Hanami

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Hanami parties at Himeji Castle.

Hanami (花見?, literally "flower viewing") is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers, especially cherry blossoms ( sakura?). The practice of Hanami is more than a thousand years old, and is still very popular in Japan today. It takes place in the Spring. The blossoms only last for a week or two, usually from March to April. They are followed by the media.[1] After a very brief time, the blooming peak is past. The blossoms begin to fall from the trees.

A more ancient form of hanami also exists in Japan, which celebrates the plum blossoms ( ume?) instead of cherry blossoms. 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.

History[change | change source]

Viewing cherry blossoms, woodblock print by Utagawa Kunisada, (1852)

The practice of hanami is many centuries old. It is said to have started during the Nara Period (710–784) when the Chinese Tang Dynasty influenced Japan in many ways; one of which was the custom of enjoying flowers.[2] Though it was ume blossoms that people admired in the beginning, by the Heian Period (794–1185), sakura began to attract more attention. The sakura were considered sacred by the Japanese, and they were so important that they still are a cultural symbol of Japan.[3] People believed in gods' existence inside the trees, and the hanami party was used in the beginning to divine that year's harvest and to announce the season of planting rice. Those who went to the hanami made offerings at the root of sakura trees, and after the ceremony, they took part in the offering drinking sake.[4]

Emperor Saga of the Heian Period adopted this custom, and celebrated parties to view the flowers with sake and feasts under the blossoming branches of sakura trees in the Imperial Court in Kyoto. This was said to be the origin of hanami in Japan.[5] Poems were written praising the delicate flowers, which were seen as a metaphor for life itself; beautiful, but lasting for a very short time. This 'temporary' view of life is very popular in Japanese culture and is usually considered as an admirable form of existence; for example, in the samurai's principle of life ending when it's still beautiful and strong, instead of slowly getting old and weak. The Heian era poets used to write poems about how much easier things would be in Spring without the sakura blossoms, because their existence reminded us that life is very short:

Cquote1.png If there were no cherry blossoms in this world
How much more tranquil our hearts would be in Spring.
Cquote2.png

Hanami was used as a term that meant "cherry blossom viewing" for the first time in the Heian era novel Tale of Genji (chapter 8, 花宴 Hana no En, "Under the Cherry Blossoms").[7] From then on, in tanka and in haiku poetry, "flowers" meant "sakura", and the terms "hanami" and "flower party" were only used to mean sakura blossom viewing.[8] At the beginning, the custom was followed only by the Imperial Court, but the samurai nobility also began celebrating it during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1568–1600). In those years, Toyotomi Hideyoshi gave great hanami parties in Yoshino and Daigo, and the festivity became very popular through all the Japanese society.[9] Shortly after that, farmers began their own custom of climbing nearby mountains in the springtime and having lunch under the blooming cherry trees. This practice, called then as the "spring mountain trip", combined itself with that of the nobles' to form the urban culture of hanami.[10] By the Edo Period (1600–1867), all the common people took part in the celebrations, in part because Tokugawa Yoshimune planted areas of cherry blossom trees to encourage this. Under the sakura trees, people had lunch and drank sake in cheerful feasts.[11]

Today[change | change source]

A blossom forecast for 2006, with the predicted dates of blossoms. The numbers are for dates (3.22 is March 22). Note the "cherry blossom front" moves from South to North.

The Japanese people continue the tradition of hanami, gathering in great numbers wherever the flowering trees are found. Thousands of people fill the parks to hold feasts under the flowering trees, and sometimes these parties go on until late at night. In more than half of Japan, the cherry blossoming days come at the same time of the beginning of school and work after vacation, and so welcoming parties are often opened with hanami. Usually, people go to the parks to keep the best places to celebrate hanami with friends, family, and company co-workers many hours or even days before. In cities like Tokyo, it's also common to have celebrations under the sakura at night.[12] In many places such as Ueno Park, temporary paper lanterns are hung to have yozakura.

The blossom forecast or "cherry blossom front" (桜前線 sakura zensen?) is announced each year by the Japan Meteorological Agency,[13] and is watched with attention by those who plan to celebrate hanami because the blossoms last for very little time, usually no more than two weeks. The first cherry blossoms happen in the subtropical southern islands of Okinawa, while on the northern island of Hokkaido, they bloom much later. In most large cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, the cherry blossom season normally takes place around the end of March and the beginning of April. The television and newspapers closely follow this "cherry blossom front", as it slowly moves from South to North.[14]

The hanami celebrations usually involve eating and drinking, and playing and listening music. Some special dishes are prepared and eaten at the occasion, like dango and bento, and it's common for sake to be drunk as part of the festivity. The proverb "dumplings rather than flowers" makes fun of people who prefer to eat and drink instead of admiring the blossoms.[15]

Outside Japan[change | change source]

Hanami celebrations at Ueno Park, Tokyo.

