Japanese Sakura by Nory Yamaguchi, Tokyo 2023
Cherry Trees at Chidorigafuchi (千鳥ヶ淵) in Tokyo. Colder season meant blossoms continued to bloom into late March.
Photo by Nory Yamaguchi, Tokyo, March 2023

A lovely spring night 
suddenly vanished while
we viewed cherry blossoms 

~ Haiku by Basho

One of the most popular places for viewing Japan's famous cherry blossoms is along Tokyo's Sumida river banks. It is said that during the Edo period (1603-1868), Yoshimune, the eighth Tokugawa shogun, ordered that cherry trees be planted along the banks.

View original photographs by Nory Yamaguchi, Tokyo, Japan

The custom of Cherry Blossom Viewing (Hanami) has existed since around the 7th century (Nara period 710-794) when it is believed that the cherry blossom trees were first introduced from China. It wasn't until later in the Heian period that "hanami" became popular among members of the imperial Court. Aristocrats wrote poems and enjoyed food and drink under the cherry trees. This lovely tradition eventually spread throughout Japan and continues to be one of the most important cultural traditions.

However,under new leadership of the Emperor Meiji, the cherry trees were ordered to be cut down as he wanted no reminder of the old feudal period. Fortunately, the tradition returned.  

Haru Means spring and cherry blossoms and viewing parties.
Hana Means flower
Mi Means "to see"
Yozakura Means hanami at night

In addition to their beauty, the delicate cherry blossoms represent Japanese culture. One the tree begins to flower, the last only a week or two before the "Sakura snow" begins to fall. This represents the transient nature of life. The blossoms also represent the welcoming of a new season after long winter months – rebirth, new beginnings, hope.

During spring, there are many spectacular cherry blossom viewing locations throughout Japan. All About Japan has listed 10 favorite spots. Other favorites include: Ueno or Yoyogi parks in Tokyo; Maruyama Park, Yasaka Shrine and Arashiyama in Kyoto.

Cherry-viewing was widely depicted in Japan's traditional Woodblock Prints. Enjoy some of these at the Library of Congress.

Utagawa Hiroshige, Yoshiwara, Naganocho Utagawa Hiroshige, Gotenyama

Cherry trees are said to have started blooming when there are five or six blossoms on sample trees. There are beautiful cherry trees throughout Japan and the blossoms bloom at different times. There are dozens of species of cherry trees in Japan and usually bloom for a very short period of time. Many say that when the wind blows, it looks as if it is showing. Unfortunately this also means the end of the beautiful blossoms as then float to the ground.

Hanami in Japan is celebrated in many ways including picnic-style events where people bring food and drink and enjoy family outings, chatting with friends, sipping sake, writing poems, singing songs. One of the most popular foods is Dango, a skewered, sweet, chewy snack food made from rice flour. These treats can be found at pop-up food stalls during the cherry blossom season. The custom of eating dango is thought to have started when Toyotomi Hideyoshi served his guests hanami dango as a tea snack at a cherry blossom viewing party in Kyoto in 1833.

Of course, anyone visiting Washington, D.C. during the spring will have the pleasure of viewing these famous cherry blossoms. Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki presented Japanese cherry trees to the Washington, D.C. on March 27, 1912 as a gesture of the growing friendship between Japan and the United States.


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