with your eyes.
Dos and Don’ts for cherry blossoms viewing in Japan
Cherry blossoms season has been becoming a global festival in recent years. During this time, some popular sakura viewing spots are teeming with visitor from the rest of the world. In order to maximise and respect etiquette in Japan, here are several dos and don’ts for your reference.
Reserve your seats ahead of time
Perfect positions to enjoy cherry blossoms are pretty sought-after in some parks. So occupying a seat in advance with your name, viewing time and phone number is necessary.
Clean up your rubbish or take it home
Having picnic beneath cherry trees is a pleasant experience. however, don’t forget to classify rubbish and put it in dustbins. Alternatively, take it home.
Wear or take warm clothes
Cherry blossoms begin to bloom between late March to early April in most places in Japan when the weather is not warm, let alone at night. Remember to bring a coat.
Take food and drinks
Having picnic under trees is a Japanese way to appreciate wonderful cherry blossoms. You can bring something like sushi, rice roll, bento etc. What’s more, in sakura festival, a lot of food stalls are along roads selling traditional snacks.
Obey parks’ rules
Drinking alcohol, picnicking or bringing mats in some sights is not allowed. Please check their websites beforehand.
Don’t hurt roots, branches and flowers
Don’t put mats close to roots or stand on them. don’t shake branches or stand on limbs to produce ‘petals snow’. Cherry blossoms are delicate and fragile, so you’d better not touch them when photographing.
Don’t take up more space than you need
Occupying a good place to admire cherry blossoms is understandable. However, please don’t occupy too much room or even block access.
Don’t smoke in public. Some places provide smoking areas, while some hang ‘No Smoking’ signs.