It’s cherry blossom season! As silly as it sounds, the blooming of the sakura trees is probably the most important event of the year in Japan. Although very agnostic as a nation, Japanese people are fanatical in the springtime, devoting as much time as possible to hanami and tree illuminations—first for plum blossoms, then (especially) cherry trees, then peach orchards. I’ve often wondered if Japan’s a-religiousness is due in part to the strong role natural phenomena play in the cultural consciousness. First snow, spring equinox, cherry blossoms, summer fireworks festivals, autumn equinox, the fall colors– these extra-religious events mark time and provide alternative annual traditions to ritualize the year and give rhythm to life.
Sakura in Hinokicho Park, across the street from my house.
In case you were wondering, the tallest building in Tokyo is the Midtown Tower, on the other side of the park from my apartment in Roppongi.
You might remember these trees from the Christmas illumination.
Towards the end of sakura season, the blustery March weather blows little pink petals off the trees en masse. It’s called 花吹雪 (hanafubuki) which means “flower blizzard”. The petals blanket the ground and form small drifts, just like snow storm.
Hanami in Ueno Park, arguably the most famous cherry blossoms in Japan.
Other special cherry blossom vocabulary:
花見酒 (hanamizake) – sake drunk while viewing cherry blossoms
花明かり(hana-akari) – the brilliance of cherry blossoms which illuminate the evening
桜花爛漫 (oukaranman) – the glory of cherry blossoms fully in bloom
花衣 (hanagoromo) – kimono used for cherry blossom viewing
桜前線 (sakura zensen) – cherry blossom front (Like a warm front or cold front. Japan stretches over 800 miles, so sakura bloom on the warmer southern islands first. Sakura season moves north little by little as the country warms with spring. The nightly news keeps everyone informed about when the “cherry blossom front” will arrive in their region.)
Cherry Blossoms at Sophia University (one more reason to love the Jesuits)