Friday, 28 March 2008

Cherry Blossoms - the Official Word

Below is part of an email I got a few days ago entitled "Study in Japan: A Comprehensive Guide." It appears to be an annual email, sent out to all foreign students on Japanese government scholarships. The section of the email on cherry blossoms seemed to say it so much better than I did, so I thought I would post it here for your reading pleasure...


Approach of the Cherry Blossom Front--Let's Enjoy Ohanami Sakura Viewing

March is the season when many Japanese people begin thinking about the approach of the "cherry blossom front;" that is, the forecast announced by the Japan Meteorological Agency on when cherry blossoms are expected to bloom. In addition to weather, the agency also observes seasonal phenomena through plants, etc., such as when plum or cherry blossoms bloom in an area or when the song of the cicada is first heard.

In the case of cherry blossoms, the agency's meteorological observatories around Japan observe sample cherry trees (primarily those of the Someiyoshino variety, also known as Prunus yedoensis) and announce forecasts of when they expect to see five to six blossoms bloom on the sample tree (probable date of blooming) in their respective areas. The "cherry blossom front;" is a line that shows where cherry blossoms are expected to bloom on the same date.

Many Japanese people have a love for Ohanami Sakura viewing in celebration of the arrival of spring. Some take walks under the blossoms soaking in their beauty, while others enjoy parties under the trees.

Actually, Ohanami is a historic custom, said to have begun during the Heian period (794-1185) when aristocrats enjoyed viewing the cherry blossoms. During the Muromachi period (1336-1573), this custom is said to have spread to the samurai class. Later, during the Edo period (1603-1867), Tokugawa Yoshimune, the eighth Tokugawa Shogun, is said to have encouraged cherry blossom viewing, spreading this custom to the populace at large.

After all this, you may be wondering if you need to go someplace special to enjoy cherry blossom viewing. Actually, it basically does not matter where you go so long as there are cherry blossoms to be viewed. Your friends are sure to have a favorite Ohanami site or two (an indication of just how much the Japanese people love Ohanami), so try asking them for suggestions.

A common way to enjoy Ohanami is to go to a park or other such area with many cherry trees, lay out a large plastic picnic blanket under a cherry tree where they sit and enjoy an outdoor party with food and drink. Ohanami is often used as one of the ways for people from the same office or members of a hobby circle to promote good fellowship. Why not go on an Ohanami with your new Japanese friends to deepen your friendship with them?

There are also many other ways to enjoy Ohanami. For example, it can be quite lovely to visit Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple gardens for a tranquil cherry blossom viewing experience. Enjoying a meal or drinks at a hotel lounge or restaurant with a beautiful view of the cherry blossoms outside is another good way to do Ohanami. Taking a river boat ride on a Yakatabune (traditional roofed pleasure boat) or sightseeing boat to view cherry trees lining the riverbank is also an Ohanami experience with flavor. Recently, there are also places where the trees are lit up at night creating a fantastical atmosphere for cherry blossom viewing.

According to the Japan Weather Association, cherry blossoms in western and eastern Japan are expected to flower this year (2008) at around the average time in many areas, while it is forecast to be a little earlier than in average years for many areas in the Tohoku region.

The forecasted date for the flowering of cherry blossoms in northern Kyushu is around March 26. Areas famous for cherry blossom viewing include Nishi Koen park in Fukuoka City.

Cherry blossoms are expected to begin blooming around March 30 in Shikoku's Kagawa and Tokushima prefectures. Crowds are expected at places popular for cherry blossom viewing, such as Kotohiki Koen park in Kannonji City, Kagawa Prefecture.

In Nara, cherry blossoms are expected to begin blossoming around April 1. Tourists from all over Japan will be gathering at Yoshino-yama (Mt. Yoshino), with its estimated 30,000 cherry trees of about 200 varieties.

In the heart of Tokyo, cherry blossoms are forecasted to begin blooming from around March 28. Ueno Onshi Koen park is especially famous for its cherry blossoms and extremely large crowds are seen there every year during Ohanami season.

The cherry blossom front will move further north in April, with blossoms flowering in the Tohoku region. Forecasted dates are around April 5 in Fukushima Prefecture, around April 15 in Yamagata Prefecture, around April 17 in Akita Prefecture and around April 20 in Aomori Prefecture.

Finally, the cherry blossom front will reach Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, with the flowering of cherry blossoms in Sapporo expected at around the end of April during the Golden Week holidays.

Will the cherry blossoms bloom as forecasted? Why not observe a cherry tree in your area to find out?

You can find famous Ohanami spots around Japan through travel guidebooks and Internet websites. You can also use the Top 100 Sakura Spots selected by the Japan Cherry Blossom Association as reference.

Last but not least, some comments related to Ohanami etiquette. Enjoying alcohol is often a part of Ohanami, but loud drunken behavior or leaving garbage behind are definitely things that one should never do. Furthermore, breaking off a cherry tree branch to take the blossoms home with you may be considered violating the Minor Offense Act. Let us all enjoy the beautiful blossoms of spring gracefully with others enjoying Ohanami.


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