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Sakura

Posted by Swan Domergue on

Sakura

Spring is coming in Japan ! It is time to go outside have a walk and enjoy the pleasant temperature, before the Tsuyu 梅雨 (Rainy season) and then the humid and hot summer coming up!

Not only in Japan, spring is for many people the best season of the year, it is the symbol of something new, the end of winter which is more difficult to stand due to its freezing temperature. Spring is also the opportunity for us to admire the beauty of our nature and be directly in contact with it by meditating on the grass, feeling the fresh but warm wind on our face, smelling the scented air emerging from flowers and so on... 

 

Yes, spring has a real meaning, and you probably already know that in Japan, it is a particular season and this explain why it is also the most touristic one. In addition to the fact that the climate is as we said particularly pleasant during spring, the highlight of the season is undoubtedly the cherry blossom . With more than 600 varieties of plum and cherry trees planted all around the country, along the roads and rivers,  in the parks,in the Japanese countrysides and mountains, we can admire some unique and marvelous sceneries in all the regions of Japan at spring but only for short term.

Women walking under Cherry Blossom - Konbinisan

For the tourists, traveling in Japan in spring is the occasion to discover the beauty of the country and see one of the most beautiful natural events that it offers. But for the residents, if Sakura if one of the most expected events every year, it is also because it is at this period they celebrate Hanami, a specific Japanese custom that has been implemented in the culture for many years.

Let's discover together the whole history of Sakura and discover why celebrating spring is so important in the Japanese culture.

 

What does Sakura mean?

If you are a fan of the Japanese culture, we bet that you have already heard this word, and the ones who do not speak Japanese will directly relate it to the cherry blossom or the cherry blossom period which is not completely correct. In Japanese, a cherry flower is translated as Sakuranohana (桜の花) or Ouka (桜花) while the word Sakura means cherry blossom or cherry tree. Also, it's important to underline that among the 600 varieties of cherry trees, just a few of them produce fruits, so if you hope to go cherry picking in Japan during spring you might be disappointed since most of them are only blooming flowers.

 

Cherry Blossom - KonbinisanCherry Blossom - KonbinisanCherry Blossom - Konbinisan

Why is the cherry tree blooming period so important in Japan ?

The beauty of the cherry flowers blooming, and the huge amount of cherry tree all around the archipelago are not the only reasons why cherry blossom has a symbolic value in Japan, the ephemeral particularity of this period also means a lot in the culture. Cherry trees bloom at different times depending on the area but the flowers usually start blooming (Kaika 開花 period) around the end of march and reach full bloom (Mankai 満開) one week later. Then after the flowers will progressively drop off until mid-April. The period is pretty short as it last around ten days, and this is why it is associated with the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one, and remind us that it is important to enjoy our life and the wonderful things that our world and society offer to us since everything have an end that could come faster than expected.

This ephemeral concept is called "Mono no Aware" (物の哀れ) and has it origins in the Buddhism culture.

 

Viewing Cherry Blossom - Konbinisan

 

Hanami, the main tradition!

 You understood that the cherry blossom period is eagerly awaited by the Japanese and tourists, and obviously, it comes with many events such as festivals and activities whose the most renowned one is by far Hanami !

In Japanese Hanami (花見) simply means "flowers viewing", they are informal parties that people organized in a place with many cherry and plum trees. The custom is that people bring food and drinks and have a picnic on a blue tarpaulin that they place under one of the trees. It is an opportunity for them to meet each other after a long time, to share a pleasant time, and to enjoy the beauty of nature together. Many people would also take advantage of this event to release all the stress they have in their daily life and get drunk with their friends, yes drinking alcohol is also fully implemented in the tradition!

