The sakura, or cherry blossom, is revered in Japan for its beauty and transience. Hanami is the spring tradition of admiring blossoms—usually cherry, and less frequently, plum. People gather under the blossoms for food, drink and song.
The emergence of the first cherry blossoms is known as kaika. The peak when the most trees are in full bloom is known as mankai.
It is difficult to predict exactly when a cherry blossom tree will bloom, so the Japan Meteorological Corporation releases cherry blossom forecasts. The forecasts try to predict when the blossoms will reach full bloom. (In 2007 the meteorologists got it wrong and issued an official apology: “We have disturbed those who relied on our information.”)
Blooming times vary across Japan—areas with milder winter climates produce earlier blooms. Blooms usually begin in Okinawa in the south. Weather can cause the blossoms to appear earlier or later than average and can lengthen or shorten the blooming period. Blooming typically starts in late March, although some areas may produce blooms as early as January. Sometimes the season extends to May.
This year, Tokyo is predicted to reach peak bloom three days from now, on March 28. Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido, is predicted to hit full bloom on May 6; Kyoto on April 4; and Osaka on April 13.
People choose cherry blossom viewing locations for different reasons: some have the oldest trees, others the highest number of blooms, and some are close to historic sites. The proverb, hana yori dango—dumplings rather than flowers—hints that most people are more interested in the festivities than the flowers themselves.
Last year we planted rows of cherry trees at Shizuka Ryokan, and we look forward to holding our own Hanami festival here one day.