The annual blooming of the Japanese cherry blossom, known as sakura, has become a must-see for all tourists keen on travelling to the Far East.
Originally used to divine the year’s harvest (as well as announce the arrival of spring), the sakura blossom became a symbol of Wabi-sabi and Shinto ideals of impermanence and a metaphor for life—beautiful, precious and delicate, yet tragically fleeting. Hanami—literally ‘flower viewing’—parties were held as far back as the Nara period when people would make offerings to the tress and drink sake together. Emperor Saga officially adopted the practice of hanami in the early 9th century; from there, it slowly filtered down through samurai society and then on to the common folk.
Cherry Blossoms in Full Bloom
Today, the Japanese still gather under the falling petals and celebrate with friends and family. The sakura forecast is followed keenly, and plans are made to reserve the best hanami spots long in advance. The first trees to bloom are usually found in the sub-tropical islands of Okinawa, but the flowers can be followed north as the weather gets warmer. Because the blossoms only last around a week, it can be hard to find space beneath their boughs and even tougher to find a hotel room. So if you’re travelling, book well in advance and be prepared to pay a premium.
The first buds of 2018 are forecast to open in Tokyo on March the 17th. The season will continue up and down Japan until late April. Cherry blossom season usually lines up with school holidays in Japan, and the locals are very protective of the best hanami spots.
You can find cherry blossoms all over the Japanese islands, but some of the more striking spots are in Tokyo, Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, and Chureito Pagoda in Fuji Five Lakes prefecture.
How to Get There
Direct flights to Tokyo depart from all of Australia’s major cities. Japan Rail Pass offers tickets and information on the forecast and how to get around. It’s definitely worth taking a bullet train if you can.
Where to Stay
Tour companies offer all-inclusive packages, but if you’re travelling on a budget, it’s best to get out of Tokyo and head to one of the lesser-known and less-visited destinations. Book well in advance to guarantee yourself a bed, and a way to get there.
Despite how popular the festival has become outside of Japan, it still remains a fiercely Japanese celebration steeped in history and tradition. Walking through aisles of falling cherry blossoms is just as enchanting and breathtaking as it sounds—even a little fairy-tale-ish—and everyone should try to visit at least once in their lives.