History of cherry blossom viewing

The practice of hanami or cherry blossom viewing is many centuries old.  


■ Ancient times


Until 8th century, the nation’s most favorite flower was ume (Japanese apricot), most likely because of a strong cultural influence at that time from China, where ume originated.


But in the Heian Period (794-1185), sakura or cherry became more popular among Japanese aristocrats. Many experts link this transition to the 894 abolition of Kentoshi, Japan’s official delegations to China. 


The abolition cut off Japan from Chinese influence and helped people cultivate their own culture based on the local climate and nature.


Hanami was an elegant custom among the well-educated aristocracy only in Kyoto and did not involve crowds eating and drinking under cherry trees.


Hanami was first used as a term to explain cherry blossom viewing in the Heian era novel The Tale of Genji. 


■ Edo Period (17th to late 19th century)


During the Edo Period, Japan enjoyed peaceful time for more than two centuries. 


This allowed common people, in particular those living in Edo, today's Tokyo, to nurture a rich culture of their own. Edo was the capital of the Tokugawa shogunate.


Tokugawa Yoshimune (1684-1751), the eighth shogun, planted numerous sakura trees and created several hanami venues in Edo for common people to enjoy. 


This, too, greatly helped spread the hanami practice among the public


■ Today’s Hanami


Hanami mostly consists of having an outdoor party beneath the sakura during daytime or at night. 

Hanami at night is called yozakura (夜桜) "night sakura". In many places such as Ueno Park temporary paper lanterns are hung for the purpose of yozakura.


During the period between middle of March and end of March, graduation ceremonies are held at schools, universities, and kinder gardens. At the beginning of April, entrance ceremonies are held.Many people take photos themselves with cherry blossoms, because they are beautiful and in schools there are often cherry trees.