But it's not all about this, besides those informal parties there are also some events held all around the cities of Japan such as festivals (Sakura Matsuri 桜祭り), happening in daytime or at night (Yozakura 夜桜), when people can enjoy traditional taiko music and sneak around the countless food stands to try some traditional Japanese food 

 Alcohol Drinking - Konbinisan

Hanami Celebration - Konbinisan
Yozakura - Konbinisan

The history of Hanami

According to historians, the Chinese culture which influenced many features of the Japanese one is also at the origin of the celebration of Hanami and came from the plum trees viewing in spring that was associated with good fortune in the Middle Kingdom back in time.

In Japan, the tradition started during the Nara Period (710 -784), at that time the people were gathered to watch the plum trees and it's only from the Heian era (794-1185) that cherry trees became very important for the Japanese farmers as they were used to announce the rice transplanting time. From this fact, the Japanese strongly believed that God was coming from the mountain and made the cherry trees blooming to announce the beginning of the rice harvest. Therefore, cherry trees were considered as a sacred place and most farmers would pray, have a feast and make offerings under the tree with the hope to have a fruitful harvest.

The word Sakura appeared at the same period and actually comes from this practice. In ancient Japanese "Sa" (神) was referred to the god of rice paddies and "Kura" (蔵) was the pedestal where the offerings (that usually consisted of food and rice liquor) were placed on.

The emperor Saga (who reigned during these two periods from 786 to 842), was very attached to this tradition and organized every year parties under the cherry trees planted in the garden of the imperial palace of Kyoto, gathering the peoples from the high Japanese society such as aristocrats, poets, painters, and other artists.

Celebrating the Hanami will then become a popular tradition all along the years, first among the samurai who found in this practice a good way to meditate and release their stress and then the usual people during the Edo Period (1600 - 1868).

Although that originally cherry blossom viewing was a reflection time about how our beautiful lives can be short, today it consists more in sharing good times with your friends and relatives and enjoy beautiful sceneries with them. 

 

History of Hanami - Konbinisan

Where are the best places to celebrate Hanami?

We can find cherry and plum trees all over the archipelago of Japan and depending on the way they want to celebrate Hanami, opinions of peoples concerning the best way to enjoy cherry trees viewing differs. Some people would prefer to enjoy a bunch of food alcohol in a public park and meet new persons while others would better take part in a cultural festival, sneaking all day long around the most popular places of the city or go to the mountains for a pleasant hike.

Therefore it is difficult to find THE place to be as we do not have the same values tastes and ways to enjoy such an event.

But Konbinisan will not leave wondering and we are going to select hereunder the best places (according to our team) to celebrate Hanami in Tokyo and Kyoto as they are the two most touristic places and also the only ones that we really know.

 

  • Tokyo

 Ueno Park (上野公園) : Located in the ward of Taito (eastern Tokyo), Ueno is what the Tokyoite call a shitamachi ("low city"), an area where the working class is living. Known to be a cultural site with many museums, Buddhist temples and the biggest zoo of Japan there is also big park surrounded by all those landmarks .

Featuring thousands of cherry trees and a relaxing pond, the park is usually the first place where the people go to celebrate Hanami as it is where the first blooming appeared. 

 

Yoyogi Park (代々木公園) : It is probably the most famous place for celebrating Hanami. Located in central Tokyo just next to Harajuku Station. This huge park welcomes every year thousands of people that come to have picnics and parties during the Hanami period. Food stands are available and this place is usually frequented by youth who like partying with good music and alcohol.

 

Hanami Yoyogi - Konbinisan

Meguro River (目黒川) : Even though Meguro River does not offer a natural surrounding, the countless trees along the canal make this place amazing at Hanami time. Known for its marvelous Yozakura Festival which consists of illuminating the trees at night, this place is crowded all day long during this period but will not offer many places to sit and share a picnic under the trees.

 

Nakameguro - Konbinisan

Mount Takao (高尾山) : Located an hour away from Tokyo, this place is dedicated to nature and mountain lovers. Appreciated by the hikers, Mount Takao offers magnificent sceneries, especially during the Hanami period. Going to Mount Takao at Hanami time is a good opportunity for tourists to discover the beauty of Japanese nature located less than 100 kilometers away from the biggest city in the world.

