April is the peak month for the iconic cherry blossom, or sakura, in Japanese. Because Japan has a wide range of climates, blooms begin even as early as January in places like Okinawa and end in May up in the north.
Every year crowds flock to the ideal location to get the best view of the blooms. It is recommended to see them from a distance, because they look like floating clouds- a repeated symbol in Buddhism. One year, I enjoyed walking through a famous park west of Tokyo at dusk. I remember walking on soft paths of fallen pale pink petals under the large, old trees “glowing” in the dark. One can plan their excursion by watching the “Sakura Front”, which is easily found via on-line satellite maps and travel websites.
Hanami, which literally means “flower viewing”, for the most part refers to this time of year when one goes out to see cherry blossoms. The tradition of hanami, dates back at least to the 8th century, when the elite classes would tour their gardens and parks to admire the blooms. In later centuries the samurais continued this spring tradition. By the Edo period, people of all classes had access to this delightful flower, and the idea of hanami became an excuse to eat outdoors, surrounded with beauty . In those days , a hanami outing consisted of simple picnic lunches and sake under the large cherry trees.
Continuing in 2011, with the hopeful warmth of spring, after a particularly harsh winter, sakura season and hanami are in full swing. In most parks, temple grounds and even street corners one can experience the “snow flurries” of various shades of pinks. Families and groups of friends are arriving in droves at these well-known sakura spots, well-stocked, with tarps, lounge chairs, grills, and most important lots of beer.
How fitting of a peaceful scene that the people of Japan need, now more than ever!
Please make the time in your busy schedule to enjoy what Spring has to offer in your local area. Share with us your moments of enjoying the beautiful outdoors, even if it is during a coffee break! Take advantage of the beauty our planet Earth gives us.