The Ephemeral Beauty of Sakura
Japanese cherry blossoms, also known as sakura, are one of the most iconic and well-known symbols of spring in Japan. Not only are these simple blossoms absolutely gorgeous to look at, but their pretty petals are also jam-packed with cultural and historical significance.
Every year in spring, cherry trees awaken and begin flowering all around the country. This time period also coincides with the beginning of the Japanese school year (which kicks off in April), so it’s easy to see why the flowers symbolize new beginnings.
On a deeper note, sakura also represent the staggering fragility and fleeting beauty of life itself. Each tree blooms for only about one or two weeks, depending on the weather. It’s as though these brilliant blossoms are present in full bloom one day, and then suddenly gone the next.
So, alongside their impressive charm and delicate beauty, sakura also carry with them a somber metaphor about the ephemeral nature of our own lives. Their natural impermanence really does embody the Japanese philosophy of wabisabi, which recognizes the evident beauty of the imperfect, the impermanent, and the incomplete.
It’s no wonder that the cherry blossom serves as the national flower of Japan.
Hanami (花見): The Art of Cherry Blossom Viewing
The practice of hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, originated as a celebration among feudal lords and has literally been around for centuries. Before living in Japan, I really had no idea just how big an affair cherry blossoms were here!
When spring rolled around for the first time, I figured I’d probably just take a quick moment to stop by a park and snap a few pictures, and then I’d be on my merry way. But, as I quickly learned, the only way to fully experience hanami to the fullest is to make a whole day (and even night!) out of it.
Year after year, people all over Japan pack up their picnic baskets and head out bright and early to save a spot for flower-viewing at a nearby park. Once they arrive, families, friends, and colleagues alike will spend the day basking in the beauty of the blooming trees. It’s a fun way to relax and reflect on past experiences and all of the adventures to come.
If you’re looking to plan your own hanami party in Japan, check out LIVE JAPAN’s complete guide on what to bring and how to make the most of your experience. 🙂
And, if you want to be REALLY fancy, you can even wear a traditional yukata or kimono while you view the pretty blossoms. You can read all about what it’s like to wear a kimono in Japan in one of my other blog posts. 🙂
Japanese Words for Special Sakura Aspects
If you still haven’t noticed by now, cherry blossoms are a BIG DEAL in Japan. So much so that the Japanese language is chock full of specific words that represent different aspects of “sakura.” Here are five of my favorite examples:
1) Hanafubuki (花吹雪) – Cherry Blossom Blizzard
The term hanafubuki comes from two Japanese words: hana (花), meaning “flower,” and fubuki (吹雪), meaning “blizzard.” So, hanafubuki can be translated as a “cherry blossom blizzard.” This word describes the moment that cherry blossom petals fall from the trees and gently float down to the ground. Watching it really does remind me of snowflakes falling from the sky on a calm, winter day.
In the following clip, you can see a short example of what hanafubuki looks like, as well as some adorable ladies chasing after the petals as they drift through the air.
2) Yozakura (夜桜) – Nighttime Cherry Blossoms
If you thought cherry blossoms were just a daytime endeavor, then think again! Many people travel to parks and other scenic spots to view the blossoms at night, too!
Yozakura, which refers to “nighttime cherry blossoms,” combines the Japanese characters for night (夜) and sakura (桜). After dark, the flowering trees are lit up by glowing lights, giving us a whole new perspective on these graceful blossoms.
3) Shidarezakura (枝垂れ桜) – Weeping Cherry Tree
There are actually quite a few varieties of cherry trees in Japan, and shidarezakura is my absolute favorite: the weeping cherry tree. Much like a weeping willow tree, these branches hang down all around the trunk in a graceful arc that showcases the layers of flowering blossoms.
4) Hana no Ame (花の雨) – Rain Falling on Cherry Blossoms
Few things are more surreal than strolling down a pathway lined with blooming cherry trees on a rainy day. Umbrellas coated with rain-soaked petals ease the gloomy ambience and inspire the wanderer to amble ever onward.
5) Fuyuzakura (冬桜) – Winter Cherry Blossoms
Did you know that you can find cherry blossoms not only in spring, but also during winter? There are only a few places to see these rare blossoms in Japan, and Sakurayama Park in Gunma is one of them! Make sure you bundle up, though—it gets pretty chilly up in the mountains in winter!
