Hanami - Cherry Blossom Viewing
Sakura in full bloom
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 call themselves the Brave Blossoms and use the sakura as their emblem.
An iconic image - Sakura bloom in front of Mt. Fuji
Hanami parties in full swing
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.