The month of April is a special month for me. It is the time of the Sakura (cherry blossom) season in Japan, called hanami, the art of cherry-blossom viewing, one of my to-do things in my bucket list. Hanami is a very beautiful, festive and wonderful time for people, friends and families to come together and meet under fully-bloomed cherry trees, to have picnics, drink sake, tell stories and of course, appreciate the beauty of the sakura blossoms.
There are over 100 varieties of Sakura being propagated all over Japan but the Somei yoshino specie (or Prunus Yedoensis), a hybrid cherry tree that produces a five-petal, white or the shiest shade of pink that appears almost white when viewed from afar, is the most popular. Sakuras can be found in city gardens, lined up in parks, schools, streets and forests so when they bloom, they fill any place with an explosion of bouquet canopy resembling soft pink clouds above viewers’ heads. Depending on the location, the presence of rain and wind affects when the sakura starts to blossom and how long the delicate petals stay attached to their branches.
There are simple rules to follow when doing hanami. To appreciate the flowers, one must never touch or pluck a flower from its branch nor yank a branch to get closer and inspect a sakura. A no-touch policy is very much appreciated as these flowers and trees are very delicate. The only sakura flowers you are allowed to touch are the ones that have already fallen to the ground.
The first sakura blossoms appear in the south around mid-March in the Okinawa region and lasting until May northwards around the Hokkaido region. The blooms everywhere serve as an open invitation to anyone willing to hanami anytime or during lunch like when I was there early this April.
There was a time during the Nara period when you would have to be a member of the noble class just to be able to enjoy hanami. Nowadays, it can be enjoyed by everybody in Japan, both by locals as well as by tourists. To enjoy hanami, go to any local park or garden in the city, choose any bench under the sakura trees and there you open your lunch box filled with food like katsudon, tempura, yakitori or whatever you prefer and chase it down with some fruit juice, soda or water if you don’t like drinking sake around lunch time. You may meet with a friend or just sit and enjoy by your lonesome that special, silent moment wherein you just take in that beauty under the sakura tree and watch the petals fall to the ground as they dance with the wind. After lunch, the stroll under the sakura trees to smell the delicate scent and gaze at their ephemeral beauty is an activity perfect for soothing the soul.
As for me, I enjoyed my hanami meditating under a sakura tree for a few minutes, strolling under its delicately-scented shade, and finally just sitting on one of the wooden benches and breathing in the moment while watching some petals fall to the green carpet below as they were being blown by the wind. Within that moment, the world is all perfect and I am already looking forward to my next hanami experience, perhaps in another part of Japan. Whenever that may be…