CHERRY BLOSSOM: A SYMBOL OF NEW LIFE
The cherry blossom, known in Japanese as ‘Sakura’ is one of the country's most iconic symbols. The tender beauty of the Sakura petals has been celebrated and portrayed in numerous poems, songs, cinematic masterpieces and art works.
It’s a cultural symbol that epitomises the transient nature of life and enjoyment of the present moment, as they only bloom for a matter of weeks. At the same time, there is also a cyclical, regenerative metaphor, as the new bloom comes to fruition as a renaissance each spring.
The budding of the cherry blossom marks the return of the spring season, a new beginning for both people and nature.
‘Hanami’ - the act of “flower viewing” - is a beloved tradition in Japan. Every spring millions of people from Japan and around the globe gather underneath the trees to picnic and take a day to marvel at the scenery.
BEAUTY FOR THE SOUL: THE JAPANESE FAVOURITE SPOTS TO ENJOY HANAMI
1. Asukayama Park
Asukayama Park is one of Tokyo’s most popular locations to see the springtime blossoms. It’s an isolated miniature paradise that boasts a quieter atmosphere than most other parks in the city.
It’s been a historical hanami spot from as early as the Edo Period, when the eight shogun of the Tokugawa clan ordered 1000 Sakura trees to be planted there, over 600 of which still exist today.
Asukayama Park was the very first place to practise hanami and today, the exquisite beauty of the cherry blossoms is highlighted at night by traditional paper lanterns.
Utagawa Hiroshige, one of Japan’s most talented ukiyo-e masters, became well-known for his masterpieces dedicated to the fascinating allure of the sakura. One such work shows Tokyo citizens practising hanami, enjoying the sun on the hill ofAsukayama Park.
2. Gotenyama Area
The area of Gotenyama, in Shinagawa City, Tokyo, is another place for springtime viewing that has been popular for centuries. Today Gotenyama Garden hosts a cherry blossom festival where visitors walk along the alleys, otherworldly, delicately beautiful colonnades.
Colourful lanterns and parasols peek through the branches of the trees.
Those lucky enough to attend the event enjoy additional entertainment to compliment the viewing experience. There you’ll find Geisha processions, taste local specialties, try a traditional tea ceremony and go for a ride along the cherry blossom lanes in a Shinagawa Rickshaw.
Gotenyama was a favourite spot for Japanese ukiyo-e artists to show their ability to capture a wonderful scene. Katsushika Hokusai, the iconic ukiyo-e artist, was best known for his “Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji” series of landscapes. The series was so popular, the publisher commissioned an additional ten views, of which this was the first (i.e. the 37th view of Mount Fuji).
One of Hokusai’s most detailed compositions in the series, it shows revellers enjoying themselves during a blossom viewing on Gotenyama hill, the former site of the shogun’s villa. Fuji itself is framed by the bloom.
“Gotenyama Hill, Shinagawa on the Tokaido” - Hokusai, 1833
Gotenyama has also been portrayed in both of Hiroshige’s series “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo” and “Famous Views of the Eastern Capital”.
“Gotenyama, Shinagawa” - Hiroshige, 1856
“Cherry Blossoms in Full Bloom at Gotenyama” - Hiroshige, 1835-39
"Evening Cherry Blossoms at Goten Hill" - Hiroshige, 1831
3. Ueno Park
Ueno Park in Tokyo is home to numerous amusements and is one of the most lively hot spots to enjoy hanami anywhere. The vast area features more than a thousand Sakura trees and welcomes huge crowds every year who gather for the eponymous cherry blossom festival to soak in the majestic natural display.
You can also enjoy typical hanami snacks such as yakitori (skewered chicken), yakisoba noodles and takoyaki. After dark the party really gets going and the view of the blossoms there is stunning.
Hiroshi Yoshida was a Japanese woodblock printmaker whose captivating landscapes transcend time. Here he recreates this magical atmosphere in his Ueno Park print.
“A glimpse of Ueno Park” - Hiroshi, 1937
Here’s another ukiyo-e highlight: a wonderful triptych by Hiroshige. A group of Japanese women dressed in traditional kimonos walk amongst the blossoming Sakura trees at Ueno.
“Flower Viewing at Ueno, the eastern capital” - Hiroshige, 1848
4. Sumida River
Sumida Park is situated right by the river bank in Tokyo, with a great view of the Tokyo Skytree broadcasting tower, another perfect choice for anyone who wishes to take in the amazing sight of Sakura blooms in spring.
The hanami viewing party can be combined with a boat trip along the length of the Sumida River, where you can follow the 640 trees that span across both sides of the shore.
Naturally, this unforgettable view has its place in Hiroshige’s “Famous places of Tokyo”, "Famous Places of Edo",“Famous Views of the Eastern Capital” and "36 Views of Mount Fuji" series of landscapes.
"The Bank of the Sumida River in Edo" - Hiroshige, 1852
“Cherry Blossom along embankment at Sumida River” - Hiroshige, 1883
"Sumida river enbankment in Edo" - Hiroshige, 1858
5. Mount Yoshino
It comes as no surprise that the famous mount Yoshino, in the Nara Prefecture, is a preferred viewing spot for citizens. It’s home to 30,000 cherry blossom trees, the very first of which were planted around 1300 years ago.
The changing elevation means that the trees bloom gradually, which allows for multiple hanami spring parties. The Naka Senbon Park is one of the most attractive choices for a picnic, with its calming atmosphere and picturesque landscape.
Hokusai captured the view in this ukiyo-e print, which depicts a section of Sakura trees across the mountain range.
"Cherry Blossoms at Yoshino” - Hokusai, 1833