 

Mount Takao - Konbinisan

Sumida River (隅田川) According to us this is the best place to celebrate Hanami in Tokyo. Located near the authentic area of Asakusa, Sumida is not the most famous place in Tokyo for cherry blossom viewing. Therefore, the place is not as crowded as Ueno, Yoyogi, or Meguro River can be. Also, this district of Tokyo is probably the most traditional one, mixing history with modernity, it is a beautiful place to have a sit under one of the thousand cherry trees around the place, share a picnic and have a look at the Skytree, list to the Sumida River stream or even get into a rickshaw.

Sumida Hanami - Konbinisan

 

  • Kyoto 

Tetsugaku no michi (哲学の道) : Located in the district of Higashiyama (northern Kyoto) and called the philosophers path, this two kilometers stone road links two of the most famous temples of Kyoto: Ginkakuji Temple and Nazenji Temple. 

Cherry trees are all along the path which offers a really pleasant walk to the tourists that are visiting the authentic Japanese city of Kyoto.

Michi Hanami - Konbinisan

Kyoto Botanical Garden (京都府立植物園): The Kyoto Botanical gardens is the oldest botanical garden in Japan. Containing a huge variety of seasonal plants, it allows us to appreciate stunning sceneries all year long. Nevertheless, the 500 hundred different types of cherry trees make the garden particularly beautiful in spring.

Kyoto Botanical Garden - Konbinisan

Maruyama Park (円山公園) : Maruyama Park is undoubtedly the most visited park of Kyoto during the cherry blossom season. It is one of these places where people like to have a picnic, a chat and enjoy some alcoholic drinks. It is the perfect place to be in  if you want to enjoy hanami like a local in Kyoto. Go have a walk there and eat a picnic under the Gion Shidare, a 12 meter height  tree that dominate the park and which is probably the most famous cherry tree of Japan.

Maruyama Park - Konbinisan

Kiyomizudera Temple (清水寺): Founded in 778 the Kiyomizudera Temple is one of the signature World Heritage sites in Kyoto. With nearly 30 buildings scattered on the forest-covered hillside of Mt Otowa, the temple gives an amazing view over the city of Kyoto. During the Hanami season, the temple is incredibly beautiful especially at night, and therefore it is exceptionally opened for the occasion until 9 pm.

Kiyomizudera Temple - Konbinisan

 

Arashiyama (嵐山) : Located in on the western outskirts of Kyoto the district of Arashiyama is nationally designated Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty and that makes it one of the most visited place of the city. Mainly known for its bamboo groove, the site is also beautiful at spring. Go have a walk along the Katsuregawa river and enjoy the spectacular view on the Togetsukyo bridgean do not forget to stop at the Tenryu-ji Temple a World Heritage site famous for its beautiful garden, which includes about 200 cherry trees.

 

Kiyomizudera Temple - Konbinisan

 A Marketing opportunity

Japan is world-renowned for having unique and highly specialised domestic markets, this is due to the high recognition and reliability that consumers have for their own industry. Also, as we already talked about ir in our arcticle concerning "The History of Kit-Kat", japanese consumers crave for innovation and creativity. To fullfill the demand, the japanese industries do not hesitate to lauch every years a limited edition of product ranges related to the seasons or a specific event.

Japan’s unique spring time phenomenon of Hanami brings about remarkable opportunities for companies that look to capitalise on the brief but lucrative season products especially the ones from the food and snack industries.

At Hanami time you will see a bunch of Sakura themed products on the market, and since they are limited time edition people will not hesitate to buy them whatever the price .

Because Konbinisan wants to make you discover this Japanese culture side we propose on our website some of these limited editions snacks and drinks. 

Come have a look at our catalog and give your taste buds a brand new taste by discovering your favourite snack flavoured with a unique and yummy cheery blossom fragrant. Discover pour Sakura collection here.

 

 

 

 

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