Sakura Forecast: When and Where To See Cherry Blossoms
The timing of cherry blossoms changes from year to year and varies drastically depending on the weather and where you are in Japan. So, if you’re planning a trip with sakura in mind, make sure you follow the Cherry Blossom Forecast to find out when the viewing season will peak in your area.
When I lived in Gunma, cherry blossoms usually started blooming in mid-March (around the 15th) and were in full bloom by the beginning of April. I also saw some amazing cherry blossoms in Kanazawa City on April 3rd (but most of them were gone a few days later after a particularly rainy afternoon!)
Make sure that you do your research and plan your trip accordingly. Also, don’t get cherry blossoms confused with plum blossoms, which actually bloom a little bit earlier. Check out my post on Japanese plum blossoms to note some of the differences between these similar-looking flowers.
My 7 Favorite Hanami Spots in Japan
While in Japan, I’ve met plenty of friends who have taken me on all sorts of blossom-viewing adventures. My beloved friend and English-teaching comrade, Yokoyama-sensei, even brought me on a “full course” tour of the best sakura spots near Annaka City.
Thanks to these wonderful people, I’ve had boundless opportunities to enjoy hanami here in Japan. So, here are seven of my favorite cherry blossom viewing spots!
1) Takasaki Park – 高崎公園 (Takasaki City)
Takasaki Park is undoubtedly one of the most popular places in Takasaki City to take cherry blossom photos. Not only are there tons of cherry trees around, but you can also check out the Takasaki Castle Ruins.
There’s even a pretty moat surrounding the ruins where you can view cherry branches arching out over the water and catch glimpses of the beautiful koi swimming below.
2) Kannonyama – 観音山 (Takasaki City)
On the way up the Kannon Mountain in Takasaki City, there are a few lesser-known groves where you can stop for a stroll before you reach the top.
At the peak of the mountain, you can see the grand statue of Byakue Dai-Kannon as she watches over the city. There is also a cool temple called Jigen-in right by the statue that you can visit.
3) Gokan Castle Ruins – 後閑城址 (Annaka City)
Gokanjoshi Park (後閑城址公園) was the final stop on Yokoyama-sensei’s “full course” sakura tour in 2021! Though the castle itself no longer stands, there are many trails that take you around the old castle ruins. This park is filled to the brim with blooming trees, and the hills are perfect for taking pictures.
4) Shikishima Park – 敷島公園 (Maebashi City)
Gunma Municipal Shikishima Park is located in the heart of Maebashi City and is a prime spot for hanami every year. There are plenty of scenic paths where you can see an abundance of flowering blossoms contrasted against the towering, coniferous trees. It was such a peaceful place with a myriad of scents that reminded me so much of my home back in Canada.
5) Sakura no Sato – さくらの里 (Mt. Myogi)
If hiking and cherry blossoms are your thing, then a spring trek up Mt. Myogi is perfect for you! There you’ll find the beautiful Sakura no Sato nature park, which has tons of different sakura species to enjoy. On our trip, we were lucky enough to see a special kind of cherry tree called kanzan zakura, which has double flowers! (That’s twice the fun!)
6) Kenroku-en Garden – 兼六園 (Kanazawa City)
I was incredibly fortunate to be in Kanazawa City with some friends during peak cherry blossom season! So, we definitely took the opportunity to visit the renowned Kenroku-en Garden together. The cherry blossoms in this garden were among some of the most beautiful ones that I’ve ever seen in all of Japan.
Kenroku-en is actually one of the so-called “Three Great Gardens of Japan.” There are tons of pretty trails to follow and so many beautiful, natural exhibits. If you ever find yourself in Kanazawa City, this park is a must-see attraction! 🙂 It truly lives up to it’s name.
7) Kanazawa Castle – 金沢城 (Kanazawa City)
Kanazawa Castle is conveniently located right across from the amazing Kenroku-en Garden. After crossing the castle’s bridge, you’ll once again find cherry trees blooming all around you.
There is also another insanely gorgeous moat (I’m obsessed with moats now) that runs throughout the castle grounds.
Have A Wonderful Hanami! 🙂
Well, that was my experience of hanami in Japan, in a nutshell. So, if you’re looking for some amazing places to view cherry blossoms in Japan, I recommend checking out my favorite viewing spots located throughout Gunma Prefecture and Kanazawa City.
And again, don’t forget to check the Cherry Blossom Forecast so that you can plan to be here during peak blossoming season!