JAPAN: Cherry Blossoms
Welcome to Japan’s pink world of cherry blossoms. It is impossible to think of springtime in Japan without an iconic image of a sea of cherry trees awash with perfect pink blooms instantly coming to mind. if you think this might be something you would like to see in your lifetime then consider our Cherry Blossom Tour.
The cherry blossoms are not just pretty pink flowers: they are the floral embodiment of Japan’s most deep-rooted cultural and philosophical beliefs. The flowers are deeply symbolic: their short-lived existence taps into a long-held appreciation of the beauty of the fleeting nature of life, as echoed across the nation’s cultural heritage, from tea ceremonies to wabi sabi ceramics. The blossoms also, quite literally, symbolise new beginnings, with April 1 being the first day of both the financial and academic year in Japan.
Sandwiched between the long, bitter winter months and the sweltering humidity of summer, spring is by far the most popular time for tourism in Japan - both domestic and international. The atmosphere at this time of year is infectious, with parks filled with revelers and supermarket shelves stacked with the latest blossom-flavoured snacks and drinks.
The cherry blossom (or sakura) "front" sweeps along the length of the country each year, beginning with Okinawa in the far south in February and working its way along Japan to northern Hokkaido in May. A variety of factors can affect when the cherry blossom comes into bloom: a particularly cold winter can mean that the flowers come out late, unseasonably mild weather can usher them out sooner, and heavy rain can mean that the trees drop their petals much quicker than otherwise. For this reason, the forecast is followed avidly throughout the sakura season!
When Do Cherry Blossoms Bloom?
The most important factor in determining the blooming time of cherry trees is the geographical location. Generally, the milder the climate, the earlier the blossoms open.
The cherry blossom (sakura) is Japan's unofficial national flower. It has been celebrated for many centuries and holds a very prominent position in Japanese culture. There are many dozens of different cherry tree varieties in Japan, most of which bloom for just a couple of days in spring. The seasonal spectacle is celebrated with ‘hanami’ (cherry blossom viewing) parties under the trees.
If you are lucky enough to be in Japan during cherry blossom season, it is de rigueur to head out into the local parks and gardens, bring a selection of picnic food and drinks and join the locals for a hanami – or "flower-viewing". It is during this period that the Japanese are at their most relaxed, and all public places take on a party-like atmosphere.
Typical hanami spots include city parks, landscape gardens, castle grounds and along riverbanks, and you'll find all of these areas buzzing with people throughout the sakura season. The blossom usually only hangs around for a couple of weeks - sometimes less if there is heavy rain on the cards - so you only have a brief window in which to enjoy the trees in full bloom. So popular are these parties that some companies will pay a member of staff to sit in the park all day, saving a spot for the office hanami in the evening!
Hanami can be conducted in the daytime sun or in the evening. Both are lovely, but we particularly enjoy the blossoms at dusk when lanterns hang in the trees, turning the canopy a glowing pink. You might also be lucky enough to spot a geisha or two entertaining clients under the trees!
How long do they bloom?
The cherry blossom season is relatively short. Full bloom (mankai) is usually reached within about one week after the opening of the first blossoms (kaika). Another week later, the blooming peak is over and the blossoms are falling from the trees. Strong wind and rain can cut the blooming season even shorter.
Cherry Blossom Forecast
Every year, weather services and the media, closely follow the so called "cherry blossom front" as it slowly moves northward. Note that the front generally indicates the opening of the first blossoms (kaika) rather than the arrival of full bloom (mankai).
Of course, not every tree in a city opens on the same day, as trees in shadowy places, for example, can bloom several days later than trees in sunny places. For this reason, a representative sample tree is selected to define the date of kaika (the opening of the first blossoms) for a whole city. In Tokyo, the sample tree is located at Yasukuni Shrine.