Hanami, also known as “flower viewing”, is a Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the “transient beauty of flowers”, “flower”, in this case, almost always meaning “cherry blossoms” (Sakura) or, less often, “plum blossom” (Ume). From the end of March to early May, “Sakuras” bloom all over Japan, and around the 1st of February on the island of Okinawa. The blossom forecast (sakura-zensen, literally, cherry blossom front ) is announced, each year, by the weather bureau, and is watched carefully by those planning Hanami, as the blossoms only last a week or two.
This Cherry Blossom Festival is held at Shinto Shrines during the month of April. Excursions and picnics, for enjoying flowers, particular cherry blossoms are also common. Many drinking parties are often seen in and around auspicious parks and buildings. In some areas, the Plum Blossom is also viewed as well, though these flower earlier than the Cherry Blossoms.
In some places “flower viewing” parties are held on traditionally fixed dates. This is one of the most popular event during spring. Ikebana (flower arrangement) is also a popular part of Japanese culture and is still practised by many people today. There are also games, folk songs, folk dances, parades, concerts, kimono shows, beauty pageant and religious ceremonies.
A more ancient form of Hanami also exists in Japan, which is enjoying the Plum blossom (Ume) instead, which is narrowly referred to as Umemi (plum viewing). This kind of Hanami is popular among older people, because they are more calm than the Sakura parties, which usually involve younger people and can sometimes be very crowded and noisy.
Sakura, originally, was used to divine that year’s harvest as well as announce the rice-planting season. The custom was originally limited to the elite of the Imperial Court, but soon spread to the common people as well. The Hanami celebrations involve the preparation of special dishes like “dango” and “bento” and “sake” is drunk as part of the festivities.
Smaller Hanami celebrations take place in Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines and China. In the US, Hanami has become popular, because, in 1912, Japan gave 3,000 Sakura trees as a gift to the US to celebrate the nations’ friendship. These trees were planted in Washington DC and another 3,800 trees were donated in 1965. Theses Sakura trees continue to be a popular tourist attraction and, every year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place in the spring.
In Macon, Georgia, another Cherry Blossom Festival is celebrated every spring. Macon is known as the “Cherry Blossom Capital of the World”, because 300,000 Sakura trees grow there. In Brooklyn, New York, the “Annual Sakura Festival” takes place in May, at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. This festivity has been celebrated since 1981, and is one of the garden’s most famous attraction.
Hanami is also celebrated in Finland, where people gather together to celebrate it in Helsinki. Local Japanese people and companies have donated 200 Cherry trees, which bloom in mid-May.