“What a strange thing! To be alive beneath cherry blossoms.” - Kobayashi Issa.
For centuries Japanese poets have been captivated by these blooms and made attempts to capture their feelings for them in words. But it is not a feeling that can be described in words. Even the words of Issa, one of Japan's most famous poets, do not have full meaning until the reader has truly stood underneath a Japanese sakura (Japanese for cherry blossom) tree as the golden sunlight beams through the pink and white blossoms.
Each year between late March and early April these trees tend to be in full bloom for no longer than 14 days and when they bloom they do so in full brilliance. For the Japanese these short-lived days serve as a celebration of beauty and life across the entire country and are an absolute must to factor into any Japan trip.
1. The blooms only get more beautiful
There’s a reason why Japanese poets throughout the years continued to write about cherry blossoms and why the season continues to be celebrated each and every year without fail – its beauty never ceases to amaze. That glorious moment you see another bloom, your heart almost skips a beat and they’re even more alluring than you ever remembered. Depending on when you visit the petals might be falling during what the Japanese call, hanafubuki, or ‘flower snow storm.’ The blizzard of petals only prove to enhance that romantic feeling, and the Japanese say if you catch one of these falling petals good fortune is assured.
2. Sakura flavoured treats are in abundance
If you like floral tastes you’re going to love sakura flavours, and they pop up everywhere and in everything, but only for a limited time. They have everything from sakura flavoured Kit Kats to ice cream (including Haagen-Dazs) to salt pickled petals and everything in between. Whether you like sweet treats, savoury eats or a little bit of sake (Japanese rice wine), you can guarantee you will find a sakura flavour.
3. And there are even cherry blossom inspired souvenirs
Not only are there an abundance of cherry blossom goodies to feast on but you can also find a ton of limited edition souvenirs. It’s not only the little street side stores that sell these limited edition pieces, even larger corporations like Disney and Starbucks partake in the season. In fact, there is a whole section of the Disney Store that is dedicated to items featuring cherry blossoms. Starbucks Japan sakura collection has items like tumblers, mugs, water bottles and glasses, all of which sell out incredibly quickly. So if you’re looking for a unique souvenir that others most likely won’t have, visit Japan in cherry blossom season!
4. You get a deeper, more cultural experience
Issa also wrote, “In the cherry blossom’s shade, there’s no such thing as a stranger.” While sakura season is peak tourist time, everyone is there for the same reason – and this helps to almost unify everyone in the country, resident or tourist. To know that everyone around you, regardless of how many times they have seen it are just as in awe as you are is a powerful feeling. The idea that something so simple yet so beautiful and can stir something inside each and every one of us is indescribable.
The tradition of Hanami started as early as 794, so when you’re engaging in this activity you are actually taking part in one of Japan’s most time-honored and most beloved traditions. The first blossoms marked the beginning of rice-planting season and evolved into hanami parties where individuals and sometimes entire cities would celebrate with feasts, drinks and fun-loving company. So, not only are you experiencing Japan in arguably its most beautiful season, but you are also experiencing an ingrained cultural tradition that is meant to be shared with those around you.
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5. Even the major cities have blooms
No matter where you go in Japan you are likely to find cherry blossoms trees, from their largest mega-cities like Tokyo to their smallest countryside villages. In fact, Japan has over 200 different types of cherry blossom trees! They love the transient blossoms so much the cherry blossom has become their national flower. The Japanese even have various forecast stations that report on where the trees are currently blooming and they are keenly tracked.
Despite being concrete jungles cities like Tokyo and Kyoto still pride themselves on ensuring the hanami tradition is alive and well. Tokyo has several gardens including one of the more popular options Shinjuku Gyo-en has over 1,500 trees (there is a cost for entering the park, but it’s not much). Just outside of the epic shopping district of Shibuya is the neighborhood of Nakameguro where cherry trees line canals and lanterns illuminate the trees after dark. Whilst the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto offers a perfectly dreamy backdrop for blossom viewing.
Venessa travelled on Contiki’s Japan Unrivalled trip as a result of submitting this article to six-two’s community contributor program. Do you fancy winning yourself a Contiki trip, anywhere in the world, through just sharing a story? Head here to find out how.