In Japan, celebrating the transient attractiveness of flowers is a cherished habit when the cherry flowers spring into life.
From the civilization that attracted us shinrin-yoku — woods bathing — it might come as little surprise that the Japanese possess a lexicon of words describing the celebration of Spring’s flowering trees.
Hanami literally means “flower viewing,” though it generally describes viewing cherry (sakura) blossoms in particular. The practice dates to the Nara period in the 8th century — back then it had been ume (plum) blossoms that attracted flocks of individuals to the trees — however during the next few centuries, the popularity of sakura reigned supreme.
“Amidst the Beauties of Springtime – Dwarf Cherry Trees at Omuro Gosho Temple” 1904 / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress/Public Domain
Hanami is equally a noun and a verb, it is a celebration, but you can even “do hanami.” And just how can one perform hanami? It can be as simple as a stroll amongst the trees or a couple of minutes of reveling in the individual beauty of one. But it is often more.
Traditionally it includes a picnic/party set under the pink clouds of that a sakura — there are friends and family, favorite meals, and fascination. And of course, there is reverence for the trees and the fleeting transience of the blossoms, which continue no longer than a couple of weeks.
And the habit is not reserved only for daylight. Evening hanami is known as yozakura and is created all the more beautiful with lanterns and special lighting to illuminate the blossoms against the dim night skies.
There is indeed much to appreciate about hanami. In The States we celebrate trees at Christmas … by cutting them down and watching them die in our living rooms. We have Arbor Day, which can be the most abandoned child of the holiday family. But we are nothing without our trees and we should be singing their praises everyday. Starting with a couple of weeks in Spring if they’re in their exuberant is a wonderful way to get started.
This updated narrative was originally published in 2017.