Recently, hanami festivities have also become popular outside of Japan. Smaller hanami celebrations in Korea, Philippines and China (where the custom was first created) also take place traditionally.[16]

In the United States, hanami has also become popular. In 1912, Japan gave 3,000 sakura trees as a gift to the United States to celebrate the nations' friendship. These trees were planted in Washington, D.C., and another 3,800 gifted trees were also taken there in 1956. These sakura trees continue to be a popular tourist attraction, and every year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place when they bloom in early Spring.[17]

In Macon, Georgia, another cherry blossom festival called the International 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.[18]

In Brooklyn, New York, the Annual Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival takes place in May at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.[19] This festivity has been celebrated since 1981, and is one of the Garden's most famous attractions. Similar celebrations are also done in Philadelphia[20] and other places through the United States.

Picture gallery[change | change source]

Other pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. ""A beginner's guide to Hanami" → How long do they bloom?". Japan-guide.com. http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2011_when.html. Retrieved June 20,, 2012.; excerpt, "Full bloom (満開 mankai?) is usually reached within about one week after the opening of the first blossoms (開花 kaika?)."
  2. Varley, H. Paul. (2000). Japanese Culture (4th ed.). University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-2152-4. pp. 73–74.
  3. Akasegawa, Gempei (2000) (in Japanese). Sennin no sakura, zokujin no sakura: Nippon kaibo kiko. JTB Nihon Kotsu Kosha Shuppan Jigyokyoku. ISBN 978-4-533-01983-8. Cited at Cyber Sakura Watching, Osaka Seikei University, Kyoto, Japan.
  4. Varley, p. 74.
  5. Varley, pp 75–78.
  6. "Cherry Blossom Viewing". Japan Mint. http://www.mint.go.jp/eng/sakura/viewing.html. Retrieved August 14, 2007.
  7. Shikibu, Murasaki; Tyler, Royall (2006). The Tale of Genji. Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-303949-0. pp. 86–87.
  8. Tetsuya, Ito. "Genji Monogatari" (in Japanese). The Japanese Literature Project online. http://www.nijl.ac.jp/~t.ito/index.html. Retrieved August 15, 2007.
  9. Varley, pp. 75–79.
  10. Varley, p. 79.
  11. Varley, pp. 79–80;"MIT Japanese: Culture notes - Ohanami". Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts. http://web.mit.edu/jpnet/holidays/Apr/hanami.shtml. Retrieved August 17, 2007.
  12. Hanami at night is called yozakura (夜桜, literally "night sakura").
  13. "Japanese Culture - Calendar - Hanami Season". JapanZone. http://www.japan-zone.com/culture/hanami_spots.shtml. Retrieved August 15, 2007.
  14. Akasegawa, Gempei (2000) (in Japanese). Sennin no sakura, zokujin no sakura: Nippon kaibo kiko. JTB Nihon Kotsu Kosha Shuppan Jigyokyoku. ISBN 978-4-533-01983-8. "As cherry blossom front comes up, the whole Japan goes into a war; we just can't sit home and let it go". Cited at Cyber Sakura Watching, Osaka Seikei University, Kyoto, Japan.
  15. About.com, "Proverbial flower" → Hana yori dango 花より団子; retrieved 2012-6-20.
  16. "Spring flower festival events". Seoul Metropolitan Government. http://english.seoul.go.kr/today/news/event/1243608_3328.html. Retrieved August 18, 2007.
  17. "National Cherry Blossom Festival". Official Site. http://www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/. Retrieved August 16, 2007.
  18. "International Cherry Blossom Festival Online". Official Site. http://www.cbfmacon.com/index.php?saturday,_march_24th. Retrieved August 16, 2007.
  19. "Brooklyn Botanic Garden Celebrates Hanami". Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn, New York. http://www.bbg.org/abo/pressroom/special/2007/2007hanami.html. Retrieved August 17, 2007.
  20. "Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia". Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. http://jasgp.org/sakura/. Retrieved August 17, 2007.

Other websites[change | change source]

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