If you know anything about Japanese culture, you’ll know that Japan is really really into its cherry blossom (or ‘SAKURA’ 桜). The four seasons – and the flowers and colours associated with them – are celebrated a lot here, because a distinct Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter is something than many Asian countries don’t have. Spring is the most special for many reasons. It marks the start of a new academic year, the time for meeting new people, the weather is lovely and the flowers come out. But the best thing about Spring for many people here, and many tourists from Asia and beyond, is definitely the SAKURRAAAA!
Literally, everyone goes crazy for sakura.
As soon as the first trees begin to bloom, people come out in their thousands to sit under them, have picnics, take pictures and get smashed with friends, family, co-workers, and pretty much anyone they know as part of a tradition called ‘hanami’ (花見) which literally means flower-viewing. Every Sakura hotspot is absolutely teaming with people for as long as the flowers bloom. As well as locals who are EXTREMELY enthusiastic, tourists flock to Japan during this season, which makes everywhere even busier and the possibility of getting a last minute hotel room totally impossible for anyone wanting to make a spontaneous trip. On top of this, before the sakura appears and while it’s blooming, Japan’s spring frenzy is capitalised on by major companies who put out special Japan-only sakura products such as Starbucks sakura lattes (which were actually very nice), sakura Nike trainers, sakura Pepsi, sakura Redbull, and, inevitably, sakura Kitkats. It really is quite an insane, surreal time. I knew that sakura was celebrated in Japan but I didn’t expect this level of enthusiasm from everybody, or this level of sheer busy-ness – it took double the amount of time for me to walk to the station from my dorm, because I had to pass through the park full of sakura which was so heavily condensed with humans. Truly, the number of people outside having picnics was as much of a spectacle as the blossom itself.
But before I sound like I found the sakura season to be a pain in the butt because there were so many people going crazy, I should confirm that it really was beautiful (as you can see), and of course I joined in with the drunken festivities too! So many places in the city are temporarily covered in pink and white, and when the petals fall they look so pretty in the air and floating on the water. But not only is the sakura season beautiful for its colours and flowery delights, it’s also really lovely to see that even in Tokyo, this sprawling technological metropolis, nature and the seasonal flowers are deeply appreciated and sincerely celebrated by pretty much all normal people. This appreciation of nature is a big part of Japanese culture, stemming at least partly from Buddhism and the Zen poets, and the animism in Japanese religious tradition. People are literally all choosing to spend all of their free time (even on the grey days!) sitting under the blooming trees. We are literally this keen for nature. The situation is similar though nowhere near as extreme in the Autumn, with the appearance of the red and yellow leaves (紅葉 kōyō) for which Tokyo University’s Hongo Campus is a hotspot (lots of old people come to paint the campus buildings and the leaves).
So sakura is a huge deal here. But unfortunately, it’s very short lived, only lasting about two weeks before all of the petals have fallen to the ground and green leaves have grown in their place. That’s right – TWO WEEKS. But apparently that’s long enough for Japan to use the flower as its official logo. There’s even sakura all over my visa!
Luckily though, there are a bunch of other beautiful plants to look at in Japan, especially during the Spring. Although Tokyo’s reputation is definitely not one of natural beauty, there is a surprising amount of it, and you shouldn’t think that coming to Tokyo will mean giving up on lovely flowers and greenery. There are a lot of parks, like Inokashira, Yoyogi, and Shinjuku Gyoen which despite being slap bang in the middle of the city have a surprising ability to isolate you from the feeling of being in a concrete jungle and the sounds of city life. My (controversial) favourite blossom of Japan so far is actually the peach blossom (sorry sakura) which is currently blooming! It looks like little pink clouds:
So the sakura and the frenzy surrounding it came and went, but Tokyo is still full of many wonders both natural and man-made. It continues to be wonderful and we are all very much enjoying the Spring sunshine which is way better than what you’d get during British Summer. Maybe next Spring I’ll organise hanami parties in Durham – my own Mary’s College actually has a lot of sakura trees.
From a country of pink,