From Tokyo to Amsterdam, people across the globe eagerly await the arrival of sakura season each year. Originating in Japan, the ancient tradition of hanami (flower viewing) sees communities coming together to celebrate the unrivalled beauty of cherry blossom in bloom.
Legend has it that emperors and members of the Imperial Palace used to host feasts under blooming cherry trees in 8th century Japan.
Traditionally, the Japanese have always believed that the cherry blossom represents the fragility and the beauty of life and that every blossom is a reminder that life can also be tragically short. Even today, the newly emerging blossoms of the cherry trees are considered to be a representation of hope, beauty, and new life — all of which most definitely deserve to be celebrated.
Over time, the tradition expanded to the whole of Japanese society. Today, hanami festivals happen all over the world.
Every year during the spring season, millions of tourists arrive in Japan to experience the globally renowned cherry blossoms. Whilst this flower sure does bloom in different areas around the world, it is indigenous to Japan, and it has always been one of the most symbolic features of the country.
One of the most popular areas to join in on the festivities is, of course, Tokyo. From ancient shrines and temples, to parks that are acreages large, to illuminations along kilometre-long streets, there are plenty of opportunities for people to witness the beauty of the flowers during this period.
The cherry blossom season only lasts for about two weeks in Tokyo, and every year it changes dates. However, the peak of the season usually starts around the last week of March and ends before the second week of April in Tokyo. Of course, due to the varying climates around the country, places like Okinawa and Fukuoka experience the blooms earlier than most cities, whilst cities within the Tohoku region as well as Hokkaido will experience the cherry blossoms later.
You see the world through rose-tinted glasses around March, each year in South Korea.
The country turns a ravishing shade of pink when cherry trees bloom in their millions. Their beauty is fleeting: it peaks over the course of two weeks before the blossoms start to fall.
In Korea, it’s called the beot-kkot season although people also use the borrowed Japanese word sakura, and refer to the activity of blossom viewing as hanami.
Part of the reason hanami is so popular is that it marks the arrival of spring. Supermarkets stock up on cherry-blossom-flavoured snacks months in advance and coffee houses devise festive drinks. In early March, the Korea Meteorological Administration releases its forecast of when and where the fabled flowers will appear. When they finally burst into bloom, people celebrate with festivities that last for days. There are parties, concerts, even a cherry blossom marathon in the city of Gyeongju.
The Korean cherry tree, known as the king cherry, originates from Jeju Island, where the blossoming starts in late March. It is a rare plant, however, and the Yoshino variety, which is native to Japan, is more common. There are hundreds of varieties of cherry trees around the world – and the blossoms aren’t always pink. Some of them, like the Ukon variety, change colour throughout the blooming period – turning from greenish yellow to white to pink.
These short-lived blossoms are reminiscent of the transient nature of life and are a symbol for its brevity and beauty in several Eastern cultures. After making the trees and their surroundings come alive and banishing the winter gloom, the blossoms fall, one petal at a time, like a shower of pink rain.
While Japan and Korea get most of the attention during cherry blossom (sakura) season, you’d be remiss forgetting about Taiwan. The island country is a haven for natural beauty when its cherry blossoms are in bloom, typically from January to March or even as late as April. But why should you pick Taiwan?
Taiwan is not only blessed with cultural enclaves, affordable accommodation and modern, Westernised attractions, but it’s also a foodie hotspot with local markets and late-night street-side restaurants.
Taiwan’s best cherry blossom areas also combine the stunning pink blooms with sprawling natural enclaves, such as the Alishan National Scenic Area, or ancient sites, including Wulai Atayal Aboriginal Village.
Among the cities in Taiwan, Taipei is the first to witness the pink of the beauty of the flowers every mid-January and will continue until March.
The Kersenbloesempark (Cherry Blossom Park) at the Amsterdamse Bos is the best place to see cherry trees blossom in Holland.
The 400 sakura trees at the Kersenbloesempark were a gift from the Japan’s Women’s Club (JWC) in 2000. The Kersenbloesempark was initially planted in celebration of 400 years of cultural ties between Japan and the Netherlands. Amstelveen is home to a community of about 1700 Japanese expats, the largest Japanese diaspora in Europe. All the 400 trees are individually named.
Every year, there is a Cherry Blossom Festival or hanami matsuri (“flower viewing festival”) at the Kersenbloesempark, when it is customary to have picnics under the beautifully blooming trees.
Most years, the best time to go and see the cherry blossoms in Holland is early to mid-April.
Did you know?
The “Cherry Blossom Capital of the World” is Macon in Georgia, USA.
There are over 600 varieties of cherry trees in Japan.
Left untouched, cherry trees can grow up to 80 feet tall.
Cherry blossom can range in colour from white to dark pink.