>>>Sakura gives Japan colour

Sakura gives Japan colour

With the arrival of spring, Japan becomes an enormous pink cloud. And it seems as if the trees are blushing under the gaze of so many people admiring them.
“I have contemplated the cherry trees in bloom, I have slept in their arms, that has been my pleasure”. So wrote the Japanese poet Buson, but any Japanese person in the street could have said it, because over 60% make a date to visit the cherry trees every spring. This is what is known as ‘hanami’, which despite not having a literal translation, can be explained as the contemplation of the cherry flower (‘sakura’).
‘Hanami’ comes from ‘hana’ (flower) and ‘mi’ (from the verb ‘miru’, to observe). Literally it means ‘observe the flower’.

From the upper class to the people’s party

The contemplation of the cherry tree flower dates back to the Nara period (710–794). The elite used to get together under the cherry trees and recite poems about their fleeting beauty. At the beginning of the Edo period (1603–1868), the Samurais took up this custom and it started to spread to the rest of Japanese society.

The flowering of the cherry trees takes place between the end of March and the beginning of April, but expectations begin earlier: from the end of January, the weather departments of all media outlets publish maps that give information, practically minute by minute, about the flowering forecasts in all the regions of Japan. The weather app Weathernews Touch has been downloaded 13 million times. On the app you can consult Sakura Channel, which enables users to receive updates when their favourite places begin to bloom.
The sakura marks the beginning of spring, but above all it’s a metaphor for the Japanese: it represents the beauty of the ephemeral and the fragility of life. This pink explosion lasts less than ten days, but the Japanese make the most of it. The gardens of cities are filled with crowds of admirers who enjoy picnics surrounded by flowers. It’s a group activity: couples, friends and workmates get together. Even companies send an employee ahead to reserve their places. People stroll, take off their shoes, and eat and drink throughout the day. The party then continues at night, with people singing beneath the illuminated cherry trees. And what sounds very pastoral ends up becoming a little wild, because the sake and beer flow like water.
The tri-coloured ‘dango’ is typical in these festivities. The pink symbolises spring, the white winter, and the green summer.

To suit all tastes

It is calculated that in Japan there are over 600 varieties of sakura, including native and hybrid kinds. The most popular is ‘Somei Yoshino’, a pink variety with five petals that became widespread in the Meiji period (1868–-1912).

The hanami can be celebrated in almost any location in Japan, but there are places that are already classics. This year Kyoto will be turning pink between 3 and 11 April. Here the most-visited tree can be found in Maruyama Park, although most people choose Mount Yoshino, which has over 30,000 cherry trees that cover the mountain. In Tokyo the flowering is expected between 2 and 10 April. Ueno Park is the perfect place for the impatient, because its cherry trees flower a couple of days before other locations. Chidorigafuchi Park allows people to admire the spectacle from a boat on its lake, while Shinjuku Gyoen has more than a dozen varieties of cherry trees. Nearby are the Takashimaya department stores. There you can buy dishes that are specifically designed for the hanami. A typical sweet is the tri-coloured ‘dango’ dumpling, known as the ‘hanami dango’.
The ‘sakura’ represents the beginning of new life for the Japanese. The tax year and the academic year also begin in April.
The hanami is a great event, but in order to enjoy it you have to be well-prepared. A weather reporter has to visit the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo a few days beforehand. Its cherry trees mark the beginning of the sakura. Hour by hour he reports on the progress of the flowering. Any new development will become the main headline for all the media. Then the flowers will appear and disappear. And as beauty is ephemeral, everyone will want to capture it.

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