Hanami season in Japan is finally upon us. A vast array of Spring flowers, most notably Sakura, the famed Japanese Cherry blossoms are blooming as we speak, and a rainbow of color is all around us. Hanami 「花見」is the Japanese art of flower viewing and enjoying the ephemeral beauty of Sakura among friends and family is a widely observed traditional pastime. Every evening and weekend, during peak viewing season, parks and river banks lined with Cherry trees are packed to capacity with Hanami aficionados. There are many different ways to enjoy Hanami in Japan this Spring. The most important thing is of course, that you are in good company and have fun.
If you’ve been in Japan during Christmas time, you have probably noticed the fascination with “illumination” or light ups. Japan loves “illumination” and that custom also extends to flower viewing. Yozakura「夜桜」is flower viewing at night when the beautiful Cherry blossom trees are accented with colored lights. Yozakura makes for a romantic spring night and a completely different Hanami experience. It’s also a good opportunity for unique Cherry blossom photos.
Traditionally, Hanami in Japan is enjoyed with a nice picnic in the park with various foods, sake and beer. Although it sounds as easy as plonking down on a picnic rug with a few friends, the Japanese have it down to a fine art. Before the Sakura season ends and billions of Cherry blossom petals cascade around us, here are 10 tips on how to enjoy Hanami in Japan the authentic way.
The HealthyTOKYO Hanami Checklist:
Depending on climate, the Sakura bloom at different times around the country.
Find a spot
Location, location, location! There are many places to have a Hanami party in Japan. Finding the perfect location that isn’t too crowded, with good grass and a good view of the Cherry Blossom trees may require some scouting and finessing. It is not uncommon for office workers to designate a “land-grabber” to reserve a place several hours in advance by laying down blankets and staking their territory in preparation for the arrival of their coworkers.
Here are some of the most popular spots for Hanami in Japan:
- Matsumae Park (Hokkaido’s only feudal castle)
- Goryokaku Fort (Hokkaido’s most well known Hanami spot)
- Maruyama Park and Hokkaido Shrine
The Tohoku area:
- Mikamine Park (Sendai)
- Hanamiyama Park (Fukushima)
- Miharu Takizakura (Fukushima) (weeping Cherry blossom trees)
- Shinjuku Gyoen (200 yen entry fee)
- Ueno Park
- Chidorigafuchi (No picnics allowed! But you can rent boats!) (Also great for Yozakura)
- Sumida Park (See Tokyo Skytree and Sakura at the same time!)
- Sankeien Garden (historical buildings and a pond all in a Japanese garden – what’s not to love?)
- Mitsuike Park (named one of the top 100 Hanami spots in Japan)
- Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine (Kamakura)
- Yamazakigawa Riverside (Shikinomichi is also one of the top 100 Hanami spots in Japan)
- Nagoya Castle (various varieties of Cherry trees)
- Philosopher’s Path (See Ginkakuji too!)
- Maruyama Park (Kyoto’s most popular park for Hanami parties)
- Heian Shrine (Many weeping Cheery trees here too!)
- Kema Sakuranomiya Park (more than 5000 Cherry trees!)
- Osaka Castle
- Expo Commemoration Park (also good for Yozakura)
- Osaka Mint Bureau (slightly later than regular blooms)
- Hiroshima Peace Park (history plus nature)
- Miyajima (culture plus nature)
- Fukuoka Castle
- Uminonakamichi Seaside Park (410 yen entry fee)
- Nishi Park (another of the top 100 Hanami spots in Japan)
Something to sit on
In March or April, it’s still a bit chilly and the grass could still be wet, so bringing a tarpaulin or a picnic rug is a high priority. Not only is it good to sit on but, in some cases a tarp can be used to reserve a space for Hanami in Japan. Your local home center is a good place to go for those handy, ubiquitous and reasonably priced blue sheets.
You’ve probably noticed that in Japan, there aren’t that many public trash cans around, yet Japan is quite litter-free, for the most part. This is because it is customary to take your rubbish home with you. In the case of a Hanami party, everyone will probably bring food to share so it is highly likely that there will be a lot of trash to dispose of. Not only is it environmentally conscious but it’s also a courtesy to those around you to leave the area the way you found it.
Food and drinks
Food and drinks are a necessary component of Hanami in Japan, as with any party. In the same way you would fill up your car with premium to get maximum mileage, it’s important for your body to eat delicious food that is also healthy. Try some of the healthy prepared food from Sugarlady, the leading purveyor of natural and additive-free food in Japan. They have a range of prepared foods that are perfect for crafting a deluxe Hanami Obento. Sugarlady delivers pre-made delicacies to your door frozen. Just defrost and/or heat and your ready to go. To see the Sugarlady range and many other Hanami worthy food and drinks, click here for more.
Even though Hanami takes place in early Spring the sun’s rays still do damage to your skin if left unprotected. Remember to bring sunnies, sunscreen and a hat! Sugarlady also have additive-free sunscreen in their beauty range.
Cups, plates and cutlery
Sharing is caring, but with some types of food, hands are not the answer. Cups, plates and utensils are a good idea if you’re planning to share food. If possible, Go green with biodegradable paper plates and cups, or even better- washable gear.
Napkins and wet wipes
When you are at any event that involves food; paper napkins, or wet wipes never go astray! They are also handy if you happen to have a particularly clumsy member of your group (it’s always me).
Bring a camera! A camera is useful, not only to capture the fleeting beauty of the Sakura but for a lasting record of the good times that are sure to ensue! If it’s not on Instagram did it even happen? #Hanami
Hopefully the hay fever doesn’t get the better of you, but if it does, check out this article on OTC hay fever drugs available in Japan.
There you have 10 tips on how to enjoy Hanami in Japan. Whether you’re a Hanami newbie or a seasoned pro, we hope you have a great Sakura season!
Food, drinks and everything you need for Hanami!