See here for the most famous hanami spots across the country and
the latest forecasts for the peak hanami season.
The word hanami literally means "looking at flowers," but it is used
to refer to one flower in particular, the sakura or cherry blossom. Every
spring, people turn out in their millions across the country to celebrate the
transient beauty of these flowers, one of the symbols of Japan itself (the
Japanese rugby team uses the sakura as its emblem).
Sakura in full bloom
A couple enjoy a private hanami
The appeal of the sakura goes beyond their evident beauty. It lies in the fact
that the flowers are only in full bloom for a few days. The real "moment" of hanami
is not so much looking at the flowers on the tree but watching with a tinge of
sadness as they fall from the tree, flutter in the spring breeze on their short
journey to the cold earth below. It's a beautiful but melancholy reminder that all
life must come to an end. And to take the edge off what could become a depressing
experience, the Japanese go all out to have a good time. They get roaring drunk,
sing songs, tell stories, laugh and enjoy life to the fullest, if even just for a
few hours. every spring, there are news reports of people suffering alcohol
poisoning from simply overdoing it.
As with any other outdoor event in Japan, if you want to get a good spot, you
need to start early. In some cases, such as popular firework displays or on a
warm weekend when the sakura are in full bloom, people will even start claiming
their spots the night before. They'll put down their blue plastic sheets and
maybe even camp out for the night.
The more organized people will bring everything but the kitchen sink. They'll
have barbeque sets, tables, chairs, a stereo system, possibly with karaoke, lots
of food and, of course, alcohol. Hanami is in early spring and the weather can be
unpredictable. If you're lucky, you'll get a nice warm day, but even then it can
turn very cold in the evening. So warm clothes are definitely a good idea,
especially if you'll be drinking. Lots of people start early in the afternon and
are well toasted by evening, falling asleep without noticing the drop in temperature.
The more popular hanami spots will usually have street vendors selling food and
drinks, if you want to save yourself the hassle of bringing stuff and don't mind
paying a bit more.